Late Autumn is when the rut occurs for Mule Deer in the west. Mid November to mid-December seems to be the peak time based on my yearly observations. At this time the male deer are not very cautious and rampage around even in mid-day looking for does to breed. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the trail cams were placed to advantageously capture some of this behavior.
I have lots of photos of Mule Deer bucks from July through December of 2022. I feel like I got to know them well through the photos taken of them on my Trail cameras. It was interesting to watch them the last 6 months. They changed their behavior through the observation time. In the summer they were solitary or hung out with one other buck. I saw some sparring through summer and early fall and then the very serious business of competing for does in November and December. My favorite buck of the year is a classic 4 point western count. He has a large, very symmetrical rack and is in my opinion the handsomest of all the bucks in that area this year. He posed nicely for several photos and I enjoyed going through all his photos to choose a few I’ll show here.
We are in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountains but this past New Year’s we were not shielded from the exceptional amount of moisture that hit California. We had wet heavy snow for hours on New Year’s Eve that caused widespread power outages. I waited a week to venture out to grab my memory cards out of the trail cameras. It was still a pretty muddy slog to get to them. Sadly, there were several ancient cottonwood trees that did not survive the storm and many downed branches blocking trails. I noticed wash outs in areas that surprised me. When I got home to review my cards I was shocked to see how far the river had invaded. I almost lost one of my cameras judging by the photos.
I placed this camera at the intersection of several trails and have captured lots of deer, coyotes and feral horses on it. It is several hundred yards from the river. There are not any animals in this photo but it is time stamped a couple of hours before the wet snow and rain started. I need to reset the date recorder on the camera as it one day off on the date.
Exactly 24 hours later the river is flowing right in front of the camera. Note the swimming beaver passing by. That is what triggered the camera. No wonder it was muddy even a full week later. All of the water had receded, and I would have had no idea of the extent of the flooding without these photos.
As winter progresses, and we have had storms and significant snowfall, predators seem to become more active. I am seeing more daylight appearances on my trail cameras of Bobcats. Some of the photos aren’t half bad for an automated system. The Mountain Lion has also shown up in some of the same areas but is sticking to the middle of the night. I am grateful for the Lions staying with that schedule.
I have always been afraid of the dark. This fear has not gone away even at my advanced age. I just have far too much imagination and can conjure frightening images from the slightest noise or unexplained movement out there in the scary dark. I laugh at myself as even when reviewing trail cam photos that are taken in the dark I can get creeped out. It is disconcerting to stare at a photo that was taken at 2:00 AM and there is nothing obviously in the photo that triggered the flash. Another eerie sight are eyes glowing out of the dark with no hint at what animal or other being is behind the eyes. In these photos the animals are easy to identify, deer, feral horses, coyotes and a raccoon.
Hummingbirds are called the Jewels of the Garden or Jewels of the sky. It is easy to see why. As they flit through the colorful flowers the sun catches their brilliant, iridescent feathers giving them a gem like appearance.
These birds are some of my favorite photo subjects. I have turned my backyard into a hummingbird, or pollinator garden as I have written about in the past. I love being able to hang out in my own space, no driving, complete privacy and unlimited time to devote to these tiny subjects.
I don’t know what impacted my flowers this year, but I have very few great photos of the Hummers with beautiful flowers. This is one I like. The flowers seemed to be stressed by the heat and bloomed early and faded fast. I still had a good showing of birds but just not the number of pretty flower and bird opportunities I’ve had in the past.
My habit is to get obsessed with a particular species. For awhile, I chase that species in what I hope is a compulsive but healthy manner, until I have a collection of images that I like. In the pursuit I learn a lot about the animal or bird, where to find, good methods to get close to them, general habits and knowledge to aid in the quest.
A friend of mine was commenting that he wanted to get some photos of Kestrels. I told him we have many in the area and general places he could find them. He kept expressing, with some frustration, that he was not able to find them and that was all it took to awaken the species challenge in me.
These are beautiful little birds that are relatively easy to find and photograph. They are widespread across North America and are doing well, not threatened or endangered and fun to watch. They like open fields and border areas. They use trees, power lines, fences and rocks to perch on. They hover over an area to hunt and then dive onto their prey. They eat insects, lizards, small birds and mammals.
Kestrels are the smallest bird in the Falcon family and the only Kestrel in America. They are unusual in the Falcon family as the male and female differ subtly in colors.
I was at a cocktail party/gathering last night and was chatting with folks about my camping trip this week in the desert. The discussion turned to photography and how I had got the nice coyote shots. Without thinking I started telling about finding a dead mule deer, most likely a mountain lion kill, and dragging the carcass to a better spot in good light and hunkering down in the sagebrush to take photos of what ever showed up to eat it. I was thinking Golden Eagle as I had scared one off the deer when hiking up the canyon but this coyote showed up and I snapped away. I then realized I had lost everyone at the dragging the carcass part.
I never stopped to think that my behavior is out of the norm but the expressions on folks faces kind of told me that it is. I have to smile I guess.
Thank goodness I have people in my life who put up with my weird behavior for the sake of a photo.
This year I have started venturing further off the beaten track in search of wild places and wilder animals. I am working on overcoming a lifelong fear of the dark and have been camping out alone. So far so good but I do wish the little critters would not make so much noise at night trying to get into my food. My imagination runs a bit at 2:00 AM.
On this trip I visited Upper High Rock Canyon. Added a new bird to my life list with this Long-eared Owl. I couldn’t get a better shot of it as it was in thick trees but it was a thrill to see one. The coyote, I have mentioned. It got pretty close before the camera shutter sound scared it off. Isn’t amazing how well they blend in to their surroundings?
After having such an extraordinary experience last week, I just had to go back. I found that the Antelope/Pronghorn were well into their rut and small groups have formed into large herds. The action was fast paced as big bucks were chasing does around and fighting with each other for the females.
Lots of photos to edit, but here are a few of my favorites so far.