The Bucks of Autumn



Two big bucks find my aspen tree much to interesting…

Living on the edge of a small town surrounded by farm and ranch fields in southwest Colorado, it’s common to see wildlife and how they adapt to their human neighbors.

Case in point are the four large mule deer bucks that frequent my neighborhood. I call them the Gang of Four. Not only do they know it’s not hunting season, but even if it were it’s illegal to hunt in a residential area. It’s as if they read the town statutes.


I had wondered about the scars on the trees…they’ve been sharpening their antler points.

Like all wildlife, the Gang of Four knows where their preferred food sources are, and hang about in various nearby spots. They have raided my little garden repeatedly this summer, during the night. A chain link fence is merely something to hop over for them. Finally I resorted to some animal repellent spray, which is supposed to make animals’ mouths tingle in a way they don’t like, so they go eat the neighbor’s flowers, again.


Trim and muscular, ready for the fall mating rut.

I have watched these bucks during the summer in “velvet”, the fuzzy covering as their antlers grew. Then suddenly they were back. In my yard, in the late afternoon. No more velvet, those antlers were fully grown and ready for the combat of the rut (mating season) in late fall. But for now the four big boys weren’t enemies. That would come later. After the sexual completion of reproduction was over they would become buddies again. I call it the Big Boys’ Club. I’ve seen bull elk do it, too.


The Gang of Four in velvet, September 11. 

Photo location: Nucla, Colorado.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Elk At The Speed Of Dawn


I had camped below Lone Cone Peak at Dan Noble State Wildlife Area.

The evening had been exquisite, even though I had only caught one small rainbow trout. Which was freed back into the lake and used its muscular tail to torpedo it back into the depths. Its predator ways only momentarily interrupted by a two legged land based predator. A fisherman.


The lake below Lone Cone Peak

There are a lot of Canada geese at that lake. A perfect breeding ground for them. They are loud and raucous all day and evening, seemingly talking from one end of the lake to the other about what their latest fears are. A coyote! A human!

The geese do seem to observe Quiet Hours once it gets dark, like a campground. Meanwhile the nearly full moon was arcing across the sky all night. Though even it couldn’t wash out the brightest stars, there so far away from city lights.

At first light I packed up my campsite and headed down toward town. As always, especially around here, I keep my eyes peeled for large wildlife on the road. Or just off the road, looking to jump in front of my vehicle at the last moment, which is even worse.

On this morning drive, the elk were off in meadows on either side. I wanted to photograph them, but the light was still weak. And true to form these animals didn’t seem cooperative enough to wait for sunrise.

So as one group turned away from the roadside fence and ran parallel to the road, I thought: what the heck? I panned my camera with them at a slow shutter speed, like those photos of race cars or horse races.

I think I did ok, since there wasn’t going to be another lap. Not with these elk. They were outta there. A beautiful wildlife moment.

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© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

It’s Spring, the Vultures Have Returned


Three Turkey Vultures this morning.

Even though I love all four seasons here in the Four Corners Country of the high Southwest, as always I eagerly anticipate the first signs of spring.

The formerly “blonde” lawns in town are getting a bit of green from their bases.

Several days ago I awoke to hear a robin singing at dawn for the first time this season. Each morning. I no longer set my alarm to wake me up, except on work days. The robins will provide a much gentler and sweeter call to my ears.

But I was remaining a bit unconvinced still that it was really spring yet. Not that we won’t have a late springtime blizzard or two.

The trigger was when the turkey vultures would return from down south. Because I watched them as they would congregate near sunset time in certain tall old spruce trees in town. Yes, in town. After all, why not? They are silent, they don’t prey on anyone’s cat or little dog. I’d bet that most people don’t even notice them. They think the big black birds are more ravens. Except a lot bigger. And they glide with their wings in a “V” shape instead of flat.

And a few evenings ago I saw those “V” wings return. I thought it was early, even for this relatively mild winter. Until I saw them lighting in a big spruce tree down the street. They were back.

There was a skif of new snow on the ground here in town this morning. Tonight another snowstorm is coming in. Did the vultures return too early? Were the rotting animal carcasses running low down south?

Nah. They know what they’re doing. I had the opportunity to photograph them this morning because it was calm. They are master gliders, they don’t waste energy flapping their wings any more than necessary. Wait for the breezes to blow. Glide on.


Photo location: Cortez, southwest Colorado.

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© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Deer Family, Knife Edge Trail

Mule deer doe and fawns, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mule deer doe and fawns, Mesa Verde.

I was walking (“hiking” would be overkill for such an easy path) the Knife Edge Trail in Mesa Verde National Park on a summer evening. It was almost sunset, and the afternoon clouds were threatening rain.

As I walked around a bend in the trail I spooked a deer. A mother with her fawns, still spotted, very young. Being that it was a National Park where hunting is not allowed (and not hunting season outside the park anyway) the deer were only mildly concerned at my intrusion into their evening feeding on the shrubs and grasses around them.

Knife Edge Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Knife Edge Trail, summer thunderstorm evening.

With such low light I had to crank up the ISO setting on my camera and even so hope for some luck. Through several shots and holding as steadily as I could, it was the deer that were in motion, blurring themselves during the long exposure. I tried to wait until they paused a bit, then shot. Then tried again.

Mule Deer Fawns, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Mule Deer fawns, Knife Edge Trail.

A little bit of blurriness in the shots didn’t diminish a fine, surprise experience.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.

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© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Desert Cottontail Rabbit, winter, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Watching the Rabbits


Desert Cottontail Rabbit in winter.

This counts as a “backyard wildlife” experience even though the little community at Natural Bridges National Monument is surrounded by millions of acres of wildland and wilderness. Wild animals do act differently when they’ve become conditioned to humans being around that show no intent of harming them. Like park rangers.

Because last winter I noticed how a Desert Cottontail rabbit that lives around our house has a spot where it likes to doze during many of the daytime hours in the winter.


Cottontail in its midday napping spot.

It’s a perfect spot: it catches the midday winter sunshine, and has brush and other cover to break most of the wind, and also to protect the rabbit’s rear approach from any predator that might be sneaking up on it. But no brush facing south that would shade out the sunlight.


Even better: the snow has melted underneath the bush, in between storms.

I was watching it again this winter. It started using its daytime napping spot again while there was still snow on the ground underneath the sagebrush bush. But as it warmed up the snow melted quickly underneath the bush, giving it an even warmer spot in which to laze the day by.

Cottontail rabbit habitat, winter snows.

Rabbit’s napping spot covered with snow, temporarily unused.

Then came our latest storm and the rabbit shifted to whatever other spots it likes better when the snow is soft and deep. Probably some other of the nearby sagebrush bushes that are even more sheltering, even though they don’t get any sunlight underneath them. A rabbit is well adapted to stay warm in the coldest of weather. Its sunny napping spot, when available, is a luxury it doesn’t need but clearly enjoys when available. Why not?

Desert Cottontail Rabbit, winter, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Desert Cottontail rabbit, hoarfrost morning. The shrub to the left is called Rabbitbrush, too.

Several mornings after the latest big snows, I was walking to work when a different rabbit was out near the Visitor Center. It, too, was accustomed to the rangers and staff coming and going, so I was able to get several good shots of him in the dazzling hoarfrost morning light.

Desert Cottontail Rabbit, winter, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Rabbit would rather linger a while longer, but I’m making him more nervous…

Desert Cottontail Rabbit, winter, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

See ya…rabbit decides I’m too close for comfort.

Until he finally had enough of my lingering, and moved off under the trees.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, southeast Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg