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In the past week we’ve been seeing lots of spots here, on our hillsides, in the meadow areas, and near the office.  These spots…

 

The first black-tailed deer fawn sighted of the 2010 season (click images to enlarge)

One, two, three…awwwwww.

Some of you are no doubt well aware that our resident deer population has caused us more than a few headaches over the last the year as we’ve started to establish our orchard and gardens.  We’ve spent many months installing, and reinforcing a perimeter deer fence, that has been breached over, and over, and over again.  Surely the last thing we really need here, is MORE deer…but in their defense, our fruit trees probably are rather difficult to resist.

In November Curbstone Valley Farm became a Certified Wildlife Habitat, in part to help make others aware that conserving the land and all of its inhabitants here is important to us.

 

Nothing says spring like...

We love living here, and despite copious amounts of head-scratching, occasional cursing, and entirely too much time spent trying to protect a small orchard and garden area, we actually do enjoy seeing the deer here…just so long as they’re on the OUTSIDE of the small fenced in area around the gardens.

Earlier this spring we regularly saw a small gang of four young bucks, and a herd of five does wandering through the property.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out some simple math.  Four bucks + five does = at least a few fawns!  It’s now late spring…and well…

 

Young fawns really are adorable

…it seems that baby deer season is in full swing here at Curbstone Valley.

On Thursday, while out feeding the chickens, a different doe, this time with a pair of TWINS in tow, was sighted on the hillside near the chicken coop.  Of course, I didn’t have my camera with me at that exact moment.  However, Mom, and the juniors 1 and 2 wandered near our office about half an hour later.

 

Doe with twin fawns

Yes yes, the orchard is doomed, but sights like this outside of our windows really is why we chose to live here.

 

Black-tailed deer with fawns

The remarkable thing is that this doe seems quite comfortable around us, and has brought her twins close enough to us that we can hear her low grunting sounds when she is communicating with her babies.  She’ll leave them on a part of the hill, behind some brush or low shrubs, and then quietly call for them to join her when she feels it’s safe.  This is the first year I’ve heard wild does audibly communicating with young, and it was fascinating to hear.

However, our burgeoning deer population points out just how much the ecology of the Santa Cruz Mountains has changed in the last 150 years.  It’s difficult to imagine today that in the 1850’s grizzly bears and mountain lions were plentiful, and frequently sighted here.  By the late 1800’s most of the bears that were once resident here had been hunted, and within 50 years their populations entirely extirpated.  The last grizzly bear sighted in the Santa Cruz Mountains was a 642 pound sow bear, killed by Orrin Blodgett on Bonny Doon mountain in 1886 [1]

 

Recent rains have provided plenty of green forage this spring

Mountain lions, in the last century, have had their populations significantly reduced, and their numbers are estimated to now range between 30-70 big cats throughout the entire Santa Cruz Mountain range.  Their habitat is divided by roadways and fences, and their future is constantly threatened by ever growing human populations [2]. The last actual sighting of a mountain lion here on our property, was reported to be a couple of years before we moved in.

 

These fawns have few predators

With the bears gone, and mountain lion populations significantly reduced, the deer really have little to worry about here beyond a couple of crazed gardeners running toward them occasionally, waving their arms.  They are so plentiful here because there aren’t many predators left to keep their populations in check.

We do have Bobcats, and Coyotes here, but neither pose particularly strong threats to the deer population, except for the young fawns.  Their greatest predator is probably the vehicles on our roads.  As shown in the video below, our Bobcats seem content to catch gophers rather than large prey.

All this makes us aware that while we’re trying to preserve the majority of our land, and not detrimentally alter the delicate balance of plants, fungi, insects, and animals on the property, that even this small piece of land here has become somewhat out of balance in recent decades.

 

Black-tailed Doe

We can’t restore all that has been lost to human intrusion, but we can appreciate and enjoy what remains, and strive to conserve the rest the best we can.

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[1] Taber, Tom (1998) The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book
[2] Bay Area Puma Project