Monday, January 24, 2011

Loving the Cold - From My Car!

From the perspective of mercury--or those who loathe the Michigan winters--the nadir of winter has finally arrived. It's cold! From my perspective, winter is finally peaking.

I love extremes, and the numbing, humbling months of January/February are what sweeten the forthcoming relief of the spring thaw, when it finally arrives.

Having said that, I know my limitations, and when it's hovering around zero snapping pictures with frozen digits gets difficult, especially if it requires stealth or quickness. That's why I compromised with the elements and took a day trip up to the Allegan State Game Area's Farm Unit to photograph rough legged hawks. The reason being: I can take pictures from the relative comfort of my car!

The hawks perch on trees and telephone poles next to the road and have a limited tolerance for cars. So I can drive up and stick my rocket size lens out the window and have a relatively close encounter with an animal that otherwise is pretty mistrusting of humans.
The whole time, I can enjoy the fine blend of arctic air outside the window mixing with the blast of engine-hot air from inside the car.

Monday, January 3, 2011


It’s a rare occasion to observe personality in an animal.

Of course there’s the personality of a species: the seemingly dim-witted opossum as it waddles through the woods vs. the cunning focus of a coyote as it bee-lines accross a field. What I’m talking about is the personality that distinguishes one coyote from another, or one opossum from another. In this particular instance, it's the personality of two, different whitetail deer.

Now, I’ll preface my story by mentioning that what I witnessed occurred on the day of the lunar eclipse in December, which coincidentally occurred on the Winter Solstice (very rare!). So when it comes to behavior, it’s very possible there were some external forces at work on these deer. But even so, you can still say these two bucks “responded” very differently.

This first buck (above) came to my attention during the peak of the rut (see BUCKS AMONG US) when I saw him shadowing a dominant 8 who I call Don Juan, and a doe in heat. He was limping around from a previous injury that also caused the right side of his rack to wing out and down. I called him Limpy and felt bad for him for badly wanting to breed but always losing out because of his handicap.

Well I caught up with him on the day of the Solstice bedding in some evergreens at Western’s Research Park, and he was chumming around with a young button buck. I was always inrigued by his atypical rack and it wasn’t until I got home and reviewed these photos that I noticed his handicap: he was completely missing his rear, left hoof! Something I completely missed before.

His personality emerged when I followed him for a better photo and like most deer, he wasn’t about to let me come up and pet him. As I pushed, he hobbled away. And when I approached too much, he bolted across an open field. What got me was his determination to run and avoid me, regardless of his handicap.

In stark contrast, I saw a decent eight with a real wide rack that was tailing some really lively does who may have been charged up by the lunar activity on the solstice. The doe were running wildly in all directions and the buck looked like he was trying to figure out how to coral one or two. All of the deer eventually ran off into another zone with the buck on their heels.

I tracked him down with some uncanny intuition and luck to find him bedding in the middle of an open field, chewing his cud. What astonished me was the fact that he didn’t jump. Instead, he remained perfectly calm as I proceeded to approach, circle, snap photos, and nearly harrass him as he continued to just chew his cud. He never moved. He only got up and left at dusk probably because he was done eating and hungry for more.

That NEVER happens with deer (never say never), especially with a buck. But low and behold. Then I thought back on a buck I saw in the same field in late summer who was allowing me to photograph him as he grazed the field. This time I was all decked out in camo and pretty obscured. But none the less was surprised by the bucks unusual comfort and candor. Apparently, that’s just his personality.