We saw this red fox in Yellowstone National Park in June of this year. This is the Rocky Mountain subspecies, Vulpes vulpes macroura.
The red fox is not seen often in the park because they are nocturnal and they blend into their preferred habitats along the edges of meadows and forests. The females nurse their kits during late spring and this may have been a female out looking for food. Foxes usually use dens created by other animals.
We were fortunate to see a female with kits on another spring visit to Yellowstone. Litter size averages four to eight kits. Vixens gives birth in late March to April. Both parents care for the young through their first few months of their life.
When wolves were introduced into the park, many coyotes were eliminated by the wolves and this may have caused an increase in the number of foxes. Coyotes prefer sagebrush and open meadow habitat and hunt more by day so they don’t compete as much with foxes.
The red fox is the smallest dog-like mammal in the park. The males weigh 11-12 pounds and the females weigh 10 pounds. They average 43 inches in length. Most foxes live 3-7 years but in Yellowstone can live up to 11 years.
Foxes can have a wide variety of coat colors–from red to black. Their thick tail aids in balance and they use them to signal to other foxes. Foxes wrap their tail around themselves in cold weather to help them stay warm.
Red foxes have a varied diet. They feed on voles, mice, rabbits, birds, amphibians, eggs, carrion, and some plants. Animals that prey on foxes include cougars, wolves, and coyotes.
Video of a flying red fox
Here’s a National Geographic video of a fox hunting in the winter. They have extremely good hearing and listen for animals beneath the snow. When they sense prey, they pounce or “fly” to catch it under the snow. Flying Red Fox
I was glad I was inside my car when I saw these bison coming right at us. Some people think they are calm and tame like a domestic cow. They’re not! Bulls weigh up to 2,000 pounds and cows weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Since they can run up to 30 miles per hour, it’s best to keep your distance.
Last night my dog was shaking with excitement looking at something right outside the sliding glass door. A baby bunny! However, it wasn’t just any rabbit. This one was a tiny “kit” that was just a few inches long.
I have seen jackrabbits and cottontails in the shrub-steppe High Desert habitat where I live. This could be a cottontail or maybe even a pygmy rabbit. It’s hard to tell when they are young.
Yes, the background is not the best for this shot. But sometimes nature comes to you and you have to take advantage of it and grab your camera. The sprinkler head is just over an inch across so this gives you an idea how small it was.
Needless to say, my dog did not get to go outside for a while. The bunny went back to its burrow which is probably under our porch. Life goes on for this little cutie.
Today I took a hike up Gray Butte, northeast of Terrebonne, Oregon. It was a nice hike with lots of wildflowers and spectacular views. This view is from the edge of the Crooked River Caldera looking west to Mount Jefferson, on the right, and Black Butte, on the left. The rocks in the foreground are splattered with messages left by lichens.
My place in the world is out in the wild places of central Oregon. From dry sagebrush steppe in a caldera to lush meadows bordered by pine forests. There are so many special places to explore…
Every time I see a killdeer, it brings a smile to my face.
A bold bird
They are a bold little bird. Yes, you usually hear their distinctive kill-deer call long before you see them. Their black and white banded markings, and cinnamon-colored rump and tail feathers, make it hard to mistake them for something else.
Their bold personality is another thing I admire about them. They are a small bird, but they are fearless if you are near their nest. They assume anyone nearby is a potential predator. Killdeer bob up and down and call if you get close. If that doesn’t discourage you, they’ll drag a wing, feigning injury. The birds flap their wings on the ground while leading you on a wandering path away from the nest. Courage in the face of adversity.
Nest and young
The nest is a scrape in the ground containing three to five speckled eggs. It’s easy to overlook so watch your step if you hear an adult nearby in the spring or summer months. The young birds are covered in down and ready to run right after they hatch. They are one of the cuter birds I have seen in the wild. Watch this short video to see a chick with a vocal adult.
They eat eat a wide variety of invertebrates. Killdeer eat crayfish and aquatic insect larvae in the water and grasshoppers and beetles on land. The birds are often seen following plows in farmer’s fields hoping to catch some recently unearthed worms or insect larvae.
Killdeer’s range covers a huge area in the Western Hemisphere and they can be found in a wide variety of habitats. You can find them around open areas such as mudflats, fields, lawns, parking lots, golf courses, and airports. Killdeer live in many areas year round. Do you have them where you live?
A group of killdeers is called a “season.” It’s a treat to see them, no matter what the season.
In my backyard, an old western juniper tree serves as my muse. Hope you enjoy these pictures that show the many moods of my muse through the seasons. The moods in the sunsets range from a quiet blush to a loud show of anger.
My cover image shows a rainbow of emotions surrounding the tree.
I have so many Yellowstone favorite places it’s hard to choose. Here’s a collection of photos of things that make the park special. I start this post with a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt who was known as the “conservation president.”
“The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and by jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”
Theodore Roosevelt, April 24, 1903 at the laying of the cornerstone of Gateway to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, with its larger-than-life landscapes, dramatically changing weather conditions, amazing menagerie of wildlife, variety of plant life, and geology in action, is one of my favorite places. It also has a rich history as the world’s first national park.
A park is born
Evidence shows ancient peoples lived in Yellowstone Country 11,000 years ago. European Americans began exploring the lands in the early 1800’s. Teams of explorers brought back tales of wonder of this unique environment. Their work was supported by images created by artists Thomas Moran and Henry W. Elliot and photographer William Henry Jackson. The park was established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. Additional protections for the park and its wildlife were instituted in 1894 when congress passed the National Park Protection Act – now known as the Lacey Act.
President Theodore Roosevelt had a love of the land and he was instrumental in making sure many natural areas were preserved. His quote above reflects the importance of preserving wild places so that all may enjoy them “in perpetuity.”
Landscapes – large and small
Here are photos of some special landscapes.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
And more of spectacular hot springs and other features.
And don’t forget to notice the tiny landscapes beneath your feet.
And of course the wildlife.
Yellowstone National Park gets visitors from all over the world. 4,116,524 people visited in 2017.
May we all continue to safeguard and preserve its scenery, forests, and wild creatures.
The mountain bluebird perched on the snag for a long time in a drenching rainstorm. While all the other birds sought shelter, he stubbornly remained on his perch. He wondered if it really was a bluebird day. The bird thought his brilliant blue plumage would attract a mate by reminding her of the sky on a sunny day. No such luck!
The Mill A Loop is a short and easy hike that starts on the flag bridge in the Old Mill district of Bend. This 1.1 mile trail is paved and mostly flat. You walk along the Deschutes River for most of the hike. At certain times of the year, kayakers, stand up paddleboarders, and innertubers will float by you on the river.
Flag Bridge March 2018
Crossing the bridge over the Deschutes River to see the Art in the High Desert show in Bend, Oregon
The Flag Bridge is a well-known sight in Bend. The flags are changed to celebrate different holidays and events. I am always impressed by these flags of many colors fluttering in the breeze. They also fly over a smaller pond near the restaurants.
Les Schwab Amphitheater
Deschutes Brewery from the trail
You will walk past a few notable landmarks. Yes, you start out in a shopping center, but you’ll also go by the Les Schwab Amphitheater, Deschutes Brewery, and the Bend Whitewater Park (adjacent to McKay Park). The amphitheater is where many concerts and outdoor events take place here in Bend. Deschutes Brewery, founded in 1988, was one of the first craft brewers in the region. The brewery has a nice tasting room and guided tours. The Whitewater Park was completed in 2015 and it divides the river into three channels. One channel is for wildlife, one is for innertubers and rafters, and one is for whitewater surfers, kayakers, or paddleboarders. I have seen people out surfing in wetsuits in all kinds of weather. See my post Bend Whitewater Park for info about the park and a few videos.
“No Caulks Allowed” by Roger Fox
“River Geese” by Peter Helze
“Kingfisher Perch” by Andrew Wachs and Dylan Woocks
“Spring Birds and Flowers” by Sandy Klein
“Charlie” by Greg Congleton
There is a lot of artwork on display along this route. Look for a large metal sculpture of a horse outside Tumalo Art Company close to the Flag Bridge. Be sure to take a closer look at this piece. A tall sculpture that incorporates steel wheels from one of the old lumber mills is just outside of Anthony’s restaurant. The Colorado Avenue Bridge has artwork inside and outside of the pedestrian tunnel. The amphitheater has beautiful murals on both sides of the stage. On the east side of the Whitewater Park, there is a tall metal sculpture that was designed as a perch for kingfishers. There is a sculpture of a group of Canada geese on the west side of the river.
Flora and Fauna
I have to mention the beautiful flowers in the landscaping along this route. I really like the blooming border plants on the west side of the amphitheater. They are gorgeous in the spring and summer months. Watch for the occasional hummingbird when the flowers are in full bloom. There are also some delicious smelling hops plants near the amphitheater.
California Quail near prickly poppy and green rabbitbrush
I walk this trail regularly and the types of wildlife seen varies by season. Ospreys and bald eagles can be seen near the river. Common waterfowl include Canada geese, mallards, mergansers, and American coots. You may see songbirds such as red-winged blackbirds, scrub jays, robins, cedar waxwings, and goldfinches. Swallows drift over the river in pursuit of insects. There is a beaver dam a little ways south of Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe and you may get a glimpse of them in early morning hours. I have also seen river otter and muskrats. A small population of the Oregon spotted frog breeds in this vicinity.
There is also a one-of-a-kind 12-station fly fishing course here. You may notice circles on land and in a couple of the smaller ponds. Each station has a sign nearby and you can try your hand at various casting challenges.
Smokestacks from the Old Mill
A little history
This district was named Old Mill because there used to be two lumber mills located here, one on each side of the river. The three iconic smoke stacks you see were part of a powerhouse that ran 24/7. The stacks were preserved when REI took over the space. This spot was very important for the economy of Bend in the early 1900’s. Timber was hauled into Bend and floated in the river until processing at the Brooks-Scanlon or Shevlin-Hixon mills. The Oregon Trunk Railroad had a line that went to the mills to pick up lumber.
To see a map of this hike and others nearby, look at this brochure from Bend Parks and Recreation. The Mill A Loop is the yellow trail on the inset map. I think you will enjoy walking this easy trail, no matter what season it is.
To find out more about the Old Mill District, click here.
You can see Hart Mountain peeking out in the distance. A storm was moving in. Here are pictures of the storm as it developed. Storm Clouds over Hart Mountain.
Can you find a big buck watching over his harem in this picture? Both bucks and does can have horns, though the does’ are small or sometimes absent. Males have short black manes, a neck patch, and black markings across their forehead.
This high elevation lake, 17 miles south of Sisters, Oregon, is a popular spot with visitors. Tam McArthur Rim towers over the south and west sides of the lake, making beautiful reflections at any time of the year. As you paddle around the lake (no motorboats are allowed), you will hear creeks babbling over the rocks as they enter the lake. The water level of this natural lake is controlled by a small dam at the outlet.
We went kayaking at the lake on a cool September morning after the Labor Day crowds left. We had the lake all to ourselves. The small general store was boarded up and closed for the season. A few inches of snow were on the ground.
Ground squirrels, chipmunks, and a scattering of birds were seen along the shores. When I brought my kayak back to the car, I almost had a couple unexpected house guests. Two ground squirrels had climbed into my kayak. I circled them in the picture above to show them running away. They are certainly entertaining!
A couple deer watched us from the distant shore.
These two mallards had the lake to themselves.
In summer months, you’ll see and hear osprey working the lake. You’ll hear the distinctive call of nuthatches and see Clark’s nutcrackers in the trees. This lake has a narrow border of sedges and the plants don’t offer as much cover as other lakes nearby.
About Three Creek Lake
This 28-acre lake has a depth of 11-28 feet. It is at an elevation of 6,550 feet and water temperatures stay cool throughout the year. Eastern brook trout and rainbow trout inhabit this lake. The rainbow trout are stocked in the lake but the brook trout are self-sustaining. Though you can fish from shore, most people fish from boats. Trolling with a flat fish lure from a kayak landed us a nice pan-size rainbow trout. Most fish here average around ten inches. For more on fishing, click here.
There’s a primitive boat launching area with limited parking at Three Creek Lake. A Northwest Forest Pass is required here. You can rent a boat from the Three Creek Lake Store but the store is only open from July to Labor Day in September.
Here’s a picture of three young swallows perched in a willow tree at Sunriver, Oregon waiting for a snack. The fledglings are usually fed by the parents but sometimes they are fed by older siblings from a previous clutch.
The Weekly Photo Challenge this week is Favorite. I could not select just one picture so here are a few of my favorites from the past year. Enjoy!
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah in May 2017
This one is from my most liked post of the year – Utah National Parks: Trees & Rocks. There are lots of photogenic landscapes in Utah and this post contains a photo from each of the five national parks.
Pete French Round Barn near Diamond, Oregon in September 2017 (infrared)
Here is a picture of the Pete French Round Barn. This picture is in infrared and it shows off the beautiful structure of this barn. To learn more about this barn that was built in the 1880’s and to see more photos, see my post – Pete French Round Barn.
Glowing sunrise over the High Desert of Central Oregon near Bend in October 2017
We see plenty of stunning sunrises and sunsets in Bend, Oregon but this one in October was especially beautiful. It was taken from my yard.
Rorschach reflections on Three Creek Lake in Oregon in September 2017
I often notice interesting shapes and forms when out taking pictures. Here is a shot that I called Rorschach Reflections. It was taken at Three Creeks Lake near Sisters, Oregon while I was out kayaking.
The eclipse as viewed from Prineville, Oregon in August 2017
The eclipse! I drove 30 minutes away and got a perfect view of the eclipse. This was my best shot. For more on that day, see – Solar Eclipse Success.
New growth on a pine tree in Bend, Oregon in June 2017
Here is a simple shot of a pine tree’s new growth last summer.
Desert primrose in landscape, Bend, Oregon in May 2017
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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
Predators 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.
In 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.
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.