My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Squirrel day afternoon, and the Deer and I

In my last post I started out complaining that I was photographing the same animals time and time again, and one of those critters were fox squirrels. They are everywhere in an urban or suburban area, people refer to them as tree rats at times, because they breed prolifically, and can do a lot of damage if they decide to share your house with you.

Well, it’s not their fault that they have learned to survive our efforts to eradicate them from the face of the Earth as we have done with so many other species. In the course of writing my last post, it dawned on me that we humans only cherish what is rare, and curse abundance. I won’t say I have ever cursed the abundance of fox squirrels, but then I never had one destroy my attic either. All squirrels are rodents, and like their cousins rats and beavers, their teeth never stop growing. They have to gnaw away on things to keep their teeth worn down, and if they find their way into your house, some of their favorite things to gnaw on are ceiling joists, rafters, and electrical wires.

Anyway, on Saturday when I went for a long hike in a local park, I wasn’t seeing much else to shoot pictures of other than squirrels early on, so I decided what the heck, I’ll try shooting every squirrel I get close to. They are cute little fuzzy imps, even if there are millions of them. The only reason I had stopped photographing them was that I had many pictures of them already, but I thought what the heck, it’s digital photography, it doesn’t cost me anything and if I don’t like the photos, I can delete them.

Fall fox squirrel

I have a couple of photos of that one facing me, but I like this one better because of the background, and the fact that it has three feet off the ground as it turns to find another maple seed to eat.

This is the pose you normally see them taking.

Fox squirrel

It helps when they peer out at you from the sunny side of the tree.

Fox squirrel

We usually associate squirrels with eating acorns, and they do, but I see them gorging themselves on maple seeds when they get the chance.

Fox squirrel eating maple seeds

And if there are no maple seeds or acorns around, they’ll eat the seeds from pine cones.

Fox squirrel

This little clown almost hit me when he dropped the pine cone he was extracting the seeds from.

And this one thought that it was staying hidden from me by not moving.

Fox squirrel

This next one wasn’t eating when I saw it, it was gnawing on the stump that it is sitting on, to keep its teeth sharp and trimmed.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrels aren’t nearly as nimble or as good at aerial acrobatics as are red squirrels or grey squirrels are, but they are fun to watch up in the tree tops as they decide how to get from tree to tree.

Fox squirrel debating a jump

Fox squirrel still debating

I have seen them miss their landing point and come crashing to the ground, I could be wrong, but they seem to wave that big bushy tail around on their way down to act as a parachute to slow their fall. They don’t seem to be hurt when they land, they take off running as if nothing had happened.

I can’t do an entire post of fox squirrels, so I guess I’ll throw in a few whitetail deer shots as well. Early on during my hike, I came across three does lying down on an island of sorts in a marsh. We’ve had a lot of rain here the last few weeks, this week especially, and many areas I can normally walk through were flooded on Saturday. That limited how close I could get to the deer.

Whitetail doe lying down

It also limited me as far as finding a gap in the brush to shoot through, as you can see. But then, only I would complain about being able to sneak up on a deer lying down, and having a stalk of grass and a branch being between the deer and I. It is easy to pick the deer out in the photo when I have zoomed in to 48X, but I am sure most people would have never seen it if they had walked the same path as I did. I was in my 20’s the first time I was able to sneak up on a bedded deer, and I can still remember the feeling of accomplishment I felt for having done so. Now I do it routinely, of course it helps that there are a lot more deer these days, and I’ll have more on that later in this post.

One of the deer got up to stretch.

Whitetail doe

I couldn’t get a good shot of her either. As I was trying to move around to get better shots without frightening them off, yet another doe came trotting along to join them.

Whitetail doe

I think that some of the deer are beginning to remember who I am, I know I have seen the same ones many times, and can even tell one from another in some cases.

Whitetail doe

I say that because it seems that a few of them I see every week are beginning to pose for me.

Whitetail doe

They even come prancing over the hill to find me.

Whitetail doe

And when they realize its me, move closer.

Whitetail doe

Strike a pose…

Whitetail doe

Then continue on their way.

I walked right up on this buck thrashing the brush with his antlers.

Whitetail buck

Then he walked over to a clearing so I could get a better shot of him.

Whitetail buck

That’s not a bad 10 point rack (eastern count), but he needs a couple of more years to grow a really good one. This is still a young buck from the looks of him, he doesn’t have the dark streak down his back that gives rise to the name of moss back for older bucks.

Yeah, I know, I cheated and used the flash on my camera for extra light, but not even I get this close to a 10 pointer everyday, it was too good of an opportunity to take any chances on.

In a way, it is fitting that I haven’t gotten around to finishing this post until today, for it is November 15th, the opening of firearms deer season here in Michigan. Opening day used to be a really big deal in Michigan, some factories would close, and some rural school districts would as well. On the evening before opening day, the two lane highways leading north would be bumper to bumper traffic, and one of my earliest childhood memories is of waking up in the back seat of my dad’s old Ford as we waiting in line for the ferry to cross the Straits of Mackinac. That was before the Mackinac Bridge was finished, and there would be long lines of cars waiting for the ferry to get to the Upper Peninsula, the UP as it is called here in Michigan, all hunters on their way to deer camp.

This year the DNR expects there to be around 700,000 hunters in the woods, and that may sound like a lot, but it is around half of what there used to be. The state is so desperate for money that this year, they are going to allow ten-year olds to hunt if accompanied by a parent or guardian. As I have written before, the funds for wildlife restoration comes from two sources, hunting and fishing licenses, and a 10% excise tax on hunting and fishing gear.

With fewer and fewer hunters and fishermen, there are fewer dollars for habitat restoration of any kind. The idea behind letting ten-year olds begin hunting is to get them started early. I happen to think that letting ten years hunt is a bad idea, no matter what restrictions the younger hunters face. There have been a number of stories about this in the media of late, and most people want to blame the declining numbers of young hunters on video games and such. I’m not so sure about that, I think it is because kids are being brainwashed in school and the media into believing that hunting and fishing is wrong, heck, some are brainwashed into believing that even being out in the woods is wrong. I have a post started on this topic, so I’ll leave it at that for now and move on.

One of the other big news stories the past few weeks relating to deer hunting is the number of nature preserves that either are going to be open to hunting, or are thinking of opening to hunting in the future. This always creates a controversy whenever the governing body of a nature preserve decides to allow deer hunting on the preserve. After all, they are nature preserves, so shouldn’t they be preserving the deer too?

With fewer hunters each year, the deer population in Michigan is exploding, especially in nature preserves that are typically off-limits to hunters. In many of the preserves, the deer population is so out of hand that the deer are destroying the native plant life, and invasive species of plants are taking over. This is after people at the preserves put in decades of work removing the invasive species in the first place to allow the native species to return. The neighbors of the preserves aren’t particularly happy about herds of deer coming from the preserves to raid their gardens, but they’re split on whether or not hunting should be allowed on the preserves near them. Every one wants an easy answer, but as is usually the case, there are none.

There have even been reports of deer starving to death in some of the preserve, which wouldn’t surprise me. When I see the estimates of deer per square mile in some of the preserves, in some case double what biologists recommend, deer starving to death seems inevitable. We should never forget what happened on the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona, near the Grand Canyon.

The Kaibab Plateau is an “island” surrounded by lower elevations. The plateau, with elevation up to 9,000 feet  is bordered on the south by the Grand Canyon, on the east and the west by tributary canyons of the Colorado River, and on the North by tiers of uplifted cliffs. President Theodore Roosevelt, hunter, sportsman, and maybe the most environmentally friendly president the US has ever had, created the Grand Canyon Game Preserve in 1906. The game preserve which includes 612,736 acres of the Kaibab National Forest, is “set a side for the protection of game animals and birds,” and is “to be recognized as a breeding place therefore.” In 1908, the Forest Reserve north of the Grand Canyon, including the game preserve, was renamed Kaibab Nation Forest.

The idea in 1906 was simply to protect and expand the deer herd. Overgrazing by herds of sheep, cattle, and horses had taken place on the plateau since the 1880s. During that time, many predators were also killed by ranchers and bounty hunters. By the time Roosevelt established the game preserve, ranchers had moved most domestic livestock elsewhere. The primary change brought by the creation of the game preserve was to ban deer hunting. Government efforts, led by the Forest Service, began to protect the deer’s numbers by killing off their natural predators once again; to this end, between 1907 and 1939, 816 mountain lions, 20 wolves, 7388 coyotes and over 500 bobcats were reportedly killed.

With hunting deer banned, and their natural predators gone, the deer population exploded in a very short amount of time.  One estimate put the population as high as 100,000 deer inhabiting the range in 1924.  Shortly after that time, the deer population began to decline from over-browsing. By the mid-1920s, many deer were starving to death. After a heated legal dispute between the federal government and the state of Arizona, hunting was once more permitted, to reduce the deer’s numbers. Hunters were able to kill only a small fraction of the starving deer, however, and tens of thousands of deer died of starvation. Even worse was the damage done to the plant life on the plateau, it took decades for the plant life to recover sufficiently to support even a modest herd of deer again.

That of course is the desert southwest, and I don’t think that plant life in Michigan would take as long to recover as it did on the Kaibab Plateau, but in some places in Michigan, the deer have removed anything edible to as high as they can reach on their hind legs, 7 to 8 feet. And, I hope that I never end up posting photos of starving deer on my blog, some of the photos I took back in August showed some deer that I thought were in bad shape for that time of year. Either they have manage to put on some weight, or those deer have died, as the deer I have been seeing the last few weeks all look very healthy. Let’s hope it stays that way.

One more thing before I end this, November 15th is also my best friend’s birthday, Happy Birthday Susan!

That’s it for this one, thanks, for stopping by!

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2 responses

  1. Here here for the abundance of things!!! We all want that! I love the squirrels too.

    November 16, 2011 at 4:15 pm

  2. a resourceful writing indeed- very nice!

    November 22, 2011 at 12:56 am