Pat’s Wildways: The Deer Whisperer at Fort Clinch

By Pat Foster-Turley
September 16, 2022

Bucko and I often see deer when we make our daily drives through Fort Clinch State Park. Nearly every day we see deer at a few preferred crossings of the main road through Fort Clinch and various side roads too. Often these days it is a doe, or a few does, and most often there are fawns following along too. Occasionally, in a burst of excitement, we see a doe race across the road with a buck hot on her tail. But most often the deer casually cross the road, seemingly unperturbed by the close proximity of cars, which need to patiently await their crossings. Over the years the deer in the park have gotten used to the peaceful surroundings of their territories, with no hunting seasons to bother them.

“Mother” is the long-time matriarch of a group of deer at Fort Clinch State Park, identified by the notch on her ear. (Photo by Amy Beach)
Mother’s daughter Olive had twin fawns, Sonny and Cher, but only Cher survived. (Photo by Amy Beach)

Although Bucko and I routinely see deer in the park, we cannot identify individuals and can only guess at their relationships between one another. And that’s where Amy Beach comes in. Amy has been watching the deer in one area of the park almost daily for eight years or more and if there is such a thing as a “deer whisperer,” that is Amy. With the skill and patience of a true wildlife observer, Amy has identified and observed four generations of deer that she has seen from shortly after birth to adulthood — for those that survive anyway. She recognizes the individual deer by their markings, like white around their eyes, slits or dots on the ears, and other distinctive marks that she can follow through the years. And these deer recognize her by sight and smell, and allow her to get close to them. As Amy says, “We have a friendship for sure!”

The deer Amy knows stem from the matriarch she has named “Mother.” Mother has had a single fawn and sometimes twins each year, and Amy has been able to follow these youngsters through their own adulthood — and has seen their own offspring develop, and their offspring’s offspring, and now, Mother even has a great-granddaughter born this season around the same time as her own newest fawn.

Cher and her new fawn – Mother’s great grandbaby (not yet named) – are regulars in the Fort Clinch fort parking lot. (Photo by Pat Foster-Turley)

Fort Clinch State Park is a natural area with predators like coyotes and an occasional bobcat, and these animals keep the deer population to a manageable level for the territory involved. Sadly, this means that a number of the fawns that Amy has seen at birth do not survive their first year. Those females that do survive tend to co-habit Mother’s territory, and her daughters and granddaughters are often seen foraging alongside her. One daughter in particular, that Amy has named Olive, seems especially close to Mother, and even raised her own fawns in Mother’s company with her own new fawns. In 2020 they both had twins, but only one of each of these pairs survived. When Mother passes — she is getting old now for a deer — Amy predicts that Olive will be the new matriarch and the lineage will continue.

Although the majority of fawns that have grown up are females, Amy also has a few males that she keeps track of too. Her favorite buck is named Buko. It turns out Amy actually named him for Bucko who she would often see working at the Fort Clinch ranger station early in the morning. She said, “I named him after your Bucko cause he is the first friendly face I met at the Fort that day I found an injured sea gull on the beach” so many years ago. Who knew? This is the first we ever heard of it!

“Buko” is a handsome stag that Amy named for Bucko years ago. (Photo by Amy Beach)

Of course in Amy’s daily early morning visits to Fort Clinch she has observed many other species as well. She is especially fond of tortoises and barred owls that inhabit the areas she frequents but she regularly sees many other birds and other wildlife as well. Surprisingly she has not encountered snakes — but Bucko and I see them often enough on the roads through the park. I imagine that when she visits the park she is not watching the ground like we do — she is scanning for deer. When not hanging out at Fort Clinch, Amy devotes time riding her bike and collecting clutter from the beach for the non-profit group she founded “Beach Junki.”

Over the years Amy has been taking videos of the wildlife at Fort Clinch State Park and posting them on her YouTube site BEACH JUNKI and in the Facebook Group Fort Life. One of her videos of an alligator on the beach was even picked up by National Geographic and appears in their show “The Croc that Ate Jaws.”

Amy is a fine example of a “citizen scientist.” Not all that we know about animals and wildlife comes from college textbooks. It takes people like Amy, with dedication and undying interest to teach us more.

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]

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Margo Story
Margo Story (@guest_66039)
1 year ago

And Sandra Baker Hinton…..the squirrel whisperer.

Lucy Peistrup
Lucy Peistrup(@lucyp74)
1 year ago

Always enjoy reading Ms. Pat’s articles. ABSOLUTELY THRILLED to find them here now as I haven’t seen one in awhile since I cancelled my subscription to the Newsleader. I follow Ms. Amy Beach (AKA Beach Junki) on Facebook and also thoroughly enjoy her wildlife filled posts every day. These ladies are wonderful ambassadors for our community. Please do MORE articles like this!! 🙂

Sherry Harrell
Sherry Harrell(@sherry-harrell)
1 year ago

This was such a nice article!! I love Pat’s writing style and I agree that Amy is a great example of a citizen scientist, thanks Amy!!

Lucy Peistrup
Lucy Peistrup(@lucyp74)
1 year ago

So very grateful to have “found” Ms. Pat’s articles again! I stopped reading the printed paper and lost track of her but am thrilled to have come across this gem! I also follow “Beach Junki” (AKA Ms. Amy Beach) on Facebook and am always amazed at the wonderful pictures she has to share of her adventures at the Fort or the beach. Both ladies bring a refreshing example of what stellar kindness, compassion and expertise there is in our community. Thank you for highlighting their talents!