Saturday, November 21, 2015

Silly Season for Bucks

Klamath Basin, California:  Nov 11-14, 2015

Most any time I’m down in the Klamath Basin my heart sings.  Imagine miles and miles of flatlands spotted with marshes a few lakes.  Mountains rise in the distance:  Mt. Shasta, the Steens, peeks of the Cascades.  Man has removed water from much of the Basin and replaced it with huge fields of agriculture, but the remaining wetlands and water are a rare gem. 
It’s far enough from home we usually go for at least three days.  Each trip is different.  When we were in the Basin a month ago the official count was nearly a million ducks and geese pausing in the Basin on their way south, but we couldn’t find a single great horned owl.  This trip I suppose there were a mere half a million ducks and geese -- plenty to keep me happy – and we spotted 8 great horned owls.  One owl on a telephone pole, one deep in a crevice, one with a fresh grebe clutched in its talons and two full-sized owlets begging for their share, and the rest day-roosting in willow trees.
Early in our trip we watched a loggerhead shrike hunting grasshoppers and a California quail greeting the morning, and, best of all, we realized the mule deer were in the rut.

Mule deer take the rut very seriously.  On our trip to the Basin a month ago there was hardly a buck to be seen, plenty of does and fawns, but the bucks were still up in the high country.  Come rutting season they know where to find the does and down they come.

We found ‘Junk Yard Joe’ our first morning in the Basin.  The morning had started out with hoarfrost on very twig, blade of grass, and sagebrush.  Finding Junk Yard Joe could have been magical … hoarfrost and those magnificent antlers.  But a couple of his does were picking their way between an old toilet, tattered blue tarps, and scrap metal.  This stuff was piled next to an empty house standing in an island of large cottonwoods.  Junk Yard Joe was interested in his does, but the ambiance just wasn’t there.
We continued on our way looking for a different buck.  The hoarfrost burned off quickly, but the air remained crisp and chilly.  Most of the Basin is wide open -- few trees.  We spotted a couple other bucks off in the distance, and one resting.
Soon we came upon a bald eagle dining on fresh duck, probably a duck wounded by a hunter.  Raptors eat well during hunting season.  Two ravens were keeping the eagle company.  One kept trying to steal food, but the other sat aloof on the opposite end of the telephone pole cross beam.
After finishing his duck the eagle flew on down to the next pole.  Much to our surprise we found a raccoon napping on a bird house on the same pole.  The raccoon seemed quite content on his high perch and the eagle paid him no attention.
Late in the day we found what we were after … a rutting buck reasonably close to the road.  Two bucks were keeping company with 11 does and fawns in an alfalfa field.  The biggest buck had picked his doe.
He kept attempting to mount
and she kept slipping away.
But the buck was determined.

Even this didn't appear to be successful.  She wiggled away too quickly.
No doubt this time.

And that ends it for the Silly Season in the buck world.  For about ten days the buck’s life focuses on chasing the does.  Usually the bucks are all too elusive, but during the silly season they have more important things on their minds than us.