Mending Fences – with Distractions

The pace of work changes when you spend a couple days in the hills. It’s really hard to get in a hurry and there are many distractions. The main event- mending fence. The sub plots – turkeys, wildflowers and other photo ops.

Rob and Terry looking down at a half mile of very old or non-existent fence, an intimidating project.

 (Click photos to enlarge.)

When you’re working on a project that looks overwhelming, it pays to not get in a hurry – so we didn’t.

The starting point for the fence project was at the top of a very steep drop off into a spot we had to exit the same way we went in. In other words what you carry down, you also carry up unless it’s fence material. A few hours per day is all we could handle on a project like this. A couple hours of hanging on to the side of a cliff while working is enough.

In the mean time distractions were all around us. On the way in I came across a group of four old gobblers that have been a making a living eating grain from horse feed.

These old toms have been hanging out near the neighbor's barn.

Wild flowers were blooming. Johnny-jump-ups, shooting stars  and butter cups were everywhere. The yellow and white flowers seem to bloom early while the blue flowers like lupins seem to bloom later on. There’s likely a reason, but I don’t know what it is.

Johnny- jump-ups (wild pansy) are a butterfly host plant.

The plant, which most locals call johnny-jump-ups, is also known as wild pansy or yellow pansy. The scientific name is viola pedunculata. It is a host plant for the Callippe Silverspot Butterfly, which is endangered. http://essig.berkeley.edu/endins/callippe.htm

Other early favorites include the shooting star (“mosquito bills” variety). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodecatheon_hendersonii

Mosquitobills shooting star.

While checking the spillway on one of our dams, I found a fresh mountain lion scat. The scat, about the size of my labs scat tends to be clay-like and greenish is color when it’s fresh – and if really fresh, extremely stinky.

Mountain lion scat. This is a medium-sized scat.

We also found a few stinkbells in bloom, but they seemed to be a little past their prime.

The stinkbell is somewhat rare.

The scientific name for the stinkbell is fritillaria agrestis.

The California buttercup is very common on our ranch.

The scientific name for the buttercup is ranunculus californicus.

With some fence progress and obligations at home, I departed while Rob and Terry continued to work on the fence. On the way home I came upon more turkeys. This time two gobblers were hanging out with three hens. Looks like nesting time is about here, but they were not very active.

These birds slipped into a creek and moved quickly out of sight.

It’s a little early in the nesting season and the turkeys were not in full breeding mode. The gobblers were more interested in eating than strutting for the hens.

Two Bucks, Same Fate

Last spring I came across a nice buck while turkey hunting. Although his antlers were undeveloped, the size of the base of his antlers indicated that he’d be a shooter. I looked for him during the rifle season last summer and didn’t find him.

Rob found him a couple weeks ago.

These bucks had several things in common.

Unfortunately a lion found him first. (click to enlarge photo.)

It’s tough to grow bucks to a ripe old age when the lion density is high. And, that’s what ours is, very high. This buck must have met his demise about the start of the new year. His antlers had many things in common with the other set of antlers in the photo, which belonged to a different lion-killed buck. (See “The Lion and the Buck.”).

Both are larger than average for mature bucks on our property. Both are not quite at the point of being old – they’re maybe three and a half. Both have four points on at least one side and their dimensions are nearly identical. Both were killed by mountain lions. We would like to grow older bucks, but they just don’t live to a very old age in mountain lion country.

Mountain lions are fully protected in California, a status shared by only a few other species.

Another Deer Bites the Dust

Spent Friday night and Saturday morning at the ranch. It was hot and the deer didn’t seem very active, but I was distracted watching poachers and wondering if they were heading our way.

Decided to make a brief still hunt and came upon a fairly fresh set of deer bones. Another mountain lion kill.

Mountain lions at work.

 No deer photos on the trail camera. Wondering why. Got some good photos of juvenile red legged frogs.

Juvenile red-leg frog in pond rebuilt last fall.

Fired my .300 WSM and got it sighted in perfect for the upcoming D6 trip.

Can’t Stockpile Wildlife

When you think you have control over a population of animals on your property, you’re heading for disappointment. Nature is designed to end surplus and if you don’t step in when a surplus is available, something else will.

Deer living in groups are less succestible to lion predation.

We found this out a few years ago when we had a rather unusal buck on our property. He was so unusual that we named him the high-horn buck. High-horn, lasted a few years and when we finally decided he was about large enough to shoot, he dissapeared. We believe he wandered onto the neighboring property, or maybe somebody decided to poach him. We’ll never know for sure.

Last summer we had two nice bucks hanging around and we could probably killed the largest of the two if we chose to, but we elected to pass and now the two bucks are just one. The largest has vanished and we believe a lion got him. Our deer numbers are down significantly – just when we thought we had a bunch of deer, numbers have dwindled.

These yearlings stick close to our camp in a group of five.

When a lion is working the area deer become less visible. Some have been killed, other have moved to nearby neighborhoods and the remaining deer are quite reclusive and nervous. 

Now that the second large buck is living alone, he may be vulnerable to a lion attack like his buddy. He’s a nice buck, but there’s nothing about him to entice us to shoot him this early in the season. We may have regrets before the season is out.

A lion like this can take a heavy toll on a local deer population, especially if she has juvenile cubs.

 As we walked the perimeter of one of our ponds, photographing frogs and salamanders, we came upon the bones of a small buck Rob had seen at the pond a couple weeks ago.

This young buck was hanging out by itself the last time Rob saw it alive.

It’s just a fact that you can’t stockpile deer, especially when (in California) you have no legal way to manage lions to increase deer numbers.

2009 Kenndy Meadows D6 Pack in Archery Hunt

Fernando was one of our two packers.

Packer Fernando resized

Randy was the other. They work for Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. The owner, Matt Bloom, is very accommodating.Packer Randy cropped and resized

This was a very large bear and we saw him two days in a row. We observed about six bears in all.black bear best cropped

One bruin left his track near camp, but we didn’t have any trouble with our food.bear track cropped and resized

This Cooper’s hawk landed about fifty yards away while Wes and I alternated glassing and nodding. Shortly thereafter, a cinnamon colored bear walked up to within 20 yards of us before attempting to leap out of his hide.Coopers Hawk 2 cropped and resized

On the second day of hunting, this three point buck appeared in the willows below us. We’d seen him on day one as well.

 

three point buck in sun cropped and enlarged

Then we saw him again on day three, but at about 150 yards. Apparently he’d seen us as well.

 

three point or four point cropped

His partner was a four-point buck (in the lead), but was more camera shy. Like many bucks, he was better at keeping his head down. As you can see fairly well, this buck has blacktail characteristics.

We have noted that some deer in this area look like blacktails and others more like mule deer. There is  a species called the California mule deer and these deer would most likely fall into that taxonomy.

According to biologists I’ve discussed this with, the California mule deer is not a cross between blacktails and mule deer, it is a species that evolved in this habitat. Could be.

three point following four point cropped resized

We saw these bucks every day of the hunt.

Chipmunks were plentiful, as were many other ground squirrels including marmots, pica and Townsend ground squirrels.sierra chipmonk cropped and resized

The most prevalent creature on the ridge was the Clark’s nutcracker. While watching one of these birds from about 20 feet away through his binoculars, Rob observed one of them regurgitating pine nuts and storing them in a slot in a pine tree.Clarks nutcracker cropped and resized

After a few hours of watching deer in the morning, a three-point buck with a nice spread bedded in these willows. Wes decided to sit on him and see if he’d make a mistake.

Where’s Wes? Wes stalking buck in willows cropped

Wes stalking buck enlarged

There his is. Wes sat next to that large rock for several hours waiting for the buck to show himself, but he didn’t.

One exciting moment occurred on the last hunt day when Wes jumped a mountain lion that took off at full speed until reaching a place to hide behind a large rock.

When Lions are Near

Mountain lions are the most secretive of creatures. By nature, they are generally much more aware of what’s going on around them than other animals, especially people. However, there are couple major clues one should keep in mind that can warn you of their presence – deer vocalizations and cat sounds.

Mountain lions scare the poop out of deer, much more so than anything else. Lion presence will cause deer to snort, stomp and even scream. On one occation I was still-hunting during the archery season in California’s Snow Mountain Wilderness. It was first light and I was walking on a dusty trail that traversed through a burn.

It was probably a two year old burn and the brush was several feet tall. It held lots of ceanothis that was very attractive to blacktail deer. I remember being surprised that I was seeing no deer and this was prime habitat and prime time.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, deer began to snort on the hillside above me. The deer were panicking and I could hear them running too and fro with no particular logical explanation. The were upwind of me so they could not scent me. I stood motionless and silently waited while attempting to understand what was going on.

Standing in a slight drainage, I caught sight of something moving in my direction. At about fourty yards I recognized that is was a square faced male lion walking in a semi crouched position and it was coming directly at me.

Mountain lions have the ability to hide and walk at the same time and this was the best example of it I’ve ever seen. Almost moving like a snake down the hill, the cat was unaware of my presence. It was unknowingly going to walk directly into me.

At 30 yards I grew concerned. The tom still had no idea of what was about to happen. At 25 yards, something had to be done because I didn’t want to find out how the lion would react inside of 20 yards. Finally I broke my silence and spoke to the cat – something stupid like “OK kitty that’s close enough.”

The lion jumped into a brush pile about five yards away. Now, still  20 yards from my position, the tables were turned. The cat could see me, but I could no longer see him. In the deafening silence, I concluded it was time to exit. I walked slowly down the trail, keeping my eyes on the bush putting distance between me and the cat.

The later behavior was more consistant with typical man-lion encounters.

However, lions sometimes give themselves away. That’s a story for another day.

The Ecology of Fear

If you want to maximize your deer population, include grazing as one of your mangement tools.

Researchers in Oregon have concluded, after extensive research, that prey species have a fear of predators and that prey species move away from their mortal enemies in an effort to survive. They have also concluded that this natural system has an important relationship to the success of other plant and animal life.

Impressive conclusion?

Interesting how a bit of research can lead to statements by politicians who are too eager to use science as a basis for social sculpturing. In our local paper (on a front-page feature article no less) Tri-Valley Herald reporter Suzanne Bohan uses the research to support her own conclusions.

” YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – More fear of fangs is what’s needed to revive hoof-worn Western lands.”

What’s wrong with this? From what I see, the research related to this subject is most applied to wolves. There are and have never been wolves in Yosemite.

Bohan then goes on to apply the “Fear” theory to mountain lions. Then she concludes that we don’t have enough of them and we need more lions in the park for the benefit of botanical success.

Horse poop. Mountain lions are at equilibrium in California. Our habitat cannot support any more mountain lions. If you want to save the flora and fauna of Yosemite Valley, remove the tourists. They are what keeps the mountain lions away. Lions don’t like people.

Lions do move deer around and it is a benefit for the ecosystem. Human hunters do the same thing. After removing the tourists, we can then insert human hunters to assist the lions. The result will be a much improved Yosemite.

I’m all for it.

The Chase

Ever herd deer screem? They do it more often than one might think.

I was fortunate enough to get drawn an Anderson Flat Archery deer tag a few years ago. The hunt was interesting, but as with some of the other late season archery hunts I’ve tried, I just couldn’t get it right and went home deerless.

However I did have some interesting experiences during the week or so I hunted. One of them took place during an evening hunt as I waited in my tree stand which overlooked a saddle and narrow ridge line. 

I’d been on stand for a while when I noticed that deer were snorting in the draw below me. I checked the wind and realized that they couldn’t posibly be getting my scent. Time passed and my mind wandered to some other subjects.

As the afternoon turned to last light. I herd a deer running in my direction, screaming as a deer only does when it faces death. As the sound approached, a small doe popped into view briefly about 75 years up the ridge – right behind it a mountain lion.

The lion was in hot pursuit, about ten feet behind the deer. Immediately I grew curious about the fate of the deer, but as the sky grew dark my curiousity diminished and I decided to head back to my car.

The following day I returned after the morning hunt. The path of the running animals was clear to see and very evident in the patches of snow and wet ground. I followed the path of the conflict until the signs disappeared to my eyes, but apparently the lion had failed to catch the deer.

I don’t know why I cared, but I felt a little relieved.

Thoughts From CSCW President, Bob Taylor

According to Bob (Lion) Taylor, President of Citizens for Sustainable California Wildlife (SCSCW), predators are not only reducing deer numbers, but they are having a negative impact upon many other sensitive California wildlife species.

Bob understands that wildlife, like agricultural crops, need to be managed to maintain their health. Unfortunately, Proposition 117, an initiative which was voted in by the pubic a few years ago, has virtually eliminated the ability to manage or study mountain lion populations.

 Bob notes, “With the reduction of the deer herd, these predators (mountain lion, black bear and coyote) have resorted to other smaller wildlife, livestock and family pets, and are rapidly turning this situation into a mjor wildlife crisis.”

 If you’re interested in more information about CSCW, here’s their web address: www.sustainablewildlife.org

Nevada Lion “Attack”

I don’t remember what year it was, 1987 most likely. I’d been archery hunting mule deer in the Santa Rosa Range north of Winnemucca Nevada. Although the season was over, I wasn’t in a hurry to leave the area when I came upon a rancher whose family owned property and grazing rights in one of the primary Creek drainages just south of Paradise Valley. His name was Tom.

We began to talk about deer hunting and later on, mountain lions. Over the years he’d taken some large bucks on the ridge to the west of his home and typically he would hunt late in the deer season. A few years back he’d taken a really nice buck late in the season and left it in the trail while he went back to the ranch to pick up horses to haul out the buck.

When he returned for the buck, it was gone and drag marks in the light snow indicated what had taken place. Because his brother had a mountain lion tag, he went home and found his brother. Tom was thinking that they might spot the cat or scare it into the open when he followed the drag marks.

Upon returning, his brother climbed to an overlook above the area where the cat had dragged the buck and waited. Tom cautiously followed the drag marks into the brush. As he approached a large bolder, he spotted the carcass beside it. Within a couple steps of the rock, he stood looking around for any sign of the cat. Suddenly the lion, which apparently had been asleep near the rock, leaped onto the bolder almost within reach.

While the lion growled and clawed the air in his direction, Tom remembered poking the cat in the face with the end of his gun barrel while attempting to get the safety off. Finally he realized that the safety was already off and pulled the trigger, ending the cat’s life.

Tom was so frightened that he didn’t wait to see the result of his shot. He just turned and ran staight out of the brush, later returning with his brother to find the cat dead.

He later discovered that this was a female lion with nearly grown cubs. She was still providing for them and saw the buck as a great opportunity for a meal.

Tom observed a lion in his headlights a few days later and speculated that it was probably one of the lion cubs.