Doe, a deer


A few days ago we had a deer wander through our front yard. Dan noticed her while she was browsing along the side of our driveway and called me down. I took a number of photos as she wandered slowly through, not far from the house, before finally heading off to the forest across the meadow.

I don’t see a lot of deer, but they’re definitely around: I see tracks regularly once the snow falls, and the dogs have made an art out of sniffing out piles of deer droppings to roll in. We’ve startled one or two while out on walks, but for the most part rarely encounter them during the day. The last time I recall seeing a lot of a daytime White-tail on our property was when Joe Buck came to visit a couple of Thanksgivings ago.


Joe Buck was, of course, a buck; this one’s obviously a doe. Around this time of fall deer are starting to enter the annual rut, when the females go into estrus. Males will get so caught up in their pursuit of females that they’ll stop spending much time eating; besides the size of his antlers, Joe Buck was always foraging when we saw him so I knew he was a youngster. The females, however, go about business as usual. I’m not sure, therefore, if this female is old enough to mate. Does don’t reach sexual maturity until their second fall, but I don’t know if their behaviour changes much between their first and second year, the way it does with males.


About 30 subspecies of White-tailed Deer are currently recognized. Ours is Odocoileus virginianus borealis, which ranges from western Ontario to eastern Canada and neighbouring states south to southern Ohio and New Jersey. Like most animals, the subspecies of the north are larger-bodied with smaller extremities. Deer in southern parts of the continent can be noticeably smaller, with larger ears and longer legs. Beyond that, there are some differences in the tone of body colouration or antler size… but for the most part they seem to be subtle and sometimes gradual and indistinctly defined to populations. The only really distinct populations seem to be fairly isolated, such as those on islands. The smallest are the White-tails of the Florida Keys, which only reach a height of 24 to 30 inches at the shoulder (compare to 4 feet for our northern deer).

I find that white throat patch interesting. I wonder if it serves a purpose? I started out checking the subspecies descriptions to see if it was perhaps present in some but not others, but doesn’t seem to be mentioned, as far as I can tell.


She came right up to the garden and nosed around a bit but didn’t seem to find anything to her liking. When Joe Buck was coming around, he’d nibble on my hostas and some of the other plants there. Deer can often be a problem in gardens, but we haven’t had trouble with them here. Maybe I’m just not growing appealing plants.


Bear sign

Bear-moved rock and Jack

A few weeks ago I noticed that a couple of the large rocks that sit beside the trail in our back fields had been shifted out of the ground. These are not small rocks, as Jack demonstrates, and there’s only one animal that would have done this: a Black Bear. Although we’ve never seen a bear around here in the couple of years we’ve lived here, we know they’re around just from the sign they leave. Shifting rocks is one of the easiest and most frequently spotted. Bears typically flip or move rocks to see what might be living underneath. Anything that doesn’t get out of sight quickly enough is fair game, but typically ants and grubs would be among the most common food items found this way.

Bear?-dug hole and Raven

I’ve also noticed a few random holes dug in the grass which I’ve wondered if bears might have created. They’ve been in the areas that I know the bears have been traveling, so it wouldn’t be a stretch. A number of weeks ago, around the time that I noticed the holes appear or maybe just before, we’d had some flights of citronella ants, so I wondered if the animal had been digging to unearth citronella ant colonies. Could they smell anything else from the surface? The other possibility for these holes is that they were made by skunks, which also root around in the earth looking for food. I don’t know enough about the physical sign of skunks to be able to say what their holes look like, though the photos I turn up on Google look a little different.

Scat photos coming up, so those grossed out by that sort of thing might want to stop reading here… :)



Bear scat - eating black cherries

The discovery of bear poop on the property really drives home that these animals have been passing through unseen, though. I found the first pile a few weeks ago. Dark, and filled with some sort of reddish fruit that I couldn’t readily identify. Nothing that I knew was fruiting at that time seemed like a good match. However, something someone posted to Facebook about the same time commented on finding bear scat with black cherry remains in it, and in Googling that it looks like that might be what this is. The reddish bits are the skins, and the lighter things are the pits. I tend to forget about wild cherry species because they’re usually in the woods and their fruit aren’t especially showy.

Bear scat - eating apples

Then yesterday, as I was heading out with the dogs, Dan suggested I check out a pile of scat he’d noticed on one of our trails. It hadn’t been there the day before, so the animal that had left it had passed through overnight. It was also bear, simply from the size of it. What was curious about this was that it was full of apple skins – prodding it with a stick to break it apart so I could examine its contents, it even smelled strongly of apple.

We’ve got a small grove of apple trees near the house, and Dan commented that he’s heard animals eating the apples there on occasion in recent evenings, and the dogs certainly show an interest in something that’s been foraging there when they’re let out the next morning. Could it have been the bears? There are also a couple feral apple trees on the 100-acre woods and no doubt our neighbours’ properties, so they could easily have been feeding there, too.

Bear (cub?) scat - eating apples

Not far down the trail there was another little bit of scat. This was darker, and quite a bit smaller, but it was just as full of apples as the first one was. The only other wildlife that I know for sure will eat apples is deer, and they, like most herbivores, create pelleted droppings, not tubular. Omnivores and carnivores typically create tubular droppings, and of those candidates the size of this could perhaps be raccoon. Would they eat apples? I don’t know; they’re pretty opportunistic.

What I actually thought these might be, though, given their proximity to the other scat and the identical content, were the droppings of a bear cub; the larger pile would be from its mother. Bears give birth in late winter, Jan-Feb, and by the early fall they’re already weaned from their mother’s milk. However, usually they’ll stick with her for another year, learning how to forage and live on their own. Females only mate every second year, with the between year being used to continue raising their half-grown cub.

I don’t worry that there are bears around, even mama bears with cubs, because, as the Peterson Field Guide to Mammals says, “Many are killed in the misguided belief that they pose a threat to humans. Black Bears are usually shy and retiring and very seldom dangerous.” If there is a bear around, no doubt she’ll have heard me and departed looong before I even realize there’s one in the area, if I ever do. Instead, I just find the sign she’s left behind.

Sunday Snapshots: Squirrel update

Red Squirrel baby girl

I had grand plans for productivity this weekend. And while I was, in fact, extremely productive, it was on none of the things I had really wanted to be productive on. I spent some 15 hours this weekend working on the moth guide manuscript edits… but more on that tomorrow (hopefully). At some point, I keep telling myself, life is going to calm down a little again and I can resume my normal routine. In the meantime, some photos.

On Friday I returned to the nestbox in our garden to check up on the baby Red Squirrels. They’ve grown a lot since my last check and are now covered in recognizable fur. You can even see the dark stripes along their flanks. Their eyes aren’t open yet, though, and their noses are still very underdeveloped (or overdeveloped, depending on your point of view). They’ve still got a bit of growing to do before they’re going anywhere.

Red Squirrel babies

This time I pulled them all out of the nest to see how many there were, and of what sexes. There were five: three females and two males. The individual I took the single photos of is a little girl.

Red Squirrel baby girl

The first spring babies

(American) Red Squirrel mother

A few weeks ago, Dan commented to me that he’d seen a (American) Red Squirrel sitting atop the nestbox we have in the garden by the house. It had been chewing at the entrance hole, and when he’d peeked in there was a fair amount of soft strips of cedar bark. I kept meaning to go back out to investigate, and Dan kept meaning to look into ousting the critter in the interest of saving the box for the birds, but neither of us ever got around to it.

This afternoon, before heading out for a walk with the two dogs, I did a loop about the garden to see how things were growing. As I approached the nestbox I could see a small, fuzzy nose sticking out of it, enjoying the sunshine. She didn’t move as I approached, and only withdrew slightly when I reached the base of the box. I could see her dark eye peering cautiously out at me from the darkness.

(American) Red Squirrel mother

Curiosity piqued by the fact that she didn’t leave, I climbed onto the milk can still sitting below the box from last year. I lifted the lid slowly, not sure if she might turn around and jump out at me now that I was so close. But she didn’t move. I lowered the lid, turned my camera on and adjusted the settings, then lifted it again. Still she sat motionless, head turned slightly to glance over her shoulder at me. I snapped a photo, the camera held in the air in front of me since the nest box is just a shade too high for me to look through the viewfinder while aiming. Finally, as I opened the lid the rest of the way, she dashed out through the entrance hole, down the box to the pole, then jumped to the ground where she scurried to the nearby spruce to hide.

Baby (American) Red Squirrels

With her gone I felt safer leaning over to peer inside. All I could see was a mass of cedar, so I held the camera up directly over the open top to shoot straight down at what I couldn’t see. It wasn’t much help. Still, just a mass of cedar strips.

I was about to shrug and close the lid, figuring she was just using it as a sleeping chamber or perhaps was still building it, when I heard a few soft peeps coming from inside the box. Babies! Or I sure hoped it was babies, anyway.

We don’t seem to have a stepladder, so instead I retrieved the bar stool from the kitchen and set it up in the garden below the box. Standing on it I was just tall enough to peer over the side of the box to see the contents. I wasn’t sure whether squirrels, being mammals, would be put off by human scent (birds aren’t, but that’s because they have a lousy sense of smell), so I used a twig to manipulate the nesting material, opening up the narrow tunnel by pushing the cedar to the sides of the box (an effort that was only moderately successful as the bark strips seemed especially springy).

Down at the bottom I could see pink things wriggling. Again I heard a few peeps. Then one rolled over and there was the cutest, tiniest, most delicate little paw.

I tried taking a couple of photos from above the box, but getting the focus was difficult since I couldn’t look through the viewfinder. I tried half a dozen, putting the camera on a manual focus and moving it up and down above the box, but this was the clearest one I got. And you still couldn’t see much. It could simply be a pile of beach stones in there, for all you can tell.

Dan came around the corner then and asked what I was looking at, to which I enthusiastically replied, “She has babies!” I asked whether he thought she’d desert if I touched them. He offered his opinion, but suggested I ask Google, who always seems to know the answer. So I did. And was assured that a mother squirrel will not be put off by people-smell. (This probably makes sense, since the nestbox probably also smells a bit like people.)

Baby (American) Red Squirrel

Which meant that I could carefully lift one out for a photo without fear of repercussions. And, I’m sorry, after seeing that little pink foot, I just had to.

When I place the small, squirming body on my palm I just about melted from the cute factor. It was so tiny! With little bitty ears and little bitty toes and a little bitty tail. Its eyes were still firmly closed, and if it had teeth it didn’t recognize the need to use them. It paddled a bit with its paws (awwww!), pulling itself across my hand, but that was all.

Baby squirrels open their eyes at age 4 weeks, which makes this guy younger than that – not that that’s a surprise. One chart I found suggested that at the point where their pink skin starts to darken on the head and back they’re between 2 to 3 weeks. That might be about right, if it took the mother a few days to a week to build the nest.

Baby (American) Red Squirrel

Look at that face, those tiny ears! The wrinkles of skin at his neck! You can see the down starting to cover his head. He’s even starting to get whiskers, at his muzzle and below his eyes.

Baby Red Squirrels grow at a rate of nearly 2 grams (1/14 oz) per day (from a starting birth weight of 10 grams / 1/3 oz); at just past 40 days old, about six weeks, they’ll leave the nest with their mother. They stay with her for some time yet after that, even continuing to nurse for up to another month. They don’t reach adult size till four months; we’ll have baby squirrels to look forward to seeing.

Dan joked that we’ve been doing a great service for the local Red Squirrel population, helping them to increase their numbers. When we moved in, we were lucky if we even saw one on the property, and they never hung out by the house. Then we put out birdfeeders. Then the squirrels discovered the feeders.

Good thing they’re cute.

Daytime bat


For some reason, I don’t know why, I managed to remain completely clueless about the existence of Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) until a couple of years ago, and I only actually figured out what they sound like last night. This might be excused if I had no knowledge of any of the frogs or their calls, but I grew up beside a swamp; Spring Peepers, American Toads, Wood Frogs and Gray Treefrogs were all a much-anticipated part of spring. I would fall asleep at night with my window cracked open, listening to the (sometimes very loud) choir from the swamp. And yet, for some inexplicable reason, I never picked up on Chorus Frogs. It’s not even like they lack a distinct voice; when I listened to the recordings last night, I surprised myself in saying “I know that! I could swear I grew up hearing that in our swamp.”

So when I heard some this afternoon, calling from some wetland over in the neighbour’s woods, I decided to grab my camera and go check it out. It was a gorgeous day and I was looking for an excuse not to go back inside; maybe, if I was lucky, I could spot one. I made the mistake of letting Raven tag along, however. She was already outside, and though it did cross my mind that she might be a little disruptive, I thought I could just have her sit-stay by the water while I poked around. I’d forgotten how much fun she has in water, and she hasn’t really seen much water since last fall. So when we got there, it was just too much. She tried her best, she really did; she sat-stayed for as long as her quivering muscles would let her. And then she couldn’t hold herself back any longer, and leapt into the water, tuning out all attempts by me to call her back (which, really, is rather ineffectual unless you’ve got one of those remote-controlled collars on them that’ll vibrate when you press a button. Otherwise, what do they care if you yell?).

So the frogs didn’t happen. I could hear them, but I had trouble getting close enough to any to even have a chance of seeing one, since inevitably Raven would bound through just as I thought I might be getting closeish to one. But I found something just as good, or even better.

brown bat, prob. Myotis sp.

I didn’t notice it at first, until it left the tree it had been hanging on on one of Raven’s drive-bys. It was a bat. It swooped down toward the water’s surface, skimming along and touching down once or twice, scooping insects from its surface (presumably; possibly it might have been drinking, although these shots suggest a different posture for that). Then it would return to the tree trunk to eat, hanging upside-down.

I was absolutely fascinated, and this made the entire trek worthwhile. I’m not sure how long I stood there, watching it, but probably fifteen or twenty minutes. It moved to the far side of the swamp for a little bit, and I watched it fly back and forth over the water over there, while a Hairy Woodpecker worked a tree and a couple of robins moved through the branches above.

(Naturally, I didn’t have my telephoto lens, but at least I had my mid-sized lens, my 100mm, and not my short landscape lens, the 55mm. These are all 100% crops, which, in combination with the moving target, accounts for the low image quality.)

brown bat, prob. Myotis sp.

I was standing at the northeast side of the water, so as it swooped back and forth the sun would shine through its thin wing membrane, illuminating it and highlighting the bone structure. That’s not something you get to see too often!

I was a little surprised to see a bat out in plain daylight, and in the sun, no less, not even the deep shade of the forest (or what might pass for deep shade in the leafless deciduous woods). Googling it, though, it seems this isn’t an altogether unusual occurrence. Most of our bats hibernate over the winter. In the spring, as the temperatures are just starting to rise, the nights can often still be quite cool or even freezing, even while the days are fairly warm. Early-risers may take advantage of these warmer daytime temperatures to do some foraging, choosing to sleep at night instead, at least until the nights start to warm up, too. Not only are there a lot more insects out flying during the day (if the temperature’s really cold, there might not be any insects at all at night), but it’s a lot easier on the bat, too. Once the nights are warm enough they’ll return to their nocturnal habits.

brown bat, prob. Myotis sp.

I couldn’t tell you what species it was. According to the Atlas of the Mammals of Ontario, there are 8 species of bat in the province. I know Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis), Silver-haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans) and Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus), but the rest of Ontario’s bats all sort of blend in together – especially when you’re seeing them from a slight distance, while they’re on the wing. The remaining possibilities are Eastern Small-footed Bat (Myotis leibii), Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifuga), Northern Long-eared Bat (aka Northern Myotis; Myotis septentrionalis), Eastern Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus), and Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus). From what I can tell, ID between these species depends primarily on structural details of the ears and head that can’t be seen in flight or from a distance (unless you have a really good camera).

brown bat, prob. Myotis sp.

The two brown bats are the most common, judging from the mammal atlas, and the Big Brown in particular. I read through all of the descriptions in my Peterson mammal guide, though, just in case it offered any clues there. It was the habitat and habits I was most interested in. The habits of Eastern Small-footed Bat and Northern Myotis didn’t seem to match, but the other three had possible similarities:

For Little Brown, it comments: “Forests and rural areas, usually near streams and lakes” and “Emerges at dusk or later, usually flying to water to forage and drink. … Feeds mainly on emerging aquatic insects”.

For Eastern Pipistrelle: “Woodland or mixed farmland” and “Feeds on tiny flies and beetles, hunting over water or at forest edge”.

And for Big Brown: “Forests, farms, cities” and “Feeds on beetles and other insects, hunting over fields or streams … Will awake and become active in response to temperature change – a bat seen out and about in midwinter is almost sure to be this species.”

brown bat, prob. Myotis sp.

It’s the note about Little Brown feeding on emerging aquatic insects that causes me to lean toward that species as the most likely candidate, although Big Brown seems like a pretty good possibility as well. Being completely subjective about it, the shape and relative size of the head in the first photo, where it’s hanging on the tree, seem a better match for the Little Brown in my guide. But it’s probably one of those things that has to be left without a definitive ID. Pretty cool, regardless!

brown bat, prob. Myotis sp.