Tag Archives: science

Wildlife Wednesday: Close encounters with mule deer

21 Nov

Wildlife Wednesdays

By Renée Gotcher

This week NextGen Homeschool is joining forces with Creation Conversations and Kathy Balman @Kathy’s Cluttered Mind to bring you Wildlife Wednesday — posts about nature with a giveaway and a link up for your nature posts.

My family is an outdoor-loving family, and one of the reasons we feel truly blessed to call Colorado our home is the fact that we are exposed to such a variety of God’s magnificent creations right outside our doorstep — literally. It’s a wonderful opportunity to teach our three girls (11, 10 and 5) about nature without setting foot in a museum or zoo.

This past weekend, we had two close encounters with mule deer in our neighborhood. Mule deer are fairly common in our town’s shrub-covered hills, creek canyons, and open fields. Although not everyone enjoys their local residency (especially those with gardens to protect), my girls are delighted at every sighting. They are still in awe of these graceful, beautiful creatures living in our midst.

I was the first one to have a close encounter with a member of the local herd while running on a trail that starts at the end of our block and leads out into a creek canyon. I was joined by a tall mule deer buck with beautiful mature antlers who walked right across my trail into a nearby open space. He continued to meander in the same direction I was running, just a short distance away. I snapped quite a few pictures with my phone!

That very same evening, we were driving out of our neighborhood after sunset, heading out for last-minute holiday haircuts, when we saw another buck on the side of the road.

The girls were thrilled to see the buck, especially since they missed my earlier encounter. A split second later, my focus turned back to the road in front of me and sure enough — a deer in the headlights! I slowed down and honked, and the stunned doe finally sprung back into action and ran across the road to join her traveling companion.

Here’s where the education usually begins: Questions, questions, and more questions.

“Mom, why are there so many deer out right now?”

“Are they migrating? Are they looking for food since it’s snowing in the mountains?”

“Why do they freeze in the headlights like that?”

I realized that as many deer encounters as we’ve had as a family, we’d never taken the opportunity to get to know them better. These questions seemed like a great start, so here are the answers we found — as well as a few more fun facts we discovered:

Q: “Why are there so many deer out right now?”

A:  Mule Deer are active primarily in mornings and evenings. They tend to stay in their specific home “range,” and when we see them often in the same place, it is probably because they are seasonal or full-time residents in our area. It’s November, so another reason we may be seeing a lot of them is that it’s the beginning of mating season.

Q: “Are they migrating? Are they looking for food since there’s snow in the mountains?”

A: Most mule deer with established home ranges and do not migrate until they are moving from an established winter territory (usually at lower, warmer elevations) to a summer territory (usually at higher, cooler elevations). Seasonal movements are usually a result of decreasing temperatures, snowstorms, snow depths and rainfall that reduce their mobility and availability of food. They usually travel back and forth between the same summer and winter territories.

Q: “Why are they called mule deer?”

A: Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are identified by their large mule-like ears, which move constantly and independently and inspired the “mule” in their name. They are brownish-gray in color, have a white rump patch and a small white tail with a black tip. Their ear size and tails help distinguish them from another common deer, the white-tailed deer, which have smaller ears and larger bushy white tails.

Q: “How come only the bucks (males) grow antlers? When do they fall off?”

A: Adult males begin to grow antlers in spring, and they grow throughout the summer and fall. By November, the antlers are fully mature and ready to be used for establishing dominance between other bucks during breeding. Antlers are then shed in winter. The antlers of mule deer are distinct in that they split off from the main branch forming two evenly forked branches, each branch has 2 or more “tines.”

Q: “Do they always travel in herds?”

A: Bucks and does (females) tend to remain apart except in fall mating. After the breeding season, the deer live in small family groups of does, yearlings and the new fawns that are born. Bucks are usually solitary or live in small bachelor groups. Deer groups are likely to be spread out rather than in close association.

Q: “Where do they live, like in what countries?”

A: Although many species of deer can be found in many countries, Mule Deer live in North America, more commonly west of the Missouri River and in the Rocky Mountain region of North America. They are very adaptable and can be found in all of the biomes of western North America north of central Mexico, except the Arctic tundra. Mule Deer are found in coniferous forests, areas with small trees and shrubs, meadows and grasslands, and even deserts. They occupy any “edge” habitat, including suburban residential areas.

Q: “What do they eat?”

A: Mule Deer are herbivores and “browsers,” so they feed on woody vegetation, leaves of shrubs and trees, green plants, nuts, and twigs. They also forage on crops, especially corn, but eat very little grass, so they don’t compete with livestock or elk for food.

Q: “Why do they freeze in the headlights like that?”

A: Because deer activity peaks within an hour or so on either side of sunrise and sunset, their vision is optimized for very low light. So when a headlight beam strikes their fully dilated eyes, deer cannot see at all, and they freeze until the eyes can adjust. It is also believed that they can only see clearly at close range, much closer than the range of average human eyesight.

Did you know?

  • Mule Deer are often called “mullies” (mule-ees).
  • They are fast: Their distinctive bounding leap, a series of stiff-legged jumps called “stotting,” with all four feet hitting the ground together, allows them to reach speeds of up to 45 m.p.h.
  • They have excellent hearing. Though they are probably well aware of your presence, mule deer often show little fear of humans.
  • They are good swimmers, though they rarely use water as a means of escaping predators.
  • They are 4-6 feet long, standing 3-3.5 feet high at the shoulder. Large bucks can weigh as much as 400 pounds, but does are only half that size.
  • Their life span in the wild is approximately 10 years.
  • Velvet covers the growing antlers and provides it with blood, supplying oxygen and other nutrients. The annual cycle of antler growth is regulated by changes in the length of the day.
  • Females usually give birth to two fawns, although if it is their first time having a baby, they often only have one fawn.

Another activity I like to incorporate when learning about animals is to find out if they are mentioned in the Bible, and if so, in what context. We discovered that the mention of deer in the Bible is mostly poetic and metaphorical, reflecting an appreciation of their grace and beauty, as well as their natural abilities.

Lastly, my girls are lapbook lovers: No matter what subject matter they are learning about, they eventually want to make a lapbook about it. So I found a fabulous one at HomeschoolShare.com: Click here for free printable lapbook templates and resources on a study of deer.

We put the lapbook making on hold until we get back from our Thanksgiving week roadtrip to visit family in Oklahoma. In the meantime, the girls are looking forward to sharing what they’ve learned with their homeschooled cousins. Maybe we’ll get that lapbook started this week after all?

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She is currently editor and lead author of NextGen Homeschool: Homeschooled Moms Homeschooling Our Next Generation. The Gotcher Family lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.

Wildlife Wednesday Blog Link-Up & Giveaways…

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NGHS Students: Deer Poetry

21 Nov

By Renée Gotcher

After our recent close encounters with mule deer in our neighborhood, the girls wrote the following poems to express what they learned about deer in our factual research, Biblical study and personal experiences with these beautiful creatures. The details of our experience and nature writing assignment can be found in this Wildlife Wednesday post, hosted by Creations Conversations. Click here for a Free Printable PDF Wildlife Writing Assignment.

The Confident Deer

By Audrey Gotcher (11)
The confident Deer prances and leaps through the day,
Without a second thought,
Through the river,
Through the trees,
Along with the breeze.
On its toes it nimbly runs along,
For the daily food it sought,
Though the dangers of the forest,
Often appear, God is near and provides.
That is why the Deer does not fear.

The Frightened Deer

By Claire Gotcher (10)
The frightened Deer can appear very queer
Frozen in light, full of fright,
As it decides to run into the night.
How it prances and almost dances
In the field, as if it had a shield.
And as it settles down to sleep,
In safety, the Deer will no longer creep.

Standing Out in a Crowd

1 Nov

By Renée Gotcher

Last week our homeschool group took an interesting field trip to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. It was interesting because although these days most museums, zoos, performance halls, and the like have no problem hosting homeschool groups as they would any other school group, our presence on this day wasn’t exactly welcome. It reminded me of a feeling I’d experienced many years ago. Let me explain…

The general perception of homeschooling has come a long way since I was a homeschooled high school student in the late 1980s. Back then, nobody we knew had ever heard of homeschooling, support groups were few and far apart — even in a heavily populated state like California — and there were certainly not “open arms” welcoming or even beckoning homeschoolers to participate in local museum and zoo tours, community parks and rec programs, etc.

In fact, I remember my mom was very deliberate about where we would go “in public” during weekday school hours so we wouldn’t draw unnecessary attention and questions. Looking back now, I can see how hard it must have been for her — with eight children in tow — to handle the inquisition she received when asked more often that not why we were all “out of school” during the day when we did attempt a field trip on our own. I remember the questions, the stares, the whispering among employees. At home, we weren’t allowed to answer the phone or the door, or play in the front yard, until after 3pm. Homeschoolers were under a lot of scrutiny, and it was easier to just stay “under the radar.”

Today, it’s quite different. Almost anyone I meet who learns that we homeschool knows exactly what I’m talking about, and usually says something like “Oh, I know a family (in my church, down the street, on my soccer team…) who homeschools. That’s great!” Homeschooling families in populated areas usually have more than a few local homeschool groups to choose from based on their faith, curriculum style, location, and more. And anything offered in the community for educational enrichment is easily accessible to homeschool groups, usually free or at the same discount that traditional school groups receive. Some programs are even specifically marketed to homeschoolers.

An “Unofficial” Tour

So you might be wondering: What happened at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science? For starters, we didn’t take a tour provided by the museum. We received a tour by an outside guide — via a company called Biblically Correct Tours. I had never heard of such a thing, but as it turns out, this service has been around — and causing a bit of a stir (more on that later) — for quite a few years. Based in Colorado, BC Tours provides six different “biblically correct” tours of local attractions such as the Denver or Colorado Springs Zoo, Garden of the Gods, and Dinosaur Ridge.

Our guide started out by making it very clear that he was not with the museum, and that our tour was “unofficial.” He gathered the children close and explained what would be different about our tour. You could tell the kids were feeling a charge of excitement over the idea that we were unofficial — secret agent stuff! He then gave the kids four critical-thinking questions to pose if someone wanted to discuss some of the information found on these walls, such as “How do you know that?” and “If I were to give you different facts, would you be open to changing your mind?”

Great questions! I wish I’d heard such questions when I was a kid studying the “latest and greatest” scientific interpretations of the day, most of which have since been rewritten and revised many times over. This is going to be an interesting experience.

Taking a closer look at the “Big Bang in a Bottle” experiment

We proceeded to enter the “Prehistoric Journey” exhibit and display after display, examined the information presented on the museum walls side-by-side with some contradictory information that is conveniently left out. The kids asked more great questions, and it was refreshing to see them so inquisitive and at the same time, so evaluative. They weren’t just nodding their heads in agreement, they were thoughtful, critical and thorough.

Then came the feeling: The feeling that we weren’t just another group taking a tour, blending in with the other school groups bused in that day. I realized that our little “BC” tour was starting to stand out from the crowd. I had noticed that museum employees were hovering just behind us, listening, whispering to each other, and trying to get the attention of other museum patrons nearby so they could be pulled over (and out of listening range of our tour guide) and given an “official” explanation of each display.

It reminded me of the “old days'” of homeschooling, when my homeschooling family always stood out in a crowd.

Scientists have no problem “redefining history” as new evidence forces them to revise interpretations to fit existing theories.

At one point we were interrupted by an old gentleman with an official green museum vest who was pushing around a cart of “touch and feel” fossils (most were actually replicas). I wasn’t sure if he simply didn’t realize we were conducting our own tour, or if he didn’t care and actually wanted to get in the middle of it. Either way, he started in on his speech about what the kids “should know” about the amazing fossils in his cart.

Our guide let the museum employee finish his bit and then gently guided the children on to the next display. There was no uncomfortable confrontation, we simply moved on. Our guide later told the kids that “there’s a time and a place” for everything, and that this wasn’t one of those times to create a debate.

It reminded me of times that I would watch my mom respond to homeschooling questions with a gracious smile and simple answer, then take us by the hand and walk away. I know she wasn’t unfazed by the comments and criticism, and that there was indeed a time and a place when a debate of homeschooling was completely appropriate. However, in those moments, she just wasn’t going to let it ruin her day. And that day, neither were we.

But the truth of the matter is that even if the practice of homeschooling has become more acceptable in our society, genuine faith in Christ will always stand out in a crowd. That day, we didn’t stand out because we were homeschoolers, we stood out because we were Christians choosing to study God’s creation from a biblical point of view.

And as Christians, we won’t just stand out: We’ll be criticized, ridiculed and even hated. That is, if we’re living out our faith in plain sight, rather than trying to blend in. Jesus said: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” — John 15:19

The BC Tour guides are not trying to blend in. In fact, they have been picked apart by the media many times over the years for presenting a creationist perspective (see links below) — even though there’s still plenty of dissenting views and unexplained problems with evolution being debated in the scientific community today. However, while the scientists continue to deliberate, Colorado’s BC Tours continues to operate. The guides continue to draw support from families like those in our group, and they continue to draw critical attention from those who are simply “tolerating” their presence — for now. They are willing to stand out in the crowd.

That day, I was reminded of a feeling I’d felt many years ago. And I was thankful for that reminder. We may not stand out much anymore as homeschoolers, but I certainly hope I will stand out as a follower of Christ. And I pray that through these learning experiences, my children will gain the confidence to stand firmly as well.

It’s time to get uncomfortable.

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado.

BC Tours in the News:

Because the Bible Tells Me So?” — ABC News, March 19, 2008

The Bible as Museum Guide” — The Denver Post, June 11, 2008

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