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."
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.
as reported in The Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com/outdoors/ci_20630849/colorado-among-states-struggling-stop-decline-mule-deer