When we built our farm buildings—garage, goat barn, and garden shed—we placed them all close (within twenty feet) to the house so that they would be easily accessible in bad weather, especially the deep snowfalls we can get. To build them on the same level, we had to cut into the highest point on our property, leaving a fairly steep bank that is about four feet high. Barb did not like the bare bank, so she has been scattering native wildflower seeds across it and has deliberately planted some phlox, purple coneflowers, costmary, and lantana. Now the bank is bearing a wildflower garden with cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, daisies, chicory, black-eyed susans, and any number of other wildflowers that bloom periodically throughout the season. Our cat, Calli, likes to hunt among the flowers and weeds searching for bunnies, grasshoppers, and crickets that live and feed among the plants. This morning, she was treated to some bigger game.
In my July 27, 2018 post, “Our Deer Hunter”, I introduced you to a yearling doe who was abandoned by her mother on our farm this past fall. When her mother disappeared, she was a baby fawn still bearing all her spots. We were surprised that she managed to survive the winter alone in our woods, probably because there was so little snowfall over most of the winter allowing her to feed on all the nuts, grass, and bark that she could find on our 12.5-acre farm. My son, Michael, said we should adopt her, but I don’t think we have to. I think she has adopted our farm as her home. She lives in the woods and the ravine that bisects our farm during the day and feeds in our field during the nights. She has become a frequent sunrise visitor to our field and vegetable garden. Peeper Pond Farm has become her home and she is less afraid of us than she appears to be of the deep forest that flanks Cave Mountain. We have ushered her out of our garden a couple of times, but we can’t seem to frighten her away.
When I let Calli out this morning, she hadn’t touched her breakfast meal. She was quite adamant about going outdoors first, which is very unusual. I thought she might be ill, so I kept an eye on her through the windows. I let her out onto the front porch and watched her determinedly trot down the stairs and towards the driveway on the opposite side of the house. She stopped briefly in the driveway at the corner of the house and then began to walk hesitantly along the back side of the house towards the garage where Barb’s wildflower garden is located. I thought she was preparing to chase a rabbit that has been frequenting the wildflowers for a morning meal, so I grabbed the phone thinking it would be a good opportunity for a picture and slowly opened the main entrance door and stepped out onto the porch behind her to watch the scene.
To my surprise, it wasn’t a bunny she was after; it was our abandoned doe. She was standing there beside the garage chomping greedily on some succulent plants she had found there. What was even more unusual about it was that it was 7:45 AM and the sun had been up for a full hour. No deer has ever approached so close to our house before during broad daylight! Yet, there she was, standing there casually eating her breakfast, staring unphased at Calli and me as though we were the oddity. I activated the cell phone camera and slowly approached her, as I have done several times before. The doe never flinched, but watched me with interest. When I got within eight feet of her, I raised the camera and took a picture of her—the one that appears at the top of this post. She gave me a distinct look of curiosity, but still didn’t flinch. I extended my hand and began to approach her when the doe swung her head slowly to my side. I then realized that Calli was also approaching her and was about two feet to my right.
The doe apparently began to feel uncomfortable with both of us approaching her at the same time, so she backed a few steps away from us, but continued to stand her ground. I then knelt down onto the driveway to present less of a threat. However, Calli continued to approach the doe. Soon, the doe lowered her head and started to slowly approach Calli. Suddenly, they both froze with their eyes fixed on one another, trying to decide which of them should make the first move. Calli was within one foot of the doe’s nose. They contemplated one another for a few seconds until the doe twitched her white tail. At that moment, Calli charged at her and the doe jumped back in surprise and darted back about fifteen feet from her, then turned back to see if Calli was pursuing.
Calli was initially surprised by the doe’s quick retreat, and had stopped briefly in her tracks until the doe stopped retreating. Then, Calli began to walk towards her again. This time, Calli didn’t make a direct approach. She moved slowly to the left and began to walk across the doe’s path, as though she was trying to corral her or communicate that she wasn’t allowed in the wildflower garden. As usual, the doe just contentedly watched Calli make her statement with a cold indifference. I guess this made Calli somewhat disappointed, so she again charged the doe, eventually chasing her back into the woods along the ravine. Having satisfied herself that the doe finally understood her message, Calli turned around and strolled back to me for some attention with her tail raised high in victory.
I was able to take a number of close-up pictures of the scene. I wish I could have filmed a video clip, but the video function involves a one or two second delay that made it hard to capture what I wanted to film. However, I did take a total of five still photos at various moments, all of which I have included with this post.
Our resident doe is quite curious about us, despite the fact that she isn’t tame. I guess that the doe imprinted with our property when her mother left her at the end of our field before disappearing. Since then, the fawn learned how to survive on her own while waiting patiently for her mother to return. We never posed a threat during the many times she saw us in the distance and has, perhaps, accepted us as guardians rather than a threat. Whenever we have approached her, she has looked at us with casual interest rather than fear. If anything has startled her, it has been Calli’s efforts to chase her away. Even so, Calli has never growled at or displayed threatening behavior when the doe has approached her. In fact, each time the deer has approached Calli, she has backed away until she senses that doe isn’t threatening her. Then, she will charge at the doe to see if she can scare it. When the doe retreats, Calli will chase her for a short distance, then check to see if she has sufficiently established her superiority. It may be a game she plays with the deer, but it always looks as though she is trying to hunt them.
One of our friends told us that deer often fear cats, which might explain her apparent success. Deer can be rather flighty, but it’s hard for me to believe that such a relatively large animal would have reason to be frightened by a housecat. Calli is still a very playful kitten and not yet a full year old. We still call her our Deer Hunter, anyway. I’m sure she’s quite proud of her success.
As for the doe, I find myself intrigued by her lack of fear of us. Both Barb and I have approached her several times, and she appears to be as curious about us as we are of her. Is it possible that she was abandoned so young that she never learned to fear humans? Has she seen us enough times from our field that we have become familiar to her so she doesn’t perceive us as a potential threat? She has never raced away from me even though I have tried to frighten her out of our garden twice. Each time she has left, but only with casual indifference, not with fear. It appears that we may have taught her to stay out of the garden, because she hasn’t invaded it since the last time I convinced her to leave. However, she has appeared in other locations and still allows me to get close to her with no fear. I find myself curious to know if she would sniff my extended hand someday or allow me to touch her. I have a friend who operates a deer farm, which might eventually be a better home for her, if she lacks the natural fear she should have of us and other potential threats. It will probably be some time before I know for certain how accepting she truly is of us, but I will continue to test her apparent patience. I will be sure to let you know if and when our resident Peeper Pond Farm doe finally decides what to make of us. Until then, the doe will remain one of the most memorable natural curiosities of our life here at Peeper Pond Farm.