Predator-Prey on Parade: Troubles in Paradise


Thankfully, we didn’t have mice doing windsprints upstairs last night. But we did have much larger wildlife very, very close. Let’s just say the Wild Kingdom did not make for a restful night on Goose Creek.

The dog not uncommonly barks in the wee hours in the direction of the side porch (where the wrens live) and it is (we assume) deer marauding near the house, eating the hostas and other obnoxious things they do.

But last night’s bark-snarl-growl at 1:30 was more urgent, and I couldn’t roll over and go back to sleep. Instead, like I was shot from a cannon (oh my back this morning) I sprang up to see what the fuss was all about.

The dog was barking in the direction of the open kitchen windows (open–a mistake: it was 60 degrees inside this morning) and I could hear some kind of commotion out there in the full moon silver darkness.

So I went to the back door, and flung it open as to call down a pox on the deer in the abstract, and there one stood in the flesh (in the venison?)– a large doe almost with its front feet on the porch boards, staring at the window where had the window been open from the bottom, the howling dog and deer five feet nose to nose I think one of them would have come through the screen.

I stood there, the deer stood there, not a dozen feet away. I spoke. The deer said nothing. Was this a psycho-deer contemplating attack? (Check out the image!) I made as if to step down onto the pavers, the deer broke for cover, white-flag tail flashing in the light of the full moon a bit west of its zenith for the night.

Now that was strange. Was the deer demented in some way? Have they finally lost their fear of man that the will soon be nuzzling our pockets to get the dog treats when we walk around the pasture margins in the afternoons?

As I turned to go back to bed, there was still way too much commotion outside. I stopped by the front door and opened the door out onto the porch. Were it not for the moon, I’d have seen nothing and heard little. But what I saw were at least two silver flashes running one behind the other across the “yucca flats” along the road below the porch. Whatever it was, they were very fast, smaller than deer, and lighter in color. And I got the feeling there were more than two.

The not-too-distant howl a half hour later (after the adrenalin had finally subsided and we’d gotten back to sleep) told us that what we’ve been dreading has happened: a pack of coyotes have found Goose Creek’s venison jackpot. We have way more newborn deer for this time of year. They are welcome to them. But could they please take their meals during the daytime, on the ridge tops, and beyond the scent-zone of our dog?

Life promises to be interesting here in the coming weeks. And then, it’s deer season. Oy.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. My dogs have a distinct bark for coyotes. I wrote about it in my blog some time back and have heard it a few times since. We’ve been hearing coyotes at night for a while now. So far, we still have all our cats.

  2. UPDATE 9:30 08-18-2008 Ann called me out back where she was hanging clothes: Look at that.

    Blood there. And there. Is it deer? The doe, or her fawn? or is it coyote? Guess we’ll never know.

  3. I’m sorry to hear that, Fred. You will remember that awful time in 2003 when Buck and I lost our young lab pup to a coyote pack we didn’t know had moved into the ridgetop when we were living in Rice Cove. Our older lab was nicked but not killed.

  4. Yikes! I never like having the coyotes get too close. The neighbor’s livestock guardian dogs seem to do a pretty good job of keeping them away from here, but it would definitely make me nervous for my dogs and cats to have a pack running around nearby!

  5. Interesting Fred. While deer hunting last year, I heard that coyotes were in Floyd. After shooting a deer in Floyd on Thanksgiving, I checked the gut pile the very next morning and it was completely consumed. It could have been dogs, but the locals were telling me of coyotes. I believe coyotes were the consumers.

    I have purchased a manual predator call that should sound like an injured rabbit. I’ll try it out this fall on the farm and will let you know how it works.

    And yes, I have noticed a bumper crop of late born deer this year from NJ to IA. Would like to know why this happens. Jim