Our tiny cottage lies about 2 miles, as the crow flies, from downtown Walnut Creek, California. Walnut Creek is a large and populous city, encompassing nearly 20 square miles, and boasting a population of over 70,000 souls. Our city parks total 250 acres, and our open spaces total nearly 3,000 acres. That's what makes our city interesting; downtown you have every amenity you can think of, complete with high-end shopping such as Tiffany's and I. Magnin, but surrounding the city on several sides are vast quantities of open space. Our house happens to be in a neighborhood that lies about a half-mile from the closest trailhead, and that open space connects to others, leading all the way to Mt. Diablo State Park.
What this means is that, like many cities in California, crowded human habitation abuts wildlife habitat. Therefore, we get both city wildlife like raccoons and rats, and wildlife from the hills such as coyotes and foxes. And deer. Lots and lots of deer.
Until this morning, I hadn't even really known what kind of deer we have here; they are so ubiquitous that they barely register on our wildlife radar. Of course we have had our share of deer browsing our garden, and years ago made an extension to our fence which has deterred them, for the most part, from treating our yard as an all-night buffet. We do get an occasional jumper who manages to hurl herself over seven feet of fence. October is a lean month in the hills, and if a deer is desperate enough, it'll go to any lengths to get a good meal down here in the flats.
Turns out that we have many types of common deer in Northern California, but those in our neighborhood are likely California mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus californicus), or some variation thereof. October is rutting season; the males vie for the attention of the females, sometimes fighting to the death for the privilege to mate. Which is what we witnessed last night.
Our bedroom is on the corner of our house, which is also the corner of our street, and our two large windows face out into our south garden, the curve of Margaret drive, and then into our neighbor's front yards, two of which connect into a broad, grassy space. At about 2 in the morning, Tom and I woke to the sound of very loud crunching. We thought men were walking about in our garden, crunching the wood chips underfoot. We leapt out of bed and flew to the windows, hearts in throats. We quickly ascertained that the noise was coming from the large grassy space across the street, but it was difficult to make out what it was. For a minute we thought a coyote was hunting a deer, chasing it all over the yard. But then we realized it was two huge bucks, fighting.
They went back and forth over the two yards, causing quite a ruckus. We could hear the neighbor's dog going absolutely batshit inside his house; we were surprised no one else was up and watching this unbelievable, fierce fight. It was a clear night with many stars, but not much moon, so it seemed barely more than two shadows battling each other from yard to yard. The crunching sound was their antlers banging together and locking, and the deer grunted and whined the whole time. It was spectacular.
Finally one of the neighbors banged on their windows, and the deer ran off up the street, huffing and grunting. We got back into bed. Fifteen minutes later we heard it again, and then, the unmistakable sound of a deer in our yard. We looked out the window again and there was one of the huge bucks right there. He had crashed through some of the wires on the fence extension in his frenzy. I put on my shoes and grabbed a flashlight, intending to go out and open gates to let him out - I was worried he might calm down and start eating things! But as I went outside, he crashed through the back fence by the chicken coop, tearing out the wires in the fence and breaking several branches of a Caryopteris I have growing on the driveway side. The body that made this damage was enormous.
It's such a wonderful thing to live in a spot that gets such awesome displays of nature. We've always enjoyed hearing the great horned owls at night, the red-tailed hawks during the day, the snuffling of an opossum near the train shed, the shuffle of a skunk drinking out of our fountain. Other visitations can be pulse-raising, such as the coyote who, for a period of few months, visited our chicken coop every few mornings just to see if he could get in. This spectacular sight of two bucks fighting will be at the top of the list for sure. I'm not sure I'd appreciate brown bears showing up in our back yard (shout-out to my friends in Idaho), but I'm glad we live in an urban area that still has plenty of nature.