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Where We Left Off:
In our last case file, I summarized the major steps in how Gus and Oliver were trained for the outside portion of their jobs as adventure cat detectives.
Stand by Me:
When I think about the gender-specific behaviors of the Jersey devil-deer and the native white-tailed deer, I had only had two observations: herds and does with their growing children. I had never before witnessed a group of all antlered deer socializing together—until now!
Truthfully, Gus and I did not witness this in person on our patrols. Once again, the trail camera at Fort Winchester provided us with new data. I would love a second trail camera to put in Gnome Grove, but for some reason, the model I have has gone up in price instead of going down as newer models rolled out. All the models are more than I want to spend for the minimum specs to match the Browning Command Ops Elite 20.
Before the sun rose on January 7, 2023, we had visitors. Gus and I had found plenty of tracks in the ground which he sniffed for information. I scrolled through the trail cam images once they were downloaded into my phone and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I first came to the images of a young buck with one point on each antler. I thought the process of how to count antler points was going to be as easy as just counting them. Apparently, there’s more to it. Antlers can be uneven. Who knew? I guess seasoned hunters and smarter people know this.
Some people observing a deer (or devil-deer) count one side; other people count both sides. A protrusion should be a certain length in order to be counted as legitimate point. That length is one inch. The main beam of the antlers come to a point so they count as points. In cases of white-tailed deer, the males can also have brown tines which are counted in the total. When the main beam branches out (normal points) and then that branches forks again (abnormal points), you count each of those tips. I imagine someone with proper telemetry skills could score our local creatures’ racks, but I don’t have the skills to know how far apart the left antler points are from the right. Hunters can get an official score from Boone & Crockett if they take all the measurements. That’s a big deal for them because they compete for the biggest murder victim. I mean, harvested deer.
In the case of the first and smallest beast to bound past the camera, it clearly would be identified as “typical,” meaning the antlers on the left and right mirror each other. Since there’s much more math involved and I would need to have the skulls and antlers cleaned and dried for 60 days before officially counting, I’m just going to count the pointy tips I see on the images as “points.” The National Fish and Wildlife Service seems to back me up on this:
“Eight point deer are usually 3 or 4 year-old bucks but also aging bucks and bucks living in poor habitats. White-tailed deer are described by the total number of points but elk are counted by each side. For example, the most common mature elk antlers with six points on both the left and right antlers are called 6×6.”
It’s also winter here in New Jersey which means the bucks should be shedding their antlers. Why haven’t they shed their racks? Is this something Oliver and Gus should be investigating? Is it another symptom of climate change? Is it possible they were shed in December and already grew back? Gus and Ollie went off to have a debate about this while I continued to examine the trail cam images.
“Many nutrients are needed to make bone, such as calcium, phosphorus and protein. These nutrients are important for all types of animal growth, not just big strong antlers. Rodents in particular love shed antlers – mice, squirrels and porcupines will gnaw on antlers for their nutrients and to wear down their ever growing teeth. Even bears, foxes, opossums and otters have been known to eat antlers. Because antler sheds are important for healthy habitat, antler shed hunting is illegal in many places. If you buy antler products make sure they are legally sourced.” – National Fish & Wildlife Service
Our first buck with the two points is an adorable young fella. But, he wasn’t alone! The images showed a second animal entering the frame. Lo and behold, it was also antlered! The second beast had six points. The animals looked comfortable together. The were on their way to cross the busy road. They weren’t fighting since it’s well past rutting season. Possibly, they were together to look out for each other. At 6:16AM, the third buck entered the frame. The camera snapped night mode images of three bucks together! At 6:34AM, they returned in the reverse order. First we see Big Daddy with 8 points. Then medium beast with 6, followed by the cutie pie with the 2 points.
Finally, it was time for Gus to take questions to the outdoors to see if we could get any answers. Where were these three antlered beasts for fifteen minutes? Why did they go there only to turn back around and walk up the mountain?
Gus took a couple swipes at birds eating the seeds I distributed. I don’t actually like having to use intimidation to get answers from witnesses. Let that go on record. I think you get more flies with honey than vinegar, as the adage goes. Six years into investigating mysteries, I know which tactics Gus prefers. He’s bad cop. I’m good cop.
There were various dark-eyed juncos of the slate-colored variety. Allegedly other subspecies like the brown-backed Oregon juncos or pink-sided juncos are not in this area, but I’ve seen a few that are definitely not what I would call slate-colored. They must be the women of the flock. Quite beautiful if you see them mingling together.
Junco Joe Adonis:
On one of January’s cloudy afternoons, Gus and I came upon a dark-eyed junco. This was a bird who preened. We watched him looking at us to see if we were watching. I swear, he winked at me. It was weird. I know some birds are flirtatious, but juncos usually keep to their own flocks allowing for integrated socializing with other birds when resources are being shared. They don’t let me get too close. If I so much as raise my camera, they usually take off unless I’m 20-30 feet away with a zoom lens. This bird in the limelight bush—he was different.
Gus flanked to the right getting in his position near the corner of Cheeks Moretti’s rock fortress. He tried to hide behind the sundial while keeping a clear line of sight on the junco. Another junco with slightly lighter shades of grey landed for less than a second when Gus leapt up and took a swipe. The birds took off, but didn’t go far.
In the big maple tree, I spotted a few titmice, a nuthatch, a red-bellied woodpecker, and a black-capped chickadee. The sparrows gathered in the burning bushes. A minute or so went by and the juncos returned to the dried up limelights.
The handsome one made his way over to the brick and boldly took a sunflower seed. Gus didn’t budge. After enjoying the morsel, the junco came forward and didn’t fly away when I lifted my camera. It was remarkable. The damn bird was posing for me! Gus noticed and decided that a bird this ballsy might have information on other creatures living in the neighborhood.
Gus introduced him as one of the resident investigators and keepers of the peace. The bird said he goes by Junco Joe Adonis. He danced around the subject of the large beasts. He hesitated talking in a way that led me to believe he knew something.
“It’s winter bow, muzzleloader, and shotgun season here for the deer,” Junco Joe said.
“We know that,” Gus snarked. “Tell us something we don’t know. Why would they come down the mountain for fifteen minutes and then go back up right before sunrise?”
“They were looking for the Great Horned Owl. There’s one who’s basically what you would call someone who watches over an area. Like a governor in your words, but it’s not political,” Junco Joe said.
We don’t know if the bucks ever found the owl. Maybe they did and it was a quick conversation; or maybe they didn’t find it. Before we left Junco Joe Adonis, we asked what they could be meeting about. He said it’s all about the land. The loss of it specifically. The animals are still worried about that proposed “eco” dump that will bring 150 trucks a day to this neighborhood. Some of the animals are already in their mating season preparing for spring births, but they’re losing domain.
Case Status: Closed