September 19, 2017

Predation

• By John F. Chisholm •

I don’t mind mowing.  That’s a good thing.  There are roughly 100 acres of field here, maybe a bit more.  That’s before I include the orchards.  Mowing everything takes me all summer.  But all that grass provides time for thought, planning and observation.

I keep my eyes open while working.

This season, I couldn’t help but notice a doe with two fawns.  I believe it’s the same deer that’s had twin lambs on our farm every year for the last four.  She’s not particularly large but, even in summer coat, she’s quite dark.  Beyond that, she keeps her fawns in the same area every year.  That’s in the island of trees just north of the big pond.

If I’ve noticed her there, certainly others have as well.

The ‘island’ isn’t very big.  It’s a patch of woods surrounding a rock pile.  I’m certain that the ground was all field once but then those rocks were dug out and piled.  There are a lot of them.  The trees grew up around them.  Today the island is about one hundred feet a side ― more or less ― with one severely rounded corner.  That’s on the southwest side.   I’ve cut out the alder and poplar leaving maple, black cherry, one lone pine tree and a few spindly firs.  It’s not much for cover but apparently it’s been enough for this doe for a number of years.

It feels like home to her, you can tell.

If I recognize her, she certainly recognizes me.  As I mowed the section of field north of the island, she stood at the edge of the woods, nursing her lambs.  Both fawns still wear spots.  She stood still for them, too, perfectly calm as the International tractor roared past on my third circuit of the field.  Perhaps she was 40 feet away.  Certainly she was no farther.

It put a smile on my face, seeing her so calm and collected.  She has a handsome family.  Clearly she knew the tractor wasn’t going to hurt her.

I continued mowing past her, reached the eastern edge of the field and turned north, up the hill.  I swiveled my head as the tractor turned, looking over to see if she was still there.  She was.  But we weren’t alone.

Hidden in the standing hay to my left, perhaps a hundred and fifty feet away from the deer, a black bear stretched out flat on its haunches.  Every muscle was taut and quivering.  Its nose was a periscope, jutting just above that sea of grass.  The breeze was from the southwest, too.  That bear and I were in a direct line immediately downwind from those three deer.

It’s curious.  I had a teddy bear as a child ― Big Bear.  In fact, I still have him.  He’s in this office as I write.  Oh, I don’t take him to bed with me anymore.  The point here, I have fond memories of bears.  He’s stuffed.  That why.  The bear here was very real.  Furthermore, we might think of bears as merely omnivores but, pondering it more closely, that doesn’t eliminate predation from their diet.  No.  No, it doesn’t.  Not by a long shot.

Moreover, pointed at the deer, its stance and intentions were clear and ominous:

Dinner!

I didn’t have to think about what to do.  I turned the tractor hard left.

Faced with a choice, move or be mowed, that bear moved.  Wow!  It was startling just how quickly.  Interrupted in its hunt it fled, flat out, due south.

As soon as the bear leaped up, all three deer raced west, full throttle.  The mother outpaced her offspring, easily.

I shoved in the clutch, hit the brake and watched.

I’ve read that bears can outrun horses ― even Thorough Breds.  Seeing this bear move, I believe it.

In fact, it appears certain to me that they can outrun fawns as well.

All three deer survived this encounter.  Good.  Regardless, I’ve learned more respect for bears.  Thinking of them as, ‘Merely omnivores’, is off my list.  I’m going to remember what an omnivorous diet includes.