The "Lowly" Mule Deer

Deer are fairly common around Elk Lake. This time of year I find it especially delightful to see does with their fawns. A quiet morning on the lake often offers a chance to see three or four different family units. A hike through the woods may find me nearly stumbling across a wide-eyed but completely immobile fawn or I catching a glimpse of a doe and her fawns heading into deeper timber.

Because deer are such a common sight, I often dismiss them. However, I do these beautiful and graceful animals an injustice by thinking of them in this light. They are really quite fascinating animals which deserve a closer look. Thus, interspersed with some pictures I took of a curious doe the other day, are some interesting facts and tidbits about these forest friends.

Most recognizable for the large ears - which gained them the name “Mule Deer” - Muleys are related to both the smaller Black-Tail Deer seen to our west as well as the White-Tail Deer which predominate east of the Mississippi.

While Mule Deer are of the Cervidae Family (which includes moose - a much larger animal than the deer), the mule deer is the largest of the Odocoileus genus. They stand about 40-42 inches at the shoulders and measure about 80 inches from nose to tail. An adult buck Mule Deer will tip the scales at 150 to 300 pounds, with an occasional trophy buck reaching around 500 pounds.

Unlike the moose who gallops in a somewhat mule-like fashion or the white-tail deer who runs with grace and speed, the Mule Deer, when startled, bounds stiffly away. Their pojo-stick jumps are the result of all four feet hitting the ground together. While not as graceful to watch, their bounding leaps can cover up to 8 yards at a time and allow them to reach up to 45 miles per hour for short stretches. Even more amazing, if necessary, Mule Deer can completely reverse direction in a single bound!

Mule Deer are browsers and consume a large variety of vegetation. Unlike their cousin the moose who prefers woody stems, Mule Deer enjoy grasses, leaves, tender tree branches and twigs. They are particularly fond of vines, both blackberry and raspberry, as well as grapes, mistletoe, ferns, and mushrooms. They are such careful eaters, those who live in dessert regions can consume cactus fruit with damaging their sensitive mouth tissues.

Mule Deer are quiet animals. Fawns may occasionally bleat. However, unless injured (when they may make a loud ‘blatt’ sound or bawl), adult deer are silent creatures.

Every baby animal is cute. Even a baby pig. Even, while I gladly keep my distance, a baby skunk! However, there are few animals prettier than a baby deer. After a 200-day gestation, a doe will deliver 1 to 4 young - the normal being 2. Fawns are born late May to early June.

Typically a doe will produce one youngster the first year and twins from thereon. Fawns are more reddish than their mothers and have white spots to help them blend into the forest floor (and they blend in better than you can imagine if you’ve never seen one in its natural environment). They typically weigh about 6 pounds at birth, will nurse within the first hour and stand within the first 12 hours. Until they gain the strength to flee predators, fawns only see their mothers at feeding time.

Mule Deer have larger feet than some of their cousins. This not only supports their stockier bodies, it also allows them to dig for water which their sensitive noses detect below the surface. They have been known to dig as much as two feet to reach water!

Mule Deer are excellent swimmers but rarely flee into water when chased by predators.

A Mule Deer sheds its antlers (antlers not horns which are not re-grown each year) - usually by February. Antler regrowth is triggered by lengthening daylight which triggers cells in their anterior pituitary.

So, if all this information has made the lowly Mule Deer a little more of an object of interest, keep this in mind: Mule Deer are unable to detect motionless objects. Thus, if you see a deer, freeze. As long as you are downwind and make absolutely no sound (for their sense of hearing is very keen), they will most likely act very similar to the deer whose photos grace this page.

Lady of the Lake


Close Encounters Of The Elk Kind

I enjoy wildlife. While skunks have never topped my ‘interest’ list and meeting a bear or wolf close up and personal would not make my day (at least not in a good way), the observation of most wild things provides me a continuous source of pleasure.

I enjoy recording my adventures. Thus I take a LOT of photos. Granted, what I post makes the focal point at least ‘visible’, but wild animals being ‘wild’ do not stand still, nor do they often come close enough for a really good picture.

I typically experience one or the other. Either the animal comes close enough (like the cow elk which nearly ran me over a couple of years ago or the Sandhill crane which flew up from 10 feet away the other day) OR have my camera ready to use but the subject is farther away than I’d like. One without the other is common. Getting the two together is the real treat!

That is one reason a ‘pet peeve’ or mine (literally) is Bo chasing game. I did not train him to heel (since a dog on my heels would be little help in protecting me should I meet a bear or moose or wolf on the trail), and he is still learning to differentiate between dangerous animals and non-dangerous animals (granted, any animal in the right situation can be dangerous).

Thus, the other day, the ‘big bad wolf’ turned out to be a small herd of elk. Before I realized he was gone, he was off to clear the path. I stepped around a group of evergreens to see him in hot pursuit of a couple of elk. Chewing him out under my breath, I started across the meadow assuming I’d seen all I would see of them that day.

Not so. Bo’s one good trait - if there is a good trait in a dog who chases the game I want to see - is he rarely chases them far. He seems to have this ‘safety zone’. Once they are outside of this area, they are no longer perceived as a threat in his mind.

Thus, in a couple of moments he reappeared on the other side of the clearing. I signed him to return to my side - with the usual “you bad dog” body language. He did. However, I know he was confused by my response. After all, he had just protected me! Fine thanks I gave him!

No sooner had he reached my side than a cow elk appeared - obviously on his trail. I have seen a couple cow elk do this once before - but never a lone cow as in this situation. She was so intent on him, I do not think she really saw me - although I was standing in the middle of the small meadow.

This situation looked to turn out as several before. A close up animal but no way to get my camera! However, this time, the elk cooperated. As she steeped behind a small fir tree, I pulled my camera into position. And, the following is the result.

She came closer

And closer

And closer

All the time keeping a wary eye on the dogs which, I suspect, were not acting as she thought they should. The whole time they sat quietly by my side - not even flicking an ear as far as I could tell.

So she came closer

And closer

And closer

I kept expecting her to smell me. Obviously she could see me. Surely she could her the ‘click’ of the camera’s shutter. Yet on she came


- - - - And closer

Until, finally, within about 20 feet of me, she finally caught my scent - and like a wisp of fog in a stiff breeze, she disappeared!

Some days it all works out!

Lady of the Lake


Magical May Moments

As promised I am going to share with you a magical May day we enjoyed recently. While every day in the Centennial is magical (if you look for it) - just like every day anywhere else - some days are, as John Denver said, 'Diamonds.' This was one of those days.

Once our guests begin to come in earnest, we have little time to get away and just explore. While I have been just about any place you can reach on foot from the lodge back door, once in a while we extend our excursions. And so, we took an afternoon and went to see what we could see. We were not disappointed!

The first sighting of our excursion were two trumpeter swans swimming placidly on the 'tarn' at the north end of Elk Lake. Unfortunately I only seem to see swans on the lake early and late. I suppose, private birds that they are, there is just a bit to much traffic to make Elk Lake a comfortable nesting location.

While there have been some springs when we managed to be in the right place at the right time to see, literally, hundreds of elk, this was not that year. However, with an increasing wolf population, I am always glad to see good numbers of elk on my excursions. This time I quit counting at about 50. The first sightings were just over the hill. From there on sharp eyes could usually spot at least a small group of animals - resting in the trees or grazing on the hillsides.

Just a bit further and we spotted a lone moose browsing on the edge of the timber. It did not even lift its head to acknowledge our presence. I have met a few humans who really get into their food - however they are usually on the younger side. This fellow appeared to be past that stage. None-the-less the south end of a moose does not make for much of a picture - so I had to pass on that one.

A tad further and a deer caught my eye. While deer are a fairly common sight in the summer, this time of year they are just beginning to return. Thus we see fewer deer - at least until the first part of June - than we do elk. In fact, while the White-Tail Deer are the last to leave in the fall, I have yet to see a White-Tail this spring. From that I conclude they must be the last to return. However, the Mule Deer are welcome returnees.

On up the trail we spotted more elk and an occassional deer. Birds - large and small - graced our path. However, things remained 'normal' until about mid-way through our outing. Moving comfortably along we topped a rise and. . .what's that? Stop. Shush! Grab the binoculars and the camera. A bear. What do you know? A BIG black bear!

What a treat. While we have seen bear sign - and my hubby once spotted a Grizzly in the middle of a dead cow - however, actually laying our eyes on a bear is usually reserved for one of our 'lucky' trips into the Park. Thus I was more than pleased the kids were getting to see a bear in their own backyard (at least if you consider the several thousands of acres around the lodge their 'backyard').

This guy didn't run. He didn't pay us much mind. But, I have little doubt he knew we were there as he limited his grazing to right along the edge of the trees before fading back into the forest to disappear from view. Yep - he's that big black spot in the middle of the picture. I would have tried for a better shot, but I did not want to either tempt him to attack or chase him away - - - so distance seemed a good thing!

Well pleased with ourselves we turned toward home. Elk. Deer. Moose. Bear. Swans. Hawks and Eagles. Birds large and small. Grand vistas. Pure nature. NO PEOPLE! A great day it had been - or so we thought. Little did we know the adventure was not yet at an end.

Traversing across a ridge top we crossed some wolf tracks. While they were not 'smoking' (minutes old), they were distinct despite the recent rains which told us they were not very old.

Only in our part of the world would wolf tracks come with a bit of a ho-hum attitude. They are becoming common enough they no longer send my heart to racing. However, it was interesting to note where they had been - and how close.

By this time we had seen just about every species of big game typically seen in the Centennial. I must admit, we were feeling mighty pleased with the day's offerings. Yet- - -there was more to come. Remember that wolf track I mentioned? Well, it seems there were more than tracks to be seen this fine day!

You guessed it! Around the corner we go and there, just ahead, a big black wolf is staring at us. Some of the wolves we've 'met' recently have appeared quite undaunted by the presence of humans. We were very glad, therefore, when this one seemed to be more than willing to head for the hills - literally.

Now I would like to show you my fantastic picture - taken at fairly close range. However, such is not the case. I do have a good excuse, however. The wind was kicking up. In fact, it was getting downright chilly. So I had pulled up my hood and tied it snugly. And. . .along came the wolf. By the time I untied the knot (which resulted from my first desperate jerks to remove my hood and retrieve my camera), he had disappeared over yonder ridge. So. . .take me at my word or not!

The end of our day found us traveling along the Northside Centennial Road. The eastern end of this road is extremely sandy - as it traverses the unique sand dunes which grace that section of the Centennial.

First to be seen were two dozen pronghorn, grazing peacefully in a meadow until we came along. True to pronghorn peculiarities, they decided to 'race' us for awhile. Since we weren't feeling too competitive at this point, they easily won!

And, just to emphasize wolves are fairly prolific in our neck of the woods, we came across a nice large wolf track in the road - quite a distance from the wolf or the tracks we had seen a bit earlier. It was still quite impressive, even when compared to my hubby's size 10.

But, around the corner a tale, written on the road sands, unfolded before out eyes. The wolf whose track I had photographed had obviously been a recent traveler down this road. It does not take much wind to move those sands around - and these tracks were clear and distinct - and on top of the most recent vehicle tracks which did not appear to be too old themselves.

Shortly after we spotted the wolf's tracks, they headed off into the sage and grass at right angles with the road. Keeping an eye peeled - just in case - we continue down the road. Yet the story lay not on the road side but in the road itself. Back onto the road come our wolf tracks, only now, they are covering the ground in a long-loping stride obviously on the heels of running a calf moose or calf elk.

We followed these tracks for miles (at least three), expecting around each turn or on the other side of each rise, to find a wolf in the middle of a young moose or elk. All the way to Elk Lake Road the saga continued. Yet, just before the junction the calf apparently gained enough lead it left the road, lept the fence - and hopefully (since we could find nothing in sight to indicate otherwise) is still grazing on a nearby hillside. A bit wiser. A bit more alert. And, hopefully, fast enough to outrun the next wolf to cross its path.

After a day like that, I'm not sure why I ever bother to make the long trek through the Park. Who needs to fight the crowds when they have such a variety in their own back yard? I truly am blessed, once again, to be the

Lady of the Lake


May Memories

Today, I am going to share a photo journal with you - shots I’ve taken (and not yet shared) in my hikes around the lodge this month. Next time I will share photos and journal entries about a little excursion we enjoyed recently. You may not be too impressed, but I found it beyond amazing. I truly live in the most incredible place in the world!

The time has come. I no longer have Elk Lake to myself. Yes, the animals and birds are returning, as I have been showing in the last two posts, but the people have returned as you can see in the photo above.

But, they are not what excites me most. So. . .here are a few photos and blurbs to finish recounting my recent hikes.

Bluebirds are among the first small birds to return. While we (humans) expend a lot of effort trying to make sure the Tree Swallows do not steal all the quaint little Bluebird boxes we put up, I think the real problem lies with Mrs. Bluebird.

I’ve yet to see a Swallow steal an established Bluebird nesting spot (although I do not claim extensive knowledge), but I have seen Bluebirds spend more time looking at themselves in car mirrors, sunning themselves on handy perches, and debating over an available house (long before and even after the Swallows arrive). Perhaps she is in no rush to settle down and have a family? Besides, he looks too cute to be a serious papa candidate!

This year has been unique - oh, we’ve had the typical warm and cold weather mix. The animals appear to be returning at the usual rate. The wildflowers seem to be popping up on schedule. It’s the birds which have surprised me. Barn Swallows here already? They usually do not show up for another two or three weeks. Goldfinches on my feeders? I’ve never seen them at the lodge before - and certainly not in numbers. A Common Grackle outside my door. While obviously ‘common’ means they are not rare, I’ve never seen one in the valley before. Yet, when my hubby came in to report ‘a blackbird on steroids’ partaking of our feeder, the fellow eyeing me from above is what I found.

Elk sightings are more common this time of year than during any other season. Thus I watch closely and hope each time I hike I’ll see some. Sure enough - even walking the road produced sightings of three cow elk. Typically I turn around when I see wildlife so as not to disturb them. However, this time I wanted to make a loop which required working my way past (at a distance). I tried a new trick (hunching down and ‘hiding’ alongside my big hiking buddy - Bo). Whether they stuck around to watch me make a fool of myself or whether I really was less frightening in such a posture, I’ll never know. I really don’t care. It worked!

I have seen a couple of butterflies - amazing! Who would have thought they could survive 25 degree nights, cool days, and the lack of vegetation? However, this was my first caterpillar. I probably would have missed him if I hadn’t stopped to admire the Wyoming Kittentail!

Wyoming Kittentails are a wildflower new to me this year. They have come in abundance, so I have little doubt I have just missed them in previous years. While I've never seen a kitten with a purple tail, this pretty flower does resemble a furry tail in other ways.

The lighting was not too great, but here is another bird I had never noticed before. I’m sure they are usually here - but with water fowl it can be difficult to get close enough to identify them properly. This Green Winged Teal was hanging around the boat docks - another pair were hanging out at the pond.

Usually one expects to see Pronghorns in small bunches. However, this lone buck has been spotted several times hanging by himself. He had better watch his back with hungry wolves around.

The Osprey return even before the ice releases its hold on the lake. Funny thing - they always seem to know just when there is enough open water for them to catch a meal.

Of course - all these excursions would probably not occur (at least not in such abundance and with such confidence) were it not for my hiking companions. So. . .here’s to you Rosie and Bo!

Lady of the Lake