End of Summer Transitions of the White-tailed Deer

October 15, 2017  •  2 Comments

The end of summer brings on many changes in the White-tailed Deer, especially the male, also called a buck.  As their antlers grow during the summer, bucks live alone or join bachelor groups.  Female deer (doe) and their babies (fawns) remain a family unit for up to a year or until the doe gives birth the next spring.  In late summer, the does and fawns are plentiful in the fields at dusk. 

This doe was crossing a field of Queen Anne's Lace to get to her fawns waiting at the edge.

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As the deer begin to shed their summer coat and their brown-gray winter coat grows, the velvet on the buck begins to die and get rubbed off.  That is when things start to happen.

The winter coat of this albino deer will remain white but the velvet begins to be shed as expected.  If you look closely, you can see blood on his left ear where the velvet has begun to come off.

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Many people would argue that this is a leucistic deer and not an albino deer.  Let's explore the differences.

Albinism is caused when they have little or no melanin in their bodies.  The hair is white because it lacks pigment and the skin appears to be pink because the flowing blood shows through the deer's pale skin. They generally have pink eyes but they sometimes have pale blue eyes.  Albinism negatively affects their eyesight as well.

Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation resulting in white, pale, or patchy fur.  Patchy fur is referred to as Pie-bald.  Leucism does not affect the eyes or nose so the eyes remain brown and the nose remains black.

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Below is a short video of the albino buck and others enjoying soy bean leaves. White-tailed Deer

 

Because of the pink skin that is very noticeable on the ears and nose and the pale blue eyes, it's hard to deny he is an albino.

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During this time of year, the food source begins to change and testosterone begins to build.  As the bucks shed their velvet, the bachelor groups begin to disband.  All the deer you enjoyed watching the past few months are no longer easy to find.  As fall approaches, the fields of soy bean plants and other plants the deer love begin to yellow and acorns begin to drop.  Their feeding patterns change from the fields to oak trees growing throughout the forest.  The dense forest will give them more cover as they feed on their favorite fall harvest.

The life span of an albino deer is shorter than a normal colored deer.  One reason is that they cannot hide as well and predators can find them easier.  In the photo below, the albino has completed his shed but the small buck next to him is still in the process of rubbing it off.

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As velvet sheds, they do not tolerate humans as much and they move more cautiously.  A short three weeks ago you could pull off to the side of the road in your car to watch big deer munching on Soy Bean leaves.  Now, they are simply not the same deer.

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All of the photographs in this blog were made in very low light.  Camera shutter speeds were slowed and ISO (sensitivity level of the camera's sensor) was set much higher than I normally set it.  Results were not always the best as I recorded many blurry ears and tails swishing at the flies and blurry lower jaws as they chewed the soy bean leaves.  I am happy to get what I got and I am equally thrilled to be able to share these beautiful animals with you.

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The photo below is an example of everything I said above.  I found this lone buck one evening exiting the woods were I was set up in a blind.  He was heading toward a huge oak tree where the acorns were already hitting the ground.  His coat is in transition between his summer and winter coat and his remaining velvet is barely hanging on.

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Seeing an albino deer is a rarity so I made four or five visits to the area he was known to feed.  There were several other deer in the area and a few really big bucks.  The really big bucks didn't get that way by being friendly.  I don't have any photos because they didn't take too kindly to me lifting a Canon (600mm lens) through the window of my vehicle.

I think the white-tailed Deer is one of the most beautiful animals roaming the earth.  Although the antlered deer are what we're watching for as the mating season gets closer, I still spend time photographing the females and their little ones too.  This next photo is a doe and her two fawns.  Although the spots have faded as their winter coat comes in, they are still noticeably smaller than mom.

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This little guy still has some spots remaining.

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I love photographing animal behavior.  Unfortunately, I don't have time to do enough of it.  Animal Behavior photography, in my opinion, is photography of wildlife in their natural setting without interrupting their activities and hopefully, discrete enough that they don't know you are there.  Let's face it, you may be able to be hidden for a short time but animals have keen senses and discover anything that is different.  At that point, our best hope is that you are hidden well enough that you don't pose a threat.

Photographing from a vehicle is a perfect example.  Deer see a lot of vehicles drive by and never look up from their feeding.  That makes vehicles a good blind as long as you remain in it.

I feel so fortunate when I am lucky enough to witness interaction between wildlife and their babies or even the show of affection like these two fawns grooming each other.

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Here are a few more shots of the bucks feeding in the soy bean field.

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I couldn't take my eyes, or my lens, off the two fawns in the back of the field.

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The grooming continued.  Doesn't it look like they are giving each other a hug?

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Did you know that a deer's vision is better at night than it is during the day?  Also, the colors green, orange, and red appear as shades of gray to the deer.  I don't know that I would like that!

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September is a time of pre-rut where testosterone builds in the males and hormones escalate in the females.  Many bucks begin to "feel each other out" by sparring.  Sparring is not an all-out dominance fight but more of an action of pushing each other around.

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It was getting very dark when I made this photograph.  Most of my photos were blurry but I managed to save a couple like the one below.

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When it gets too dark for photos I switch to video until it gets too dark.  This video contains clips of bucks sparring along the woodland edge.  There were several cars or trucks that drove by during these clips and a few stopped to watch.  Unfortunately, most people leave their car running so my microphone picks that up.  Hopefully, you can ignore the annoying background noise.

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I hope you enjoyed these pre-rut photographs and video.  Watch for a November photo blog documenting my White-tailed Deer rut season.

Thanks for looking,

Dan


Comments

Willard Hill(non-registered)
An excellent post Dan with excellent photos and video. In years that the acorn crop is poor the deer still use the fields a lot throughout the fall, but it is likely mostly at night or in heavily hunted areas--at least during rifle deer season or areas where there is a lot of bow hunting. This year has one of the best acorn crops I can remember and activity has really plummeted in the fields in most areas. I think it affected elk movement patterns to an extent this fall too. It also really impacts on turkey sightings and I seldom see them feeding in the fields now where as I usually see them frequently at this time of year.
Paul Staniszewski(non-registered)
Dan... Great photographs and article. Thanks for sharing...
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