Mule Deer in Calgary's Fish Creek Park

by Dr. Robert Berdan
Nov 10, 2014



Click Here to view poster image 1600 px wide - this is of one of my favourite pictures which you can't appreciate as small web size format because of the fine details so I created a larger version - can you spot the fawn in the picture?



On October 23, I headed to south Calgary to Wayne Lynch's residence where we took his vehicle to Fish Creek Park in order to photograph Mule Deer. I arrived around 7:30 am, sunrise was at 8:20 am, but it didn't look like there would be a sunrise. A thick fog enveloped the city of Calgary and it was difficult to see anything more than about 50 feet in front. Undeterred we stopped for a photographers breakfast (coffee with a bacon 'n egg MacMuffin) before heading over to Fish Creek park. Frankly I am not sure where we entered the park because of the fog and when we arrived in the parking lot it was still dark. About half hour later we could see outlines of deer close by. We grabbed our 500 mm lenses only to return to the car a few minutes later and switched to 70-200 mm telephotos. The deer were walking right by us.


Mule deer walk next to photographer by Wayne Lynch ©


I used a monopod and set my camera to ISO 800-1600, whereas Wayne pulled out his tripod.


We counted ten does and one buck. A park ranger pulled into the parking lot shortly after and told us to be careful the buck we were photographing had charged him the day before. The deer were obviosuly habituated to people and were not perturbed at all by our presence. Auto focusing in fog often does not work, so I switched to manual focus and set my camera to continous high shooting mode. The amazing thing is that even though we were near the center of Calgary, the fog hid everything more then a 100 feet away and from the pictures we captured you wouldn't know we took them in the middle of a city. I started with an ISO setting of 1600 and gradually reduced it as it became lighter outside. Fog has a way of adding mystery and mood to any photo and we were having fun.




Doe next to the parking lot .


Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are named for their large ears which resemble those of a mule. They have white tails with black tips, unlike White-tailed deer which have reddish brown tails and white underneath). Furthermore, mule deer antlers bifurcate or "fork" as they grow. Although mule deer can run, they are often seen stotting (also called pronking) where they appear to jump on all fours and bound along. (For an example see my previous article called Roadkill).


Mule Deer are common in Alberta in the Rocky Mountains, foothills and badlands. See distribution map below of the seven subspecies of mule deer.


Map of deer distribution in North America by Wikipedia


Map showing the distribution of 7 mule deer subspecies (From Wikipedia Commons).




Several does feeding in fish creek park next to the parking lot.


The "rut" or mating season begins in the fall as does go into estrus for a period of a few days. Accoding to Wayne Lynch the mule deer in Fish Creek park rut in November. During this time males become more aggressive. Does may mate with more then one buck and gestation in mule deer is 190-220 days with fawns born in the spring.




One of the bucks was following a group of does amd Wayne noted the Buck was grunting in a low voice and curling his lip - called the Flehman response. Apparently lip-curling behaviour is a way to get a deep whiff of something, exposing the vomeronasal organ to especially delicious smells. Horses do it and even cats do it. (Andrew McKean - The Flehman Response).


Buck in fish creek park by Robert Berdan ©


One of the bucks in field with fog hiding the city in the background.


Mule deer's main predators are: humans, coyotes, wolves and mountain lions, though bears may also attack young.



Mule Deer in field in Fish Creek Park, Calgary, AB by Robert Berdan  


Mule deer doe in field


After about a half hour the deer crossed the road and enter a thicket. The Buck was close behind so we followed them

down a road and pathway. They ignored us and even walked right by us several times. Most deer are not this "friendly" unless protected within parks and encounter lots of people. It sure makes photographing them much easier.


Doe feeing in fish creek park by Robert Berdan ©


Mule deer feeding


Mule deer feed mainly on woody vegetation eating only a little bit of grass. In winter they forge on conifers and twigs of decidous trees and shrubs (aspen, willow, dogwood, service berry and sage).



Mule deer buck


I remember reading a passage by Freeman Patterson who said that November was his favourite month to photograph because all the colours are subdued. I usually find it challenging to capture good images in November because of this.

But on this day the subdued colours and fog made for interesting backdrops and it made appreciate once again how much fun photography can be.



Buick following doe in fish creek park by Robert Berdan ©


Note the buck in the back ground on the right side of the photo following this doe.




Buck pursuing a doe which was not yet receptive.


Robert Berdan and Buck in Fish Creek park by Wayne Lynch ©


Yours truly in the back ground behind this Buck - photo by Wayne Lynch.



Wayne Lynch and Buck in Fish Creek Park by Robert Berdan


Photo of \Wayne Lynch and Buck in Fish Creek Park



Two mule deer bucks fighting while a female stands by and watches - Bearspaw north of Calgary. 70-200 mm lens from my car window.


Neither of us needed more photos of mule deer, yet just being outside and among them was a thrill. Most mule deer forage around dawn and dusk, but they will also forage in open fields during and around the full moon. Viewing and photographing Mule deer is as simple as visiting Fish Creek park if you live around Calgary. The deer are common through out Alberta but you will find them concentrated in the foothills and in Dinosaur Provincial Park. In many parks these deer are easily approached though you should always be cautious approaching a buck during the rut. Don't forget that if you are photographing in fog or heavy snowfall to switch your lens to manual focus mode for best results. RB


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