Deer tracks

All last summer and fall, we saw a lot of deer on the farm. One doe and her two fawns showed up almost every day. They would bed down in the tall grass at night, forage in the woods and farm fields during the day, and return at dusk. We did have a scare when a family of coyotes came through the area, but our three deer friends were okay (read about it here).

Young deer

doe at salt block
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two fawns

I haven’t seen any deer on the farm since hunting season ended. I’ve seen scat and signs of deer browsing, but nothing that would tell about their numbers. Deer hunting is a big part of the rural culture in Rockbridge County and I saw lots of hunters during deer season. I was a little worried that many of the deer would not be back this year.

We’re always on the lookout for animal tracks on our walks – that would give us an indication of how many deer were around – but the ground has been too hard. Then two nights ago, we got a ton of rain followed by an extraordinarily warm day – perfect conditions to check for deer tracks, and I set out to have a look. The first muddy spot I came to had several prints and as I walked, I was amazed at how many deer tracks I saw. They were literally everywhere!

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Deer tracks

Many of the tracks were found along the same paths we take on our walks around the farm. Seems that the wildlife uses our footpaths, too!
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I came back feeling really good about all the evidence of deer activity. I know that deer numbers have to be controlled because of vehicle collisions and the ecological impact of too many deer, but we love having them around. My husband and I decided when we bought the farm that our homestead would be a place that would welcome wildlife.

Looks like my wish to have the deer back this year has been granted.

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Morning winter walk

Bill and I went for a walk around the farm a little earlier than usual this morning because the wind is supposed to pick up later today. We could feel heat from the sun on our backs and it felt good.

As soon as we got out a bit into the front field, I turned around and snapped a picture of the snow on top of the mountains behind the house. We didn’t get more than a dusting in the valley. The higher altitudes got more snow because of the colder temps.
Snow on the mountains

The pine trees in the front field that just a few months ago were nearly hidden by the tall grass are now very visible.

Young pine trees

There are a lot of hunters in our area, but we still have plenty of deer as evidenced by all the fresh tracks.
Deer tracks

Most of the Eastern hemlocks in our woods are dead or dying. They are under attack from the woolly adelgid, an aphid-like insect introduced into this country from East Asia that feeds on the sap of the hemlocks. The insect has infested hemlocks on the Blue Ridge Parkway for about 10 years and in Shenandoah National Park since the late 1980s. In these areas as many as 80 percent of the hemlocks have died due to infestation.

Here’s a hemlock on our property (in the very center of the picture) that is just starting to show the effects of infestation. Trees generally die within four to 10 years after infestation.
Infested eastern hemlock

Wingstem covered the fields with their yellow blossoms from late summer well into the fall. Now the dried stalks, reaching six feet into the air, are all that remain.

Wingstem stalks
Time to head back where cutting and splitting firewood is on the agenda and, of course, football playoffs. Callie was not excited about going home because she hadn’t finished checking out all the field mouse and vole hiding places. As usual, she brought up the rear as we headed home.

Callie coming home

An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
~ Henry David Thoreau

the deer are back!

This summer, I posted a picture of a doe visiting the salt block in back of our house. At the time, she was nursing two fawns that we saw with her regularly in the fields or going through the woods. The camera-shy fawns were hidden in the brush when I snapped this picture.



Not long after I took these pictures, a small band of coyotes (probably members of the same family) came through and we feared for the deer trio. Nature gives all creatures skills for survival. The doe’s first defense is her sense of smell; her second defense is speed and agility. Her fawns still had their spots which act as camouflage, and, at this age, they have no scent, helping them to hide and escape detection. The coyotes moved on after local hunters and their dogs pushed them out of the area, but there were no further sightings of the doe and fawns, and we feared the worst.

But yesterday we got a pleasant surprise. At dusk, the doe and her two fawns reappeared. Looking fat and healthy, they grazed the tender grass in our front yard. Amazingly, the whole family had eluded the coyotes.


Even though we have to go to extra lengths to protect our blueberry bushes and vegetable garden from the voracious appetite of the browsing deer, we’re still glad they were spared.

bear tracks at our front door

Black bear photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This morning Bill and I went for a walk down our lane. Even though it’s not exactly what you’d call a big adventure, the dogs enjoy these walks and taking in the smells of the deer, racoon, opossum, and all the other critters that roam the woods and fields under the cloak of darkness.

Somehow we missed seeing them on our way out, but on our return, we noticed paw prints in the mud…big paw prints. As we got closer, we could tell the tracks were those of a black bear. February in Virginia has been unseasonably warm, so the bears have come out of hibernation and are searching for food. Naturally, I didn’t have my camera with me so I couldn’t take a picture of the paw prints, and now they’re covered with snow. Arghh!

To see something different in nature, take the same path you took yesterday. — John Muir