12/16/12 8:28am

CHRISTINE SACKETT COURTESY PHOTO | This Piebald doe, the mother of three fawns, is often seen in Wading River.

What are those ghostly looking deer?
The answer is piebald deer, the name given to a small number of rare animals that appear two-toned in color. Hunters and conservationists say there’s one in just about every hamlet of Southold Town, at least two in Riverhead and at least one on Shelter Island.
“There’s been more showing up in the last few years,” said Jeff Standish, a hunter who serves as deputy director of Southold Town’s department of public works. “There’s at least five between Orient and Laurel. There’s one in Peconic, one in Mattituck, one in Cutchogue, one right here in Southold village and a 12-year-old piebald I know of from Orient who recently passed away.”

Piebald is a 16th-century word that refers to the black and white plumage of the magpie bird; “pie” refers to the bird and “bald” means “white” or “spotted.”

The blotchy deer, which in some cases appear almost pure white, are the result of a recessive gene, said Aphrodite Montalvo, citizen participation specialist with the New York State Department of Conservation.

“A piebald deer is a partial albino, or is only partially missing pigmentation,” she said. “A true albino will have no pigmentation, so it will have pink eyes and nose and be fully white.”

Ms. Montalvo said the animals are rare; though the DEC has not conducted studies on the number of piebald deer, data from other states suggest they constitute less than 1 percent of the population.

That number can be slightly higher in protected areas or areas where natural predators such as the coyote or bobcat have been removed from the landscape, Ms. Montalvo added. They may occur more frequently here than in upstate areas, where predators can pick off the snowy fawns, whose natural response is to lie down and hide in dense cover.

“As you can imagine, it makes it difficult to hide when the animal is stark white,” she said.

“That’s the neatest part about these deer,” said Mr. Standish. “They don’t know they’re white, but they still have that instinct to hide. So you’ll see a buck lying down in a pile of briars, but he’s standing out clear as day.”

Cutchogue hunter Lisa Dabrowski said that although she hasn’t hunted in many years, when she did she let piebald deer be and believes other hunters do the same, even though they are easier targets than most.

In fact, she said she considers the animals good luck and recently fi lmed one she’s seen in the Fort Corchaug area.

“Most hunters have a great respect for nature,” Ms. Dabrowski said. “Just because it’s a white deer doesn’t mean it’s something someone will go make a trophy out of. It’s something we appreciate and protect. Most hunters will look at it from afar and only want to photograph it because it’s special.”

In addition to their unusual color, the bodies of piebald deer are somewhat different, said Ms. Dabrowski.

“They have narrower heads and short legs but are the same length,” she said.

Despite piebalds’ unique look, Ms. Dabrowski and Mr. Standish said, the unusual deer behave like all other white-tailed deer and are not shunned for their appearance.

“Let’s say a doe had two fawns and one was piebald, I never saw the doe not be with that fawn,” Mr. Standish said. “I was watching a piebald buck rut one time and he rutted like any other buck would. He just had longer hair and looked short and stocky. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he was a goat,”

Riverhead hunters are also familiar with the ghostly deer in local forests.

Tom Gabrielsen, brother of Riverhead Town Councilman George Gabrielsen, said he’s seen one while hunting on the former Grumman property in Calverton.

He watched another piebald grow from a fawn to a huge buck in Sears Bellows County Park in Hampton Bays. Though he was a 12-pointer (more points mean a larger rack of antlers), Mr. Gabrielsen said hunters let him be, especially at a park ranger’s request.

Hunters aren’t the only people who enjoy the piebald deer.

One animal in Wading River earned the affectionate handle “Sweetie Pie” from resident Christine Sackett.

Ms. Sackett, who has lived in the hamlet for just over a year, said she sees “Sweetie Pie” and her three fawns just about every dawn and dusk.

Animals that are most active in the morning and at twilight are called crepuscular, as opposed to nocturnal or diurnal. The reason deer are such a hazard to drivers is they’re most active during commuting hours. Ms. Sackett normally sees Sweetie Pie and family at around 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

She and her husband can now come within two feet of the deer without disturbing them, she said, as they have come to know their friendly human neighbors.

“She has one fawn from last year who stays with her and she had twins this past year,” she said. None of the offspring is piebald. “I just started calling her Sweetie Pie because I was thinking she’s very gentle and she’s a piebald, so, Sweetie Pie.”

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12/01/12 9:56am

GABBY GLANTZMAN PHOTO | The three-legged deer near an Orient home, with wood and wire tangled in its antlers.

It was a white-tailed deer, not a reindeer, but there was still holiday spirit aplenty when the North Fork Animal Welfare League got help from a local veterinarian in rescuing a three-legged buck whose antlers were hopelessly tangled in nylon ribbon, wooden posts and tomato cages at an Orient residence. The mess was attached to a nearby fence, trapping him.

“The poor guy, I figured if anyone deserves a second chance, he does,” said Dr. John Andresen, a veterinarian at Matittuck-Laurel Veterinary Hospital who helped to free the deer.

“He could still run around, but his head was tied to this long lead of tangled up fencing,” said NFAWL director Gillian Wood Pultz. She called Dr. Andresen, who has a keen interest in large animals, to come out with a tranquilizer gun so the rescue team to get close enough to remove the unwanted headgear without harming the animal or themselves.

“Once he was tranquilized it only took about 10 or 15 minutes to get him untangled,” Ms. Pultz said. Eventually the buck regained consciousness.

“That was a pretty traumatic experience and he needed to calm down, so we just let him be as he woke up and told the owners of the property to call us if he wasn’t up and moving around in an hour,” she said.

Dr. Andresen said he was only too happy to help save the deer.

“Initially, when I got out of vet school, I wanted to be a zoo vet,” he said. “But that’s not really practical because there aren’t many openings to do that, so it’s always just been an interest of mine.”

Ms. Wood Pultz described the rescue as “a good story because it had a good outcome. More often than not there are bad outcomes and we have to humanely euthanize the deer. Every year, we see deer that haven’t been tracked by hunters running around with arrows in them. Recently we had to humanely euthanize a fawn that was attacked by a dog and suffered a broken spine.”

Ms. Wood Pultz said traumatic injuries in deer are fairly common, but three-legged deer are less so and she knows of only one other, which has been living in Southold Town for years.

As for the Orient deer’s missing foreleg, she said the amputation appeared to be an old injury.

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02/13/12 2:00pm

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Oreanna and Patrick Kaelin wrap fresh venison in their new Cutchogue butcher shop Monday morning.

Southold Town is learning something Shelter Island figured out a while ago.

When Southold made culling its deer herd a priority several years ago, one of the biggest problems the town ran across was that there was no one here who could butcher the meat.

Patrick Kaelin, who lives in Cutchogue, heard about the problem from Town Councilman Chris Talbot, who serves with him in the Cutchogue Fire Department. Southold was collecting deer shot during the hunting season in a refrigerated trailer behind the Peconic Lane Recreation Center, but a town employee was driving them to a butcher in Oakdale to be processed and donated to food banks throughout Long Island. Mr. Kaelin knew he could play a part in keeping the venison here.

Shelter Island has had an on-site butcher for deer harvested during its winter hunt on town lands for years and has been giving away the meat from a refrigerated trailer at the Recycling Center.

Southold’s Mr. Kaelin repairs small engines for a living, but he and his wife Oreanna are avid hunters who have processed their own venison for years in a small trailer behind their home on Route 48. He began researching the DEC and health department requirements for deer processing, got in touch with the Venison Donation Coalition, and began upgrading his equipment to allow him to process meat for the public.

Last fall, he began working with Southold Town to provide venison to residents for a small charge. He’s not allowed to charge for the meat itself, but he does charge between $2 and $3 a pound for the service of processing the meat. Though food pantries usually want the venison ground for chop meat, he takes requests for steaks, roasts and stew meat from individual residents.

Residents who would like some venison can contact Nancy Foote at the Southold Town Department of Public Works, who will pass their phone number on to Mr. Kaelin, who will let them know when a deer comes into his shop. Right now, the bowhunting and shotgun seasons are over, but Southold’s new nuisance permit program is just taking off, and a cadre of USDA sharpshooters have been hired by property owners in Nassau Point to cull the herd there later this month, so he’s anticipating he’ll have venison available for at least another month.

But when springtime comes, he said, even hunters who are allowed to hunt year-round on lands where they have nuisance permits tend to take a break from hunting.

By then, fawns are being born, he said, and most hunters try to avoid disturbing deer while they’re raising their young.

“They have babies in May. I personally don’t hunt then. I just get sentimental. You can’t kill a mom with her babies,” he said. “There’s a moral aspect to most hunters. The majority of hunters are conscious of that.”

Read more about Mr. Kaelin’s venison operation in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times.

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