A Butterfly In Winter

Old man winter blew through the south amazingly early this year. In fact, we had to batten down the hatches a couple of weeks ago in order to battle the blustery winds and frigid below-freezing temperatures that arrived nearly two months earlier than normal. Back in September and October, FD and I were actually predicting an early arrival of winter’s harsh conditions based on observation of Nature preparing the woodland critters well in advance. Daisy deer’s glossy, thin coat of summer hair, gave way to a thick, coarse pelt in darker winter hues of browns, with a fringe of black on her ears and tail. Her face became fuzzy, and her underbelly grew to a thick padding of white hair. Her girth increased and she seemed robustly prepared for the onslaught of cold temperatures and frozen moisture falling from the skies. Even Punkin and Mr. Gambini, the two orphaned squirrels we are raising, had already developed thick coats of hair and extra fuzzy ears and tails.

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Weather normally seen in January in the southern states, arrived rather early in November this year. These are views of the woodlands just below the slope at our back porch.

Weather normally seen in January in the southern states, arrived rather early in November this year. These are views of the woodlands just below the slope at our back porch.

I suppose I was not terribly surprised when Heidi deer disappeared during the recent cold snap. I was terribly sad when Spirit’s late season fawn, Willow, disappeared earlier, and even more disheartened when Daisy’s six-month-old fawn, Dancer (Heidi’s twin sister), vanished recently. I thought Heidi, being the lone survivor of this year’s offspring, might escape whatever was taking our woodland fawns one by one. But after waiting out more than a week of her absence in the bitter cold November weather, I have given up hope. Lately, I have watched Daisy and Spirit mutual groom one another time and again, as if consoling each other over the loss of their babies. But losing Heidi was the last straw for me, and I could not seem to grieve openly. I think it was more about acceptance of yet another loss in my life – and yet another season of joy and contentment gone terribly wrong.

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Daisy (orange collar) and her yearling fawn, Spirit, watching for bucks to return who have been chasing them all day. They take a moment to mutual groom each other - a beautiful bonding ritual that I am often able to witness.

Daisy (orange collar) and her yearling fawn, Spirit, watching for bucks to return who have been chasing them all day. They take a moment to mutual groom each other – a beautiful bonding ritual that I am often able to witness.

Now, the only fawn in the woodlands that remains of all of those birthed over the spring and summer is a little button buck. He and his mother have frequented the feeders and water tub over the summer months. Now, he often waits down below the slope for his mother to return from the chase of the rut.  In fact, he has been hanging around so much, I have actually managed to make friends with this little fella over the last few days. He does not let me get as near to him as Heidi and Dancer would, but he watches curiously from a distance. I noticed a scar near the button antler on the right side of his head, and a gash torn on the same side near his shoulder. Also, his right ear has a small notch in it. The more I observe the deer in our area of the woodlands, the more I realize that they incur all sorts of injuries and ailments during their lives. Thinking about this, I was thankful to see this little fella patiently waiting on his mother in the safety of our feeding area, and was glad he felt comfortable here on the fringes of our woodlands.

The button buck fawn grazes alone near the feeding area.

The button buck fawn grazes alone near the feeding area.

A five-point buck dominates the corn feeder while the button buck waits nearby.

A five-point buck dominates the corn feeder while the button buck waits nearby.

The button buck hopes to catch sight of its mother.

The button buck hopes to catch sight of its mother.

The button buck leaves to head to the pecan orchard in search of its mother.

The button buck leaves to head to the pecan orchard in search of its mother.

The five-point buck heads on to the pecan orchard as well.

The five-point buck heads on to the pecan orchard as well.

The wind and snow made for blustery winter conditions that day. Like humans, animals hunker down against the elements, protecting eyes and face from the sting of snow and wind.

The wind and snow made for blustery winter conditions that day. Like humans, animals hunker down against the elements, protecting eyes and face from the sting of snow and wind.

Today, I was in the kitchen doing some cooking to help knock off the chill in the house, when I saw something yellow, tumbling about in the wind – floating up, hurtling down, then back up again in a crazy somersault pattern. At first I assumed it was a leaf, even though most of the leaves were now brown or a weathered red. Our brilliant colors of oranges, reds, and yellows had disappeared after the first days of below-freezing temperatures. But it did not seem normal for a leaf to travel in the wind in such a manner.  As I followed the yellow object with my eyes, it became apparent that it was a butterfly! I wondered how on earth had it managed to survive the extreme cold for nearly two weeks?

As it passed on by the kitchen window, I raced to the back door to continue following the butterfly’s journey across our yard and down the slope to the bottom. I tried to photograph it but, flying such a crazy pattern, it was impossible to capture. Finally, it disappeared into the woods. Still, I was elated at having witnessed this miracle of sorts.

What a delightful beauty the button buck is. This photo was taken the day after the snowfall.

What a delightful beauty the button buck is. This photo was taken the day after the snowfall.

Daisy has never forgotten her parents. FD spends a quiet moment with his special girl.

Daisy has never forgotten her parents. FD spends a quiet moment with his special girl.

Spirit returns to reunite with her mother, Daisy, after being chased all day by the nine-point buck!

Spirit returns to reunite with her mother, Daisy, after being chased all day by the nine-point buck! Already the snow has melted! Snow does not stick around long in the South.

Punkin and Mr. Gambini nibble on sunflower seeds and pecans watching the sun set through the trees.

Mr. Gambini  and Punkin nibble on sunflower seeds and pecans, while watching the sun set through the trees.

After the butterfly disappeared, I went back in the house and, as I turned to finish washing dishes at the kitchen sink, I caught the gaze of my smiling Eeyore staring back at me from the window sill. I had long ago found a discarded Eeyore patch in the parking lot of the local Walmart. The morning I discovered him there, I had been in a dark funk (Discovering the Eeyore in Me…), and that little Eeyore patch reminded me just how pathetic I had become! So I picked up the patch and have kept it on my window sill to remind me of the old Eeyore attitude that used to make up so much of my personality. Still today, or anytime I am in a doom-and-gloom mood, or just being negative, that little patch makes me smile. After all, if old “woe is me” Eeyore can smile, then so can I!

Taking in Eeyore’s kind reminder, I began to reflect in a more positive tone. What about this butterfly in flight who shouldn’t have survived two weeks of freezing, and below-freezing temperatures? And was it not something special to see that one, lone button buck surviving wounds and loneliness, awaiting his mother in our area of the woods? To see Daisy and Spirit deer every few days, with a buck or two making chase – and being able to enjoy watching the rut activity just outside our back door – who else had such entertainment? And the orphaned squirrels, Punkin and Mr. Gambini, eating morning vittles and then scurrying off to the woods for the day, representing another successful rehabilitation effort! Thinking of all these blessings, I found myself redirecting my thoughts of loss and sadness, to all of the bliss and happiness to be found right here, at this very moment. If we try, we really do not have to look far to find life’s little miracles.

This Thanksgiving, FD and I are invited to spend the day with special friends. For us, it is not the traditional way we grew up celebrating the holiday – always driving many miles to be with family. But, for the past few years now, our Thanksgiving celebrations have been about enjoying the day with people we love right here where we are. And maybe this Thanksgiving Day, I will just have to wear the little Eeyore patch pinned to my jacket. It surely will make for some great storytelling about recent happenings and how I have learned to look beyond these troubling times, to find miracles in every day, every moment, and to be thankful for the beauty that surrounds me.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!

The smiling Eeyore patch sits on the windowsill at the kitchen sink as a reminder to keep a cup half full attitude!

The smiling Eeyore patch sits on the windowsill at the kitchen sink as a reminder to keep a cup-half-full attitude!

© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

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Lost In The Chaos of the Rut

In early October, I began to see signs of the rut beginning in our part of the woodlands. Where the usual deer sighting had been limited to does and fawns (mostly Daisy and her little herd), it became quite common to observe a few very young bucks roaming the area just below the slope. Often, a low grunting noise accompanied the sighting of a buck with his nose to the ground, in search of a doe. I saw Daisy or Spirit being chased many times, attempting to get away from the unwanted attention of these love-struck, one- and two-year-old bucks. Whitetail does are not interested in a buck until they are in estrus, and only then do they decide they are ready to mate – but that does not stop the boys from trying!

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Dancer is just a week old, hidden in the iris beds.

Dancer is just a week old, hidden in the iris beds.

At times, it appeared that Daisy and Spirit almost seemed to enjoy the chase. One morning in particular, I witnessed Daisy going round and around the same hill in the woods, each time pausing near the feeders to wait for the buck to catch up. Just as he would catch up and start prancing towards her, making that low grunt of interest, she would take off running again. Another time, I spotted Spirit coming around our house on a dead run, then come around again and leap over the fence into our neighbor’s back yard just a minute later. Soon after, a young, one-antlered buck came trotting around the house, nose to the ground, intently searching for that good-looking gal who could run and jump like nobody’s business! Of course, both Daisy and Spirit knew their home territory well and, with that advantage, would be able to cleverly elude the young bucks - for now. But I knew it would not be long before both of them would come into estrus and would actively seek out a buck they were interested in.

Another aspect of the rut that I have been able to witness and document for the last two years, is the affect its chaos has on fawns. Last year when Daisy had only Spirit tagging along, Spirit was mostly able to keep up when Daisy was being chased. But on occasion, we would see Spirit bedded down or at the feeding station by herself, awaiting Daisy’s return. When Daisy did come in estrus, she disappeared for four days while she sought out a buck. During this time, Spirit managed just fine on her own, appearing comfortable with hanging out close to home and “the people” who seemed to know her mother so well. Sadly, that is not always the case for most fawns. Many fawns get separated from their mothers while trying to keep up with them as they run from the pursuit of a rutting buck. Unfortunately, they sometimes get hit by a vehicle while blindly following their mother across roads. Because of all the chasing going on, vehicular tragedies are fairly common during the rut.

Dancer was never far from her Mama Daisy.

Dancer is never far from her Mama Daisy.

Dancer and Heidi were inseparable all summer.

Dancer and Heidi were inseparable all summer.

Daisy and Dancer sharing a nibble of corn.

Daisy and Dancer sharing a nibble of corn.

Maybe because of the number of female deer involved (fawns included), this year’s mating season seemed to bring more chaos into Daisy’s herd. So far, I have witnessed four different bucks pursuing Daisy and Spirit. Often, this activity happens in the dark of night, so I can be sure there were many more chases than the four I observed. Early in October, after finally eluding a young buck, I twice found Daisy searching for one fawn or both. Hours later, after seeing she had finally located both Heidi and Dancer, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was also helpful to know that the fawns were now nearly six months old and able to survive on their own if need be. After watching Daisy continually seek out her fawns after the chase was over, I wondered if this could have been what happened to Spirit’s late-season fawn, Willow. After all, it was early October when she was last seen. Only two months old at the time, and considering the likely chaos and speed of the chase, it would have been difficult for her to keep up with her mother, and she certainly could not have survived on her own if she had become separated from Spirit.

Dancer acquired quite an injury to her head late in July.

Dancer acquired quite an injury to her head late in July.

Nonetheless, the rut was obviously progressing quickly and it would be possible that, before it concluded, both Heidi and Dancer would be the subject of interest of some young buck, totally enamored with their beauty. We had just recently decided that Dancer was a doe, rather than a buck, as we originally thought. On many occasions over the summer months, we observed another doe and her buck fawn feeding on deer chow down below the slope, and just recently discovered that her little buck had developed “button” antlers. Considering that Heidi and Dancer were about a week or two older, and that Dancer had no buttons, we now knew that Daisy had produced two doe fawns this year.

From the beginning, Dancer and Heidi were two very different personalities. Heidi always showed great confidence and was very leery of FD and me. She was also more robust than her sister and very aggressive during nursing time. She could always be seen stomping her little legs in earnest while sucking from Daisy’s udder. Ears back, Daisy simply endured the aggressive activity! Dancer, on the other hand, was a mama’s girl – always right beside Daisy. She seemed to sense that her mother was calm around us, and so she would be too. She accepted us as part of her mother’s herd, and did not fear us. When it came to her family members, Dancer seemed to be a worry wart. If Heidi ventured out of sight, Dancer cried after her. Or if everyone else arrived at the feeder ahead of Dancer, it was not uncommon to hear her bawling from back in the woods as if to say, “Hey! Wait for me!!”

Dancer was easy to identify with the little black strap under her chin!

Dancer is easy to identify with the little black strap under her chin!

And so, considering the progression of the rut, I was not really very concerned when Heidi and Dancer came up missing one recent morning. Daisy had shown me time and again that she would eventually locate her kids, and neither she nor Spirit seemed urgent as they headed out from the feeders to the pecan orchard that morning - an area they often frequented year-around. But later that afternoon, only Heidi appeared with Daisy and Spirit. By day three, I began to feel some of the same sadness of loss that I had when Willow disappeared a while back. Looking for an answer, I took a walk to the west and also to the north, but it was impossible to search in the thick weeds and heavy ground cover. Daisy’s ability to track by scent was a much better tool than my inept, human ways of tracking. Still, after Dancer had been gone more than a week, I took a drive down the nearby road to see if I might spot her body, hoping, at least, for some sort of closure – but I found nothing.

Dancer (front) mutual grooming with Heidi.

Dancer (front) mutual grooming with Heidi.

Dancer resting at the base of the slope.

Dancer resting at the base of the slope.

Dancer and Daisy mutual grooming.

Dancer and Daisy mutual grooming.

In my mind, where I can still see Dancer, she was an absolute beauty. Her markings and vivid blue eyes she had as a wee fawn, were outstanding. FD and I will both admit that she was our favorite. Her personality was calm and trusting. She was always the first to initiate mutual grooming with her mama or her sister. She was the first to bed down, knowing when she was ready to relax. She was vocal. And maybe that is what got her in trouble in the end… being vocal in the wild is not always a good thing. She never did well when separated from her family, crying out whenever she was alone. Yes, Dancer was a little girl with a most gentle spirit.

Daisy Heidi and Dancer bedded down at the dry creek.

Daisy Heidi and Dancer bedded down at the dry creek.

Everyone shares a corn snack on a hot afternoon!

Everyone shares a corn snack on a hot afternoon!

Daisy grooms Dancer during a family gathering in the clover patch. This is the last evening I photographed Dancer with the little herd.

Daisy grooms Dancer during a family gathering in the clover patch. This is the last evening I photographed Dancer with the little herd.

In nature, only the strong survive, while life happens all around. And as life presents itself, we do the best we know how – guided by instinct, by fear, by love. There are hard times, and there are seasons of bounty. There is loss, and there is new life. With each, we accept and move on. We come to the circle of being – of wisdom.

I try to be thankful for the gift of each moment I have spent with these incredible creatures of the woodlands. I cherish the gift of understanding they so often bring to me, though sometimes it is the gift of not understanding that comes my way. However it may be, each are Nature’s gifts – of miracle, and of mystery…

Willow and Dancer, October 6, 2014.

Willow and Dancer, October 6, 2014.

© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

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Squirrel Squabbles

Our two little orphaned squirrels are rapidly progressing into juveniles. Punkin, who is just a week older than her brother, Gambini, has been a self-starter from the get-go. She has become quite woodland savvy, having made her way down to the canyon, exploring the deeper woods. Gambini, on the other hand, is still more cautious and tends to stick to trees closer to the house.

Gambini loves his corn on the cob!

Gambini loves his corn on the cob!

In part, a squirrel’s gender determines much of how their lives are lived. Fall is a busy time of year with all of the squirrels gathering nuts and berries for a winter food cache, and I have not observed Punkin having any difficulties with the many other squirrels inhabiting the area.  Gambini, however, has been chased by other males, and I have witnessed a lot of chortling and squabbling in the trees just south of the house. Apparently, Mr. Gambini has been intruding on another male’s territory. On more than one occasion, I have seen Gambini making a dash to the shelter of our back porch, with a much larger male squirrel in pursuit. To Gambini’s credit, that has not stopped him from venturing back out when the coast has cleared, to make his own way in the woodland world.

As a pair, Punkin and Gambini get along well, but their personalities are very different. Punkin is larger and quite tenacious about getting her way. At first, she was bossy and stole Gambini’s food from his paws. She raided his food stash in his squirrel house (mostly pecans). But lately, I have noticed Mr. Gambini has found his own niche in getting one over on his “sister”. She might be bigger in size, but he is swift and very clever in out maneuvering her. He is not afraid to fight back for his food and is often successful with snatching something from her paws and quickly making an exit. As a result, there are now more frequent chortles and squabbles over morning vittles. Even with two sections of corn on the cob on the food plate, the squabble will be over one particular portion. Typical kids.

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In this series of photographs Punkin was the dominant food snatcher!  At this stage Gambini was beginning to fight back for his food, doing his best to annoy Punkin!

In this series of photographs, Punkin began as the dominant food snatcher! At this stage, however, Gambini was beginning to fight back for his food, and doing his best to annoy Punkin!

Punkin is still quite vocal with us, and always quick to offer one of her “Er-er-er-er-er” conversations when we come outside. She still leaps on us and scrambles all over our bodies – especially when the gift of a pecan is involved. She will still let us pet her and seems to enjoy the attention. She still plays “finger fighting” with us and gently attacks or nibbles our fingers.  In contrast, Mr. Gambini is not interested in us at all, unless there is a food giveaway involved. He absolutely does not like to be petted, and sometimes bites if you get a finger too close while he is eating. He is fast and clever at moving up and under, zigging and zagging to safety, and I cannot catch him at all anymore. But, I am really rather glad to see this, as he will need these skills as a male in the wild.

For now, the two of them still rely on a morning feeding before setting out to spend all day in the woods. But their food tastes are changing. Corn on the cob, or seeds and nuts, are now preferred over avocados and fruit slices. I often find Punkin down in the canyon near the deer feeders where she nibbles at corn left scattered on the ground by the deer. I notice they both eat tree leaves and some of the tender weeds in the back yard.  The pecans we give them each day are buried in the flower beds around the house, if not immediately consumed. Recently, the two have been making shelter in a large split in a hackberry tree just south of our house. I have heard knocking and gnawing from inside, so I imagine they are setting up housekeeping. This is the same tree our long-ago-orphaned squirrel, Frosty, set up his first digs. We will leave their squirrel cage set up on the back porch just in case they need it, but I feel that they are gradually making their way to the woodlands.

Everything seems to be going just fine at the moment.

Everything seems to be going just fine at the moment.

Uh oh, here comes the "evil eye" we females are so good at!

Uh oh, here comes the “evil eye” we females are so good at!

I am thankful for being able to observe this time of Punkin and Gambini’s “soft” release into the wild. It is a slow process for squirrels. They are very timid creatures. They venture further into the woods a little at a time, only as they feel secure. We are able to observe how instinct leads these orphans to know how to survive.  For now, the two seem to be working together to prepare for the cold winter months ahead, perhaps planning to hole-up as a pair to keep warm. But it will not be long before a less playful squabble will ensue and they will move on as the solitary individuals they were born to be – discovering and accomplishing new things, occasionally indulging in a bit of playfulness, and of course having a real squabble or two every now and then!

Gambini and Punking enjoying a snack together in the evening sunset.

Gambini and Punkin enjoy a snack together in the evening sunset.

© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

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Walking An Ordinary Animal Trail

On an overcast and calm Sunday afternoon in late September, I succumbed to the urge to go for a walk in the woodlands to the west. With my camera in tow, I crossed the barbed wire fence into the nearby pecan orchard and chose to follow the well-worn path of an animal trail along a fence line. I generally find the animal trails yield the easiest path in any direction. Even in the darkness of heavily wooded areas where little plant life exists, animal trails wind around trunks and over fallen limbs, usually taking the traveler on the quickest, or at least cleanest, route. These many trails make up a secret world of arteries and thoroughfares that lead to places unknown.

The fence line trail I chose this day, was not a new trail for me to traverse.  I had been this route many times before, having first walked this particular path the spring we released orphaned Daisy deer to the wild. It was she who taught me to follow the beaten paths that the animals used. And it was here that I discovered the trail to my own wild spirit.

Sadly, our butterfly population was scant this year in SW Oklahoma. I did see a few Buckeye Butterflies in the woodlands this fall.

Sadly, our butterfly population was scant this year in SW Oklahoma. I did see a few Buckeye Butterflies in the woodlands this fall.

My first heart-stopping surprise was an armadillo in search of vittles! I supposed I gave it just as much of a scare as it gave me!

My first heart-stopping surprise was an armadillo in search of vittles! I supposed I gave it just as much of a scare as it gave me!

Poke Plant puts on a vibrant blaze of red this time of year.

Poke Plant puts on a vibrant blaze of red this time of year.

This lovely blur of white wild flowers and wispy prairie grasses are an unknown species to me. The white flower is not Boneset nor Wild Yarrow. The field was fragrant with sweetness!

This lovely blur of white wild flowers and wispy prairie grasses are an unknown species to me. The white flower is not Boneset nor Wild Yarrow. The field was fragrant with sweetness!

A tattered Widow Skimmer alights on prairie grasses.

A tattered Widow Skimmer alights on prairie grasses.

Soldier bugs are everywhere this year!

Soldier bugs are everywhere this year!

This female Orb built her web between two cedar trees. At first glance, I thought she just captured an insect but, upon closer view (after downloading my photos), it appeared to be the male garden orb. Sure enough I researched this and sometimes the female kills and eats the male. Gads!!   Check out https://suite.io/albert-burchsted/5qwk2a5 to discover more about this interesting phenomenon.

This female Orb built her web between two cedar trees. At first glance, I thought she had just captured an insect, but on closer view (after downloading my photos), it appeared her victim was actually a male garden orb. I researched this and, sure enough, sometimes the female orb does kill and eat the male. Gads!! Check out https://suite.io/albert-burchsted/5qwk2a5 to discover more about this interesting phenomenon.

I spent almost an hour researching this wildflower. I located photographs on a couple of websites but apparently the species name was elusive to those sites as well! I thought it was very dainty and beautiful despite growing in dry, red dirt!

Years of exposure to the elements has softened a broken tree limb.

Years of exposure to the elements has softened a broken tree limb.

Smartweed thrives in wet areas. This cluster of plants grew along a draw running through a pasture. Leaves of the Smartweed plant can be used to make dyes for clothing.

Smartweed thrives in wet areas. This cluster of plants grew along a draw running through a pasture. Leaves of the Smartweed plant can be used to make dyes for clothing.

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From season to season and year to year, the scenery along these paths may remain somewhat the same, but there are always subtle changes, unexpected surprises, and even chance meetings with a few fellow travelers.

Daisy, Heidi and Dancer set out to head down the animal trail along the fence line. Daisy is alert at all times to possible danger.

Daisy, Heidi and Dancer set out to head down the animal trail along the fence line. Daisy is alert at all times to possible danger.

Daisy deer finds a resting spot just a few yards from the animal trail. She's alert and protective of her fawns bedded down nearby.

Daisy deer finds a resting spot just a few yards from the animal trail. She’s alert and protective of her fawns bedded down nearby.

© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 

 

 

 

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