Reston's Piebald Deer: Spring 2017- September 26, 2018

September 28, 2018  •  7 Comments

There are always surprises when I'm out photographing wildlife, but rarely do I encounter anything like I did on July 30th, 2017. I was walking the bank of the stream running below and to the west of Terraset Elementary and South Lakes High Schools. I spotted something white in the heavy foliage. At first I thought it was a goat because it was almost completely white save a little brown around it's face and ears. As I got closer, I also found a fawn and it's mother with the white animal. Finally, I realized it was almost certainly the sibling of the normal fawn. My experience with wildlife told me to simply stand quietly and observe and take a few photos as the opportunity presented itself. Eventually the three deer simply went about their business without paying much attention to me. I followed them around snapping many photos while the three of them occasionally looked up to be certain I wasn't getting too close. The mother seemed particularly at ease. Maybe she recognized me from previous encounters. I followed the three around for at least an hour. They eventually circled south of Terraset, wandered up behind the South Lakes high school ball fields and crossed Ridge Heights Road. I could tell the piebald had some deformities, especially when he crossed Ridge Heights Road. One of his rear legs was a bit clubbed and his back had a very distinct curvature. His gait was also different than his sibling's and he was significantly smaller. Just west of Ridge Heights pool, the piebald finally got tired and laid down in the woods. I took several more photos of the three of them and finally headed home with about 300 photos total.

Searching the web, I found a lot of information on piebald deer. They are caused by a recessive gene in both parents and indeed are pretty unusual - estimates of only one to two percent of the white-tailed deer population. Unlike albinos which are completely white with pink eyes, pink nose, and pink tints around their hooves, the piebald deer have brown eyes, brown or black nose and black hooves, with varying amounts of brown and white fur. Most piebalds have more brown markings than the one I had photographed. Over the next few weeks, I was able to find the piebald about half of the time when out photographing wildlife. He was always within a pretty limited range in south Reston. Over the course of fifteen months, I never saw him west of the fifth fairway on Reston's south golf course, south of the Snakeden Branch (running into Lake Audubon), east of Ridge Heights pool or north of Purple Beach Drive. The map below depicts his range which has a perimeter of about two miles and an area less than two tenths of a square mile.

 

Piebald's range-2Piebald's range-2


Over the course of 15 months, I took thousands of photos of him.  I retained and edited only the better ones and have posted about 200 on my photo web site - https://aehass.zenfolio.com/p228859108.  He was always smaller than his sibling and never grew to normal size.  In the winter his white coat got very thick, but in the spring it thinned out about the same time he sprouted antlers.  His mother has a very distinctive notch in her right ear and is so used to seeing me, I can walk up and nearly touch her.  She is the most tame wild animal I've ever seen.  She had two more fawns this past June - the piebald's little sisters and/or brothers.

As the spring of 2018 drew on, I started seeing the piebald alone more and more.  His mom would sometimes be in the general area, but often nowhere nearby.  He was clearly striking out on his own.  He would wander with other deer, but seemed to have a hard time keeping with the herd.  He liked to stop, lay down and rest more often than other deer.  He was usually bringing up the rear.  Once, two leash-less large dogs spotted a group of deer including the piebald and took off in chase.  The piebald bolted with the others, jumped the Snakeden Branch and headed back in the direction of South Lakes Drive and Terraset.  I knew he had deformities and was slower than other deer.  I worried he would injure himself.  Somehow he escaped.  During the summer of 2018, I continued to find him two or three times a week.  He always seemed pleased to see me and didn't mind my following him to take photos.  Every time I went out with my camera, I looked for him - I was clearly obsessed.

On September 16, 2018, a posting on Nextdoor noted that the piebald was injured and using only three legs.  Due to heavy rain the next day I couldn't get out to look for him.  On September 18th I found him just south of Purple Beach Drive in the woods.  His right rear leg had a compound fracture at the knee.  It looked bad and I didn't see how he could survive.  Later in the day, I called Fairfax County Animal Protection Police and reported his location and condition.  They responded immediately, but couldn't locate him and gave up.  I found him again on September 20th near Ridge Heights pool resting quietly.  Since he didn't seem distressed, I didn't report him again.  Following discussions on Nextdoor with the many Reston residents that knew him, I decide to let nature take its course.  Maybe he could overcome his injury.  In the meantime, I read many reports of deer surviving broken legs.  His injury was a pretty clean fracture - no obvious bruises or cuts around the break.  To me, it didn't appear to be the result of being hit by a car.  I'm guessing it was broken while traversing the sometimes steep and rocky terrain in Reston - maybe bolting when startled.

I didn't get out again until a short break in the rainy weather on September 24th.  I found him in a Glencourse cluster backyard standing on three legs in the light mist.  He didn't look good, was muddy, but was upright.  I took a few photos and left since he was still able to move around.  The next day, I found him covered with mud laying next to the woods in the small open area just south of Glencourse Cluster.  The ground was totally saturated and very muddy due to four straight days of rain.  But he was awake, moving his head and nursing his injury.  Again, I snapped a couple of photos and left.  I thought that maybe if the rain stopped, he might still find a way to survive.

On Wednesday, September 26th, I went out in the morning and found him in the same spot as the day before still covered with mud.  He was breathing and an ear would wiggle a little, but when I talked to him repeatedly, he never opened his eyes.  I could tell the end was near.  When I returned home three hours later, I called Animal Protection and reported the situation.  They responded immediately and found the piebald lifeless.  He apparently passed on just before they arrived.

Many residents of South Reston enjoyed seeing this little fellow for over 15 months while he roamed his small heavily wooded range.  In addition to being an unusual occurrence in nature he was truly an adopted resident.  We will all miss him dearly.  Rest in peace piebald.

Below are a few of my favorite photos of our wonderful piebald.

Siblings

Piebald and sibling - July 2017

Piebald fawn - near Terraset school

Piebald in the ferns - July 2017

Crossing Ridge Heights Road

Crossing Ridge Heights Road - July 2017

The family behind Ridge Heights pool

Following sibling and mom - July 2017

Piebald and sibling resting in the woods

With sibling - August 2017

Nursing

Nursing with mom - September 2017

Affection from mom

Affection from mom - September 2017

Piebald gets a nibble from mom

A nibble from mom - January 2018

Piebald resting in the briars

Budding antlers - May 2018

The piebald has changed color a little

Color changes - July 2018

Piebald following a good stretch

Stretching - September 2018

Piebald's antlers have doubled in length during the last month

Sporting his antlers - September 2018

Piebald and little brother/sister

With baby brother/sister - September 2018

The piebald again - munching

Last photo before injury - September 11, 2018

Piebald nursing his injury

Nursing his injury - September 18, 2018

Piebald from the front

Resting near Ridge Heights pool - September 20, 2018

 


Comments

Jill Norvell(non-registered)
Thank you for your eloquent observations, brilliant photos and loving eulogy to this whimsical sprite that enchanted our lives for a brief moment.
We all need a moment of innocent purity, and yes, sorrow, to remind us of what is important. Thank you, piebald, for being with us while you could. Hope you knew you were loved.
Michelle Moyer(non-registered)
Thank you so much for this lovely tribute and wonderful photos. What a remarkable shared community this little deer helped to foster.
Barbara(non-registered)
Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful pictures with those of us in the community.
It was obviously a labor of love.
I will miss your daily updates about the fawn.

RIP sweet fawn!
Bill Schreiner(non-registered)
Your photos and the story of this wonderful creature have touched over the time that you have been documenting his life. Thank you for taking the time to post this last tribute. That first image goes straight to my heart every time I see it. I knew nothing about piebald deers until you taught us through your words and pictures. Just two weeks ago, I ran across one in the woods of the Outer Banks. Because of you, I knew what I was looking at and got some pictures of it.
Melissa Frye(non-registered)
It was a privilege to watch this lovely animal thru your photos and to learn about piebald deer. I am a little heartbroken that it is gone, but glad to have made its acquaintance if just for awhile.
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