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Sporadic Sightings: Catching a Glimpse of Piebald Deer

This week’s blog was written by Allie F., a Bucktails alumni. Allie is a high school sophomore who plans to pursue a career in medicine. She decided to attend the Wildlife Leadership Academy due to her interest in biology and nature. In her spare time, she enjoys music, dance, and hunting.

Since living in Pennsylvania, my family and I have seen quite a few piebald deer. When I was younger, I never knew why they had white on them, generally on their hind legs and back. I affectionately referred to them as “white-butts.” Now, however, I realize that it is part of their genetics, and this pattern is known as a piebald deer.

A piebald visits our backyard

A piebald deer’s unique coloring comes from a genetic defect, rather than a parasite or disease. The white varies from covering only a portion of the body to almost covering the entire body. While the deer may seem healthy otherwise, piebald deer can have many other health problems that can lead to difficult survival. They may have a bowing nose, short legs, scoliosis, and even organ deformities.

Piebald revisits backyard before winter

Piebald deer are exceedingly rare to spot, as they make up less than 1% of the deer population. While many hunters may want to harvest this rare sighting, it is important to make sure that it is legal. Depending on the state, deer with a certain amount of white on them may be illegal to hunt. Other people claim that they do not want to harvest piebald deer to try to protect their population. However, with the many defects that piebald deer have, it is shown that it is more helpful to harvest them so that they do not pass on their deformities to future generations. Many others are also superstitious about these deer, saying that if you kill a piebald deer, you may have bad luck in future hunts, or will even bring you death in a year.

Piebald deer and its herd

Now that I have researched these interesting deer, I have realized how rare they really are in the wild. I think that it is interesting that we have not just seen one, but multiple, occurrences of these unique animals so close to my neighborhood.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

Get Out and Take a Hike!

This week’s blog was written by John B., a Brookies alumni. John is a senior in high school. He found out about the academy from his Chinese teacher who thought that he would enjoy it. John figured he would enjoy the camp because he enjoyed a conservation camp that he attended previously. John loves spending time outdoors, and often goes fishing. His plan is to attend college next fall to pursue biology and possibly Chinese too.

Traveling into the woods on a fall day, I am greeted by many squirrels and birds foraging and the leaves of trees changing color and slowly floating to the ground. It is the best time of year for a hike. Luckily, Lancaster County provides about 40 nature preserves along with both parks and state game lands too. I will share my favorite hiking areas in Southern Lancaster County, and hopefully, if you ever find yourself in the area, you can check them out.

First up is Trout Run Nature Preserve. It features a moderate hike that consists of a dirt path that periodically changes to shist outcroppings. The trail is alongside a pristine stream that I believe to be the only Class A Brook Trout stream in Lancaster County. No far-seeing vistas here, but the scenery is still well worth it. I often will hike in Steinman Run Nature Preserve too when I visit here because the two are so close together that they share a parking lot. I would say this is the place to go if you are looking to see a lot of beautiful hardwood trees.

A wild Brook Trout from Trout Run Nature Preserve

Next on my list comes Ferncliff Wildlife and Wildflower Nature Preserve. This preserve was actually listed as a National Natural Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior. The high quality and rarity of its natural resources earned it this title. When I go for a hike here, exciting encounters with wildlife always make it a good time no matter what season. This is also a great preserve for the inexperienced hiker. The main path is about a mile and ends right at the shore of the Susquehanna River. For a steep climb, there is also a path off to the side that will bring you to the top of a ridge with very abundant wildflowers that bloom in the spring. I love hiking here because it is overall a beautiful forest. It is classified as old-growth with many Hemlocks and some of the biggest Tulip Trees and American Beechs I’ve ever seen!

One of the many beautiful mushrooms at Ferncliff Wildlife and Wildflower Nature Preserve

Lastly, we come to Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve. Like Ferncliff, this preserve feels very natural as it is dominated by our state tree, the Eastern Hemlock. It shows its greatness in the number of people that visit: I always see many others here even when hiking, or fishing for wild Brown Trout, at the crack of dawn. I recommend this preserve to avid hikers because it easily lends itself to an all-day hike. From the same parking lot, you can access Pyfer Nature Preserve. Also, the Conestoga Trail links up to one of Tucquan Glen’s trails that can take you to many more nature preserves. If you commit to climbing the hills of the Susquehanna Riverlands, you will be rewarded with beautiful views of the river.

Icicles form on a cold morning at Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve

Lancaster County is rarely recognized for its beautiful wooded areas. I invite you to check out some of the beautiful preserves in the area as well as the unique, characteristic landscapes dominated by Amish farms. If Lancaster County is too far, take a hike in your nearby woods. Breathe the fresh air and watch the seasons change, as now is a perfect time!

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

The Snow and the Birds

This week’s Bonus Blitz Blog was written by Micaela J., a Bucktails alumni. Micaela is interested in pursuing a career in engineering, although she hasn’t decided what type of engineering she would like to go into yet. Last summer Micaela attended Northampton County Junior Conservation School which sparked her interest in the environment and how we impact it. That program led her to learn about the Wildlife Leadership Academy, which she soon wanted to attend because of its focus on conservation and learning about the plants and animals in our environment.

The clouds surround the sky above, enclosing the area like a grey-skyed snowglobe. As I step outside, I can feel that the snow is about to start. Starting off with light flurries, gently gliding through the chilled air, soon turns into a heavier snowfall with clusters of snowflakes racing towards the ground. I can see the snow accumulating on the ground, at first it’s just a coating, but within a couple of hours, I can barely tell how deep the snow truly is. The snow falls at a slight angle, covering the sides of trees and bushes, so when I look outside it seems to be a winter wonderland.

Backyard birds
American Goldfinches at the feeder
A Dark-eyed Junco collecting fallen seeds

The birds in our woods seem to sense the arriving storm. They have been coming to the feeders all morning. As the winter storm picks up its pace, more and more birds start gathering at the bird feeders in our backyard. The feeders deplete at a rapid rate as American Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Juncos, Phoebes, Black-capped Chickadees, and Northern Cardinals fight over the birdseed that my mom generously supplies for them. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker peck are at the suet block and then fly up into the branches. I can hear geese and a Thrush in the distance. The snowflakes swirl around the birds, as Mother Nature creates her winter magic.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

A Vibrant Change

This week’s blog was written by Melinda J., a Bucktails alumni. Melinda has been interested in nature throughout her life, which is why she attended Wildlife Leadership Academy. She enjoys watching shows, reading books, and learning. Eventually, she would like to find a career in STEM.

One of my favorite times of the year is when the trees in my circle all change color, forming a wall of vivid reds and oranges and yellows. I’m fascinated by how the leaves transition throughout the fall, and this year I decided to document the changes in the color of the sugar maple in my front yard. Its leaves started changing color at the end of September and they reached their peak by the end of October.

A few leaves started turning yellow at the end of September.
The edges had become orange and red ten days later.

On September 30, I noticed the tiniest hints of yellow and orange peeking through the dense green. During the spring and summer, the days are longer and there is more sunlight, which allows the leaves to produce the green pigment chlorophyll. Once fall arrives, the leaves receive less sunlight, so they stop making chlorophyll and break it down instead. With the disappearance of chlorophyll comes the disappearance of verdant trees. Instead, other pigments can emerge, creating beautiful vermillion or golden colors.

Less than a week later, the whole tree was transforming.
All of the leaves were orange-red and many began to fall.

The other main pigments in the leaves are xanthophylls, carotenoids, and anthocyanins, which produce yellow, orange, and red respectively. Xanthophylls and carotenoids are present in trees year-round, but anthocyanins are only produced in fall to turn leaves red, purple, and brown. Different trees yield varying levels of these pigments, and some trees will vary in color between or within leaves. I love seeing the transformation of green to yellow to rich orange-red from carotenoids and anthocyanins in sugar maples. With each leaf, there is a slight difference in the color gradient that makes the tree seem dynamic or alive like fire. Although the weather may no longer be warm, it’s heartwarming to see the brilliant trees outside my house in the fall.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

The Ethics of a Bow Hunter

This week’s blog was written by John P., a Bucktails and Gobblers alumni. He is a passionate hunter and conservationist. John’s plans after high school are to get his master’s degree and become a wildlife biologist.

Sitting in my tree stand here the deer came. One, two three, four, five, six, seven. Seven deer came walking by my stand and my trigger finger was getting itchy. Then here he came, he wasn’t huge but he was a shooter in my books. A nice small basket rack 8 point was closing the gap. Just for the record, I hadn’t shot a buck yet so anything with antlers would do, but this would be a great first buck for anyone. I lifted my bow off the hook and clipped on my release. Closer and closer the buck came and none of the deer knew I was there. I drew back ready for the shot with the buck walking into a gap, but I couldn’t tell how far he was, and for a bowhunter that’s a problem. I let down and watched him walk away. I didn’t get another shot at him or any other deer but had deer and turkeys milling around the whole evening. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement.

My laser range finder

That night I went on Amazon and bought a range finder (a range finder is a device that shoots a laser at the target and records how long it takes for the laser to get back. Then it tells you the distance based on the time it takes for the laser to get back). The next time I got out was Thursday. I got set up and ranged just about every spot I thought deer might come out. About thirty minutes later here came a nice buck. I stood up and slowly drew my bow knowing he was just to my side of a tree that was twenty-five yards away. I settled my pin and squeezed the trigger. I watched in slow motion as the arrow buried home. To say the least, I was extremely happy with my first buck and with a bow made it even that much more special.

My first buck, I’ll never forget.

By now your probably thinking “John what does this have to do with ethics” and to that, I say that bowhunting has taught me many things but the most important thing is that you must know when and what shots to take. To this day I haven’t lost a single deer and I credit this to my dad who always made sure I understood that we were stewards of the land and that if we must take a life we will do it with one quick, clean, ethical shot.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.