Chapter 8: 1998
The statistics for the month of January; Biggie visits all but 2 days, Lillie actually shows up all but one day and Pretty Boy 16 days. Prince makes only two brief appearances. With Biggie’s advancing years it becomes clear that either Pretty Boy or Prince will become, or already has become the new Alpha Buck. I guess that Pretty Boy has assumed Biggie’s territory, although Big Crooked Horn may also be battling for the top position. I just don’t see Big Crooked Horn as often as Pretty Boy. I note that on the 11th Biggie was in a playful mood and we engaged in a little sparring session. I never can get over the feelings that I experience during these sessions. They somehow feel surreal. Biggie, of course, lets me win as usual, but I always get a sense of the “raw power” contained in Biggie’s gentle but strong body. I am very aware of the risks involved, yet I never feel the least bit threatened and we always have a good time. As usual, I thank Biggie for the privilege. The only other noteworthy sighting was on the 29th, when a young buck with a single antler and one hind leg missing from below the knee joint came by. His missing antler wasn’t because he had just shed it since there was no hole from where it should have been. After a few calls to local wildlife officials I was able to determine that his antler had been surgically removed after he had become seriously entangled in a volleyball net and had actually torn open his skull. I was amazed that such heroics would be performed for a wild animal. As far as the missing leg, they knew nothing about that, having released him with all four legs in tact. We knew we were talking about the same deer because he had two white tags, one in each ear, with the number 7 on each tag. Two tags meant he had been darted twice, and the white color meant he was tagged by the local “open space” department. “Tripod” as we appropriately named him, actually held his own quite well while sparring with another buck during his brief visit. Sadly we have never seen Tripod again.
There was only one day during the month that we didn’t see Biggie. His pal Lillie also only missed one day, but that was a different day. Pretty Boy only missed 3 days. On the 11th Biggie appeared with one antler gone, and soon after he dropped the second in the yard. I always felt so sad when those beautiful antlers came off. The effect it had on Biggie was always so traumatic. Biggie acted embarrassed and ashamed, not to mention the shock-like state he always went into. To me this always seemed like a cruel trick of nature. I wondered how these creatures were supposed to defend themselves without their battle gear, but they seemed to manage. Of course Biggie always had to go through the additional torment from the younger bucks who still had their antlers. I was sure that they took special delight in “getting even” with their elder leader, but it never amounted to much more than a gentle harassment. Just 3 days later Lillie has lost one of his antlers, and 2 days after that the other one is gone. We never found either one. Oddly Lillie’s behavior was not as affected as Biggie’s was. He never seemed to get shocky, and he never seemed to be embarrassed or humiliated by his losses. I wondered if it had something to do with one’s status. The higher up in the order, the more traumatic the loss.
It wasn’t until March 2nd that Pretty Boy dropped his antlers. He showed up with only one and promptly dropped the other. We found both in the outer reaches of the yard and they were quite thick and heavy, weighing in at 6 pounds. We see Biggie all but one day, Lillie the same but on different days, and Pretty Boy has become regular as well, only missing 3 days this month. Biggie is having trouble with a cyst at the base of one of his ears, causing the ear to flop and not able to stand at attention. Late in the month he also has a cyst on his upper lip on the side. These things don’t seem to bother him too much, although he does try to shake his ears to rid himself of the annoyance. The lip cysts eventually burst and heal over, but they must cause at least some discomfort. I suspect that these lumps appear only on the older deer, not having seen such things on any of the younger ones.
April is always a turbulent month here. Spring tries to take over but winter doesn’t want to relinquish its hold, and we have some of our deepest snowstorms, interspersed with warm, sunny days. Golden eagles are now making daily flybys and it always excites us and somehow foretells of good things to come. There are only about 2 days in this month that we don’t see Biggie or his pals. It is always such a comfort to look out into the yard and see Biggie and friends. And of course we always worry needlessly when we don’t see them. I can’t count how many times a day we look for them, but it is many. It’s like constantly checking up on a pet. We are always comforted by their presence and concerned during their absences.
Biggie is here 24 days, Lillie 18 days and Pretty Boy 19 days. The absences were for 2 to 3 days in a row, but this seems quite typical. Deer by instinct, keep moving to avoid predators. The city deer maintain that instinct even though they don’t have the usual threat of predators that they do in the more remote wild.
Golden Eagles are appearing by the middle of the first week. It is always such an awe-inspiring
sight to see them fly by or, in many cases, spiraling vertically out of view on thermals. Such magnificent birds, and being privileged to view them in flight at close range is always a special treat for us.
The hummingbirds begin making their appearances towards the end of the month. These bold little wonders of nature always brighten our days with their happy antics. We miss them very much when they are gone. Pine Siskins and Stripe headed Sparrows are also here.
We had only a couple of snow storms, the deepest being about 7 inches which is not normal for this region. We typically get our heaviest snows in March and April.
We take a few days off this month, to visit Zion national Park. This is the first vacation we had taken in many years. A friend “house sits” and records deer information for us while we are gone. We were totally absorbed with the sights of Zion, but we were glad to get back and see how our “friends” were doing.
Biggie was only here 15 days this month and I note that his ear cyst is bothering him again. Lillie has left for his summer territory because we didn’t see him at all. This is pretty much typical. We see Pretty Boy 3 days and Prince makes a one-time appearance. For the second year in a row a male House Finch with one leg shows up. Poor little guy, he has such a hard time balancing on the bird baths and feeders, but he seems to manage.
A rare sighting of an Indigo Bunting on the 14th has us excited. Gold Finches and Siskins abound and the Cottonwood trees are filling the air with their annoying cottony seeds.
Biggie is here only the first 3 days of the month. I can’t help but wonder whether I will ever see him again. His advancing years, old injuries and assorted other health problems must be taking a toll. I try to prepare myself by admitting that this can’t last forever and the chances of his returning each year are slim. We see a Doe and other assorted bucks on 4 occasions. A young buck who we named “Little Crooked Horn” for obvious reasons, is seen a couple of times. Even Pretty boy makes a brief visit on the 18th. We now have a chipmunk living in one of the crevices on the old stone walls. He is a rare treat indeed. Usually chipmunks are only seen in the foothills and higher elevations, not in the city.
Blue Herons are making daily flybys. Mourning Doves are hanging around and we spot what we think is a Lazuli’s Bunting, which would be rare indeed for this area.
It seems like we see a whole different herd of deer in the summer months. Its as though they swap territories for the season. But their visits are much more transitory and we don’t get as well acquainted as we do with the winter herd. And many sightings are just once or twice and we never see them again. Perhaps they are just passing through on the way to their “summer territory.”
We see Prince a couple of times and “Little Crooked Horn” is here again, but so is “Big Crooked Horn” on one sighting. A Doe and her twin fawns visit. We think she is our friend “Poofy Eyes” because she has twins every year, but we didn’t get a close enough look to be sure. As tempting as it may be, we try to avoid close contact with the fawns. I have seen an angry Doe defend her young from dogs and Coyotes. She is all business.
These 2 months are without our best deer friends. Several appearances by Big Crooked Horn, Little Crooked Horn, a few other young bucks, and an occasional Doe. Poofy Eyes and her new set of twins make numerous visits, but they are always fairly short in duration. We ultimately spend much time watching the fawns run and play. Frequently a neighborhood cat enters into the play scene and this results in entertainment that can’t be beat. Momma deer is always vigilant, but she allows her youngsters to play to their hearts content as long as they remain in view.
The hummingbirds are thickest during these 2 months, so between them and the twins we are provided with almost non-stop entertainment. We spot and identify a rare bird, a female stripe headed Tanager, on the 18th through the 20th of August, then she is gone.
Biggie reappears on the 26th day. His bad leg is bothering him and it looks bent at a steeper angle than when we last saw him. Otherwise he looks very good. Big Crooked Horn is also here, and he obviously wants to take on Biggie. Biggie is not interested in a battle and seems only to want rest.
Big Crooked Horn is not about to let Biggie rest and a very brief but very intense battle ensues. Biggie throws in the towel very quickly, and makes a hasty exit. His age is catching up to him and he is no longer the most feared member of the herd. We don’t see any deer the rest of the month.
Biggie is “home” on the first day and we are relieved to see that even though he may lose the battles now, he still considers this neighborhood his home. Biggie shows up again on the 5th for some apples and some petting. Some of the most tender moments with Biggie are just after he has had a few apples. As I sit on the bottom step of the stairs leading to the yard and with Biggie as close to me as he can get facing me, he will stretch out his neck and rest his head on my shoulder while I stroke his powerful neck. These loving moments last an all to short minute or so, because other noises and movements from other creatures such as birds or other deer, always seem to distract Biggie. We do this quite often and Biggie will frequently lick my arm or my pants, sometimes even tugging at a fold in my pants or my shirt. It’s little displays of affection like these that make our bond so special. I can always feel a special love from Biggie, yet I would never have guessed that for our short time together our bond could have deepened so.
On the 11th Biggie shows up with a big wad of burrs fixed tightly on the inside of one of his ears. These burrs are causing noticeable discomfort, so I attempt to remove them. My first try is unsuccessful because the burrs are so tightly entangled and I wonder if I might cause more pain by trying to remove them. But Biggie seems to be letting me know that he wants them out regardless of the pain, so I go at it again. This time the hair tearing sound probably bothers me more than it does Biggie, but I manage to get the biggest clump pulled out. Biggie felt some pain but he didn’t leave, so I finished the job and got several licks of appreciation. I couldn’t believe what he just let me do. “Glad to help old buddy” I said while receiving my wet reward. I cherished these special moments, moments, which leave me feeling so unbelievably close to my deer friends.
Pretty Boy makes a couple of appearances, although very brief. I don’t see Biggie again until the 30th and he shows up in need of help again. It seems he managed to get tangled up with a volleyball net for yet a second time. A major portion of the net was tightly tangled in his right antler and it took several minutes untangle it. Biggie was very comfortable letting me rid him of this encumbrance and once again he showed his gratitude by licking my arm as I scratched his chin. I lowered my face close to his and got several deer kisses as well. “Biggie,” I said, “what would you do without me?” If Biggie could speak he would most likely have said something like “it’s your job…….it’s what you do,” with a big grin on his face. Even though he spoke no words, I could always sense that I was being spoken to. We both knew the language.
After rescuing Biggie from his latest predicament, I don’t see him again until the 4th of December. Then on the 5th Biggie and Lillie Boy have hooked back up. These two have formed a special bond and they are almost always together. Biggie’s visits increase to 22 days this month, and Lillie’s are the same. Another young buck makes several appearances and he has a white tag with the black number 18 on it. One of his antlers is also crooked. Big Crooked Horn shows up on the 18th and he is huge. Big Crooked Horn makes 4 visits and Pretty Boy also appears 3 times. On more than one occasion there are 4 or 5 bucks in the yard at one time and they all seem to get along rather well now that their interest in the “ladies” has subsided. Sparring sessions take place frequently but they are no longer of a serious nature. They do, at times, consist of a display of dominance, however. Often we are able to hear the sparring sessions, even through closed doors and windows. Antlers clashing can be quite loud. It is fascinating to witness these sparring sessions, and how they sometimes deteriorate into something a little more serious. Its obvious that “pecking order” establishment is an important part of sparring.
Foxes are appearing regularly now and we spot an occasional coyote on its way through. The deer are not the least bit frightened by the foxes but they are on heightened alert when a coyote comes through. Coyotes won’t normally attack a healthy full-grown deer, but they will go after a fawn. We have seen a Doe successfully defend her fawn from an attacking coyote, but not in out yard. We witnessed this on a local hiking trail, a trail that is discussed near the end of the book.
On the last day of December, Biggie has another cyst on his right ear, causing it to flop. These are more frequent assaults on Biggie’s general health, and I know they are uncomfortable. He struggles to shake them free but to no avail. I do observe, however, that by gently rubbing these swellings, they tend to drain sooner and he seems to enjoy the massage. Anything to help a friend.