December in the Woods

Wild is the music of the autumnal winds amongst the faded woods.

~William Wordsworth

I’m trying to get into our woods every few days to see the changes that are occurring as autumn transitions to the bones of winter. The big change this week was the sudden accumulation of oak leaves on the forest floor. It seems they all fell at once, carpeting the ground in a crunchy brown rug. Meanwhile, the trail cameras are still getting lots of deer videos, but the rut has quieted and things are not as frantic as a few weeks ago. Here are a couple of forest vignettes from this past week…

— Our family of Raccoons (I believe it is a mother and three youngsters that are now about as big as she is) continue to dig up the leaf litter every night. They have a regular path they follow, grubbing around for who knows what (worms, grubs, other insects, acorns??).

— This young buck is curious about the camera. He has a somewhat irregular set of antlers.

— This majestic buck has appeared on a few video clips during the rut. I think it is a 9-pointer (the antler spread is greater than the 8-pointer I regularly see on the trail cameras).

I’ve noticed a lot of variation in the antler size and shape in our deer herd. White-tailed Deer typically have fairly symmetrical antlers with an equal size, spacing, and number of points on both sides. But, so-called atypical antlers, are not uncommon. The young buck in the video shows a strange bend on one side and some waviness in the point of its antler. I can’t tell from the video if a point was broken or it is just an odd shape. Antler deformities can occur in three major ways: injuries to the pedicel (the antler growing base attached to the skull); injuries to the antler when it is in velvet (the soft, hair-like membrane rich in blood that covers the antlers during their growth phase in spring and summer); or leg injuries. This last one caught me by surprise when I read it. Apparently, the mechanism for the relationship between leg injuries and antler deformation is not well known, but scientists think it may be the result of reallocation of nutrients from antler growth to healing the bone in a leg injury. Oddly, an injury (such as a car collision) to a front left leg can cause a deformity in the left antler, but an injury to a left rear leg may result in the right antler being misshapen. Observing our wild neighbors always seems to bring up more questions and the resulting online searches usually reveal many surprises.

11 thoughts on “December in the Woods

  1. Mike,

    Keep up the great work in these communications! I always forward them to my grandchildren, trying to keep the natural world a part of their education.

    Question: I know a month or so ago you were in Pungo and had pictures of swans, etc. Do you know that there are large migrating groups of birds there this year? Last December, the day after Christmas we drove down there to see the birds and there were none to speak of. We could hear a few but back on those little narrow roads where the fields flood and create narrow “canals,” there were no birds, apparently b/c of the drought we had been experiencing.

    My son from DC will be here again this year at Christmas. I wanted to see if the birds would be at Pungo this year. A couple of years ago, the migration was large—so many birds—that I told folks going there to just put their windows down and follow the noise!! (I couldn’t give directions anyhow!)

    Any information you can share would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you. Nancy Sumner

    • Hi Nancy…glad you enjoy the blog and kudos for sparking an interest in our natural world in your grandchildren. The birds are there, especially the swans. Early morning and late in the day are their most active times as they tend to be out in fields (many are off the refuge) feeding during the day. The snow geese tend to roost far out on Pungo Lake during the middle part of the day and are barely visible except as a distant line of white on the water. I’ll try to put some more information together and send to you in an email. Good luck!

      • Thank you, Mike, for taking the time to respond so thoroughly to my questions re Pungo and area. My hiking group went to Mattamuskeet and surrounding areas a couple of years ago and walked every possible trail there. I then went back, just to Pungo for the day, when there was good water and followed “the sound”—amazing! I think we’ll be heading back that way after Christmas.

        I’ve encouraged others to drive down to Pungo for the day—it just isn’t that far. But folks here in Raleigh think that it’s a huge distance and miss seeing and hearing this part of the State.

        Nancy Sumner

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