Doe -- a deer, a female deer -- and her fawn both fancy tall grass.
The does need lush vegetation for both milk production and a hiding place for their newborns. Feeding and attending to them only briefly twice a day for the first two weeks, does leave their fawns most of the day.
That separation has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, there's less dangerous scent and visible presence when a fawn is left alone. Fortunately, fawns are amazingly born nearly scentless. Their cryptic mottled colors blend perfectly with the dappled light of the forest's shadows and, unlike human babies, they possess the innate ability to remain motionless and quiet for long periods.
Many does will leave their fawns in tall grass fields -- some to be found or even mowed over by humans, unfortunately. The practice of early June mowing to harvest the richest and most valuable hay impacts not only the fawns, but also numerous species of grassland birds like meadowlarks, bobolinks, and several species of sparrows.
All too often the assumption that the lone fawns are orphans ends in their being taken from their hiding place -- and doomed. A doe will never try to stop someone from taking her fawn as a moose mother will.
MassWildlife prudently advises us to beware of mother moose that are aggressively prepared to defend their calves. A 600-pound cow moose is fast enough to outrun any human, typically kicking and stomping him with powerful, heavy legs and hooves, on rare occasions killing the presumed threat. Encounters with moose mothers are among the most dangerous in our wild world. My family had a narrow escape with one while fly-fishing Yellowstone back in the 1980s.
I had taken my teenage nephew Todd Blazis backpacking into Slough Creek for cutthroats. One of our greatest local fly-fishermen, Dennis Alakoski, had shared that secret hot spot, where wild trout averaging over 16 inches rose readily to dry flies, while elk and grizzlies surrounded us. We were far more worried about the grizzlies than the moose there, and talked loudly or sang whenever we advanced. Todd unfortunately still got caught alone between a cow and her calf.
Luckily, he was quick, athletic, light and smart. He climbed a serendipitously close-by tree and spent the next 15 or so intensely unforgettable minutes gently talking to her to calm her down until she was relaxed enough to leave him with her calf.
At this time of year, the abundance of newborn wildlife means inevitable encounters with them. Hikers should leave all wildlife in the wild -- even when they appear abandoned.
Also at this time, the consequences of our very cold winter are still evident up north. The season there is still about two weeks behind. Some anglers heading up to Maine and beyond found late ice out and some access roads difficult to negotiate. I had to entirely camce; plans to fish Labrador's famed Igloo Lake the last week of May, when suckers spawn and giant brook trout averaging four pounds feed on their eggs. Ice thickened at least four feet deep there this winter, so many anglers' early reservations had to be postponed. Floatplanes are just beginning to land there now.
Rare whale sighting
With the arrival of our magnificent humpbacks, whale-watching boats are having another exciting season. One of the most amazing sightings this year has been an Arctic bowhead whale -- one of only about 1,000 residing in the North Atlantic. It was seen feeding on plankton alongside rare right whales in Cape Cod Bay this past April. It's the same animal observed there in March 2012. Bowheads, like the closely related right whales, have enormous, bulldozer-like mouths and distinctively lack a dorsal fin. This individual was identified by head scars, callosities, and facial clump patterns of barnacles.
The reason for this unusual animal's abnormal migration here is uncertain. Their huge, powerful heads are well designed to break through polar ice to breathe air. This individual may be responding to changes in sea ice or plankton abundance. In either case, its presence is a cause for concern. Arctic whales should be in the Arctic.
The last time I saw bowheads was while hunting caribou and seals with Inuits around Baffin Island's mountainous fiords. There, among the icebergs, we found ourselves boating alongside a polar bear -- at least a mile offshore -- also hunting for seals.
The numerous bowheads were rotund, very slow, methodically plowing the surface with enormous open mouths, ingesting hundreds of pounds of plankton with each swallow. Using my Swarovski EL binoculars, I thought I saw a big harp seal head about a mile away. The Inuits -- without binoculars -- saw it, too, but knew it wasn't a seal. While one put the motor full speed forward, the other, without a word, took out a harpoon. They knew immediately that what I thought was the head of an 800-pound harp seal was actually the pectoral fin of a narwhal!
They soon attached their harpoon to an empty 5-gallon plastic gasoline container. As soon as we caught up with the narwhal, to our great surprise, they harpooned it. For the next hour, it pulled us until it died of multiple 7 mm magnum shots in and around its blowhole. Once they killed it, they hauled the fat, floating carcass up on the nearest island that had sloping banks.
They processed it with great speed. I touched its skin, which felt like a wet rubber tire tube. A cross section of the whale looked like a jelly doughnut -- with very thick fat all around it, and a bloody red center, with organs and dark muscle. The Inuit were curiously not interested in taking any meat. They cut big slabs of skin with underlying fat to prepare muktuk, which they later ate both raw and boiled. I recall the latter tasted like calamari. Here in the Arctic, there were no grocery stores. We had to eat what we killed.
They presented me with the narwhal's 8-foot tooth as a momento of their hunt. Since the narwhal is a protected marine mammal, its priceless ivory tusk was illegal for me to bring home. Besides, the trophy wouldn't fit in the home of someone who adamantly prefers watching whales to killing them.
Contact Mark Blazis