Florida Keys: Sunshine, Margaritas, and … Deer?

Ever since we moved to Florida, I have been enchanted with the Florida Key Deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium).  Found only in the Keys, they are a subspecies of the Virginia white-tailed deer, are the smallest of all North American deer, and are classified as endangered. 

Florida Key Deer

I saw one years ago on a drive down to Key West but it was just a quick spy along the side of US1 as we zipped by.  I’ve always wanted to go back to photograph them but living in Okeechobee, that required at least one overnight somewhere closer than our four-five hour drive away.  We finally planned a short trip in June, an optimal time to see both adults and fawns.

June is a great time to spy Key Deer

Pet-friendly hotels in the Keys are expensive so it made sense to find someplace closer to Miami.  We are also in the process of planning a trip out west for sometime next fall. With their affordable room rates and no pet fee, this was the perfect opportunity to check out a LaQuinta Inn.  We booked two nights at the property in Cutler Bay.

LaQuinta Inn & Suites, Cutler Bay

The suite was spacious and clean, with a fridge and microwave.  

long desk along one wall, plus fridge and microwave

The king-size bed was comfortable enough.  The hotel is nothing fancy but we will definitely include them as an economical stop on long-distance road trips.

nothing fancy but the room was clean and comfortable with NO pet fee!

Two-thirds of the key deer population is concentrated on Big Pine Key and a few surrounding islands.  This geographical isolation in such a small area is one of the reasons why they are endangered.  Since Cutler Bay is a minimum two-hour drive north of Big Pine, we were in bed early so we could be on the road by 5am the next day. We wanted a few hours of good light before the sun got too high and bright for photos.

we wanted at least a few hours of good light!

Unfortunately, our fellow guests were up into the wee hours and it was difficult to keep Oscar quiet.  None of us got much sleep that night!

none of us got much sleep that night

We were wide awake and ready to go by 4:45 and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise as we drove south.

a beautiful sunrise behind us as we drove south to Big Pine Key

There was virtually no traffic,

no traffic on the 7-Mile Bridge

And we reached Big Pine Key a little before 7am. 

We’re here!

There are a few areas around Big Pine and No Name Key where deer are pretty much guaranteed, but in reality it’s possible to see them grazing along the side of the road just about anywhere.

Big Pine and No Name Key map with wildlife viewing areas noted

We headed over the bridge to No Name Key and spied quite a few deer along our way.

pregnant mama grazing in a front yard
it’s possible to spy them anywhere!

The first thing you notice about these deer is their size … they are small.  Very small.  They are miniature versions of their northern cousins and it’s difficult to grasp their size from photos. 

these deer are miniature versions of their northern cousins

Adult males stand just over two feet at the shoulder and weigh around 70 lbs. The females are slightly smaller, and the fawns weigh only 2-4 lbs. at birth. 

the does are slightly smaller than the males

When this male approached our car, his head was level with my open window.

his head was level with my open window

Despite all the signage warning against feeding them, it is clear that people still do. 

warning signs everywhere “Feeding deer kills deer”

The deer were for the most part very tame and not at all shy about approaching our car.

for the most part the deer are not at all shy

After leaving No Name Key, we checked out a few other spots – an abandoned limestone quarry called the Blue Hole – where we did not spy any deer but did see a very friendly alligator,

nothing but a friendly alligator at Blue Hole

And the neighborhoods at the north end of Big Pine Key where we were captivated by a sweet little fawn.

neighborhood at north end of Big Pine Key
such an adorable little boy!

By now it was getting close to 10am and the light was starting to go.  We had more than enough photos, including everything on my wish-list: a buck with antlers and a fawn. 

got everything on my wish list!

We drove back to No Name Key for one more pass.  We’re glad we did as we came upon a small herd of six deer frolicking in the morning sunshine!

frolicking on No Name Key
No Name Key

Mission accomplished, we decided to drive home to Okeechobee as soon as we returned to the hotel and packed up.  There was no point in hanging around the LaQuinta for another night when we could be sleeping in our own bed!

home to Okeechobee via US27

Between our drive south to Big Pine Key, the time we spent photographing the deer, and the drive back north to Okeechobee, we spent over 12 hours in the car that day.  Oscar and Maddie did great, even when deer walked right up to our open windows.   We are more confident than ever that we – and the pups – are ready for a multi-day cross-country road trip!

TG getting the shot!