Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hungry Deer

2/28/08 It has been a rough winter on white-tailed deer here in the Adirondacks. Hunters reported that the deer were eating cedar already - in November! For those who don't know, cedar (Thuja occidentalis) is often a food of last choice for deer. Most of the deer in Newcomb tend to leave the area for the winter - headed towards Long Lake or Schroon Lake, where snows are less deep and temps less cold, but we have several individuals (and small family groups) that stick around the "development" end of town. This is highly suspect - folks are feeding them. As a result, we now have a herd that only knows "the 'burbs" and they are really wreaking havoc on trees and shrubs this winter.

I have just a little over an acre of land in "the 'burbs", and most of it is fenced in so the dog has a place where he can romp around without having to be on a leash. This winter, though, romping has been tough. We currently have over 3' of snow, so he wades, I snowshoe, and the deer can just about walk right over the fence now (five-foot fence + three-and-a-half feet of snow = very little fence left above the snow).

SO - now that you all have the background info, here is what I saw last night. I had strapped on my snowshoes so I could survey the fenceline and see if there was any new deer damage to it (galvanized wire fencing may keep a dog in, but it doesn't work too well in keeping out starving deer, or hungry bears). As I came up the side of the yard, I saw deer tracks: they went from the fence, about half way across the yard, and then back to the fence (I suspect the deer jumped over to the other side). Destination: sunflowers. To date the deer have snacked on my cedars, then jumped the fence and started in on my young apple trees (only got my first apples last year), my young pear trees (no fruit yet), the wildlife trees I planted a year or two ago (nannyberry, grey-stemmed dogwood, crabapples), and my lilacs. I finally mixed up a concoction of eggs, milk, seaweed and fish emulsion, garlic (liquified), chili pepper, mint oil...good and smelly stuff...and sprayed everything I could. I don't know if it has worked, or if the deer have just eaten all they could reach on my trees, but whatever the reason, the trees have been deer-free for the last month. Which is why the incursion last night made me chuckle. About all that could be seen of last year's garden was the stems and seed heads of the mammoth sunflowers. The seeds that remained on the heads had never developed, so the birds were not interested. I guess if you are a hungry deer, though, even this looks pretty good. As I said, the tracks led right to the sunflowers, and when I got there, not a single seed head remained. No crumbs or seed hulls littered the ground. All that was left behind was a collection of sunflower stalks, and a set of deer tracks. I think the deer simply inhaled them.

I wonder what they'll try to snack on next.

Compost, by the way, is fair game to deer. I wonder if they get as sick as my dog did when he raided the compost pile last week. Hmmm...

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