Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Deer me #phenology

Many, many years ago, when I was first learning about hunting whitetail deer, my campmates taught me to always look toward the back edge of fields when looking for whitetails. That rule of thumb has, for the most part, served me well over the years, up to and including this morning. As I was driving away from the house to get the jeep serviced, I looked toward the back of our property and there was a whitetail doe, feeding on something. I couldn't tell if she had a fawn with her or not.

Several miles plus a right turn down the road, I saw another doe. This one wasn't at the back edge of a field, she was right beside the road and I didn't notice her until she raised her head as the front end of the jeep was about 50 feet from her. Fortunately for all concerned, she stayed in the grass and the jeep and I passed without incident. I certainly hope she didn't have a fawn with her.

whitetail doe and fawns, midSummer grasses
whitetail doe and fawns, midSummer grasses
Photo by J. Harrington

As my pulse and blood pressure slowly returned to normal, I was very grateful that the doe hadn't performed one of the patented, harebrained stunts deer are known for and bolted directly into the side or in front of the jeep. I also started to wonder some more about the fussing I'd seen in social media a week or ten days or so ago, about farmers and/or MNDoT mowing roadsides before August 1, because numerous birds use roadside grasses as nesting cover. On the other hand, having lived in and around deer country for most of my adult life, I like it much more when I have an opportunity to hit the brakes when I see a deer. Twice I haven't and they've run into the side of the vehicle I was driving. Each time without apparent body damage to vehicle or deer. Once a doe bolted in front of me from some roadside trees, allowing me barely enough time to avoid a catastrophic encounter.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Birds aren't necessarily more valuable than deer, and bird/vehicle encounters are, I think, less frequent and less damaging to vehicles than deer/car collisions. I suspect it's not possible to set mowers at about 18 inches, allowing ground cover for birds while making roadside deer more visible. That would make it too easy.

mowed roadsides improve visibility
mowed roadsides improve visibility
Photo by J. Harrington

Outside cities it's currently legal to mow the first eight feet or shoulder at any time. Clearly, in my neighborhood, that first eight feet gets mowed very infrequently. I do have one somewhat strange neighbor who mows between the road and his fence, but not on the house side of the fence. I almost never see any deer in his yard at any time.

If any of you have come across what seems like a viable resolution to the conundrum of "to mow, or not to mow," please share it. As we, as a society, turn more roadsides and medians into habitat for pollinators, I'm getting more concerned about creating the unintended consequences of increased "collateral damage" resulting in a net loss of some kinds of non-pollinating wildlife that also lack the evolutionary background to avoid vehicles traveling at highway speeds. Back in the days when much of my leisure time was spent on the ocean in small craft, I was pretty rigorous about the rule of "a place for everything and everything in its place." But then there are neither roadsides nor ditches on the ocean.


Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

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