Milwaukie's 'deer whisperer' captures nature in the suburbs
Oak Grove resident Chester Kleinhans first saw the white-tailed deer on June 23 last year. It was just the mom, as the fawns must have been stashed somewhere safe, just two days before the record heat wave hit Oregon, topping out at 116 degrees.
Eleven days later, Kleinhans had his first encounter with the whole deer family.
"Nature has its way of surviving extreme situations," he said.
From then on, nature photography went from a hobby to a habit for the 1981 graduate of Rex Putnam High School. Through Sept. 7, Kleinhans visited that deer mom and her two fawns repeatedly along the Portland & Western Railroad tracks, just before the Milwaukie-Lake Oswego railroad bridge over the Willamette River.
Kleinhans has liked outdoor photography since 2012, when he bought his first digital single-lens-reflex camera, but the deer have changed him forever. He compiled his portfolio of the best 371 images over 13 different days in the neighborhood of the Southeast Laurie Avenue overpass, earning him the "deer whisperer" nickname.
"I didn't miss out on the osprey, or the bald eagles, or red-tailed hawk. But, looking back, the deer got most of my photographic attention," he said.
Kleinhans is at a loss to explain where the deer might have come from to wind up in the suburbs, or where they might be now. He wonders if they have made it down to the river along the shore and to Milwaukie's Elk Rock Island.
Kleinhans grew up in the Elk Rock Island Station neighborhood, walking from home to school along those railroad tracks when they were Southern Pacific property. As a kid, he delivered a newspaper called the Milwaukie Review, which is the predecessor to the Clackamas Review.
On the fateful day that he first saw the doe, he had intended to get photos of the osprey couple nesting on top of one of the arches of the railroad bridge. To catch the osprey getting food for the day, the best time would have been 6:30-7:30 a.m., but he was late by 30 minutes.
"As I walked up to the railroad tracks at the Laurie Avenue overpass, mom deer leapt out from the brush and over the tracks. Being late for the osprey was a blessing," he said.
Kleinhans returned two weeks later, early enough for the osprey. Instead of going out to the trestle and the bridge, he looked down the tracks the other direction.
"There was mom and her two fawns," he said. "Thoughts of bird photography vanished. Like a seasoned gambler, I played this new hand that I was dealt. And I returned to the gaming table throughout that past summer."
Kleinhans has not seen the deer family since September, but he's on the lookout almost every day, in the meantime snapping photos of birds and other wildlife in the area.
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