Thursday, December 8, 2016


To those who are squeamish, don’t want to acknowledge that nature is “red in tooth and claw”, or think of white-tailed deer as “Bambi” come to life – DO NOT READ FURTHER!

The body lay at the edge of the old woods road; it was an adult male, at least 3 ½ years old, he would have been a handsome fellow – but now he was dead.

The buck was at the bottom of a short hill below a dense patch of 10-12 foot high hemlock and white pine growing beneath larger trees.

Here's how I found him –

He was in full rigor mortis, which, at the existing temperature would probably mean that he had been dead for somewhere between eight and 36 hours

A bear or perhaps coyotes had fed on the organs of his abdominal cavity and some of the larger muscles. Blood had pooled in the abdominal cavity but had not yet fully coagulated –

There were no external wounds other than where the body had been fed upon. What killed the buck?

On the hillside above the body there was a drag mark through the leaves where the buck had been dragged down to where it now lay, probably by a black bear. Along this trail were occasional tufts of hair that had been pulled out as the buck was dragged over rocks or fallen limbs – but no blood.

I followed the drag mark into the thicket of conifers where after a short distance it ended. The thick carpet of dry fallen leaves would have clearly shown if the buck had been dragged from further away. And still there was no blood.

Circling the end of the drag mark in ever larger loops, I didn’t find an extension of the drag mark, nor a blood trail, nor a patch of disturbed leaves as would be expected if a bear or coyotes killed the buck – and still no blood.

The buck lay in an area normally closed to hunting,  about ¾ mile from a road open to traffic, this was several weeks before firearms deer season would open but the season was open for users of bows and crossbows. He could have been wounded by a trespasser's arrow or crossbow bolt or by a poacher along the road, or hit by a vehicle. He died just after the rut had reached its peak, so he could have been gored or injured by another buck as discussed here - but there was no nearby sign of a battle between two bucks. Whatever caused the injury it must have been on the buck's right side.

However he was injured, he apparently took shelter in the thick conifer cover where he died. In all probability a bear found the buck not long after he died and dragged the body to where I found it.

Nothing goes to waste in the natural world, so now the buck’s feeding predators (which find it easier and safer to feed on the already dead than to kill live prey) and scavengers –

So the answer to the question “What killed the buck?” remains a mystery.

The buck presented an opportunity to set a camera trap to capture photographs of what might come for a meal at an earlier stage than the last dead buck I’d found. Photos from that opportunity were posted here.

But with hunting seasons for bear and deer just about to start, the deer would have to be dragged well away from the old road before I'd consider leaving a camera trap to watch over the body. That wasn’t about to happen because a recent fall had demonstrated, for the second time in three years, that an old guy's ribs don’t bend - they break - and they take longer to heal than they did 40 years ago

So, there the buck remained to intrigue or disturb passers-by and feed many other things from bears to bacteria.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Back in the distant past when I was young, I hung around with two old “founding fathers” of the local hiking club. “Old” says I, but they were younger then than I am now.

Both of these fellows were real devotees of using an alpenstock when walking on rough terrain. The dictionary description of an alpenstock is “A strong staff with an iron point, used by mountain climbers”, and the alpenstocks these men carried fit the description pretty well; they had turned white ash staffs with a steel pin inserted in the tip.

After watching them use their alpenstocks as “third legs” to help with balance on steep or slippery terrain and while crossing streams, and occasionally use them to vault across narrow streams or muddy spots, I figured they had a good idea.
So I began using an alpenstock too. Turned staffs have an inherent weakness, if the wood’s grain runs out partway along the length they can split, break, and send the user sprawling. I decided to make mine from a sapling of suitable diameter so the grain would run the full length of the staff. None of those flimsy, expensive "trekking poles" for me. It also quickly became apparent that the steel pin in the tip tended to slip off smooth hard rock – so mine has sported a rubber tip of the type made for chair legs. The rubber tips give good adhesion on rock and they come in various diameters so it’s easy to get one to fit the diameter of the alpenstock and, when they wear through, replacements are readily available.

Now I have two alpenstocks. One is old (35 years+) and weathered, a veteran of many miles traversing rough country in at least six states, and is semi-retired.  The newer one (at about ten years a mere youngster) is also accumulating the miles. 

As did my friends’, my alpenstocks both have a wrist strap; they also have a short ¼” x 20 bolt inserted at the upper end. That bolt permits using the alpenstock as a monopod for low-light photography. Except when a camera is attached, the bolt sports an appropriate nut to protect the threads (and my hand).

A short part of the newer one's shaft is wrapped with parachute cord – you can never tell when it may come in handy.
My alpenstock really proved itself one day recently when I fell on a rock - old guys' ribs don't bend, they break. The alpenstock made it much easier for me to navigate more than a mile of rough terrain to get back to the car. So thanks go to those now long-gone hikers for convincing a young guy that an alpenstock is a great advantage in forest and field.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Beneath the Ledge II

For most of a year I’ve had a camera trap beneath an overhanging rock ledge. Some of the first photos were posted here.

Several checks of the camera trap since that post yielded more photos: an eastern chipmunk –

A porcupine that apparently dens in the labyrinth of overhangs, fallen slabs and crevasses of a nearby rock outcropping and from time to time appeared on camera –

As before, white-footed mice were frequently in the photographs, often climbing on the ledge –

When it rains, water drips from the overhang creating a wet spot on the upright slab. It was there that a white-footed mouse assumed a spread-eagle posture to drink from the wet spot –

Gray squirrels were common visitors –

There were several photos taken of a house cat far from “home” –

The house cat was fortunate to get that far from civilization without becoming a meal for a coyote or great horned owl. But it would be better for native wildlife, especially birds and small mammals, if the house cat had provided a meal for a predator.

The camera trap captured its second photo of a gray fox –

On September 1, for the first time, the camera caught a black bear beneath the ledge –

The bear became a regular visitor, appearing on camera again on September 29, October 12 and October 21 –

A bobcat lingered long enough for the camera to get a few photographs -
The most fascinating photos were the large number of photos (20+) of a camel cricket taken on several different days. The camera’s passive infra-red (PIR) sensor  reacts to changes in temperature to turn on the camera and trigger photographs. How sensitive the PIR must be to react to an invertebrate whose body temperature is close to, or the same as, that of its surroundings, but the PIR did –

Although the camera trap doesn’t get a lot of photos, the variety of wildlife at this spot warrants keeping it in place.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Flowers' Final Fling

It's the third week of November and, while there have been several heavy frosts at the house and the last few mornings have felt like mid-November should, this has been a really warm fall. In open areas near the river there are still a few flowers in bloom. In past years the last of the wildflowers would have been done blooming in October – but the climate is changing and recent years have been the warmest on record.

Some of the blooming wildflowers are exotics, escaped ornamentals or accidental imports, others are native species and some are in flower long after their normal season for blooming. All of these plants are well adapted to grow along roadsides or field edges where the sun shines brightly. A walk yielded a photographic bouquet of the last of the year’s wildflowers –
Daisy Fleabane

Tall Goldenrod

Queen Anne's Lace
Purple-stemmed Aster
Ox-eye Daisy

Small White Aster
Common Evening Primrose

It wasn’t just flowers that spoke of the warmth, there were a few insects flying in this too warm weather. A common sulphur on small white aster –

And a mating pair of ruby meadowhawks –

Even though the temperature shouldn’t be well over 55°F in November as it was this year, it’s pleasant to see these flowers and insects.