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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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…