Getting to Know (a) Deer

I remember getting off the plane as a 17 year old exchange student to Japan in the mid-1970s. I looked out onto a sea of people all wearing white shirts or blouses, black or navy trousers or skirts, all with black hair and dark eyes… If the person I was supposed to meet had not been holding a sign with my name on it, I would never have found him. There were no individuals… just a sea of sameness.

It took me several months of attendance in a college preparatory high school where everyone wore the same school uniform and carried the same book bag to train myself to see individuals. I had to learn to describe people not by hair color, but by the shape of the face… not by what they wore, but by the nature of a smile or personality or the sound of laughter. Learning to “see” people in this way was transforming for me.

Fast forward to 2010 when a note appeared on Audubon’s front door: “Wounded doe (left front leg) on Maple West Trail.”

I appreciated the visitor’s concern, and still I chuckled when I read the note which I realized had to refer to one particular white-tailed deer. Plenty of deer visit our bird feeders in winter at dusk to lick up the seed left uneaten by the birds and squirrels. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between one individual and another. There is one, however, that we all know and love.

Three-Legged Deer

We first became aware of this doe in late 2006. We don’t know how old she was then – but she was certainly not a youngster. She was at least two, making her at least six now, but she could be older. White-tailed deer can live as long as fifteen years, though the average is two years for males and three years for females. We suspect “our” doe broke her left front leg attempting to get around in the unusually deep snow we had that winter. The leg dangled, useless and she hobbled around on her three remaining good legs. We were sure she would succumb to the elements or a pack of hungry coyotes.

Such was not the case.

Over time, the leg atrophied and now it looks as if she holds it folded up close to her body. She does not seem the least bit hampered by her “disability.” She gets around like any four-legged doe. A staff member saw her jump over the split-rail fence one morning when he drove in and startled her. And she doesn’t JUST get around. She GETS AROUND, if you know what I mean: She manages to give birth to twin fawns every spring.

Gretchen with one of her fawns - June 2010 - Photo by Terry LeBaron

Audubon volunteer and photographer Terry LeBaron has been observing “Gretchen” since 2007 when he gave her the name. Terry notes that she frequents the same spots and that he can find her in just about the same location each time he visits Audubon. That location? Maple West Trail – the same location noted by our concerned visitor. Deer tend to stay within territories of two to three square miles and use the same system of trails from feeding areas to bedding areas. As long as food and shelter remain constant, they will use the same territories or “deeryards” for years at a time.

We’ve grown rather fond of “Gretchen” and watch for her each winter. We delight in seeing her fawns each spring. She’s still around, and while she was injured at one time, rest assured, she is not wounded. A deer, made unique by injury, has become an individual to us and not just another face in a sea of faces. We are all better for knowing this particular deer.

When you walk the woods in winter, keep your eyes open for the many signs of white-tailed deer activity. Two-toed heart-shaped prints, sometimes punctuated with a couple of dots from the dew claws in the back. Torn twigs – the result of browsing when you have only bottom and no top incisors. Melted indentations in the snow where a deer slept. Buck-rubs – trees with bark removed by bucks rubbing the velvet off their antlers.

Animal Signs 1 December (13 of 74)
Left: Deer Browse; Right: Deer Bed

Audubon’s trails are open from dawn until dusk daily free of charge to the public, though donations are gratefully accepted. The nature center building is generally open Mondays and Saturdays from 10 until 4:30 when members and children are admitted free of charge and non-member adults pay only $5. Everyone is admitted free of charge on Sundays from 1 until 4:30.

Gretchen with her Fawn - September 2010 - photo by Terry Lebaron

We will observe special holiday hours Monday through Thursday, December 27th through the 30th from 10am until 4:30pm. Join us Wednesday from 10 until noon at Christmas for the Critters – a chance to meet our education animals up close and personal. Admission is $5 per person or an item from the animals’ wish list which you can find at our website

Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, NY and Warren PA. For more information call 716-569-2345.

Jennifer Schlick is program director at Audubon and never tires of looking for animal signs while out tramping in the woods.

Cross posted at Audubon’s Website.

Also: I used the same two opening paragraphs a while back to introduce another species. Did you read that post? Brownie points to the first person to list it in a comment below!

We See With Our Emotions

Twenty degrees.  The heavy snow has stopped, for now.  An occasional flake floats down now and again.  Thick gray clouds block the sun.  Perfect day for a hike, not so perfect for photography.  I snap photo after photo anyway.

Back on my computer, the screen shows me what the camera captured:  gray, monochromatic, dull.  I suppose that IS what it looked like.


I am not satisfied.  It is not a good representation of my memory of the day.  I load the picture into Lightroom and play with the settings until the image matches my memory.

Chautauqua Creek-9

I mess with the other photos similarly.

Chautauqua Creek-2

Chautauqua Creek-4

Chautauqua Creek-7

Chautauqua Creek-12

Ta da!

But photographs can never really capture the beauty of our memories! ~Emily Schlick

Cross Country Skiing at Audubon

IMG_1980The trails at the Audubon Center & Sanctuary are truly multipurpose trails. No, that doesn’t mean that snowmobiles, ATVs, bicycles, and horses are allowed. Hikers, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and a myriad of animals ARE allowed. I had the pleasure of skiing on Saturday (after Heather had blazed and refined the trail several days during the week – Thank you, Heather!). Here are some of the animal tracks I saw. I’ve indentified them with my best guesses. If you know better, please correct me!

The first tracks I stopped to photograph were on the big field:

I’m pretty sure these were squirrel tracks. Funny how he went under the snow for a bit, then emerged to continue hopping over the surface!

IMG_1985 IMG_1986
Looks like the feral cat who’s been hanging around the Center lately.

I’m pretty sure I saw mink footprints in at least three places along the trail: (1) out on the big field, (2) just on the other side of the Big Pond embankment, and (3) on the “Forever Bridge” and around the bank toward the photo blind on Spatterdock Pond. Here are some examples of what I saw:

(1) Big Field:


(2) On far side of Big Pond Embankment:
Seems like it was coming from the right, then sliding into the trail itself:

Then on the other side of the trail, it seems to have investigated the area under the tree before bounding off toward the pond:

Here are some classic mouse prints with the tail drag between them:

I’m just not exactly sure what these are, but I suspect they were made by vole:

Lest you think all footprints are made by mammals, I also saw these Great Blue Heron prints:

What do you think? Did I get the IDs right?


While there is something endearing about lovers’ initials carved into the bark of a tree, there is something disturbing about the amount of carving on the poor beech trees along the Bear Caves Trail at Allegany State Park. These are just SOME of the carvings from just ONE tree:

American Beech-3a

American Beech-3b

American Beech-3c

American Beech-3d

American Beech-3e

American Beech-3f

Confession time: have you ever carved something into the bark of a tree?