A fawn swims in Lake Allegan

Fawn Crossing

My new motto: Never get in a kayak without the camcorder.

Last weekend, when Bert and I took one of our kayaks out,  I left all things electronic in the house. That turned out to be a mistake. We did an hour of uneventful pedaling. (That’s not a typo; this two-person kayak is foot-powered.) Hugging the south shore of Lake Allegan, we enjoyed the usual flora and fauna, the latter limited to a few turtles warming themselves in the afternoon sun. Then fauna became fawna, as a young deer hopped out of the woods and into the water. He (or she? I could not tell) was not more than twenty yards in front of our boat.

I thought the fawn might reverse course on seeing us. Instead, he put his skinny legs in gear and swam.

We see deer swim quite often. It’s not unusual to see a dawn or dusk crossing between the shore and the island opposite our home. Deer are surprisingly swift swimmers. And, as the fawn demonstrated, they move extra fast when they’re frightened.

His jump launched him away from the shore. To our surprise, he headed into the open water. Ahead, the lake was calm and uncluttered, but we could hear a boat approaching from around the island. We had seen two boats in the vicinity, one of them pulling kids in a tube. The boats and fawn were headed for the same patch of water, and neither could see the other.

Our bright yellow kayak would be much more visible than the fawn’s head and ears. We peddled hard to get closer. Bert passed me his phone; one great advantage of a pedal-powered boat is your hands are free for photos.

The fawn stayed the course, seemingly aiming for the north shore. He had covered about three-quarters of the distance when the two boats roared around the island. Did they see him? I can’t say for sure. The boats did not slow down, but they took wide turns that left ample water between boat and fawn.

The fawn responded to the approaching sound by reversing course. We opted not to follow, and neither did the two boats. The little fellow swam much farther than had he chosen to complete his original path. My guess is his initial hop into the water was a frolic, not realizing we were near. He probably did not plan to swim as far as he did, nor did he predict the boat traffic, our own vessel included.

The video is a clip from the twenty minutes we followed the fawn. iPhone video quality can’t match my camcorder, but if you look carefully, you’ll see the spots that signal the animal’s youth.

Watch as he hears the approaching boats. There’s also an airplane nearby, but the deer seems to respond only to the boat engines.

Without binoculars on board, I could not follow the fawn all the way back to the south shore. I hope he made it that far. A friend told me today me that deer are easily exhausted; predators run them ragged before making an easy kill. So now I’m wrestling with a question. The fawn might have reversed course sooner had we paddled in the opposite direction. Was our ‘visibility strategy’ misguided?

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