| Mar 13, 2008

Outdoors - March 13, 2008

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Outdoors in the LandO'Lakes - March 13, 2008 Survival of the Fittest Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes byLorraine Julien

With the extremely harsh winter we’ve experienced, and are still experiencing as of March 9, my thoughts have been on our four-legged friends, in particular, whitetail deer, and how they are managing to find food with this near record depth of snow. In my area, at the east end of Kashwakamak Lake, we hadn’t seen deer tracks for weeks when, in mid-February, lo and behold, a lone deer walked down our driveway and munched on some low-hanging cedar boughs. Apparently brush, cedar boughs, etc. help to make their stomachs feel full but has little nutritive value. Needless to say, we haven’t seen any deer or tracks since. In fact, the only wildlife I’ve seen recently were the river otters on the lake and a lone coyote a couple of weeks ago.

I understand from research that healthy deer can usually withstand extremely cold temperatures and prolonged periods of really deep snow. When temperatures start dropping and food becomes scarce, a deer’s body apparently goes into an energy saving mode which means they’ll start using fat reserves and low activity. In the case of sick, old or injured deer, they are not apt to have these reserves of fat. Does and fawns usually fare much better than bucks as they use much less energy during the fall rut, and, instead, spend most of their time feeding, thereby building up their reserves.

During extreme cold, deer usually group into small herds of a dozen or so and move very little. They will focus on whatever food is readily available to them whether its nuts on trees, a nearby corn field or brush. They also try to stay near open water as they need to drink several times throughout the day. I understand they need twice as much water in winter as during the warmer months. In any case, I am hopeful that most deer and a lot of smaller animals who do not hibernate have managed to make it through this winter.

While out snowshoeing this past week, I did see raccoon tracks for the first time since late last fall, so I hope this is a sign that spring may be coming. Unfortunately, my poor composters will soon be hosts to these ravenous, mischievous fellows!

On the positive side, most farmers should be happy with the added moisture from this snow for their crops (unless their fields are flooded!) and some lake water levels should rise from the record lows of recent years.

Update on Strangling Vines: In the January 24th Outdoors column, I wrote about strangling vines but was not sure whether the larger woody vines were also Dog Strangling Vine. I’ve learned, from an excellent source, that the larger woody vine I described is probably the Asiatic Bittersweet Vine (Celastrus orbiculatus). Dog Strangling Vine is similar but much smaller.

The Asiatic Bittersweet was introduced from China in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. It is a deciduous, climbing, woody vine that can grow to a length of 60 feet. Small flowers give way to round, green fruit which ripen and split to reveal showy red berries that persist into winter.

It closely resembles our native Bittersweet but if you see this vine growing invasively, it is probably the non-native Asiatic variety. It can be dispersed widely and quickly as birds eat the berries and spread the seeds. Prolific vine growth allows it to encircle trees and girdle them. It also can completely cover other vegetation and shade, out-compete and kill even large trees. It’s commonly found along fields, road edges and old house sites and is fairly easy to spot, especially at this time of year.

Please feel free to report any observations to to Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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