St. Olaf College | Natural Lands

In the Shoes of a Student Naturalist

2023 November 24th, Friday 2:00 PM

It’s been such a warm November so far. Highs are almost always above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, at least until Thanksgiving. I guess I could be thankful for colder temperatures, maybe the beginning of winter was late, but at least it was here now. Walking down the road to Skoglund, the below-freezing-degree winds scratched at my face and eyes, the only part of me exposed to the elements. I could see the blurry red tip of my nose through the tears in my eyes. At least all the layers I wore were worth it.

I b-lined for the break in the trees across the street from the parking lot and turned left on the path. The squirrels were excellent entertainers while I made my way towards Windmill Trail. The frost around the sparse grass on the wooded trail caught my attention and I spent too much time to be normal admiring and taking pictures of it.

Further along, I looked up to see what looked like a brown box plopped onto the trail side, or maybe a person bent at the hips with their body sticking into the bushes. After taking another step, the box has a white tail. My eyes travel along the top of the mystery object and I see the face of a buck staring at me. I don’t move a muscle. Why did I put my phone away? But before I could pull it out for a picture, he majestically hopped into the woods and I lost sight of him in an instant.

My gaze slid over Big Pond as I took the path toward Skoglund, and I spotted something that didn’t match the rest of the frosty colors. A reddish blob. Curious, I went off trail and waded through the bare stems and sticks. At the edge of the water, there was a cluster of dark feathers and I could hear the icy foliage crunch under my weight. Around a yard from my feet, I found my oddity: a dead bird. Smaller downy feathers riddled the scene. The head was missing and the torso was stripped bare for the most part. Still, bits of red clung to the bones and hips. I could see the bird’s black feet were still intact, and the dark feathers past the elbows were still present. 

I Looked up at the pond and there was another dead bird! This one was further out on the ice and was not going to get closer, but I could tell it was a Canada goose. After catching some movement out of the corner of my eye and caught a glimpse of a buck again! He strolled along the opposite side of the pond and I just stood there shocked, and of course took tons of pictures on my phone, not that you could tell there was a deer there given the distance. My phone camera sucks. The more I looked at him, the more similar he seemed to the deer I saw before. His antlers were also small and had a similar shape. Not that I could take particular note the first time I saw him, but it makes more sense for me to have seen the same buck twice instead of two different ones nearby around the same time. Too soon, the buck disappeared behind a grassy hill and that was the last time I saw him.