Black-tailed Deer on Protection Island

Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) fawn in tall grass - Protection Island, WA A herd of yellow curry-colored beasts inhabits Protection Island, Washington. Black-tailed deer. Also known as: the only traffic I had to contend with on my bicycle. These deer are the northwestern subspecies of the Mule deer. For some time, Black-tailed deer were their own species but with genetic analysis, it seems that the deer in British Columbia and Alaska (Sitka deer) and the deer in the northwestern US (Columbian black-tailed deer) are almost one in the same.

Growing up in Colorado, I have seen my fair share of Mule deer. They are brown-grey with very large bodies and heavy antlers. Columbian black-tailed deer are somewhat different. Aesthetically, they retain the heavy antlers and the large bodies but they differ greatly in colour.




These deer are beautiful and as you can see, not easily disturbed. I'm not entirely sure how they came to live on the island in the first place. The most likely explanation is that they swam over from the mainland (quite a distance) at some point. Their population on the island varies from about 30-70 deer at any given time. I found carcasses fairly often as evidence of food limitations. In some ways, this helps keep the population from getting out of control.

There is a big problem with the deer presence on the island though. They are directly responsible for collapsing seabird burrows. When they walk along the steep hillsides that contain auklet and puffin burrows, their hooves fall through burrow roofs and crush nests, sometimes killing nestlings. The island's refuge status protects the seabirds so it's a catch 22 situation. Does one maintain the island's ecosystem as it is now and support both the deer and seabirds or does one eradicate some or all the deer to preserve precious nesting ground for seabirds?

The US Fish & Wildlife is part way through a study which consists of stationed cameras overlooking seabird colonies which are motion-triggered. Hopefully captured images will better inform officials on the level of damage the deer are actually responsible for.

In the mean time, I got to enjoy the fawning season.





And how can you resist these bucks?






Whether or not the deer belong on the island, I welcomed their company during my months there.

I hope you're enjoying the mammalian presence on this bird blog lately. If you want more fur to go with all the feathers, let me know!

Kisses (continuous biting) from a seabird

I thought you might enjoy seeing a Rhinoceros Auklet chick in action (one of my study species for my masters). Especially one that bites me a lot. This chick was nearing about a month old. I weighed and measured all of my selected nestlings every other day on the island and this is what a typical session looked like (albeit much shorter without the petting and chit-chat seen here). To answer a few of your questions...

Yes, I'm on a cliff face.

Yes, that is the gorgeous Pacific Ocean behind me just after sunrise.

No, the chick is not seizing for part of the video.

And yeah, I'm awkward. Old news.

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Making my way to Protection Island

Before I was a castaway on Protection Island for the summer, I stayed in Port Townsend, WA for several days. This area is lush with mature trees and has the rare dichotomy of both large mountains and vast ocean. There is a tangible placidity in this area of Washington. A neighboring city, Sequim, has one of the oldest populations in the United States. Nobody drives quickly. Every lawn is well-tended to. There are many drugstores. And the cops are very bored, I assume. Retired folks flock to the cities surrounding the capital, Olympia, because of the temperate climate. There are no temperature extremes of any sort, only occasional light humidity.

In some ways, Port Townsend reminded me of my hometown because there were no mainstream hotels nor chain restaurants. I became quite good friends with the young manager of the small, family owned motel that I stayed at in a matter of minutes. His well received continental breakfast consisted of black coffee and store-bought muffins. More than anything, his building was a perch for gulls, a lookout point to the marina and a back porch for the passers-by on the beach who stopped intermittently to dig for clams. I would like to go back someday, without the pleasant anxiety of my approaching field season, and let the tranquility take me.

Port Townsend was my introduction to hybrid Glaucous-winged/Western Gulls. They have many colonies around Puget Sound.

Also, I had grown rather accustomed to the dinosaurian crows in Newfoundland. If you're not familiar with the island effect, or  Foster's Rule, species on an island are oftentimes much larger than their mainland counterparts. This is mostly because of their increased access to food and habitat and decreased exposure to predators. Once in a while, this rule gets flipped on its head if indeed, the island has little food and/or many predators. In the case of Newfoundland though, the coyotes are much larger and the crows are nearly the size of ravens. The species of crow inhabiting Washington, the Northwestern Crow, is much smaller with tiny white whiskers on its face.

There was a racket outside of my motel room each morning that puzzled me for a day or two before I found these European Starlings. This pair of attentive parents always checked in on their chicks like this:

Stay tuned as I make my way across the ocean to the island in the next installment of the tale of my field season last summer.