Back in September, white-tailed deer bucks started to rub their antlers against young saplings, removing the velvet from the antlers and leaving scars on the tree trunks. Now they continue to rub long after the velvet is gone, no doubt to mark the edges of mating territories with a scent from a specialized gland on their foreheads.
By the middle of October, deer have begun their mating season in earnest, and the scrapes and rubs of rutting males can be spotted in the woods. A buck may scrape an area of ground less than a square yard with his hooves, making the scrape with urine and scent from glands located on his hind legs. The scrape is a sign to other males that the territory is occupied, and to females that an interested buck is nearby.
In late October, as competition intensifies, disputes between males take the form of aggressive displays and foot-stomping, sometimes followed by threats and rushes, with head lowered toward a potential rival. On occasion, two bucks can actually crash antlers in a battle of physical supremacy, though such bouts rarely last more than 30 seconds. Mating season is over by early December, and most bucks shed their antlers in January or February, only to grow them again a few months later.
What’s happening outdoors now?
American bittersweet, a native vine found throughout much of Minnesota, has showy fruit in the form of orange capsules that open to display clusters of bright red-orange seeds, each with a fleshy covering. These seeds hang on through winter or until birds such as wild turkeys, robins, or bluebirds eat them.
The crunching and aroma from fallen leaves makes walking in the woods special at this time of year. Deciduous forests are quite bare, but pockets of fall colors remain especially in oak woods.
A few eastern chipmunks remain above ground but a majority have begun hibernating. Rafts of American coots on area lakes may contain more than a thousand individual birds. American goldfinches are in their somber winter dress looking mostly brownish. Franklin’s gulls and ring-billed gulls follow farmers doing fall plowing to pick up worms and other small animals in the soil. Migrating flocks of American robins feed on crabapple fruit.
On Oct. 25 a year ago
We had a windy, overcast day with a low temperature of 44 and a high of 56 degrees. Nearly all corn fields in Carver County were combined. Big rafts of American coots could be seen on Lake Waconia. Fall colors continued with smoky-gold on tamaracks, golden-yellow on quaking aspen foliage, and sunny-yellow leaves on silver maples. Autumn Blaze maples, available from tree farms for some time, were at fall color peak, displaying fantastic red leaves.
Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes is a regular feature of The Norwood Young America Times.