Mayslake Animals and Plants

by Carl Strang

Time for an update on Mayslake Forest Preserve’s wildlife, both animal and vegetable.

A house wren has been active in the south part of the preserve.

A house wren has been active in the south part of the preserve.

Incidentally, the least flycatcher continues to hang around and sing. Might it have found a mate?

Tracks last week revealed that in addition to the buck featured in earlier posts, there is a doe with her fawn in residence on the preserve this summer.

Tracks last week revealed that in addition to the buck featured in earlier posts, there is a doe with her fawn in residence on the preserve this summer.

The most recent addition to Mayslake’s insect list is this moth, the six-spotted gray. Though it superficially appeared to be a member of the inchworm family, it proved to be one of the noctuids.

The most recent addition to Mayslake’s insect list is this moth, the six-spotted gray. Though it superficially appeared to be a member of the inchworm family, it proved to be one of the noctuids.

The former friary site gradually will recover from its year as a temporary off-leash dog area. In the meantime, a number of weedy plants have invaded.

One of these is the patience dock.

One of these is the patience dock.

It looks like an overlarge curly dock, with a strong red stem and a heavy array of flowers.

It looks like an overlarge curly dock, with a strong red stem and a heavy array of flowers.

Mayslake Notes

by Carl Strang

Last Friday a doe and her newly spot-free fawn appeared at the edge of the prairie at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

The fawn was noticeably smaller, more skittish, and shorter of body in proportion to leg length than its mother.

The fawn was noticeably smaller, more skittish, and shorter of body in proportion to leg length than its mother.

I am guessing that this is the fawn that was so successfully hidden on the preserve through the summer, though it is possible that this pair came onto the preserve to find respite from the frantic nuttiness of the rut.

Another mammalian development was the sudden appearance of a new muskrat house in the parking lot marsh.

This den was built in less than a week.

This den was built in less than a week.

The other main marsh, in the stream corridor, had dried out earlier in the fall, but did not remain so for long.

Some heavy rains in recent weeks have built the central pool back up to nearly a third of its normal full size.

Some heavy rains in recent weeks have built the central pool back up to nearly a third of its normal full size.

For the most part otherwise, the routine shutting down into winter has characterized the state of the preserve in the past month.

Buck Fawn? Apparently Not

by Carl Strang

Deer have not been a consistent presence at Mayslake Forest Preserve this year. Signs indicated that two or three were present intermittently through the first half of the summer, but then were gone. This suggests that the few were bucks, as does generally select a place to raise their fawns, and stay there. Last week I got a glimpse of a single deer, and then on Tuesday a clear look at one.

With just tiny bumps on his head, I was inclined to label him a male fawn. Note the ears oriented to hear from all directions.

But then as I looked at the photos, I had doubts. I went back to pictures I remembered taking at Fullersburg Woods in 2007.

That fawn had barely discernible head bumps, a rounder face, and a smaller body that was shorter in proportion.

With larger body size, a more adult body length in proportion to height, longer nose, and bigger head bumps, Tuesday’s deer must have been an unusual yearling, with practically no antler development. In retrospect he was much more alert and ready for flight than I would expect from a newly independent fawn. With a relatively easy winter and early spring this past year, perhaps the good conditions helped an otherwise marginal animal to survive. He seems strong now, and perhaps will continue to follow a more typical development pattern, just a year behind his cohort.

Fawn Spotting

by Carl Strang

One of the first postings in this blog was about identifying the gender of older fawns . Now that we have a new crop of them, I want to bring up the possibility of recognizing individuals by their distinctive spotting patterns. Here is a tiny fawn that enchanted us at Fullersburg Woods a couple years ago when it curled up beside the office building one day.

Fawn 2b

Compare its spotting pattern to that of the fawn below, encountered 42 days later not far from the office building.

Fawn Wildflower Trail b

It’s the same animal. I draw your attention to the smiley face pattern on the upper right shoulder, the trio of spots to the right of it, and the large area empty of spotting above it. Here’s another example.

Triplet fawns 13b

The above photo I took July 17. Compare it to the next, taken August 27.

Later triplet fawn 2b

Again I feel confident in declaring these photos to be of the same individual. Spotting patterns on fawns appear to be distinctive, and as long as they last you can use them to keep track of animals in areas you visit regularly.

Fawn Gender

by Carl Strang

 

In late October I saw a doe accompanied by her two fawns, one a male and one a female. Usually we are pleasantly surprised to see a deer, and there is nothing wrong with simply pausing and appreciating one of these beautiful animals. But you can consider doing more. Remember that each animal is as individual as we are, and understanding your local deer is aided by individual recognition whenever that is possible. One step in that direction is learning to distinguish male and female fawns. This becomes fairly easy by the second half of October.

 

First, how do you know it’s a fawn? Deer biologists and hunters have put considerable thought into field determination of gender and approximate age of individual animals, and I have found their results useful in many cases. They point out that fawns at this time of year, though they have lost their spots, still are noticeably smaller than their mothers. But suppose you see only a single animal clearly? The proportions of fawns are different from those of adults. Fawns have shorter bodies in comparison to their leg length, giving them a square look, while adults are more elongate. The noses or muzzles also are shorter in proportion to the head.

 

As to gender, sure, you can try to spot the genitalia. This turns out to be more difficult than it might seem, as you have to get just the right viewing angle. It’s easier to focus on the head. Male fawns don’t have antlers yet, but by autumn their skulls have developed the little pedestals from which antlers will grow in future years, if they are lucky enough to live that long. Those pedestals are visible as bumps on the heads of the little bucks, and are absent on doe fawns.

 

fawn-buck-16no-1b

 

Here is a series of photos of a little buck fawn I saw at Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve on November 16 of last year. The first photo clearly illustrates the square shape of the body and legs outline. I am deliberately withholding an adult photo for comparison. This is an inquiry blog, after all. Though I encourage you to get out and observe deer in your area, I am sure you can find yourself an adult deer photo on the web to compare, if you can’t wait.

 

fawn-buck-16no-2b

 

In the second photo our little buck, who already has gone independent as often is the case with males (doe fawns typically stick with their mothers through the winter), gives us a little lesson in awareness. Note that though he is focusing his vision on me and my clicking camera, he has not forgotten to attend the rest of his surroundings as he rotates an ear to investigate a sound in another direction. The remaining two photos provide opportunities for you to search for those little bumps in front of the ears that confirm the gender of this little guy.

 

fawn-buck-16no-3bfawn-buck-16no-4a

 

We’re in the season of the deer rut. Drive alertly!

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