Mule Deer Field Trip near Bend, Oregon

At this time of year, mule deer are migrating and breeding in Central Oregon. Your best chances of seeing this nighttime-feeding deer are in the early hours of the morning or in the late evening. On a chilly November morning, High Desert Museum Curator of Wildlife, Jon Nelson, led a group of people eager to learn more about mule deer.

Mule Deer 10June2016

Mule Deer in the West

The mule deer is uniquely adapted to the environment of the American West. In the spring and summer they browse on plants in mountainous areas. As winter approaches, mule deer pack on the calories and move to lower elevations. Deer in the Cascades migrate eastwards and have to navigate their way past Highway 97. Underpasses help large numbers of deer make that journey. As the deer continue eastwards, hundreds can be seen in the area between Silver Lake and Fort Rock during fall and winter months.

In Central Oregon, deer feed mainly on bitterbrush, Idaho fescue grass, and sagebrush. They are not as dependent on the availability of water since they get much of what they need from their diet. On the field trip, Sand Spring was one of the few water sources we saw. It’s fenced to keep cattle out but the deer, as you probably know, can easily clear most fences if they want to get a drink.

Mule Deer buck 8August2017

Should you feed deer in your yard? No. If deer eat food provided by humans, it can have devastating effects. Their gut has evolved to process certain foods. If they eat other foods, it can kill the good bacteria in their stomachs. This can cause illness or even death. Certain diseases are spread to other deer via their saliva so you may not want to give them salt licks either.

Mule deer can often be found in ecotones, edge habitats between two plant communities. They can also find their preferred food plants in areas that are becoming re-established, including those affected by fires and clear-cutting. Deer seek out certain areas using behavioral thermal regulation. For example, they bed down on south and east facing slopes where it tends to be warmer.

Mule Deer carcass 10April2017 Mule deer are adapted to living in areas with high snowfall. However, depths deeper than 20” for extended periods of time, like we had last winter, can cause many deer to die. Scavengers benefit by feeding on winter-kill deer. On this trip, we found a dead buck and bald eagles and ravens were congregating nearby to feed on it. It appeared that coyotes had been there as well.

 

Factors Affecting Mule Deer Population Levels

When you see numerous mule deer around Central Oregon you may assume they are doing well. That, unfortunately, is not the case. The number of mule deer in Oregon is steeply declining. In the 1960’s, there were more than 300,000 mule deer in the state; now the number is estimated to be around 200,000. On this trip, we drove south on the China Hat Road, east of the Museum. Several years ago it would have been common to see lots of deer in this area. We didn’t see many deer until we were many miles away from Bend.

DeerHabitat 18Nov2017.jpg

There are several factors contributing to declining numbers. Fences affect deer populations by excluding them from some areas and also entangling them, which can lead to injury or death. Other factors include disturbance due to more people living in and visiting the area. Activities such as OHVing, mountain biking, and hiking with off-leash dogs, disturb deer. The many roads of Deschutes National Forest (more than any other National Forest in the U.S.) help in firefighting but also bring more people into the backcountry.

Poaching is a big problem in Oregon. More deer are taken illegally than legally. Due to budget constraints, the few officers responsible for enforcing the laws must cover huge geographic areas. On January 1, 2017, fines for poaching increased. The fine for poaching a deer with four or more points on at least one antler is now $7,500. While that is a lot, some people are still willing to break the law to bag a deer.

Mule deer 18November2017

The mule deer’s iconic antlers can affect their population levels. Some hunters prefer bucks with large antlers but another type of hunter is out looking for antlers. Shed hunters look for antlers that have been shed where deer tend to congregate in the late winter and early spring. This activity disturbs the deer at a crucial time of year. Selling the antlers, priced by the pound, is a lucrative business. Some states regulate how long shed hunters are allowed to collect antlers so that deer are not disturbed in the spring, when fawns are born.

Deer are managed through hunting throughout the U.S. Here in Oregon, seasons run from September through early December. Different types of firearms and restrictions are allowed at different times of the season. Hunters report their success and this information is used to set future seasons and manage the population.

A Bit About Mule Deer Life History

Fawn at Spring Creek near Camp Sherman, OR 25June2016 SiobhanSullivanPredators also affect deer populations. Cougars are the primary predator of deer in this region. Black bears and coyotes sometimes prey on fawns. Wolves have moved into the state over the last few years and they too prey on deer. One of the ways mule deer ensure more of their young survive is through a behavior known as swamping. All of the does become pregnant at about the same time. There are so many young fawns at once that predators can’t possibly get them all.

Signpost rubbed away by deer antlers 18November2017In the fall, breeding season starts for mule deer. The hormone levels in the bucks skyrockets. Their antlers grow at the amazing rate of up to an inch per day. The bucks shed the velvet on their antlers by rubbing on trees – or unlucky signposts. Big antlers attract mates and deter other males. The slim necks mule deer have in summer, become muscular and massive. Their eyes turn red and they sometimes drool. The rutting bucks are  ready to fight any male that gets too close to their harem of does. Harems can contain 15-20 does. The does choose which bucks they want to breed with. Fawns are born in late May through June after a 212 day gestation. Once they are more than a year old, does often have twins.

Diseases That Affect Mule Deer

Mule deer have a lifespan of about ten years in the wild but their life may be shortened by disease. Two diseases affecting deer were mentioned on this field trip. Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease (AHD) is passed  through direct contact, bodily fluids, and airborne routes. Symptoms may include a blue-colored tongue, mouth ulcers, severe weight loss, and weakness. AHD affects mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose, and pronghorn and is often fatal. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a disease with symptoms similar to mad cow disease. It occurs in deer, elk, moose, and reindeer and is always fatal.

You may have heard a story in the news recently about a local person cited for possessing a deer bagged in Montana. Oregon is CWD free and does not allow certain parts of deer and elk to be imported into the state from Montana, 24 other states, and one Canadian province that have the disease . Once it was determined that this particular deer had CWD, the deer meat was confiscated and every place it had been stored or disposed of had to be decontaminated. This highly contagious disease could be a serious problem here in the future.

Mule deer in garden 9August2017

So the next time you are concerned about mule deer eating your landscaping, keep in mind that their numbers are declining. Do what you can to keep them away from your most treasured plants and appreciate them for their beauty and grace.

Reprinted from High Desert Voices December 2017 newsletter. To see more issues, go here.

 

Juniper of Dreams

“Its trunk had twisted and turned over the years as the roots sought water far below. The tree was more than a thousand years old. Crinkled yellow-green lichens adorned dark bare branches reaching skyward. Clumps of scaly foliage and tiny silver-blue cones clung to a scattering of branches.” – Description of Enebros de Sueños, the Juniper of Dreams, in a magical realism story I’m working on.

Western tree in Bend, Oregon 19November2017

I have lots of western juniper trees on my property but this particular one serves as my muse. I have included it in many photos – see Juniper Muse – but now it is also a mysterious character in a children’s book I’m working on. The tree is old and twisted with age, yet it persists.

The Daily Post – Particular

Watch out Space Station!

Yesterday I went out early in the morning to see if I could spot the International Space Station going by. I saw it and snapped a quick photo without composing it. I was using the SkyView Free app on my phone. This is the picture I got through the app!

Orion constellation about to smash the International Space Station 16November2017

Orion the Hunter is about to smash the International Space Station. Uh oh.

To find the International Space Station where you live, go to this NASA site – Spot the Station. Type in your location, click the pin on the map, and then click “View sighting opportunities.” It tells you when it will be going by, where to look in the sky, and how long it will be visible. Seeing the station zoom by is an impressive sight.

Crane Creek Ranch Sculpture

I saw this metal sculpture of a stagecoach on a recent trip and wanted to experiment with how to present it. I chose to use a digital version of the autochrome process.

Stagecoach sculpture at Crane Creek Ranch near Lakeview, Oregon Autochrome 1November2017

When this process was first presented at the Paris Photo Club by the Lumiére brothers in 1907, it was a turning point in color photography. Other methods existed but this process used a novel ingredient – potato starch. Glass plates were covered with grains of potato starch dyed red, green, and blue. Carbon black and a thin emulsion layer were added and the plate was flipped and exposed to light. The image could be developed into a transparency.  To see some of the dreamlike photos created with this process, click here.

The sculpture is on Highway 140, northeast of Lakeview, Oregon. The artwork is near a locked gate with “Crane Creek Ranch” over the entrance.

Here’s what my original image looked like:

Stagecoach sculpture at Crane Creek Ranch near Lakeview, Oregon 1November2017

Weekly Photo Challenge – Experimental

Storm over Hart Mountain

Last week  when I visited Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, a threatening looking storm was moving in. Dark clouds temporarily blotted out the big blue sky. We didn’t stay long on this primitive dirt road near refuge headquarters. When the roads there get wet, they can turn into a muddy gumbo that makes it hard to drive.  We made it out fine, flushing some sage grouse on the way. Spectacular sights!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Temporary

Little Lava Lake: The start of something big

Visiting Little Lava Lake

Little Lava Lake is a small lake that plays a very big role in Oregon. Located in the shadow of Mt. Bachelor, this lake is the source of the Deschutes River. From here, the river winds and meanders to the Columbia River, 252 miles to the north. This river supports a wide variety of wildlife and also provides water for power, irrigation, and drinking. It’s also an important ingredient in local beers.

Origin of Deschutes River, Little Lava Lake, Oregon 28Sept2017Water from subsurface springs feed the lake. Occasionally water from Lava Lake, just northwest of Little Lava Lake, flows into this lake. Lava flows from past volcanic activity are visible along the shores.

 

To the north, you get great views of the Broken Top and South Sister volcanoes. To the northeast, Mt. Bachelor looms over the forest. It is a really scenic place to visit in a kayak! I like kayaking this lake because it has lots of interesting nooks and crannies.

Volcanic views, Little Lava Lake, Oregon 28Sept2017There are great opportunities to see wildlife around this lake. Rushes and sedges form dense stands along the shorelines. Lodgepole pine forests border the lake.

Volcanic views, Little Lava Lake, Oregon 28Sept2017On a cool September day as I kayaked around the lake, I saw common mergansers, mallards, a bald eagle, a great blue heron, a Lewis’ woodpecker, a winter wren, and many northern flickers and mountain chickadees. I heard nuthatches and ravens calling from the woods. Douglas’ squirrels and chipmunks were up to their usual mischief near the shoreline.

Little Lava Lake, Oregon 28Sept2017About Little Lava Lake

Little Lava Lake is 138-acres in size with an average depth of eight feet and a maximum depth of 18 feet. The lake is at an elevation of 4,750 feet. It’s located about 38 miles southwest of Bend, Oregon. Little Lava Lake is stocked with rainbow trout that average 6-12 inches in size. We caught a beautiful 12-inch rainbow trolling from a kayak. The brook trout population in the lake is self-sustaining. Whitefish and tui chub also live in this lake. For more details on fishing at Little Lava Lake, click here (on the Fishing tab) or here.

Little Lava Lake, Oregon 28Sept2017There is a boat launch on the eastern shore at Little Lava Lake. A Northwest Forest Service Pass is required here. Motorized and non-motorized boats are allowed on the lake.

Little Lava Lake, Oregon 28Sept2017Little Lava Lake Campground is located on the western shore of the lake. It has 13 campsites and two tent-only group sites. Lava Lake Resort is right next door. There is a store there and boat rentals, RV camping, gas, and oil. There are MANY trails nearby to explore.

Beyond the facade: Malheur’s treasures

This old building may appear dull and pedestrian to some. If you look beyond the peeling paint and overgrown yard, you will experience an environment alive with color and song. This building is one of the dorms at Malheur Field Station located near the headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  Birds, and birdwatchers, flock to this oasis in the High Desert of Oregon.

Malheur Field Station, Princeton, Oregon 8April2017

Many people have learned about this area through classes at the field station and visits to the refuge. Stop on by if you are ever in the area!

Benson Boat Landing Sunset at Malheur NWR May1982 SiobhanSullivan

Weekly Photo Challenge – Pedestrian

Bitterroot blossoms & leaves

The leaves of a plant usually frame a beautiful flower. In the case of the bitterroot plant, the flowers are so “big” you hardly notice the leaves. These delicate flowers are only about an inch and a half across.

Bitterroot blossoms near Gray Butte, Oregon 22May2016

In the early spring months, you might notice the narrow succulent leaves of the plant sprouting up long before they flower. They are so small that you may overlook them. Here’s what they look like.

Bitterroot leaves in the spring near Tumalo, Oregon 9April2017

This plant was very important to Native Americans in western North America. The roots were dried and mixed with berries and meat. The plants were also used medicinally. Bitterroot roots were collected and traded and they were an item of high value. For more about them, visit my post – Desert Bitterroot Oasis.

Here are a few pictures of the blossoms from that post. They are a very small plant with tiny leaves, large blossoms, and enormous beauty. One of my favorites!

Friday Flowers

via Daily Prompt: Leaf

Beer Flowers

Here’s a picture of the flowers on some hops plants. Here in the Bend area, there are many breweries (about 30) so it’s not uncommon to see this plant. Yes, it helps flavor beer, but it’s also a pretty plant with a distinctive aroma.

Beer flowers - Hops in Bend, Oregon 27August2017

What makes beer so good in Bend

Good water = good beer - Benham Falls 23Oct2014

Benham Falls on the Deschutes River

Why are there so many breweries here? One big reason is the water. The relatively soft and flavorful water requires little processing. Water has a strong influence on the taste of the beer.

I saw the hops flowers near the Deschutes Brewery plant in the Old Mill district of Bend. The air was thick with the scent of brewing beer early this morning. Deschutes Brewery opened in 1988 and it was one of the first craft breweries in the Pacific Northwest.

To learn more about beer in this area, see my post Bend=Beer.  The post mentions an exhibit at the High Desert Museum. Though the exhibit is no longer at the Museum, you can taste many different types of beer in Bend.

You can get samples of  beer from 16 of the breweries on The Bend Ale Trail. If you complete the trail, you’ll get a souvenir. Click here for more info.

A new tasting room in Bend

Yesterday we visited The Ale Apothecary’s new tasting room. This brewery does small runs of beer that are aged in oak barrels. They have truly unique flavors. There is a hollowed out log in the tasting room to show you one of the tools they sometimes use to create their drinks. The beer filters through branches in the log and ages for four to six months. That process was developed in the 1500’s in Finland.

The Ale Apothecary brewer Paul Arney once stated that “a brewery is designed to the place…the environment affects the flavor of the beer”. Bend is fortunate because it’s located in a great environment that is a feast for the senses and the origin of some great beers!

Utah National Parks: Trees & Rocks

The Weekly Photo Challenge this week is Structure. I immediately thought of our recent trip to the five national parks in Utah. The structure of the rocks and geological features is complimented by the trees in these parks. Whether dead and twisting, or green and contrasting, the trees are a main character in an interesting landscape.

Arches National Park, Utah 3May2017

Arches National Park, Utah

The arches are amazing at Arches National Park and standing dead trees add to the scene. You can see Double Arch in the background.

A fence along the trail in Canyonlands National Park, Utah 4May2017

A fence along the trail in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

I loved these fences made from old juniper wood in Canyonlands National Park. They helped keep people on the trail and were nice to look at too.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah 5May2017

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

The rainbow of colors in the cliffs of this canyon in Capitol Reef National Park were complimented by the bright green of the trees. A storm was moving in in this picture.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah 6May2017

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

A windswept pine tree clings to the edge of a cliff in Bryce Canyon National Park. Puffy white clouds (like in “The Simpsons” cartoons) float gracefully in the background.

Zion National Park 6May2017

Zion National Park

Colorful and tilting structures in the rock, line a tree-filled canyon in Zion National Park. A few wispy clouds hang over the valley.

The national parks in Utah are full of interesting structures both large and small. The geology of the region tells a dramatic story. The trees and other plants living here have adapted to harsh conditions. The wildlife living here takes advantage of the local environment.

Take the time to look up but also to look down when you visit these parks. Each park is a little different from the others and each one has amazing sights worth seeing. The forces of Nature are strong here.

Solar Eclipse Success!

We traveled half an hour from our house to see the eclipse in the Path of Totality. Success!

Eclipse 2017 Prineville, Oregon 21August2017

Here’s some pictures I took right before the moon covers the sun.

Eclipse 2017 Prineville, Oregon 21August2017Eclipse5 21Aug2017Eclipse6 21Aug2017Eclipse7 21Aug2017

My partial pictures are not quite as good because I was trying to figure out the best place for the filter.

We viewed the eclipse from Ochoco Wayside State Park, just west of Prineville, Oregon. The road up to the park was closed when we arrived there at 6:30 am so we hiked about 1/2 mile up the hill to meet more of our group who had arrived there earlier. Smoke from wildfires gave us an interesting sunrise from the 3,048 foot peak.

Sunrise Eclipse 2017 Prineville, Oregon 21August2017

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Otter Bench hike near Crooked River Ranch, Oregon

The Otter Bench Trail gives you some breathtaking views of the Crooked River. The trail head is near the town of Crooked River Ranch and the trail goes along the base of the cliffs bordering the river. We walked a couple miles in, stopped for lunch, and then headed back. There is little elevation change on the section we hiked but if you decide to head down to the river, it gets steep.

Otter Bench hike, Crooked River, Oregon 17April2017

The trail goes through juniper and sagebrush habitat and along rocky talus slopes. If you go off the trail a little ways, you can walk to the edge of cliffs that enclose the river far below. If you have a fear of heights, don’t get too close to that edge. A turkey vulture flew by at eye height when we were close to the edge. Hope it wasn’t waiting for a meal!

You get a good view of some of the geological forces at work here. The basalt columns in the lower cliffs are part of the Deschutes formation. Above them you can see light tan colored tuff. Far above the tuff area you will see more columnar basalt and it is part of the most recent Newberry formation.

There is a small dam on the river a few miles from the trail head.

There are golden eagles nesting on the cliffs and you can see how easy it was for them to find a nest site here. The Horny Hollow Trail forks off from the main trail but it’s closed seasonally when the birds are nesting. It was closed when we were there but I saw eagles flying above the highest cliffs in the distance.

I heard and saw quite a few songbirds on this hike in April. The list of species seen includes Townsend’s solitaire, black billed magpie, mountain chickadee, Brewer’s sparrow, and western meadowlark. It was nice to hear some of these songsters again.

As temperatures begin to warm up, the high desert starts its wildflower show. We saw big showy arrowhead balsamroot, purple phlox and rock cress, delicate pink prairie stars, yellow fiddleneck, larkspur, and white miner’s lettuce. After a particularly hard winter we were grateful to see these bursts of color.

This trail passes through Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Crooked River National Grassland, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife land. There is no fee to use the trail and there’s a good parking area at the trail head.

Here is a map that shows the Otter Bench trail:

Otter_Bench_Crooked_River_Ranch_Trails

Here are driving directions from BLM:

Directions to Otter Bench Trailhead from Highway 97 From Highway 97, just north of Terrebonne, turn left on to Lower Bridge Road (Sign with left arrow says “Crooked River Ranch”). After 2 miles turn right on 43rd St. After 1.7 miles turn left on Chinook Dr. After 5 miles (including a steep descent), go straight on to Horny Hollow Rd (do not take Chinook back up the switchback) Go 1.7 miles to the end of the pavement and park there.