Category Archives: Mammals

Newly completed commission

I’ve been a bit distracted here with a myriad of assorted things, one of which is a new puppy.   He is a border collie, which is a breed my husband and I have had and adored for many years.  Puppies are a LOT of work.  They are also a whole lot of FUN!

Here is a commissioned painting that I finished recently.  It is entitled “The Edge of Autumn”, done in acrylic.  The painting is 24″ x 32″.  Enjoy!

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“Play” time!

After the concentrated effort needed to prepare for an art show, it can feel so good to unwind after the show is over.  I took a short time to “play” with oils, deciding that fun would come in the effort to loosen up mind and body and just wildly swish paint all around!

I did a few studies, and gave myself time limits on each one (of about two hours), to force my brain to edit visual information and paint from the heart.  The pieces are small,  simple and splashy.   The following are the results:

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This next one took a wee bit longer…a little study of my crazy dog Kippy…

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Spots on the Rocks

I haven’t done a painting from my trips to beloved Africa for awhile so I decided that the time has come!   The Cheetah has the distinction of being my favorite of all the big cats.   What an amazing specialist they are.   They are poetry and grace in motion.  And even when lounging on a rock pile or termite mound, they still exude a fragile, perfectly designed power.   This Cheetah only seconds before was lounging on rocks, dozing in what is left of the late-day sun.   But a hunter can never fully sleep.  A sound in the distance interests the cheetah enough to sit up and take notice.   Is it time to stretch those long lean muscles in preparation for a 60 mph dash for dinner?   Or is the sound insignificant, warranting one to go back to napping again?

“Spots on the Rocks”   Acrylic on masonite (12″ x 18″)

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Hot off the Easel

I’ve been painting up a little storm this fall and winter.   Below are some new paintings!

This first painting was inspired by time spent on my beloved kayak this past fall.  Belted Kingfishers are one of my very favorite birds.  They are notoriously difficult to photograph, as they are flilghy and frankly kind of spastic.  They love to tease and taunt photographers.   I’ve been very lucky to get fairly close to some of them in my boat.

The Kingfisher below is a female.  She has just caught a minnow in a cove on a nearby lake.  She will gulp it down VERY quickly so that other Kingfishers in the area won’t have a chance to steal it from her!

“Maid of the Mist”

(Belted Kingfisher)   11″ x 14″ acrylic on masonite.

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“Here Kitty-Kitty”

(Cougar)   11″ x 14″ acrylic on masonite.

This painting was done to pay tribute to one of North America’s great predators.  The epitome of secrecy and stealth, cougars are now being found in areas far east of where they are normally expected.  They can live right under our noses without our notice.

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“Breakfast Berries”

(American Robin)  9″ x 12″ acrylic on masonite.

I often refer to robins as “mind their own business birds”.    They are in just about every backyard east of the rocky mountains.  Although common, I think they are beautiful birds and love their way of staying out of the “drama” often caused between other bird species.  Robins just go about their business and stay out of trouble.

This painting was inspired by watching robins gorging on berries this past fall.  I loved the idea of doing a painting that used largely one side of the color wheel (red, orange and yellow).    This Robin is just about to snatch a berry.  If you blink, you’ll miss it!  :-)

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Tools of the Trade

When the average person runs the idea of a “tool” through their mind, an image of a hammer, screwdriver or table saw might pop up first.  Tools of course differ greatly from one profession to another.  Wildlife artists and photographers have their own set of challenges.  The subjects that they pursue for their life’s work are largely afraid of them.  Animals and birds in the wild can disappear within a millisecond, IF you were lucky enough to see them in the first place.

My recent acquisition of a kayak (an early Christmas gift from my husband) has been a real game changer as far as wildlife reference gathering goes, in particular my experiences with birds.  Animals and birds are not naturally as reactionary to things that they don’t already associate with danger, such as a small craft silently approaching in water.

A recent trip to Truman Dam in Southern Missouri, revealed not only an abundance of stunning views, but also some really special wildlife viewing and photographing opportunities.   From within my trusty kayak, I could watch animals and birds behaving naturally and not just see their hind ends as they make a hasty escape.

The Truman Dam was constructed in the 1970’s.   There are more coves to explore there than one could ever find the time for.  I love it when I run out of time before I run out of territory!

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With nature, it nearly always pays to get out of bed early.  In mid November, the warm days of autumn were hanging on with the last of their loosening grip.  Cold nights, warm, sunbathed days…it doesn’t get better than that…

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(Below) This is a typical scene on any lake in the country.  This gull was there to greet me as I pushed off in my kayak for the day’s adventure.  The fall color beyond the gray and white bird was amazing…

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Rocky bluffs along the shoreline were covered in autumn color at it’s peak…

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While exploring deep within a cove, I ran into this big fellow.  He was nearly crazy with testosterone, chasing other bucks off the beach.  There must have been an “interesting” doe very close by.  I was able to watch natural whitetail deer behavior, which is always a treat.

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Meanwhile, while I was watching the deer titans battling on the beach, two bald eagles circled overhead.  It was hard to know where to point my camera…!

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Coming out of that same cove I was in for another surprise.  A young buck was making his way across the water.  The shortest distance between two points is a straight line and he apparently knew all about that.  I could tell that this was not unusual behavior for him.  He seemed quite comfortable in the water.

I was able to paddle my kayak faster than the buck could swim, and it occurred to me that for the first (and likely only) time I had the physical advantage over a whitetail deer.  I didn’t take it, as it would have scared the life out of him.  But it was an interesting thought just the same.

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Opposites are attractive…orange and blue…

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While eating our lunch on the dam, Alan and I met this little fellow.  Stray cats have made the dam their home.  We could tell by how hungry he was that survival is tough for them.  He was too feral to touch or catch, but we did make sure that we shared our chicken lunch with him so that he had a full tummy, as least for awhile.

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This is the face of homelessness.   Please, be sure to spay and neuter your pets!

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Back out on the water, a Great Blue Heron eyes me as I drift by…

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This crow apparently has not read the sign….he is not allowed to “park” here…

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(Below) My new painting entitled “The Nut-Cracker” (Read-headed Woodpecker) was inspired directly from my time in the kayak.

During autumn, these birds split acorns into pieces of fairly uniform size and tuck them away into holes that the birds have created in almost perfectly straight lines in old trees.  This tree was way out in the water, so the nuts will be safe from four-legged thieves…a pretty smart strategy I think!

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(Below) Another painting inspired by my kayak time entitled “Silver Lining”  (Forster’s Tern).

These aerodynamic birds are true athletes, able to hover in one place over the water just before a lightening-fast plunge for fish.  They are wonderfully fun to watch.

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New Opportunities

There is nothing quite like being out on water in a quiet lake cove, with your only company being that of a beloved dog, and the wildlife that calls the lake home.

I recently purchased a kayak.   I am wondering why I didn’t do this years ago.  Not only is a kayak a whole lot of fun, but it also affords a wildlife painter new opportunities for gathering that much needed photographic reference.    Animals and birds naturally gravitate towards water edges.   And most animals and birds are not nearly as afraid of a boat drifting quietly by as they are of a human being tromping through noisy leaf litter in a woods.   Getting close to your subjects is a real advantage of being in a boat driven forward simply by your own desire and a few arm and shoulder muscles.

Both of our dogs like to ride in the kayak.  Below Pawsome shares a wonderful morning with me out on the water.

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In the early mornings the coves are aglow in shafts of sunlight, accentuating the steam that rises when water is warmer than the crisp morning air of autumn.

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There are many rewards for those willing to rise and shine early…

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A muskrat slowly cruises by…

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A Flicker eyes me from above…

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Sunlight makes the autumn woodland glow…

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A Painted Turtle has decided that on this stump, there is only room for one.  The snake just to the right will have to find his own island for sun bathing…

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More paddling reveals more surprises…

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There is nothing like having a camera pointed at you while “doing your business.”   A young Double-crested Cormorant  finds a “rest stop” between fishing expeditions…

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Three heads are always better than one…

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A Zipper Spider perches on her glowing web…

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Mr Heron allows me to get very close when I’m in my kayak…

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Two does came down to the water’s edge for a drink.  I don’t think they knew quite what to make of that floating red-orange thing out on the water…

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That was FUN!  When can we go again???

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More Coffee Please…?

Last evening Pawsome and I had some wonderful and stimulating conversation over dinner.  We chatted about world events and even politics, while sharing a pizza…

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Pawsome becomes especially philosophical over politics…

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Then in a moment of sentiment, he raised his glass to toast good friends, good fun and good pizza!

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This morning, the weather was nice enough for us to eat outside on the deck.   Pawsome is still mulling over recent happenings in the world after just finishing the morning paper…

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…More coffee please???

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A bit about Border Collies…

Of course Pawsome doesn’t eat pizza and is still too young to sample wine.   A high quality dog food is his mainstay, although he has tried on occasion to influence me in other food directions…!  :-)

Border Collies are famous for their incredible intelligence.   And while this is somewhat true,  it is worth noting that despite their intelligence, these dogs DON’T train themselves.  A smart Border Collie who lives without proper training and leadership can become a troublesome dog and can even become destructive and/or aggressive.  So Please don’t enter into Border Collie ownership lightly.    If you are willing and able to give them more daily exercise than you could ever think needed, lots of guidance, training and love, they will reward you with lots of love back, not to mention lots of FUN!

Please choose your pets wisely…

Life is a ZOO, especially when your’re IN one!!!

A visit to the world famous San Diego Zoo proved to be more of an “adventure” than I was originally hoping for…

First thing in the morning, fellow wildlife artist Kelly Singleton and I ambitiously set out to find the Harpy Eagle exhibit.  Neither one of us had ever seen one and we both really like raptors.   Ever elusive in the wild, this rare bird turned out to be impossibly elusive to find in the ZOO!

Following the zoo “map”, we ended up in a crazy tangle of dense jungle vegetation, wandering aimlessly around in the gloom under the thick green canopy, completely surrounded by the one and only thing that we DIDN’T really care about seeing in the zoo…monkeys and apes.

After an hour and a half of schlepping up and down the incredibly steep hills of this part of the zoo only to find out we’d been walking in circles, we FINALLY found our way out of the darkness.

(Below) This escalator will take any poor unsuspecting sap up into “Monkey Hell”.  We have nothing against monkeys mind you.  But getting that lost in a zoo while your perfect morning light is fading is NOT so fun!   And don’t count on zoo workers to help you find your way, as they don’t seem to know how to get out of there either!!!

I couldn’t resist creating this parody of our little “adventure”.

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In the end, we did find the Harpy Eagle exhibit and it was not even close to where it was positioned on that crazy zoo “map”.    It was on “Eagle Drive”………Imagine that…

The Harpy Eagle indeed had the last laugh.  He/she was hidden by the vegetation inside the exhibit.  We felt lucky to get a glimpse of some tail feathers.  We worked HARD to see that eagles a…s!

(Below) Kelly cops an attitude towards the beautiful bird species that made our morning so “eventful”    How many birds can you count in this photo?

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OK, on to more serious things…

There are very few people in this country over the age of about 35 who have not at least heard of the plight of the California Condor.  This huge raptor became the “poster child” for our environmental mistakes of the past and is partially responsible for the eventual turn-around of  mindset in modern North America.

Thanks solely to the tireless effort of a small handful of biologists who have devoted their lives to correct these mistakes, the California Condor still exists and is actually growing in numbers…albeit slowly.  Only a couple of short decades ago, there were less than two dozen of these birds left on the planet.    Although often thought of as a corny Eco-phrase….. extinction really is… forever.

Very little was known about this species when humans finally realized that his extinction seemed eminent.   More had to be learned about the habits and breeding of Condors without risking these precious few birds left.  A decision was made to capture every wild California Condor and hold them all for safe keeping at three different zoological facilities,  the San Diego Zoo,  the SD Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo.  The population was deliberately split into thirds and kept apart from each other in the event that a disease would accidentally slip in.  This way biologists could be more certain that the entire population was not totally wiped out.

(Below) A California Condor (still  not free from the threat of extinction).   This species now glides free in the skies of California and Arizona as it should be.   Unfortunately these birds are still being shot by short-sighted “Ya-hoos” who think that they are ugly and unnecessary.  I wonder what the Condor thinks of us???

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Enter: The Andean Condor (below), the only other condor species in the world, which thankfully was slightly more abundant and at the time seemed a good candidate for study.  Biologists spent the next number of years working with the Andean Condor (originating from South America) in captive breeding programs.  Much was learned about  successful egg hatching and the rearing of chicks that could one day be released into the wild.  This unlikely hero not only gave insight into it’s own future success, but also was instrumental in the saving of another species.

(Below) An immature Andean Condor takes part in a “Free-flight” show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.   For many people, their heroes reside mostly in the entertainment world, (musicians, athletes and movie “stars”).   For me, when this pretty fellow took the stage with his out-stretched wing span matching the width of a grand piano,  my heart started pounding faster.  It was like Elton John himself had emerged on stage to tickle the ivories through a famous song.    Fellow bird lovers would understand this…

Thanks to the hard work of biologists and the stunning  Andean Condor, the California Condor now has a brighter future.

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There are many other less “famous” residents at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, this one being a male Eurasian Eagle Owl.   This fellow was part of the best “Free-flight” bird show I’ve ever seen.   Owls are defined by their eyes, and this fellow is no exception…

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The symbol of wisdom and darkness as reflected in the soul…

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(Below)  One cannot help but wonder what in the world Mother Nature was thinking when she came up with this character.   This is a Shoebill Stork.   Wild populations now number between 5000 and 8000 individuals and live primarily in Sudan.    This species is considered as “threatened” in the wild.   Ancient Egyptians included these birds in their visual stories.

This chap was incredibly charming.  The more I watched him the more I fell in love.  It’s hard to not get a chuckle out of someone who is this comical looking yet at the same time takes himself so seriously.    He had the trademark quiet, intense, stalking habit so often seen in herons and storks.    But with that big, silly face looking down at them I could almost hear the frogs and fish laughing.

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Of course there are many, many species of mammals in the San Diego Zoo.  But you all already know what lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) look like so I chose to show off some of the more unusual residents.  However… one cannot overlook this silly chap.  He is of course, a meerkat.   Disney made this fellow famous.  There are very few children who don’t know all about him, at least the Disney rendition of him!  :-)

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Bird Nerds

San Diego, California is full of fun surprises.  As an extension to my trip to CA for the SAA art exhibition, friend and fellow SAA member Sandra Blair arranged to have professional photographer and friend Jim Dunn take us out to the local San Diego birding hot spots.  We stayed in southern California for several extra days after the SAA events ended, trekking the fabulous coastline in search of shorebirds.  Thanks to Jim’s  knowledge of the area, the trekking wasn’t very difficult!  He knew the best places to go and we were not disappointed!

(Below) Jim with fellow wildlife artists and SAA members Sandra Blair (middle) and Kelly Singleton on the rugged California coastline.

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If ever there were two bird species that say “ocean”, the brown pelican and the seagull are it!  This species is the “Western Gull” and like all gulls, they were very abundant on the coast of southern California.  I shot this on a foggy morning at the break of dawn…

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Pelicans are very entertaining to watch, as they are such a strange adaptation to life on the sea.  These clownish chaps gather in large groups and lounge around, dozing or preening.  Then all at once when they see that another bird has found food out on the water, they lift off and try to get in on the action.  When it turns out to be a false alarm, they come  back in in small groups and proceed with their napping again.

(Below) This pelican seems to be saying to his sea faring friends “Come forth yee fellow pelicans…come one, come all”.

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In comes this youngster.  This poor chap has somehow gotten his head stuck in a piece of rubber trash.   This bird still has a bit of growing to do and may parish from strangulation due simply to human irresponsibility.   Call me crazy, but I do believe that animals have a right to live in a trash-free world.   When people discard unwanted items in irresponsible ways, it is often animals and birds that pay the ultimate price.  Millions of shore birds and marine animals die each year because of this carelessness.

No one will be there to watch as this bird takes his last desperate breath…so it remains beneath our notice.   That is why I am posting him here.   Please, please be mindful of what you buy and where you ultimately discard it!

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(Below) This silly guy has turned his pouch completely inside out.  When a pelican “yawns” the arch of his neck pushes his pouch up and out.  That “lump in his throat” is actually the front of his neck!  Not just anyone  can do this!  Such a comical creature Mr. Pelican is!

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(Below) A slightly more dignified looking brown pelican…

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(Below) The “Three Amigos”.   Or for folks who have seen us yucking it up a different title might come to mind… “The Three Stooges”!

Wildlife artists have a special kinship that is hard to explain.   We seem to come from a similar place in our lives as far as what we value and prioritize.  I’m never happier than when I’m with a group of talented fellow animal/bird artist friends…

This photograph is compliments of Jim Dunn  (www.avian-images.com)  Thanks Jim!!!  :-)

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Another famous resident of the California coast is of course the Sea Lion.  Below is a nursery.  This adult is solely responsible for a rather large group of youngsters.  Some lounge with their babysitter here on these rocks, while many babies were playing about in the water.   I have no idea how it is decided who stays behind to play lifeguard and watch over the  youngsters.

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This Double-Crested Cormorant seems to be trying to make a deal with his sea lion buddy…”If you scratch my back, I’ll come and scratch yours!.  No WAIT!  Let  ME do that!

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Meanwhile, a bit farther out in the water these two adult sea lions were trying to settle an argument.   The bickering went on for quite some time.  I have no idea what the dispute was over…maybe who had to take the next shift as communal babysitter!  I know that I myself would sure hold my ground on that one!   NOT ME!!!

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During low tide, we visited the “mud flats” of the San Diego River.  As the water recedes a myriad of tiny sea creatures are revealed.   Shorebirds come en mass to feed.   We sat for hours watching and photographing them.

(Below) A snowy egret “reflects” on his day.  Snowys have bright yellow feet and if you look closely, you can see one of those feet through the water.

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Shorebirds are incredibly hard to identify, especially those in the Sandpiper categories.  This (I believe) is a Dowitcher.  Jim would know this bird’s species at a glance.  Having him with us was like adding a natural history lesson to our birding trip.  It doesn’t get better than that!

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Here two Dowitchers reflect twice as much as one!

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This little beauty below is a Willet.  Unlike many of the smaller sandpiper species who feed in small groups, this bird seems to like to hunt for food alone.  Watching shorebirds will bring your blood pressure down like nothing else in the world!

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Baby Faces

It’s baby time.   Our woodland babies are just now old enough to go out exploring with mom.  The world is such a BIG place when you are a little tyke.

This raccoon litter of five will create a LOT of mischief down the road when they grow up a bit.   A friend of mine saw this photo and said “It looks like they are planning a heist.”   Indeed.  I wonder what they will steal first…

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I can just hear them planning…“OK Smarty and Shorty,  you go around to the right and me , Smittles and Bubba will  go around to the left.  Give a signal when you’ve gotten into the kitchen!    Batchy, you stay here and keep watch.   Now GO…and be quick about it!”

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Our does are finally allowing their fawns to be seen.  This one is a classic beauty.

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This fawn below belongs to a different doe.  He has white markings on his face and feet and a PINK nose.  I think there is an obvious name for him…”Rudolph”!   (Or Rudy, if it is a girl!)

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“But Mom, nobody will want to play with “a misfit.”

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A soft whisper in the ear comes from mom…“Everyone is different son.  And being different only makes you more special.” (Moms always know what to say at times like this…)

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Meanwhile, while I was photographing Rudolph/Rudy, this pretty hummer boy was showing interest in the hosta blooms right under the window.  What does this flashy fellow have to do with baby animals?   Nothing.   I just felt like sticking him in here!  :-)

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(Below) My painting of a mule deer fawn entitled “Baby Face.”   This piece was inspired by a trip to the wilds of the Yukon last summer.

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SOUTH DAKOTA (Part One) The Black Hills

Since there was so much fun stuff to post from our South Dakota trip, I have split it into two parts, the Badlands (see the entry below) and this entry on the Black Hills, featuring in particular Custer State Park.

Before going to Custer, we stopped at a zoological facility in Rapid City to enjoy some animals living within “Bear Country USA”.   Although I took loads of photos there, I’ll just post the two below.   This grizzly was having such a delightful time in his pool.   This gesture just killed me!

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It appears that Alan is enjoying a new friend.  A buddy like this can be nice to have, as they wear a constant smile and don’t ever talk back!  It seems at least for the moment like they have a lot in common…!

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OK, on to Custer State Park, which is why we made this trip in the first place.  What an amazing park this is.  It reminded me of a mini Yellowstone, featuring fewer species but offering unparalleled viewing and photographic opportunities.   The animals are wild, but are so used to visitors in cars that they barely noticed us.

The American Bison is the  species that most represents the tragic history of the great plains, and it is a feature species in Custer State Park.   Smaller sub-families of females and their calves  gather together in summer to form great herds of hundreds of animals.  And you can sit right in the middle of the action (inside your car of course, as bison are VERY dangerous) and watch them all around you.   It is like a window into the past, when bison herds covered the great plains in numbers too great for us to even imagine.

(Below) Although this bull is not yet fully mature, he is formidable looking when staring you in the eye from only a few feet away!   All bovine species can go from placid to really PISSED OFF in .001 seconds.  Lucky for us this guy decided that we were OK and put his attention on something more gratifying like the lush green grass at his feet.

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One of hundreds of new bison calves dotting the plains…

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A Mountain Bluebird surveys his surroundings.  This is a really prolific species where the high plains meet forest edges.   Their blue feathers are almost electric in color.

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I lost (or should I say temporarily misplaced) my mono-pod strap.  When we made a back-track to find it, we discovered this Mountain Bluebird nest in an old dead pine tree.    I was so glad that I misplaced that strap.  Finding a nest like this in a big wooded area is a bit like finding a needle in a hay stack!  It was our lucky day!

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(Below) A shot of the open prairie…just BEAUTIFUL!

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(Below) The  Pronghorn Antelope is the Maserati of the great plains.  This species can clock over 60 mph, making him the second fastest land animal on the planet (second only to the Cheetah).  All of this speed allows him the luxury of being right out in the open during daylight hours.  There is not another animal in this country that can catch him in a chase.    So he is calm, cool and collected.   This is a fully mature male.

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“If we all put our heads together, maybe we can find the answer we’ve been looking for…”     Three young male Pronghorn put their heads together in a mock sparring display.   It is too early in the season for this to be serious, and these males are all too young to be real contenders.   But they learn how to spar early in life.

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(Below) A Leopard Frog in a mud puddle.

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We were seeing early mock sparring in a number of ungulate species while in Custer.  Here two mature Big Horn rams “play spar”.   They first face each other, then suddenly both rear up and lunge forward hammering their huge horns together.  The impact is so hard and loud that it sounds like a gun going off as it echoes through the hills.   This is only “for fun” right now, but by fall it will become a serious competition for mating rights.

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Custer State Park was once known for its large population of Big Horn Sheep.  But in recent years pneumonia has somehow gotten into the population and is killing most of the babies.  This year only one baby survived and it was later taken by a Mountain Lion.   The park has made the painful decision to allow this population to disappear through attrition,  and then reintroduce the species back into the park when the disease has cleared.   We were very lucky to spot these two rams twice during our stay, as Big Horn sitings are becoming more and more rare.

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(Below) A stunning Western Tanager.

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(Below) A “wild” burrow and her baby.  These burrows are so funny.  Because park visitors have fed them for years, the adults will walk right up to you and if you are in your car, they will stick their big heads well into your vehicle begging for handouts.  It’s hard to remember that they are wild when they behave in this way, but last year a child was badly hurt by one of these.

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It has been a wet year in South Dakota.   The prairie grasses were especially green and flowers were in bloom everywhere.

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A Whitetail Deer with her two brand new twins.  She was very nervousness as most new mothers are and quickly moved her babies to a good hiding place.  The deer in South Dakota are so much smaller than the monsters we see outside our windows here in Kansas.   It is likely a simple difference of how harsh their winters are.

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“Queen Tuts”

I rarely take commissions, and haven’t done a dog portrait painting in many years.  But recently I decided to portray this little beauty for some very nice people oirginally from the UK who now live in Alaska.

I had a Shetland Sheepdog once myself and do find the breed to be very delightful.

Her owners call her Tuts.  So I gave the painting a fitting title “Queen Tuts”.

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That Crazy Little Thing Called…SPRING???

Just yesterday I  typed away on a new blog entry (below), crooning about the wonderful joys of early spring.  The warm air filled with the soft smell of frozen earth thawing into mud and the promise of new plant life just starting to appear was downright intoxicating.    I had spent the past two mornings photographing  large nest-building birds, and enjoying the promise that springtime brings.

But nature had other ideas.  When I entered the grocery store yesterday afternoon, the air was almost balmy.  Although the once sunny sky was giving way to thick gray clouds again, it seemed to be of little worry or concern to me.  By the time I was wheeling those groceries to the car only minutes later, the wind was whipping all around and the temperatures had dropped by at least 15 degrees.  By bedtime, rain had become snow, passing through a sleet stage along the way.

One of the things that I most love about the weather, is that it is one thing that man has not yet learned to control.   The truth is, we are simply along for the ride.  So we may just as well enjoy it!  This snow (about 5 inches and still growing) is likely Old Man Winter’s last hurrah for the year.  At least I would like to think so…

Today my husband and I had a leisurely lunch in the hearth room enjoying the pretty white stuff as it found it’s way to the ground.   Spring will be here one day….. really it will

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Two of our does prance around in the snow.  I can’t imagine that they are not even more tired of the cold and wet than we are.

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Here our buck “TK” strides by.  The deer are still in full winter coats, thank goodness!

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Our deck railing makes a good resting place…

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Our front yard looks especially pretty when covered by a blanket of white.

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Creating One’s Own Vision

For wildlife artists, I believe that there is no replacement for time spent in the field.  Opportunities for viewing wildlife don’t just happen.  We often have to make them happen.  Although there are sometimes wonderful things going on in the outdoors around us, in order to observe, photograph and study animals that don’t live in our immediate areas of the country, we need to get on a plane or climb into a car and go to where they live.  This seems like a no-brainer to me.  But I am amazed at the amount of people who paint wildlife that just don’t see the need in this.   It often shows in their work.

For me, this travel and observation is the best part of the job.  I can honestly say that a day spent with  mountain goats high up in the heavens or watching crocodiles in the Zambezi River are memories that stay with me for a lifetime.  It can be challenging and fun to bring those wonderful moments home within you and then attempt to capture them with paint.

My husband and I were incredibly fortunate to visit the Yukon in the summer of 2008.  I’ve always dreamed of seeing a wild northern place such as this.  And it of course, didn’t disappoint.   I took thousands of photographs of the area’s amazing scenery, and studied some unique animals there as well.   “Lofty Heights” below is the first painting that I have done as a direct result of this memorable trip.

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Upcoming NatureWorks show

With the annual Natureworks Wildlife Art Show only two short weeks away, I’ve been painting like a crazy woman.   I must apologize to people who regularly check in on my website for the loooong span of time with no updates.     But I have a surprise in store for all of you.  I am in the process of doing a complete website overhaul.   Most of my design work for it is done.    My dear techy husband is the one who makes the magic happen.  I am hoping after the show that he and I can find some good, quality sit-down time together to implement all of the changes.

In the mean time, I will post my feature piece for the NatureWorks show here.   It is a rather large painting for me, at 24″ x 36″.

“Sun-Kissed Orange”

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Silent Language

We humans often blunder through our daily lives giving little thought to the myriad of living creatures that  share this world with us.    The animals that live outside our windows are simply below our radar of importance.        For many, this happens  by default of logistics.   Being dwellers of concrete and stone, we go about our business paying little attention to anything that is  not relevant to our daily tasks.

But what are we really missing out on?  There is a world out there of  unimaginable complexity, full of drama and the constant use of silent language.  Many mammals don’t have a complex audible language.  They don’t need it.  They are masters at reading the silent language of others.

For anyone who doesn’t believe that animals  feel a complex range of emotions,  continue on and see these emotions for yourselves…

Winter is optimal deer watching time for us.  Whitetail deer are incredibly interesting to watch, as they tell us what they are thinking with their faces and their bodies.  Below a mother and  fawn share a tender moment.  Their emotional connection to each other is obvious.

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Another mother and daughter share a tender moment.   Fawns look to their mothers for guidance and decision making.  And the does show amazing patience as their fawns learn valuable life lessons.   Whitetail does are wonderfully devoted mothers.

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(Below) Trouble in paradise.  Sometimes when a youngster crosses a social line or comes too close to someone else’s mother, the emotional energy changes.  The fawn below knows that she has made a mistake.  The doe tells her so with a dramatic display of disciplinary body language.  A swat from a front hoof is coming.  The fawn knows this and attempts a hasty retreat.

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Another situation where a reprimand is necessary.  This fawn does not belong to this doe.  Like many ungulates, whitetail deer mothers know their own fawns even from a distance and don’t tolerate close contact with others.  This fawn knows what is coming.

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(Below)  This youngster approaches with trepidation.  The uncertainty is written all over her face.  Big bucks were already in the area and they won’t allow her to come near them.  She knows this and proceeds with great caution.   She is so wonderfully expressive with her emotions.

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The buck on the left (our long time resident Broad Beams) shows an obvious display of dominance and displeasure.  The buck on the right is Shark, a new buck in the area who temporarily denounced Broad Beams from the top position.  But antlers are everything in the world of whitetail bucks, and Broad Beams still has his here.  Well…..it’s PAY BACK time!   Shark doesn’t want trouble and makes good his escape.

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With a distinct display of aggression Broad Beams lowers his head and flattens his ears back.   This body posture is very effective and helps deer avoid dangerous physical contact with each other.  The only time this may not work is during the rut, when violent battles sometimes do take place.  But outside of the rut, deer have a very effective way of “talking” that requires no sound.

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(Below)  Mohawk makes it clear that another buck has come too close.   Just about anyone would know by looking at his face that one step closer could be your last.   The silent language of animals transcends species.

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The next time you get a chance to watch wild animals going about their business, take a good look at what they are really saying to one another.   This silent language is actually spoken quite loudly.

A Changing of The Guards

Well, after all of these years it has finally happened.   Just two short weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry stating that our old monster buck Broad Beams was still the king of our woods.   For years he has ruled this land with unwavering confidence,  maintaining his top position one battle at a time.   Wounds now cover his body from the rut fighting of recent weeks.   He looks tired.  He looks old.   He looks sore.  Indeed Father Time has finally worn him down.

There is a new kid on the  block.   Strong, stocky and in his prime, he has come here with great purpose.  Many big, strong bucks have come and gone, all trying to achieve the same thing.   Until now, none have been successful.

The one thing about nature that is constant is change.  It is the way things work out to keep bloodlines varied and animals healthy.    In strides our new patriarch,  “Shark”.   How he got his name is a long story.  How he achieved his new position as top buck is not.  It is quite simple really.   He won the battle between two great titans.

(Below) Shark boldly struts about.  We can’t be sure if he will stay in the area after the rut is over.  But for now, he is the undisputed king.  Because of Broad Beam’s long stay as the top breeding buck here, there is a chance that Shark is one of his sons.

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(Below) Broad Beams after loosing his position as the guy on top.  Note the horrific injury to his back right leg.  This injury is likely the single source of his loss.  He can barely stand on this leg now.   There is a deep puncture in his chest and his nose leather was torn nearly completely off.   Despite this, he is still the second ranking buck around here.  Everyone scatters when he arrives, everyone that is except for Shark.   It is so very strange now after all of these years, to see Broad Beams defer to another buck.

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(Below) Broad Beams in his prime,  cocky, confident and sporting a rack the width of a Volkswagen.  No one messed with him in those days.

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(Below)  BIG BUCK CENTRAL:  Shark (front), Mohawk (center) and Broad Beams (farthest).   Bucks are very social with each other as long as an estrus doe is not in the area.   Once the rut is over, these guys will buddy up together and will even occasionally groom one another.   But this is a “BOYS club”….NO girls allowed!

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(Below) A doe approaches Mohawk from behind.  He looks somewhat annoyed.  Moments later he chased her away.  When does are not in estrus, bucks don’t tolerate them.    “Three”, a young eight point watches from the right.  He has a lot of growing to do before he is in contention for the girls.

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The Hunter and the Hunted…

It is autumn here in the woods.  And a somewhat wintry autumn it has been.  The whitetail bucks are on the move following does.   Rut fights have become serious lately and our big old monster Broad Beams so far, is somehow holding this area once again.   I have no idea how he fights so well, as the competition is fierce around here and he can hardly walk due to a rut injury from two years ago that has festered into a great melon sized appendage on his right rear leg.   His nose leather was torn nearly all the way off a few days ago in a recent battle.   How can anything be worth all of this pain?!!

But the drive to carry on one’s genes is so strong that bucks will endure unimaginable injuries just for the privilege of being the only one who gets to follow those does around.

Yesterday while it drizzled cold rain, I was watching Broad Beams tailing does from  our hearth room windows.   We have seen some very interesting whitetail behavior this year so I’ve been keeping an eye on him.

(Below)  The fresh buck rub evident in this photo (on the extreme right) draws does into the area.  They seem to be very attracted to rubs.  Broad Beams did not make this rub himself but has claimed the area against all other foes non the less.

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Meanwhile… our little song birds have come en mass to the chip feeder.  The cold weather turns up the amplifier on calorie burning for them so they gather in large numbers vying for a precious spot at the feeder.

While I was watching the deer yesterday, songbirds were everywhere.  Mourning doves littered the ground, wattling around looking for food.   Juncos have arrived and were competing for eating spots on the feeder with gold finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, tit mice, and  nuthatches.   It was a quiet, serene scene filled with the calm beauty of nature.  Deer, birds…what more could anyone ask for?

(Below) Two gold finches wait for a spot to open on the feeder.   They are all puffed up to keep warm.

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Suddenly, the serenity was shattered apart like an explosion.   Every tiny songbird lifted off as one.   They left so abruptly that even Broad Beams jumped.   I’ve never seen birds spook quite like that before.   Then I noticed out of the corner of my eye a new visitor.  A Krider’s Red-Tail hawk had just landed and was perched only yards away from the feeder which is only inches from our window.  He was intense in his ghostly white.   He was here for a songbird lunch.    He flew wildly around, perched for a few minutes and then was through the woods after them like a shot.

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A couple of weeks ago a Cooper’s Hawk was swooping down, chasing birds at our feeder.   He was so ambitious that he careened right into the window while in mid grab.   Stunned but alright, he perched for a quick recuperation and then swooped around again for another try.   With the songbirds frantic and then gone, he went off like a missile to go and apprehend them.

I’ve more recently been seeing this Krider’s hawk performing wild areal acrobatics while trying to capture the same small birds.   Raptors have amazing areal abilities.  And they don’t give up easily.  I can actually hear the small birds  screaming while in frantic flight, desperately trying to get away.   This screaming outside is what alerts me to the action when I’m working in my studio.

It is easy to have an emotional response to this drama.  But perhaps this is not so far removed from what we as a species are ourselves.  As I watch a new mini-series on World War II (on the History Channel) and view the many atrocities of war, I can’t help but ponder the very nature of nature.    How do we fit in to this well organized scheme?   Perhaps we  ourselves are a bit more like this hungry ambitious hawk than we would like to admit?

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Wildlife “management”.      We’ve all heard this term.  But what exactly does it mean?   Recently there has been much public debate on “controlling”  the growing whitetail deer population in a prominent park very near our home.   During the economy boom just before the recent crash, people were moving in droves into newly constructed McMansions (over-sized houses of the cookie-cutter variety placed on under-sized lots) built right up against the borders of this beautiful natural park.  What a nice place to live.  You can enjoy your enormous, impeccably decorated home and watch deer and other wildlife in the park through your rear windows.  Sounds appealing, right?

In the tiny yard surrounding your McMansion you plant your garden and wait anxiously for it to mature into an even more beautiful setting.  Splashes of blooming color now also surround you just outside your windows.  You’ve felt especially ambitious  and even decided to plant and raise your own tomatoes in your new garden.  After all, we all know how wretched those Styrofoam tasting tomatoes in groceries are…

On a rare trip out into your little yard to harvest some ripe tomatoes, you notice that some of your flowers have disappeared where there should now be blooms.  Your tomatoes don’t look so great either, as many are now gone and the plants have been pushed over.   The lower branches of your new carefully planted little trees are snapped off at about half their length.  You glance down and notice a place in the grass that has a foot imprint in it that is not yours.  It is a tiny print of an animal with cloven feet.   What could possibly have happened in your garden last night?    Whatever it is….this simply WILL NOT DO!

You’ve decided to set up surveillance by looking out your windows more.  You diligently keep an eye on those flowers and tomatoes even after the sun goes down.   Finally the culprits unveil themselves.  It is a small family of whitetail does.  They have come into your yard and are munching away!   All that colorful beauty is GONE!

A call to the Park Management is now in order.  You make your call only to find out that you are only one in a long procession of previous calls made by your neighbors.   Something must be done!  Your garden is RUINED!    And deer carry diseases too!   And the ticks are just terrible this year!   And ticks carry diseases!  What if you get sick?   This is just AWFUL!  The park ranger who has taken your call now feels pressure from the “public” to somehow make this tragic situation “right”.   A formal count of deer in the park is now in order.

It doesn’t take an exceptionally bright person to know that whenever wildlife and people clash it is always the wildlife that looses.   It has recently been decided that the whitetail deer population in the park will be reduced by three-quarters this fall.  Yes, I did say THREE-QUARTERS.   It is the plan by park officials to bring sharp shooters  into the park during a predesignated week.    These marksmen will wait in hiding as deer come up to feeding stations placed solely for the purpose of blowing their brains out.   Maybe next year’s tomato crop will be better…

The deer population within the park has indeed increased over time, as it has nearly everywhere else in the U.S. where they live.   Man is directly responsible for this, as we have systematically annihilated  any and all natural predators of this animal so they are left to reproduce with very few casualties.   If this “problem” inside the park had been addressed before complaints had been filed in droves, then perhaps a kinder solution could have been found.   Sterilization is a gradual solution that would have been quite effective over time.

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(Above)  A small family of does runs across a walking/bike trail within the park.

(Below) A doe watches me watching her.    Deer in the park and surrounding areas have very little fear of people, as they share the same space in close proximity.  I was on foot walking two dogs when I took the picture below.    Quite relaxed near me this doe lowered her head again to graze.

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(Below)  Bucks generally are shy and tend to be more active at night.  In the following two photos I tried to capture the ghostly nature of these magnificent creatures.   In these photos they almost look as if they are on fire, which I think aptly defines their wild spirits…

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(Below) A two month old fawn is attracted by our mineral block.  Life for wild animals is precarious at best.   With the added pressures from man, one can never know how long a pretty little creature like this  will survive.

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(Below) this three month old fawn is a sitting duck for the horror that is to come.    Killing these human acclimated animals will be like shooting fish in a barrel.  To me this short-sighted solution seems like a terrible injustice, not only to the deer but also to ourselves…

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Vermin:

“Noxious, objectionable, or disgusting animals collectively, esp. those that appear commonly and are difficult to control, such as flies, lice, bedbugs, cockroaches, mice, and rats.”
Has man added the whitetail deer to this list?