Gretchen Update

I wrote in December about a White-tailed doe that lives at Audubon, dubbed by one of our volunteers “Gretchen.”  I hadn’t seen her in a while and began to worry that she might have succumbed to our rather long and cold winter.


Can you see the long hoof? (Click for a larger view.)

Friday, I had to stay at the Center into the evening, and as I was setting up for a program, I saw her through the back window, cleaning out the bird feeders with her two youngsters.  Something strange caught my eye, and despite poor light conditions and fear that I would spook her, I tried to get a photo.  The hoof on her atrophied foot seemed long, like an untrimmed fingernail.

I took the first photo through the back window from near the stairs at the front of the building.  Then I started inching closer to the back window, hoping to get a clearer shot of the hoof.  Alas, she never turned just right to give me a proper view.  But I did snap these:

Gretchen stares me down.

"Gretchen" stares me down while one of her fawns cleans out the feeder behind me.

Our “three-legged deer” was at the feeders with two yearlings.  (Only one is pictured above.)  This seemed strange.  Earlier in the spring, we rarely saw her with two and suspected one of her twins had perished.  Maybe these two youngsters were not both hers?


"Gretchen" gives me one last wary glance before heading back to the brush.


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!

Guest Post

Well, friends, here is the final post in the Squirrel Saga, and an announcment! My friend finally has his own blog. Check it out:

Squirrel Wars – Part III

Well, friends, I have run headlong into Occam’s Razor. For those of you not familiar with it, it’s a scientific theory which states that in a complex problem the simplest answer is most often the correct one. Now, I thought about all sorts of sophisticated solutions to my squirrel problem: new traps, different bait, further adjustments to the trap I already had. Thankfully, I never once thought of poison for these beautiful creatures of God. They are the acrobats of our Great Lakes ecosystem, after all.

Pha, a.k.a. Frankencat

Instead, I have created Frankencat. As you may recall, my last act of desperation was to tie my cat, Pha, on a short leash outside. Well, she is now totally spoiled and the leash has lengthened to about 12 feet. With this heat wave she has become so totally spoiled that she spends all day out there. She’s not interested in the birds, and they come and go as they please; she couldn’t reach them up on the feeders anyway. But the chipmunks and squirrels, which are ground travelers, are in total shock. I hear their angry chittering from the trees and bushes, and believe me, so does Frankencat. While she’s out, not a single mammal has dared step foot in my garden or the bird feeders. I’m sure they steal down after dark for a snack, but it’s nothing like it was, for me or for Pha.

So there you have it. The simplest answer was to put something higher on the food chain in their way, but we humans think we’re smarter than that. I’m not sure who Occam was, but I think he was a very wise man.

Guest Post

I’ve been encouraging a friend to start a blog. He refuses. But sometimes he sends me little stories. I asked if I could post this one on my blog as a guest post. He said yes, but picked a pen name… You’ll have to guess who it is. (But I won’t confirm your answers.)

Squirrel Wars

by “Woodpecker”

I love squirrels, their playful attitude and the way they scurry from tree limb to tree limb, but the past few days I’ve felt like Bill Murray in”Caddyshack”.

Red Squirrel - by Jeremy Martin

Red Squirrel - by Jeremy Martin

I caught one of the little red ground squirrels coming out of my bird box (where the wrens lived) with feathers in his mouth. Now, it’s bad enough that I can’t keep them from leaping from the fences onto any birdfeeder they want, but this was too much. I resolved to initiate eminent domain and execute a forced relocation.

Off to the hardware store I went, and came home very satisfied with a small animal live trap, which would let me drive the scoundrel to a park about a mile away.

Then I tried to set it up. Needing the skilled hands of a surgeon to get the tension properly adjusted, and lacking this skill, I fought with the aluminum contraption for at least half an hour before I finally decided I had it.

Round One:  I positioned the trap under a tree they favor and waited for their chirping voices. It didn’t take long, and the guilty squirrel began a whole series of excited rushes and false charges, always stopping and running back up the tree. Finally he approached it slowly and my excitement mounted. But rather than enter one of the two doors, he kept up a sideways attack. Finally, he jiggled it enough to set off the trap, which sent him off up the tree for a long, long time. Good, I thought, maybe I’ve scared him away for good. Just in case, I moved the trap across the walkway and into one corner of my garden.

Round Two:  about 5 or 10 minutes later I heard the chittering of my nemisis. This time he had brought a fiend, a smaller lighter version of himself, which I assume was his mate.

Can you imagine the conversation back at the nest?

“Really honey, there was a huge pile of that peanut butter-like stuff we love back there, but it’s inside some stange metal thing with doors and rods that scare me. I don’t wanna go in; come see.”

“Really Sam you are such a baby. But I’ll go look.”

The two of them came down the tree trunk, the male in the lead as if to say “uh oh, it’s moved, stand back.”

The female hesitated for about one second and then marched right in the trap door, took a good-sized hunk of the bait and then camly backed out before going back up the tree, pausing just long enough to look at hubby like he was a total wuss.

Hubby waited a few nervous minutes before repeating her moves.

Obviously, something was wrong with the trap, so I went out and checked everything twice, touching the bait tray with a stick and “boom!”, the trap doors slammed shut each time. My doubts about the tension of the rods and ability to read instructions let up just a little.

I told myself it was just a matter of time and waited…

Round Three:  With the trap now in the garden I could watch even more closely what might be going wrong. But just watching and waiting soon grew boring so I went back to a good book I’ve been reading. I don’t know how much time passed, but suddenly out of the corner of my eye I spotted one of the dastardly duo doing what they seem to do best: hanging upside down on one of my suet woodpecker feeders gorging itself on some costly stuff I buy to keep my favorite species of birds frequent visitors. I was incensed! I jumped up from my chair and slammed open the screen door and yelled “Get out of here! Find some nuts! That’s bird food you rodent!

You’ll never guess what happened next. The squirrel, as it usually does, scurried down the pole, but did he/she make a bee-line for the tree, which they also usually do?

No. The impudent creature ran straight to the trap AND TOOK REFUGE THERE, running back and forth as if it was a fortress of protection!

That was it for me. Three rounds and out. I had only one ace up my sleeve. After shamefully hauling the trap back inside to ponder poor craftsmanship vs poor comprehension I did the only thing left: I strapped Pha into her harness and leash, wrapped the leash around a fence post and left her a little food and water.

I didn’t hear another squirrel “chirp” the rest of the day.

Today they won the battle, but the war us far from over.

Part II

Sam: Can you believe that guy? What an idiot!

Sally: Yeah, well, don’t act like the brave hero, Mr. “There’s a strange metal box, come save us”.

Sam: Yeah, but that guy can’t even SPELL!!! Have you ever seen anything so bad, you “fiend”? I mean, it’s like he never even HEARD of Spellcheck!

Sally: The funniest thing is he believes that silly cat on a string frightened us away all afternoon. We were just STUFFED!

I’m told there will be more installments to this saga! Can’t wait…

What a Find!

It’s not that I’ve never seen one before. I’ve seen hundreds. Maybe thousands. We have dozens of them at the Nature Center – sitting out for visitors to touch…

It’s just that I had never found one myself in the woods…

Friday was my day: tromping around Spatterdock Pond, looking to see if there were still any signs of the River Otter. (The kids saw slides and rolls there Monday.) I found mink tracks… but no otter signs.

But what’s this? under a tree, tracks leading up to it, the snow all melted down where the animal had slept… and there, poking out of the snow… my very first… (can you guess?)
Continue reading

Happy Midwinter!

(I hope you’ll click on all my links below to see some other interesting sites, pictures, information…)

February 2nd falls midway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. While pop culture celebrates the day as Groundhog Day, for centuries it was celebrated by the Celts as Imbolc.

Celtic DesignThe name of the midwinter festival, Imbolc, comes from a Gaelic word for ewe’s milk, for at this time of year the ewes may be lactating in certain parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The festival celebrates this and other hints that Spring is starting to overtake Winter.

I plan to celebrate at work with more Snowflake Festival preparations. (Are you going to be there on Saturday?)

Here’s hoping “Phil” sees his shadow. I haven’t seen nearly enough snow yet!

Learn about groundhogs by clicking –> here.

Bird (?) Boxes

One box on my route has consistently had hair in it.  Once when I checked it, there was also a big old bumblebee on the top of the hair.

Bumblebee Nest?   Bumblebee Nest?

I asked a fellow nest box monitor about it and she said that it is not uncommon for bumblebees to do something like that in a box.  I decided to leave the hair and see what happened.  If it was a bumblebee nest, I thought it would be interesting to observe.  Earlier this month, though, there was still lots of hair, but no evidence of bees, so I removed the hair.

Yesterday, when I returned to that box, there was more hair…  And this time, I met the culprit:  not a bumblebee at all.

Who is that in my box?
01-Who is in my Bird Box

Come on out… Show your face…
02-Come on - Show your face

03-Hello Little Mousie

You look sleepy… Did I wake you?
04-You look sleepy-did I wake you

I think I’ll name her BumbleMouse.