Hiking To The River As The Crow Flies

Last week, I decided it was time for another venture to the river with my camera. Now that the milo fields on the river bottom had been harvested, and a recent downpour of rain had knocked some of the weeds down, I hoped it would be a good time to hike as the crow flies – straight across country to the river. I would be meandering through the woods and cutting across fields to reach the area of the river where the river’s flow snakes around in the shape of a boot, creating a bit of an oasis for animal life. It was a favorite hike for me in autumn and winter, and I could hardly wait, after some of the vegetation had finally died back in early fall, to see how the landscape had changed over the summer months. Once spring arrived, the vegetation sprouted up to the point of making The Boot area impassable and, of course, a variety of snakes also began to appear – one being the venomous Copperhead, which we often saw on our property. By summer, the massive insect population alone made travel afoot a misery.

With improved conditions for a field trip finally here, I set out early Thursday morning after a light rain, in search of fresh deer tracks – if there were any to be found. It has been more than a month since Daisy deer took off after the loss of her remaining fawn, and it has been even longer than that since we have seen a sign of any deer in the woodlands or pecan orchard. So, I was obviously curious to know if there were any signs of deer between our home and the river, as our game camera had not shown any activity at all lately. And of course, I would also be on the lookout for coyote scat. I was still serious about eradicating the “regulars” that frequented the vicinity, so I decided I would first scout around our immediate woodlands out back behind the house, and from there I would head west through the pecan orchard and across the neighboring milo fields that led down to the river, just a half-mile away.

Not far into the woods just behind our house, I found a small treasure peeking from beneath some dried grass. It was the clean skull of a feral cat. Quite frequently, we see feral cats in the woods and sometimes in the pasture south of our house. But for the last two years, a large fox population on the property had kept the cat population down to zero. The lower jaw of this skull was missing, and I did not find any other bones in the vicinity. It was a rarity to find a complete skeleton anyway. Most of the time, many bones of a carcass were dragged off by rodents or predators. I wondered if some of the cat legs and paws I found on our driveway this last summer belonged to this particular cat? We had found it a common practice for the foxes to leave some of their victim’s body parts lying around the place after having a nibble during the night. Since I did not want to carry a skull around in my pocket for the rest of the hike, and I was still close to home, I took it back to the house.

A feral cat skull found just a few feet from the buggy path I take into our woodlands each day. I wonder how many times I passed by it?
A feral cat skull found just a few feet from the buggy path I take into our woodlands each day. I wonder how many times I passed by it?

After dropping off the cat skull, I meandered through our woodland area but found no animal impressions except for the usual squirrel tracks. Crossing over into the pecan orchard, I snapped a few photos, taking advantage of the morning sun illuminating the area. The air was heavy with the scent of earth and plant life, most notably the ragweed plant. Most of the time we hear complaints about ragweed, but I know it is beneficial to birds, butterflies and moths, and I have seen Daisy deer munch on just a bit of it from time to time as well. Native Americans utilized it for medicinal benefit, and I often wonder if this is why I observe Daisy nibbling a bit of this or that in the wild. Instinct leads birds and animals to what they need in their diet. I also wonder why humans do not follow our instinct as much as the wild animals do when selecting foods to eat?  Instead, so many folks are willing to buy a chemical-laden product at the store, rather than to research medicinal plants or eat healthy, fresh foods to aid in healing.

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Maximilian Sunflower in morning sun.
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Poke Weed in colorful fall splendor, even though it appears a bit exhausted.
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We have both white and pink smart weed in the pecan orchard, but I also found it in many low, swampy areas on the way to the river.
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After the rain, various species of mushroom popped up in the grasses. I hope someday to know which mushrooms are edible, and which ones to leave alone!
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Just a few oak leaves were changing color on the tree from which I had picked Emma and Ronnie’s acorns.
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Another beautiful, spent poke weed leaf back lit by the sun.
There is always beauty and wonder in nature. How many times do we look ahead at the beautiful and magnificent landscape, and fail to see what is often just under our noses, hidden in shade, or camouflaged cleverly?
Most of the monarchs migrated through the area in early October. Our woodlands were filled with them for about a week. We do not see large numbers of Monarchs every year. This day, I saw several stragglers taking their time warming their wings in the morning sun.

Crossing under the fence at the west end of the pecan orchard property, I saw coyote scat in a cleared area where a combine had crossed from one milo field to another. Both coyotes and foxes are famous for leaving their droppings in obvious places – commonly along well-traveled passages and pathways. This scat appeared to me to be a few days old, as it looked rather weathered from rain and sun. On examining the poop more closely, I did not see any teeth or insect parts, only hair. And just a few feet from the coyote scat, I found wild hog prints. It appeared to be just one, lone hog, and I imagined it had been in this spot feasting on some of the milo stalks missed during harvest.  In this same area, just a few yards away near a fallen tree limb I also discovered raccoon scat. From the makeup of this scat, it was apparent the raccoons are feasting on a lot of berries this time of year.

After much research, I believe this is a very tattered Bordered Patch butterfly. Camphor Weed is a common wildflower here in Oklahoma.
After much research, I believe this is a very tattered Bordered Patch butterfly. The Camphor Weed it is perched on is a common wildflower here in Oklahoma.
I sure hoped this wild hog was no longer in the vicinity... I did not see a tree with a low crotch that I could climb should I need to get away!
I sure hoped this wild hog was no longer in the vicinity… I did not see a tree with a low crotch that I could climb should I need to get away!
It looks like this raccoon feasted on hackberries.
It looks like this raccoon feasted on hackberries.
Lichen on a Hackberry tree after the rain
Lichen on a Hackberry tree after the rain
Last summer I noticed blue herons flying over our property a lot, coming from the river area. I discovered these nests last fall as the leaves exposed them better. Here are the nests again this year. And the area they are in is at the toe of the "boot" area of the river that I love to walk to. The toe area is a bit more shallow in places - a perfect fishing spot for herons!
Last summer I noticed blue herons flying over our property a lot, coming from the river area. I discovered these nests last fall as the falling leaves exposed them. The nests are here again this year. And the area they are in is at the toe of the “boot” area of the river that I love to walk to. The toe area is a bit more shallow in places – a perfect fishing spot for herons!
I came from this direction where the weeds were hip high. Even though the fields had been harvested, weed growth was picking up. I saw no signs of deer here at all. No sign of the rut beginning either.
I came from this direction where the weeds were hip high. Even though the fields had been harvested, weed growth was picking up. I saw no signs of deer here at all, and no sign of the rut beginning either.
My destination was the area by the second transmission line. But vegetation was much too tall and thick for me to get a view of the river.
My destination was the area by the second transmission structure. But vegetation was much too tall and thick for me to get a view of the river.
What a great discovery! Devil's Claw in perfect condition. Beware of the grapple hooks - they're sharp!
What a great discovery! Devil’s Claw in perfect condition.
These horrible, evil plants thrive in the river bottom area. I avoid brushing up against a Buffalo Bur plant if I can help it. They are wickedly painful!
These horrible, evil plants thrive in the river bottom area. I avoid brushing up against a Buffalo Bur if I can help it. They are wickedly painful!

As I trudged along looking downward to avoid various stick tight plants and burs while looking for tracks and scat, I kept an eye in the distance for signs of movement. But the weeds were still high in many places, impeding my view and making me keep to the animal paths and open fields. Overall, plant life was looking bedraggled and most specimens were drying up and going to seed. Still, I found new life sprouting up in damp areas, color in unexpected spots, and unusual creations and oddities that are commonly seen in the wild. Seeing scatterings of dove feathers from place to place, and a giant elm tree that had snapped at the base lying splintered in the middle of a field, reminded me that death is imminent in the wild. When I finally reached the fence where I normally cross into the “boot” area of the river bottom, I realized I could proceed no further. Tall weeds loomed well over my head. But I was not deflated in the least. There at my feet was a nearly perfect, dried up devil’s claw plant! I pulled off a few of the vines with the best looking pods and grapples, thinking what great pieces these would be for decorating our home, once properly dried. I removed my light camo jacket and carefully placed the razor-sharp claws in the lining, zipped it up, cinched the bottom shut with the pull toggles, flopped the jacket’s hood over the neck opening, and finally wrapped the loosely knotted arms about my neck so that my jacket became a sort of back pack with which to carry my woodland treasures. This way, I still had my arms free to handle my camera!

I saw many scatterings of dove feathers on my journey.
I saw many scatterings of dove feathers on my journey.
I rarely see the complete skeletal remains of any animal while hiking. I kept the skull and jaws, but the rest had been nibbled on by varmints. It's always a wonderful to find clean bones - a treasure of nature!
I rarely see the complete skeletal remains of any animal while hiking. I kept the skull and jaws, but the rest had been nibbled on by varmints. It’s always wonderful to find clean bones – a treasure of nature!
I found this abandoned spider web at the entry of an old culvert tin horn. The spider must have had an artsy leg or two... or eight! I thought this curtain was lovely!
I found this abandoned spider web at the entry of an old culvert tin horn. The spider must have had an artsy leg or two… or eight! I thought this curtain was lovely!

Along the edge of a field, I discovered the complete skeleton of a young opossum. Rodents had nibbled away on most of the bones, but the skull was perfect and clean. I gathered the skull and jaws, complete with teeth, and added those to the makeshift back pack pockets. As I proceeded on, I decided to duck into a place where, a couple of years ago, I had discovered a huge, dead elm tree with a large limb broken off. In a hollow of that limb, was a bee hive I had often marveled at. One could hear the loud hum of bees from quite a distance. But this day, it was quiet, and sadly, I realized something had happened. The bee hive tree was no longer active. I wondered if some act of nature had caused the bees to move on or perhaps they had perished over last winter. Maybe the farmer had used some chemical that perhaps killed the population? I saw no evidence that could explain the mystery.

Making my way back towards the pecan orchard property, I purposefully walked through a low, muddy area to look for tracks. And there they were! Just a few deer tracks in the muck! I was thankful for this sign. These fresh hoof prints seemed to be of a couple of adult does crossing the field sometime after the recent rain. I was hopeful now, knowing that there were still deer in the area, and that perhaps some were simply hidden in the drying vegetation and brush all around. My quest to find signs of deer had been satisfied. And just maybe, I thought, my Daisy deer was somewhere nearby as well.

I had to be careful when I walked through the woodlands. Garden Orbs can be found just about anywhere this time of year.
I had to be careful when I walked through the woodlands. Garden Orbs can be found just about anywhere this time of year.
The Hairy White Oilfield Aster probably often goes unnoticed. I found this hidden in taller grasses.
The Hairy White Oilfield Aster probably often goes unnoticed. I found this hidden in taller grasses.
As I headed home through the pecan orchard I stopped to photograph the slight colors of autumn. I'm beginning to wonder if we will ever get fall temperatures. It still feels like summer!
As I headed home through the pecan orchard I stopped to photograph the slight colors of autumn. I’m beginning to wonder if we will ever get cooler temperatures. It still feels like summer!
Viriginia Creeper is always the first blaze of red in the woodlands.
Virginia Creeper is always the first blaze of red in the woodlands.

I arrived home just after lunch and unloaded the woodland treasures from my makeshift backpack. Exhausted and hungry, I fixed a quick bite to eat and looked at my photographs. I was a little dismayed to find the ones I was anticipating most – deer prints and coyote poop – turned out poorly. Yes, I know, what normal person is interested in scat photography? Oh well, there’s always another day for a hike. And best of all, going back out with the camera to investigate the change of seasons, gives me an opportunity to learn to be a better tracker, and maybe I can improve on my still photography as well!

© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 


35 thoughts on “Hiking To The River As The Crow Flies

    1. I too enjoy the colors of autumn. I admire you for getting out so much to hike various places. I do a lot of dawdling around when I go to the river. There are so many little things to see, and then I find it’s good just to rest and wait to see what presents itself. Sometimes I don’t see a thing but usually I am rewarded somehow. 🙂

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  1. I loved reading ever word., Lori. I am old but my interest in nature has not diminished. The photos are wonderful and I don’t see how they need any improvement. I especially liked the Monarch butterfly. It’s a winner anytime you can find one to photograph. Pokeberry always lends itself to nice photos especially when backlit by the sun. I think I have a few but my photos of the past two years are not properly sorted into folders. And now the latest fiasco with this computer has me at my wits end. At least you are organized and are able to get out and photograph the loveliness of nature. Your words describe what you see perfectly.

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    1. Thanks, Yvonne. I knew you would enjoy the butterfly photos. I was surprised we had a few more monarchs than usual this year. I did not see so many in the flower beds nor the prairie grasses in the pecan orchard, but mostly in the heavily wooded areas. I never can seem to capture them well with the camera and do justice. And, while I am sort of organized with my photos, I could do a lot better. I too had a computer fiasco a year ago. My computer crashed and even though we used an online backup, somehow my 2015 photos all went missing! I’m disappointed, but that’s life sometimes.

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  2. I’m very impressed with how you converted your jacket into a backpack! Clever girl.

    So I’m curious about the bees too. You didn’t see any dead bees on the ground did you? Was the hive still intact? I wonder if it could be another case of neonicotinoids killing them off. I don’t know much about bees, but I suppose it’s possible they just moved to another location. Hopefully they’re okay somewhere.

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    1. Hi Kim. I have had to fashion carrying devices before when I’ve found treasures on my hikes. I usually carry a bit of rope as well. There have been many uncomfortable hikes home carrying some of my findings. FD reminded me I have a backpack that I could carry, but unfortunately in this case, the devils claws wouldn’t have fit.
      I did not see any dead bees around the tree but there was a lot of tall grass around the tree. And depending on when they died or left the hive, we’ve had many rains since my last hike to the river in the spring and it could be they’ve morphed into the soil by this time. I will be going back again soon, and this time I’ll do more investigating.

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        1. Oh, Devil’s Claw is hard to find too… at least in my experience. There is one place in a milo field where it tends to grow but usually the combine mows it over and it’s hard to find a pod with grapples that is all intact. I got lucky this time!I have seen the plant in summer (a lady in town always lets one plant grow) and it puts off a beautiful flower. But the ends of the grapples are razor sharp and easily pierces skin. I was very careful putting it in my lined jacket!

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    1. I wish you had been here too! I took the same route that Emily and Sidney went the last time they visited. I must remember to show them more of the “boot” area of the river, and also go down to the old river channel. You are my heart… this is just too many miles to be away from each other!

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  3. Delightful post, poop and all! Loved the ragged poke weed leaves, but found all of it so interesting. We have ‘Orb’ spiders here too, though a different variety. I was chuckling as I’m reading all you are walking through, my walks are very tame by comparison, but wild enough for me! I carry home so many treasures, though not the skulls. I liked your creative solution to carrying those devil’s claws. THOSE would have definitely come home with me too! Thank you for the nice walk, Lori. xx

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    1. Ardys, I often think of you when I find a treasure on a walk. We are so very much alike. I am feeling my age the last couple of years – I do not have the stamina that I used to. But on a good note, I am more likely to take my time and sometimes just sit with my camera and see what presents itself. When I was younger, you would never find me sitting on a log waiting for anything! 🙂

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  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this hike. I learn so much from these nature walks both in your images and your words. You took some outstanding photos.

    There are certainly a lot of critters and interesting plants (devil’s claws; never heard of)…

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    1. Oh, I learn something new each hike it seems like. I spend a lot of time researching plants. My first experience with devils claw was years ago when one of those razor-sharp grapples hooked into a sock. I thought I’d been stung by something! As with everything, I learned to look out for it and eventually realized it had medicinal value. I won’t be incorporating them into my gardens though…

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    1. Ha ha! I have a couple of readers that do not appreciate spiders so I don’t often post those photos. I would rather meet a spider than a snake, though my fear of both are lessening as the years go by. Even when the landscape as a whole can look drab and dull, there are always little things in nature that seemingly wait to be noticed by someone afoot. I always come home with some special photographs that make the trip worthwhile!

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  5. Lovely. Appreciate you taking us along. THis is the best time of year to hike around farms/woods – no snakes (or few and slow ones). “As the crow flies” – hadn’t heard that for a while being among city people. Or “frost on the pumpkins” after the first frost – when the persimmons on the trees are like little pumpkins on branches all sweet and finally ready to eat.
    I never find lower jaws. The sculptural quality of skulls and bones equal that of any fine artist.
    Sigh lovely time
    Hope your Holler-Ring is quietly spooktacular with nature’s visitors only

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    1. Ah persimmons… it is going to be much later than usual that we will head to the Wichita Wildlife Refuge near Lawton to pick persimmon after the first frost. Our weather is still very warm for this time of year! We have two persimmon trees on this place but they’ve never produced. I don’t think many people know about the trees at the refuge as there are always plenty for the picking.
      My prize skull find is of a wild hogs head. It was clean (only bone), eaten on, and partially buried in the dirt, but the lower jaw was still intact. I can tell you that was quite cumbersome to carry home on a hike! FD found an even larger hogs head with big tusks while looking for antler sheds one year. I really must do a post sometime on some of the treasures I have found on these jaunts.
      A spooktacular night to you too! It will be quiet here as my mom-in-law shuts the front gate early. I expect Buddy the squirrel and possibly Punkin the squirrel will be by for a pecan or two. They still come to visit you know… kids!

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  6. That’s quite an adventure you made of your walk. All the plants you featured are common in central Texas as well. I’ve run afoul of buffalo bur too but the species has provided me with some good photographs over the years, both of the flowers and the burs.

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    1. Oh, I love the word “afoul”. There are plenty of burr and stick-tight species around here to lavish that word on! Ha ha! Yes, Steve, I find that many of the most wicked and invasive plants offer some of the most interesting photography. Your spittlebug post today was a good example of the unusual being interesting!

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