Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Along Piney Creek


On a hunch this morning, 
I took a walk down to the creek bed, 
and there he was:  
the beautiful six point buck 
that has been gracing our neighborhood these past few weeks.


I followed him quietly through the park that follows Piney Creek.  
Patches of snow still linger in the shadowed places from the snowfall last weekend.



Piney Creek Trail winds downstream along Piney Creek 
from the Ponderosa Preserve to Red-Tailed Hawk Park.  
It is one of the many trails and parks in Aurora, Colorado, 
and it is a rare day that wildlife cannot be spotted.
I have walked here hundreds of times with my camera ready!



Male mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) usually show up in the park during the fall.  
Does and their young can be spotted throughout the year.
These deer get their name from their large mule-like ears.
Locals often refer to these deer as "muleys."


  
Even when you can't spot deer feeding or bedded down, 
you can nearly always find their two-toed tracks.

Mule deer are among a number of groups of mammals included in the ungulates,
mammals that have hooves.
Muleys have an even number of toes, and they belong to the Order Artiodactyla.
  
Deer move on the tips of their toes and are fast and agile.
While males can run, they are often seen pronking or slotting 
which means landing on all four feet at once.

Colorado's prolonged drought has left many bare and sandy spots in the park.



Sometimes mule deer are called black-tailed deer.
Their cousins, the white-tailed deer, are found most often to the east of the Rocky Mountains, 
while muleys are found to the west of the Mississippi River.

Mule deer have much larger ears than white-tailed deer, 
and their tails are tipped in black unlike the white-tailed deer.

The mule deer is also larger than its cousin with a height of 31 - 42 inches (80 -106 cm.) at the shoulders and 3.9 - 6.9 feet (1.2 - 2.1m.) from head-to-tail (including the tail).
Adult males average 200 pounds (92 kg.)

as reported in Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mule_deer


As fall slides into winter, the park seems empty.
Whenever I see these cottonwood branches naked against the sky, 
I think of Shakespeare's Sonnet 73:  
"Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang."




Male mule deer have bifurcated antlers, 
meaning the antlers fork as they grow.
  
Their white-tailed cousins have antlers that branch 
from a single, main antler or beam.
Male muleys shed their antlers in late winter after mating season and begin growing new ones almost immediately.
  
The males use their antlers during the fall rut or mating season 
to compete for females.
  
Does usually give birth to two fawns in the spring. 
The fawns stay with their mothers until they are weaned in the fall.








Mule deer forage on weeds and the leaves and twigs of woody shrubs.

  

They usually don't eat a lot of grass, 

but I have observed muleys devouring new grass after a hungry winter.



When snow and ice cover their usual sources of food, 

the mule deer's metabolism will slow, 

allowing them to survive in an environment with less food.


Depending on the season, mule deer will also eat berries, apples, nuts, and conifers.
They will also supplement their diets with landscaped plants and trees around houses.




The main predators of mule deer in our area are coyotes and mountain lions.
Some are killed when they attempt to cross roads and highways.
Humans are a also a main predator.

Mule deer can hear very faint sounds.
They have excellent peripheral vision, but they do not spot motionless objects well.
Mule deer depend on their strong sense of smell to detect danger.
They also depend on their natural camouflage and alertness to avoid predators.



Mule deer are most active during dawn and dusk.
During the middle of the day, they like to bed down in protected areas near water and forage.
I am always excited to spot the silhouette of muley ears camouflaged in tall grasses or brush!

 
Sadly, Colorado and other western states are seeing declines 
in their mule deer populations.

The cause of their decline is not known for certain, 
but it is probably a combination of severe winters and drought, habitat loss with increasing development, and the fragmentation of migration corridors.

Predation may also contribute to decreasing numbers of muleys.

Sportsmen, wildlife managers, and conservation organizations are working together throughout the west to stop the decline in mule deer populations.

It would be tragic to lose this beautiful, gentle species.


10 comments:

  1. What an informative post - to say nothing of the awesome pics! I'll also bet dollars to donuts that there are likely geocaches along Piney Creek Trail! I'm on my way! LOL

    Ken

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  2. Come on out! There very well could be geocashes. The trail goes for miles. Thanks for your wonderful feedback! You can probably tell I love muleys! :)

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  3. WOW! He is magnificent!
    And your photos are fantastic!
    Must have been a great moment to immortalize him that way!
    Quite different though from icebergs! LOL!!!!!... and from our own stags and dears!
    Cheers Fundy!

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  4. Thanks Noushka! You made my day! Having seen some of your wildlife photography, your comment is so encouraging. I hadn't really thought about immortalizing him, but I guess I did. He's such a beauty!

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  5. Oh you love muleys...would never have known...;-) ;-) This is informative Louise....I will look at the white tailed deer differently now....I know we have lots around but in the passed 20 years on our property...nothing...next door I saw one once but it scooted off. They devour all vegetation and we've heard stories of Rhododendron bushes being totally denuded. The Rhodo Man of the South Shore lost so many one year, we went down to see the devastation... unbelievable.Sophie would scare them off most likely.
    Ron

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  6. I bet Sophie would scare them off! And they wouldn't get by her because she is on guard against kitties! I've heard some horror stories around here about muleys eating wooden shingles on houses, but I think that's an urban myth. Who is the Rhodo Man of the South Shore? That sounds like something that could be a blog post.

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    1. Captain Steele...he owns/owned the Bayport Nurseries outside Lunenburg near Bayport...his daughter took over. He roamed the world by sea and gathered MANY rhodos from everywhere, came back to N.S. and planted them. He hybridized many and produced his own varieties. We bought a few from him. It's just so cool to visit and roam through the woods and see these beautiful specimens growing....seriously a lot of them.

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    2. What a neat story! I didn't even realize that rhodos could grow in Nova Scotia until I read your comment on this post. Now I wanat to see them for myself!

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    3. Hey maybe I should do a post on our rhodos and include Sophie somehow...or...start a new blog about everything other than Sophie...for Pete's sake don't let her hear that[as I stroke her back and say sweet nothing's in her ear]!!!
      Ron

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  7. I think the rhodos would make an interesting post. Mum's the word with Sophie!

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Thank you for your comments! I appreciate the time and energy you put into making them very much.