Fawning Season

Father’s Day has dawned and I’m back in my study, where I’ll remain until the cold of winter shifts me to my kitchen writing nook near the woodstove. Facing two sun-splashed windows instead of sitting with one at my back, this seat can brighten my perspective some. Plus, my library is closer, which is a fact-checking convenience.

I returned yesterday afternoon from an overnight stay at the Capital Plaza Hotel in Montpelier, Vermont, where they’re still digging out from last summer’s devastating downtown flooding. We were in the Green Mountain State Capital to attend my grandson’s high school graduation in a bordering community.

Whew! How time flies.

As I sit here, thinking, there’s no time to malinger. I must buckle down to the task at hand, which is to crank out another column – this one addressing a topic I could have covered a couple of weeks ago, had not my focus been elsewhere.

So, let’s drift slightly back in time to the fawning season, right after Memorial Day, when wobbly fawns rise from their nests on spindly, unstable legs and quickly learn to run and dart and bound like deer. It just so happens that, lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, I got to witness a teaching moment between a doe and her spotted twins, and I want to describe it.

I remember that daybreak during the first full week of June as cool and refreshing – me clad in shorts and a t-shirt. It was breathlessly still, with grey skies suggesting rain as I rambled down the home stretch of my daily two-mile walk around Greenfield’s Upper Meadows neighborhood.

Though a few interesting events had unfolded, it had been, by recent standards, a largely uneventful spring on the wildlife-sighting front. Most salient was the absence of turkeys where they have been common. Curiously, I heard not so much as a distant gobble during the month of May and the weeks leading up to it. Strange indeed.

I attributed this void, in my May 9 column, to a great horned owl nest I watched in my friend’s yard up the road. It may or may not have been the reason why turkeys had vacated a place where typically there are many. Then, just when I had written it off as a wait-till-next-year scenario, on three or four days during the third week of June, like clockwork, between 7 and 9 a.m., gobbling from the woods south and west of me.

Hmmmm? The second mating of a hen that had lost her first nest? Hard to say. And truthfully, I can’t say I wasted much time evaluating it. It just happened.

Prior to those unexpected, phantom gobbles, the most extraordinary wildlife sighting of spring was a beautiful, large, shiny black bear – likely a solitary bruin in the 250- to 300-pound class, whose daybreak path I interrupted. He was headed for a Nichols Drive crossing as I passed through, up close and personal.

The burly beast detected me coming and froze like a statue, facing me from about 40 yards away. His nose and ears raised on high alert, he watched me approach before turning tail, sauntering three strides back and turning 180 degrees to face me as I headed toward Plain Road.

It was my first bear sighting in three or four years. Both were close encounters. This face-to-face was about twice as far from me as the previous one, but I’d say the first bear was larger. I can’t say I felt threatened on either occasion. Both bears were palpably cautious in my presence. I kept a peripheral fix on both of them and continued on my way without incident.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only person who crossed that bear’s path that morning. A fella named Craig Franklin did, too. I learned that a week to the day later, when he stopped his grey Chevy pickup truck to report the sighting and the day it occurred. We often pass in our early-morning travels, and I always give him a friendly wave. He infrequently stops to report notable sightings.

Franklin must have seen that bear soon after I did that day. I wonder how many others neighbors saw it, or at least knew the beast had passed through. Probably not many, unless it left random calling cards.

OK – enough of the superfluous chatter. Back to the deer story I sat down to tell.

It unfolded less than a half-mile south and east from my home, along the eastern perimeter of a slim, 100-yard finger of woods partially dividing two hayfields. The timber stand shelters a spring that bubbles from the ground and trickles south, past a small burial ground and into another spring that connects with Allen Brook.

Walking west on Meadow Road, I was about 150 yards from a sighting that always leaves a warm impression when one is fortunate enough to bear witness.

Always, in passing, I carefully scan those hayfields for deer and often find them in varying numbers, this spring ranging from one to nine. This time it was three – obviously, given the size discrepancy, a doe and her fawns. I wasn’t surprised. Other does have nested in that midfield refuge over the years, and many more will likely choose it in the future. It’s a perfect birthing place.

Back when I routinely meandered the perimeter of those fields a doe once burst out of the tree line and bounded across the hayfield in front of me. She was obviously trying to distract my attention from her hidden nest by showing herself and romping through the field.

This time the fawns were on all fours, and from my vantage point they appeared to be nimble. Engaging their mother in an entertaining catch-us-if-you-can game, the little ones displayed remarkable agility for their young age. The frolicking fawns ran, darted, and jumped in tight half-circles around their mother, who feigned aggression by occasionally stomping in their direction, encouraging development of their agility and escape ability. I have seen an identical game played out many times between a bitch and her litter.

It was a joyous sight to behold – one I have witnessed less than a handful of times, and heard many others describe over the years. Come August and September, I will undoubtedly bump into this family unit many times, as the fawns lose their spots and continue to gain mobility.

Wildlife observation never gets old for an observant walking man who stays alert and knows where to look.

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