A Mystery Unfolds In The Woodlands

During the month of December, it was common to find me traveling west in the electric buggy to the pecan orchard’s old river channel area where a large, globe-shaped elm tree stood. After exhausting the supply of cat brier on our original ten acres, I took to sawing down larger elm limbs for Emma and Ronnie deer to nibble on. Deer often eat woody browse, dead plants, and fallen leaves in the winter months, when few greens can be found.  In my quest to keep Emma and Ronnie’s diet interesting, all of the elm trees on the Ten Acre Ranch had also been given a good trim by the end of November. With that, it became necessary to travel further to find just the right limbs. Daisy deer taught me much about deer edibles over all of the years I followed her around in the woodlands, so I was a bit proud of myself for knowing exactly what Emma and Ronnie deer preferred to eat.

Looking back to the east as I drive towards the old river channel to fetch elm branches.
Looking back to the east from the old river channel where I drove to fetch elm branches.
I have seen this Barred Owl many times on my travels to the old river channel.
I have seen this Barred Owl many times on my travels to the old river channel.
This is the area I cross the old river channel dike and head to the rise in the distance where an old elm tree offers lovely branches with leaf buds for Emma and Ronnie to nibble.
This is the area where I cross the old river channel dike and head to the rise in the distance where an old elm tree offers lovely branches with leaf buds for Emma and Ronnie to nibble.

Though I was en-route to perform a chore, I really enjoyed traveling through the pecan orchard property each day. Off towards the river, I could hear the Canadian geese honking, and often great flocks of them flew over the orchard, heading southeast. I also spotted all sorts of other winter birds along the way and, lately, I had noticed a barred owl in the area. As I rambled along, I often saw it take flight from trees near me, and I wondered if it was some kind of sign. The barred owl calls could often be heard in the woodlands at night, but it was rare to see one in daylight since they are so well camouflaged. And for many weeks on these travels to the west end of the property, I would spot various coyotes along the old river channel area. The big male was the one I saw most frequently, and I admit, of all the coyotes, I disliked seeing him most of all. He was the leader of the pack.  If I was just a photographer or an observer, I might have found him beautiful and intriguing. I might even appreciate his movement and watchfulness. But as the mother of Emma and Ronnie deer, soon to be released to the wild, I viewed the coyotes as a threat, in fact, they had been villains in my mind for a long time. For most of last year, the pecan orchard and woodland area had been devoid of opossums, rabbits, skunks, and foxes. And worst of all, we were not seeing deer in the area anymore. This past summer, after Daisy’s twins were taken by coyotes, she too disappeared, and has been missing since September. So of course, I blamed the coyotes.  FD shot one crossing the pecan orchard this past autumn, and I admit I felt no remorse for having taken it out. It was one less female adding to the already over-populated coyote population, and one less predator around to kill fawns. Each day that I drove past the carcass – which by the way, no other coyote bothered nor even the vultures would touch, I felt nothing but relief that it was dead.

By late December, I had begun the work of cutting wood and burning debris from fallen limbs and branches in the pecan orchard. While walking much of the area around the massive trees, I made gruesome discoveries in the grasses. Deer hair lay scattered in tufts throughout the orchard, but mostly along the east fence line. I also found deer legs, along with a greasy spine and a shoulder blade, strewn about from the east border to the old river channel. Every set of bones and body parts I discovered, had been chewed on and appeared to be from recent kills. And they appeared to be that of young deer. This did not make sense. The only deer I had seen in our area in the last year had been adults. None of the fawns born this past spring to does that I was familiar with had survived the first month or two of life. Only one split-eared yearling that we knew of was still in the area from the year before, and we have seen her with two adult does a few times on the game camera since finding the bones. So we found it odd that so many young deer body parts were found strewn all over the orchard. As we continued to work in the orchard, we found still more deer hair, bones, and coyote scat.

I believe this is a front deer leg where the hoof has been chewed off.
I believe this is a front deer leg where the hoof has been chewed off.
The shoulder blade of a young deer was located under the shade of a pecan tree near the east fence line.
The shoulder blade of a young deer was located under the shade of a pecan tree near the east fence line.
This greasy, chewed-on deer spine was also found a short distance from the east fence line in the pecan orchard.
This greasy, chewed-on deer spine was also found a short distance from the east fence line in the pecan orchard.
FD made this discovery along the east fence line, where most of the deer body parts and hair have been located.
FD made this discovery along the east fence line, where most of the deer body parts and hair have been located.
Scatterings of deer hair have been found all along the east fence line.
Scatterings of deer hair have been found all along the east fence line.
I found this adult deer foreleg in the woodlands just behind our house.
I found this adult deer foreleg in the woodlands just behind our house.
I have not seen rabbits on our property in nearly three years because of the high fox population, but apparently they still exist. This rabbit hair was found near the adult deer hoof in the woods behind our house.
I have not seen rabbits on our property in nearly three years because of the high fox and coyote population, but apparently they still exist. This rabbit hair was found near the adult deer hoof in the woods behind our house.
These bright bird feathers were found in our woodlands near the orchard. The longest feather was approximately seven inches long. I wonder what bird species this belonged to?
These bright bird feathers were found in our woodlands near the orchard. The longest feather was approximately seven inches long. I wonder what bird species this belonged to?

And for that reason, we postponed releasing Emma and Ronnie after deer hunting season ended. I felt very uncomfortable turning them loose with so many coyote sightings in the last months and now, finding all of these deer bones and coyote scat seemed to be signs that it was not the right time to free them. So, we doubled our efforts to eradicate the coyotes on our property by asking a friend to help us. But unfortunately, the results were dismal over the next few weeks. Our friend said he was not seeing tracks or scat to indicate coyotes were frequenting the area along the old river channel. Considering their range of travel, he suspected they had moved on to another area where prey was more plentiful for the moment. I suppose this should have brought me comfort, but what of all of these body parts that kept surfacing?

Then one day recently, FD and our brother-in-law were cutting wood and clearing an area along the east fence line where a dead pecan tree had fallen. There, they made a discovery that explained what had probably been taking place since October, when hunting season began. Lots of deer hair lay scattered in various spots all along the east fence line. Our brother-in-law found a leg that appeared to have been sawed in two at one end. And FD found the skull of a young buck with the antler area sawed off. With this discovery, FD wondered if one of the neighbors was a hunter who might be doing his own meat processing, and decided to toss the discards over the fence into the pecan orchard. This of course would lure any meat-eating varmint onto our property. Most likely, coyotes were migrating from the river to our property, grabbing various parts of the discarded carcass, and carrying them off to individual spots in the orchard to chew on.

It's good to see deer scat in the woodlands again!
It’s good to see deer scat in the woodlands again!
FD and our brother-in-law managed some good cleanup in the orchard one weekend.
FD and our brother-in-law managed some good cleanup in the orchard one weekend.
I will need to get this pile of pecan branches moved and burned. Some of these branches could be diseased so they're best burned. This pile will attract snakes in the warm weather if it remains where it is.
I will need to get this pile of pecan branches moved and burned. Some of these branches could be diseased so they’re best burned. This pile will attract snakes in the warm weather if it remains where it is.
It is interesting to watch various animal scat as it breaks down in the weathering process. Here we see mostly deer hair (click on photo to enlarge).
It is interesting to watch various animal scat as it breaks down in the weathering process. Here we see mostly deer hair in this coyote scat (click on photo to enlarge).

As I worked in the orchard this past week, I kept an eye out for coyotes or signs of their presence.  But I did not see any coyotes in the distance as I had in months past, and I found no fresh scat – only old, weathered coyote scat in a few locations under the magnificent pecans. And for the first time in months, I saw a few hoof prints along the buggy path to the deer feeders. Maybe now that deer hunting season is over, there will be none of the neighbor’s discards for the coyotes to feast on. Maybe the coyotes have indeed, moved on to another area. I hope so. And the fact that deer are returning to the area gives me hope that Emma and Ronnie may be able to tag along with others of their kind. I am hopeful that deer and all sorts of small mammals will once again flourish in our area.

We will be releasing Emma and Ronnie to the wild this weekend. And this deer mama plans to be working in the pecan orchard all spring, hoping to catch a glimpse of her young fawns from time to time.

Emma and Ronnie deer enjoy fresh cut Elm limb twigs. I will have a lot of limb cleanup to do after they are released!
Emma and Ronnie deer enjoy fresh-cut Elm limb twigs. I will have a lot of limb cleanup to do after they are released!

© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


31 thoughts on “A Mystery Unfolds In The Woodlands

  1. What an interesting story — and the conclusion makes sense. I’m glad that life has calmed down some, and that you’re feeling more secure about releasing the fawns. It takes thought, as well as time and energy, to make good decisions, but you certainly do a fine job of it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, thank you. As much as I try to think things through, often, the solution presents itself. I have also found that being patient helps. I am really excited to see how Emma and Ronnie react to being outside of that pen on Saturday! I’ll be sure to have photos and video if I can manage it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Emma and Ronnie are fortunate they found you. What a lovely story. I hope they live long lives on your property. I also hope the coyotes find another place to hunt. They are just trying to survive, as all creatures do. But it will be better if they find a new home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I hope too that the coyotes have moved on. It will be interesting to see how these two make out in the wild. Daisy was so very different – a home body, content to keep within a half-mile of our place. I suspect Emma may do the same, but Ronnie being a buck, it will be interesting. I wonder if they’ll stay together or each go off on their own? It will be a new adventure for all of us! 🙂 I will be reporting for sure!

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  3. It would be good if you had access to a bounty hunter or just to someone that likes to go after coyotes. There are far too many of them and I suppose bob cats as well. In Marlin, Tx there is a contest of groups of up to 4 guys who bring in the most fox, coyote, raccoon, and cougar. Some people think this is awful but when there are too many and upset the eco balance I think it is probably warranted. I sure hope that Emma and Ronnie survive.

    Your orchard is looking good. You have sure put in some hours in the pecan bottoms. ( envy you wooded area. So peaceful.

    I hear the barred owls in my yard just outside my window almost every night., I even hear the mating ritual calls. The sounds are funny and amazing to hear. They sound as if they are laughing- at least that is how I perceive the calls.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Barred owls have the coolest range of calls. I know the one you are talking about that sounds like laughing. To me it’s as if a bunch of monkeys are taunting each other! It is hilarious really. The orchard will have years of work to whip it into shape but it’s soothing and relaxing work. Oh, the conversations you and I could have working together, Yvonne. It would be lovely. 🙂
      I am not sure we had the coyote population when we let Daisy go that we do now, but she managed. Emma is a big girl… much bigger than Daisy was when we released her, and though Ronnie is small, he’s healthy and very active. I think he will be the first to bust out of the gate when we open it up! Ha ha. All I can do is pray that they rely on instinct to guide them on their journey. And I hope our friend is correct about the coyotes having moved off for the time being.

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      1. Yep, it would be lovey to be your neighbor but oh well. I am old and could not move if I wanted to- even if I were 20 years younger. I do think of you in the orchard dragging limbs and brush to the burn pile. And, that you get to convene with nature in that lovey orchard. Even if it takes years to get it into shape- it belongs to you and FD and that is glorious.

        Yes will hope and pray for the fawns safety Are ya’ll going to put collars on them?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. FD and I both still feel elated when we walk through the giant trees. It is a special place. And no, we will not put collars on Emma and Ronnie. After Daisy lost her first fawn to coyotes this past spring, she came back looking as if something had gotten her by the collar and she had to put up quite a fight. Hair was missing around her neck, as was the collar. We decided at that time not to put collars on her anymore, and we thought it best not to put them on Emma and Ronnie either. Another lesson learned thanks to Daisy.

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  4. How handsome your youngsters have become, no doubt attributable to your good foraging. I’m really in awe of everything you know, and do, to raise the fawns. What an interesting story. Look forward to the next instalment about Ronnie and Emma’s release. xx

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  5. I wonder how you feel about your neighbor hunting deer to eat, especially young animals. I find it quite shocking. Fingers crossed and lots of positive vibes for Emma and Ronnie’s new life. I do admire your capacity to cope with the hard life and death laws of nature, given all the love you give to rehabilitating wildlife. Bon courage xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate your positive vibes, Henrie. That is really all we can do once they are on their own… I too hope that they flourish and have many good years in the wild.
      I understand hunting for meat to eat and many of our friends provide meat for their families in this manner. FD is a hunter. In the 2015 – 2016 deer hunting season more than 88K were harvested in Oklahoma. What I find shocking is that many of the deer legs we have found belong to yearlings. I do not know any reputable hunters who take young deer. There is a sort of commonly known “rule” about that with hunters. And the manner of processing these deer, at least from what we’ve seen is wasteful, and discarding what isn’t wanted or needed by pitching them next door on your neighbor’s property is thoughtless. It makes me very sad each time I find body parts.

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  6. Could those yellow shafted feathers be from a Northern flicker? Praying for Emma and Ronnie, and that the coyotes stay away. I saw a fawn that was killed by the numerous coyotes around here this past spring, but still see many rabbits on my trail cams. I guess the babies are easier to catch. Nature is hard.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nature is hard. Raising Daisy deer and watching her lose all but one baby over the years, has made me realize just how devastating the predator population can be on most mammals, but especially the young. The predation rate for fawns in more than ninety percent in this county. Coyotes and bobcats take most fawns.
      I believe you are correct about the feathers being from a Northern Flicker! Thank you for identifying that for me. We have lots of them around here, especially in the winter months. And I was unaware of the yellow-shafted and red-shafted varieties! I love when I learn something new! The Northern Flicker is one of my very favorite woodpeckers. They’re fascinating to watch!

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  7. When I looked at the photo of the owl my first thought was what an amazing photo. My second thought was the owl knew it was safe posing for you. Sad to see the bones but it is how nature works. Thank goodness for your loving patience with Emma & Ronnie. And as you mentioned to one of the commenters it does help. I’m in bad need of working on mine. Happy weekend. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever really get this “patience” learning curve down! Working with nature has really helped me though. And this past year, driving the buggy to the west end of the orchard property, I became aware that hurtling along down the path only scared wildlife up and I missed so many photo moments. Moving slowly and going about my work slowly, I saw so much more… and I realized wildlife was watching me! We miss so much in our hurried lives, don’t we?
      I hope you’ve had a lovely weekend? Our day was fantastic yesterday – the release went well. I can’t wait to write about it!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It is good to go with you on your excursions and projects. You make it easy and, if not always pleasant, very instructive. So often I wish that I lived close to nature. Well, I do, in my way–our yard, our cat, a beautiful park nearby. But I also appreciate the opportunities through reading reports and seeing pictures from various parts of the country, and from the greater world. What a treasure the Internet is, and the generous persons who tell their stories there. Here.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment, Albert. It is possible to enjoy nature in many ways. When we were in New York City a couple of years back, I found I enjoyed myself the most while walking through some of the beautiful parks. Some were very small, but seemed to flourish in the middle of such a big city.
      I too, love reading about other’s experiences of nature from all over the world. I am also fascinated by individual perception regarding the aspects of nature. We learn so much from each other. 🙂

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  9. What incredibly bad form to leave bits of deer carcass out in your orchard -very bad form – that surely must have attracted all kind of carnivores. Releasing the fawns must be done but mercy it is hard on you. They live to completely in the present but we are doomed to keep looking backwards and forwards and fretting over it. The release will be wonderful though. c

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  10. Bad form is correct. But, here we live with city across the street and woodlands behind us. I am used to trash blowing in from town, and people shouting and noisy vehicles. I was upset when the neighbor man took in all of those dogs a year ago. Communicating with him has done no good. So, I’m not too surprised that we must deal with the ignorance of yet another “city” person who thinks it’s acceptable to dump deer body parts across the fence. We have a neighbor across the alley who dumps his breakfast grease and food scraps over his fence into the alley. And we wonder why we see foxes and bobcats running all over in town? It’s the messy nature of humans. Dumping and discarding what we don’t want or need is often thoughtlessly done.
    The release went beautifully yesterday. I hope to get a short post up today, with some photographs. When I went to bed last night, there were two little forms bedded down in the yard, not far from the deer pen. The last FD and I had seen them prior to that was in the woods bedded down on a knoll, not far from the house. I suppose at some point they felt more at home next to their old deer pen. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We were appalled too when we made these discoveries with the sawed legs. FD says it is probably a young boy or man who has not had a lot of hunting experience, and simply has not been taught about respectful hunting and meat processing. Maybe this will turn into an opportunity for us to build a relationship with the neighbors. We’re thinking of walking down the street to let all of our neighbors know about the kids being free, and to warn them they may venture up into their backyards (they all border the orchard fence line). We’re hopeful it can at least inform them about the coyote problem it’s causing.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great idea to walk around and chat with neighbors. Tossing leftovers is so thoughtless – maybe the person is new to the area/rural living didn’t;t realize it would draw coyotes – and just down right rude.
    During a hike last weekend in a conservancy area nearby we spotted a well cleaned ribcage and spine. Looks like a gator got one of the small deer when it came down to the waterway to drink. Parts dragged to waters edge. Harsh reality, but it is nature. Quite a few parents were using it as a time to talk about gators, and nature. Still a somewhat sad scene we kept Molly from getting close to.
    How nice the kids beaded down close to home to rest. Good sense just starting out

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    1. FD seems to think it’s a young man who is just learning to hunt, and probably no one has helped to show him how to process the meat nor advised him about just dumping the discards. FD was fortunate as a young man to have older men who taught him respectful ways and common sense in hunting. I recently found the remains of an armadillo in the same area as all of the deer parts, behind the same property. To me it’s just ignorant to kill for the sake of killing what is considered a varmint. There are means to deter them, or live trap them and relocate. This happens a lot with city neighbors. Most of the time the dead animal is flung into the alley or even over on our side of the fence. So sad that folks just kill and dispose like that.

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  12. I think it’s beyond sad to see that mode of treating the hunted carcass like trash and on top of it, littering a stranger’s property with—I would call it beastly if that weren’t an insult to beasts who do make thorough use of their kills and finds. But I am relieved that it seems the coyotes are not necessarily the culprits in this case, not least of all because I rather like them and many other predators. I don’t like the reality of one living creature killing another, but it *is* natural, when done for food and survival, so I don’t begrudge either the thoughtful human hunter or the wild one. Great detective work on your part! And what a beautiful owl. I’ve only a few rare times gotten to see owls in daylight and am a little envious of your opportunities to commune with them that way!
    xoxo,
    Kathryn

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    1. Right now is an exciting time in the woodlands! Those barred owls perform their various crazy calls most hours of the day, but particularly early morning, early afternoon and always at dusk. There is one call that makes me laugh out loud – sounds like a bunch of monkeys in a cage! What a ruckus! And the hawks are performing their courting flight, circling high above while screeching out to each other. Foxes can be heard barking out their raspy mating call, and woodpeckers are returning. Their drumming is heard throughout the day.
      I have not seen the coyotes in a while now. FD and I have been picking up the scattered body parts as we find them and remove them from the property to keep predators from coming back. It’s the only way to keep the coyotes from frequenting the area. Just last weekend we were out looking for antler “sheds” and I found another skull of a young buck that had been sawed off just behind the head, and a gnawed on spine – both from a deer. So body parts are still turning up.
      We really need to make time to go down the property line to visit neighbors and give them a heads up about the coyote problem, that way not blaming anyone. But we have a very good idea who the culprit is.

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      1. A good solution. I guess it’s usually not too tough to detect who’s been doing such a thing, given the clues, but it’s important to maintain the best relationships with neighbors that one can, so your approach will be doubly beneficial, I’d think.

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