There is a cycle that occurs in every living thing. Mule deer are no exception. Since his antlers fell off in late March and began growing again immediately, to sometime in early fall, this was mid-September when his antlers have reached their full growth, and the blood filled velvet covering them has gone beyond itchy to maddening, the Mule deer has completed one of the most important cycles of its life.
Right now he is at his most vulnerable. The velvet has been mostly cleaned off by rubbing and thrashing his antlers against the shrubs and bushes, tearing away the soft blood-filled velvet, leaving the antlers stained a deep dark red. The antlers are still hardening and he can’t afford an accident like sweeping them into a tree trunk or clashing with one of his herd mates. In fact as the blood rises in each of the bucks and they begin to feel the battle lust form they want to test the new antlers out on each other. Instead of charging each other and engaging their antlers as they would in full combat, they will often rise on their hind legs and paw at each other the way the doe’s do when they fight each other, not the most dignified behavior, but if they break an antler they are out of the game.
It is still a little early for that however, and the bucks congregate in small numbers of 6 to 10 or so to hang out in groups we call the Bachelor boys. That’s not scientific nomenclature but it is accurate. That lasts until a few weeks later when the cold has descended from the high peaks and the antlers have reached their full fighting readiness. The mating urge has risen and the fellowship has disappeared from the Bachelor boys and now it’s every buck for himself. They have disbanded and will challenge each other on sight if they have begun assembling a harem.
They’re still in fattening up mode right now, packing on weight so they’re ready to face any challenger. The time of the bloody antlers is drawing to a close. The rut is here, the doe’s are watching from the meadows edge, the primary bucks are done sizing the others up and before long you’ll hear the angry bellowing, the clash of strong antlers meeting each other in combat, and the cycle completes once again. The next time the antlers will be bloodied is during battle.
Every Spring The Institute sends one of our roving biologists to Rocky Mountain National Park to see whats new and they usually come back with a report that is fairly dull and boring. I mean how many new species of Chipmunks are you going to find ? None would be the correct answer. Or what about Elk? Any lime green ones this year? No, the correct answer would also be no. As far as the type of animals available in the park that’s going to stay pretty much the same.
So what we have to look for, if we’re going to have anything new at all to report, is changes in behavior. Trends, new styles, interspecies love affairs, technical advancements, etc. And we hit pay dirt right out of the chute. It seems as if the technical advances we’ve seen in the last few years outside of the park’s boundaries have finally caught up with some of our animals in the park. Also some real life style changes that are remarkable when compared to the way these animals have lived for who knows how long, years probably.
If it weren’t for photographic evidence and the fact that this was seen by one of our most dependable and sober researchers we might have dismissed this story out of hand. But as you know by now pictures don’t lie. People writing stories about those pictures might, but the pictures themselves don’t.
We have two, that’s right two, really remarkable things happening here. The first is that many of the Mule deer in the park who are constantly looking for a better life, have taken up living in heretofore unused housing. There is now a sizable number of them occupying the caves that abound in the sides of the mountains here. Yes, difficult as it may be to believe except for some of you more gullible types, we now have a group of cave dwelling Mule deer. They have begun moving into these caves at an incredible rate, actually causing cave prices to double in just the last year and a half. Low interest rates have played a part in this cave dwelling boom but the fact that they are now occupying caves at all is the real story.
The other amazing story is the adoption of wearable technology. This trendy young male, or buck, as the ladies like to call him, is seen wearing the newest Sony TrotMan mp3 player, radio and personal location device. This is actually the latest version (2.0) of this newly offered Animal Media delivery device on the market. Besides being able to pick up K103.5, the Mulie Music station of the Rockies, or K-Buck as it’s known throughout the park, he can receive weather reports, updates on the next hunting season, Oldies but Goodies, there’s even a swap meet show every Saturday morning and tips on where is the best recycling place to shed his antlers in the spring, and with the optional blue-tooth speaker you see mounted in his other ear, everything is incredibly clear so he can hear every word and sing along with his favorite artist. This is all in stereophonic hi-fi, and of course advertising free FM.
In speaking with park officials, those that would agree to make any kind of statement at all that is, actually no one officially employed by the Park Service or any of its subsidiaries would agree to make a comment, mostly they just rolled up their windows and drove away, but this guy that hangs around the trash cans at Horseshoe Meadow said that from what he heard, this is a test program being conducted at Rocky Mountain National Park and if it goes well and they get the subscription numbers they’re looking for, this program will likely Spread to Yellowstone, Bryce and Zion, and any other park that has a sizable number of Mule deer.
As always we want to make you aware of the latest stories and unusual news coming out of the wildlife world. We’re justifiably proud to be the first to bring you this latest breaking story and want to remind you that The Institute is always on the lookout for the those news events that keep you abreast and informed, so that when you relate this story to your coworkers around the water cooler you’ll sound as intelligent as any one else there. Check in with us often so you are always are up to date with the most intriguing news available. Remember We’re The Institute and we’re here to help.
It is early fall at Great Sand Dunes National Park. The temperature is finally cooling down and the foliage is well on its way to completing it’s fall colors. The dunes are located down in southeastern Colorado and a few weeks ago you could have fried eggs on the rocks along the river bank. Actually the river that runs through the park and in front of the dunes is called Medano creek and is completely dry on the surface during late summer and fall. If you dig down a few inches though you’ll find damp sand any time of the year. In the spring it starts to flow again on the surface and you can easily wade across it without getting your pants wet.
It is surprising cold in the early morning at this time if year. I mean really cold. If you camp out you’ll want a pretty heavy sleeping bag and you’ll probably find frost on it when you wake up. That’s mainly due to the cold air flowing down from the snow-covered Sangre De Cristo mountains that border the dunes. By mid-morning though the heat starts to build up again but you’ll still need a light jacket.
These guys have already put on their winter wear and find the shade to be more comfortable than walking around out in the sunshine. They’re also conserving their strength as the rut hasn’t started yet. These are Mule deer and they grow considerable size antlers due to the mineral content they take in while they feed. It won’t be long before these friends will be battling each other for breeding rights and they won’t be hanging out together like this again until their antlers fall off in late winter. Right now they’re all buddies and will be until the blood starts rising in a few weeks.
This lush scene is located away from the dunes several hundred yards and isn’t the type of view you expect when you’re thinking about the 750′ tall sand dunes just across the river. The sand dunes are surrounded by snow-covered mountains and is exactly the type of habitat Mule deer live in so it isn’t unusual to find herds of mulies roaming all through the park. Right now these bachelor boys don’t have a lot to do and they’re making the most of it. This must be a great time of year to be mule deer.
If you want to see other posts that feature the dunes simply type sand dunes into the search box at the top of the page.
As they say out here in Colorado “The mail needed picking up” and since we occasionally get financial remuneration via snail mail and we haven’t had any interns able to pass the strict bonding requirements we have here at The Institute, it fell to the Director to go and get the mail.
Our mail box is located down the five mile dirt road that gets you up and down from the mountain top The Institute is located on, to the modern one lane highway below. On the way down the ‘hill’ you run the chance of seeing wild animals being wild, such as turkeys walking around trying not to get eaten by the coyotes, elk in both male and female forms, mule deer of course, bears, just the black ones not the big grizzlies that roam further north, foxes, the red ones, the aforementioned coyotes, Eagles mostly Goldens but once in a while a bald one will fly by, and lots of birds. Everything from songbirds to grouse and now some Chukar. Hawks, falcons, pelicans flying by to get to somewhere where there is enough water, lots of migratory birds and our favorite species the Redtail hawk.
The Redtail is the hands down favorite because it does one really neat thing. It hunts, kills, and eats rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are what takes the fun out of running barefoot through the tall grass. Rattlesnakes bite. We had a neighbor near us, who was minding her own business doing absolutely nothing provoking, get bit and besides costing what a small Korean car costs it made her foot swell up to the size of your standard microwave oven. And she said it hurt too. A lot.
Most people in this country don’t like rattlesnakes. I mean, there’s a few that like them but they are not the majority by any means. People who don’t like them, the rattlesnakes not the people who do like them, generally hit them with a shovel until they’re dead. It is said by those folks who do like rattlesnakes that one of the reasons we should take these rattlesnakes close to our bosoms, are of the opinion that they do good by eating rodents, therefore let’s have them hang around doing that. Others say “Nope. Don’t think so. Gonna kill ’em”. We believe that if they, the rattlesnakes, want to act that way they should do it way, and I mean way far away from where good American taxpaying citizens hang around. So there is a difference of opinion there.
It’s amazing that the Redtail hawk sides with the shovel smacking people and kill every one of those rattlers they see. They also pass this trait on to the young Redtail hawks by bringing home the snake, often still wriggling, for their little ones to eat. We at The Institute believe this is laudable behavior and compliment the Redtail parents on their good sense whenever we chance to speak with them.
The image above, which was taken just across the highway from our mailbox, shows the Redtail parent in the act of taking the rattlesnake it has just that moment caught, to a tall telephone pole where it would begin the process of making it not alive. Then it flew it back to the nest for the young to eat. We cheered and gave it the universal thumbs up gesture of approval before returning to sorting out the bills from the junk mail, then throwing the entire mess in the dumpster. I know, you’re saying if you’re just going to throw it all in the dumpster why bother sorting it out. We sort because every once in a while there is a check in there and then we’d have to go back and do dumpster diving which is not very dignified for a Director of a major Institute like ours to be doing. Which of course brings us to, if you’re looking for nominations for the “Most Useful Bird of the Year” award we heartily recommend Nature’s helper the Redtail hawk. Remember vote now and vote often. These birds need our support.
We are continuing with our semi-annual inspection report that The Institute conducts in Yellowstone National park whether anyone wants it or not. As has been described before this is a very comprehensive inspection of all aspects of the parks operation. We leave no stone unturned, no question unanswered, no oddity unexplained, no lunch counter stool unoccupied.
One of the major checkpoints on our report is whether the performing animals are, well, performing. This is a major area of concern for park management as many of the tourist dollars spent here are dependent on how good a show the park provides. The travelling public, especially those from out-of-town, are demanding to see the various tricks, capering’s, sleight of paw trickery, mimicking, scampering cutely, impressions, demonstrations of unique abilities, ability to sing, dance, and perform acrobatic stunts that television has conditioned them to believe is realistic animal behavior.
Consequently nearly all of the parks inhabitants have their own repertoire of acts carefully selected for their particular personalities and physical attributes. Grizzly bears lumber along in a wallowing gait that makes them an amusing sight when viewed from the rear, even if there is a freshly killed elk calf dangling from its jaws you can’t help but laugh at its distinctive big butt roll, Eagles, both Bald and Golden soar and dive providing an incredible airshow for the gaping wide-eyed tourist. You can’t miss the sound of cell phone cameras clicking away to capture them in all their splendid glory seven or eight hundred feet in the air. The many hooved ungulates such as the buffalo, antelope, elk, mule deer, Bighorn sheep and Black-horned rhinoceros, put on a grazing display second to none, ok, that list was just a test to see if you were really paying attention, there are actually no buffalo in the park.
Using the beautiful four-color brochure that the park hands out to each and every paying entrant into the park that shows the time, location and activity to be performed by the various animal performers we headed to the Hayden valley our first stop, to view the amazing acrobatic maneuvers of Americas favorite small hairy predator, the Red Fox. We got there a few minutes early so we could set up our gear and get good seats as the spaces fill up rapidly once the show gets under way.
Soon, just as advertised, the Red Fox appeared and began to tease the crowd by scampering over logs, peering out from behind bushes and other shrubbery, posing and posturing out in the open for the many folks wanting photo ops, and generally setting the stage for its climatic last act, the Incredible Leaping Headstand with Bushy Tail Salute. It was an amazing performance. As soon as it was over and our performer retreated into the forest behind it, the crowd immediately dispersed, stopping only to take selfies of themselves and their companions with their cell phones and consulting the brochure for the next performance. Some were even seen photographing their brochures, the ground they were standing on, the road, their car door handles, each other again, the now empty area where the performance took place. Every thing of interest in Yellowstone that might amaze their friends and neighbors back home must be digitally documented before the next amazing sight comes into view.
We were satisfied with the Red Fox’s performance and gave it four and a half stars out of five and went on to the next performance, a yellow-bellied marmot spitting the shells of seeds over the edge of a rock. We were in for a long day, Yellowstone has a lot of things to see and we hadn’t even gotten to the Buffalo shedding exhibit yet.
Note : To those of you tuning in late the following posts will catch you up on preceding events. There is no extra charge for this service we just want you to be fully informed.
Well the rut is over for this year for the Mule deer with the month the Lakota call Waníyetu Wi — Moon of the Rutting Deer, ending and the Wanícokan Wi — Moon When the Deer Sheds Their Antlers, just around the corner. With their duties over the mule deer bucks begin to gather together again, hanging out, forming small groups we call the Bachelor boys.
Deadly enemies a few weeks ago, now they’re best buds again, but because they still have their antlers they remain a little twitchy. There is still a lingering energy left over and although they no longer want to fight they feel the need to do something. That something is fence jumping. And jump they do, effortlessly, endlessly, leaping back and forth to dissipate that energy that permeates their muscles, until they wear down a little and can go back to grazing.
Coming home last night after shooting a pair of Golden Eagles until it was nearly too dark to see, I came across this mulie working off some of that excess energy in a pasture outside of town. It was actually too dark to shoot, I had the headlights on in my jeep, but through the magic of digital photography even images shot in near darkness can be made presentable enough to view. The graininess and softness is a by-product of this process. Think of it as a beauty mark. They’re certainly not Pulitzer material, but they do show the beauty and form of these magnificent creatures. Enjoy.