Hugh and I were doing our initial survey of an old pioneer cemetery in the East Bay, when we saw these unexpected travelers in the haze. I grabbed a few frames as a doe and her two fawns ditched around the tombstones.
Autumn is deer hunting season. I’ve heard some deer hunters say they’ll shoot a doe who presents with fawns . . . believing the fawns to be self-sufficient at this point. The truth is, the fawns are weaned by November, and they are in most danger during the early months of their lives. But they remain with their mother for a year. Female fawns will often stay with their mother longer. In that year of doe-fawn bonding (depending on the location or climate) the doe will take her fawns to wintering grounds, help them elude predators, and protect them in ways that go beyond biological weaning. When you watch a deer family unit for any length of time, the protective cues are undeniable — even when the actual deer-to-deer communication is intangible to us.
We didn’t see the deer family at first — but the doe saw us. The fawns were playing and grazing, but mama deer was poised for danger, ears and eyes locked. It was mere seconds before the fawns took notice and ditched behind tombstones. But it was their mother who alerted them to our dangerous selves before they even perceived our presence.