Watching and Waiting

The weather generally dictates my schedule for the week. Lately it’s been cold and windy, so I’ve kept to indoor projects. But the last week has been a different pace, with Forrest now retired. There is an ease to everything – staying up later watching a good movie, getting up later than usual as a result of being up so late, and eating when we’re hungry instead of a set time for meals. And because of the times, we are indulging in a lot of internet news. Of course there is the distraction of four fawns that parade past the computer room window. Often in the mornings, Forrest makes time to walk to the orchard with them.

Forrest on a morning walk with the girls.

The winter time can be difficult for wildlife. With most plants in a dormant stage, and good cover a bit harder to find, we see a lot of predation. I have noticed the scat of various predators both near our house, and on pathways through the woods. Many predators make their presence known, while others are cleverly hidden and it is rare to see them. The bobcat is one such hunter. Yet a couple of weeks ago I saw one in broad daylight, down below the slope, waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting small mammal. I managed a photo before it got up and sauntered off. I felt as if this bobcat was used to being around humans. This caused me a bit of worry about the fawns. They’re old enough to run fast and far, but the bobcat is an agile runner and killer. Our first orphaned deer, Daisy, was attacked by a bobcat while trying to save her first fawn from an attack. She survived the fight, but her fawn did not.

This bobcat seemed just a little too comfortable in our woodland bottom. He watched me for a long while, before my approach sent him sauntering off to the west through the woods.

Being a keeper of chickens, I continually work to keep the flock safe. Unfortunately, our chicken barn is old and dilapidated. Forrest has worked to put metal siding along the bottom in many areas, to keep varmints out. But predators are clever opportunists. In a little over a year’s time, we went from a flock of fifty-two chickens, to the current number of thirty-one – which includes Dale the rooster. Last winter was especially hard with very cold temperatures, and then a respiratory illness was introduced to the flock. Buying from a local breeder without checking credentials, cost us dearly – we learned a hard lesson. That illness was the start of the dwindling numbers. Then, two foxes attacked in February, and we lost a total of six chickens. In the days that followed, a few more died for no apparent reason other than we suspected stress and shock from the fox attack. In mid-summer we found three young opossums living in the barn. While they were not old enough yet to pose a threat to the chickens, they were robbing eggs from the nest boxes. We trapped and relocated them. Next, it was a group of raccoons that were frequenting the barn area, likely eating the deer feed we keep handy for the deer in their old pen. I have never forgotten the night more than a decade ago when we lost twenty-six hens in one night to a raccoon massacre. Raccoons are trapped regularly here, and transported a good distance off so they don’t find their way back.

Cooper’s hawks are common killers of small birds and squirrels in the winter months.
This was one of the young opossums found living in the barn. Opossums are one of my favorite mammals, but they do not belong near chickens. The woodlands are a much better habitat for them.
This little raccoon seems harmless and cute. But, they are ferocious and a well-known chicken killer in these parts!

Over the summer I noted that Dale the rooster spent a lot of afternoons giving the danger alert call. I know this sound – it’s truly alarming, as if he’s highly stressed. Anytime I heard Dale make the danger call, I found a red-tailed hawk or a Cooper’s hawk lurking high above in a tree. A couple of times I saw a hawk fly low over the pen, ducking under the big pecan tree that shades the chicken barn. Fortunately, Dale’s alert always got the hens safely inside. I also added large branches with leaves attached to help give the chickens cover in the large pen, just in case they couldn’t make it into the barn. Then last week, Forrest discovered a hawk tearing up a hen. It was Twinkie – the smallest hen we have, who always let me hold her.

This was most of our flock last spring. Clearly, the old barn sags in the middle and the foundation has given way.
Ms. Foxy found her a nice chicken dinner when a rooster flew over the protection of the barn fence.
Scenes like this fox attacking and killing a squirrel are common here on the ranch.
I found this coyote lurking about on the slope just behind the house.
Coyotes tend to run along the old river channel. Animals and birds that come for water often meet their death while having a drink.
This coyote either died of natural causes or may have been shot by a local cattle rancher. I found the complete carcass while hiking to the river one morning.

We don’t generally kill anything unless it makes an attack on our chickens or the orphaned deer we raise. The hawk will not be dealt with since they are a protected species. So we will just provide a safer chicken yard environment as best we can. People seem to feel comfortable with live-trapping and release – it sounds wonderful, no death, and a fresh start somewhere in the wild where we believe they flourish. But it isn’t always that smooth of an outcome. Many times, these transplanted mammals end up in unfamiliar areas and are run off because of territorial boundaries of their own species. It takes time to familiarize themselves with the layout of their new area and to locate food, water and shelter. And they may be targeted as prey by another predator. When we trap and release, we spend a lot of time finding a place where we feel they have the best chance to survive, and one far enough away that they don’t attempt a trek back home.

Predators are always present. They exist commonly in the human world as well. Surviving them requires continual awareness — watching and waiting… being fit for battle, and ready for the fight.

This bull snake was commonly seen sunning itself on our driveway last summer. By midmorning it usually slithered over to the neighbor’s woolly backyard. That area of tall grasses and downed trees was the perfect setup for a snake. This one apparently was successful in catching varmints like mice and rats. Unfortunately, many toads, baby birds and squirrels or eggs in nests fall victim to snakes. They are expert at climbing trees!
We rarely see gray foxes in this area, but one year a pair of them were often seen in the dry creek below the slope. The gray fox is much smaller in size than the red fox.
It’s common to find areas of scattered feathers all through the woodlands. I found these feathers near the water in the slough.
Many fawns lose their lives to coyotes in the birthing months of May through July. I find deer parts quite often on hikes.
With the foxes no longer a threat, there has been a revival of the cottontail population on the ranch this past year.

© 2021 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


38 thoughts on “Watching and Waiting

  1. We have had an exploding population in our little town of people from the “big cities” and they are not familiar with all the critters they are encountering here. One woman even wanted to know what kind of fence would keep snakes out of her yard! It’s hard sometimes to watch the life and death cycle go on, but I know it’s nature at work. Question–under the picture of the cottontail you said “With the foxes no longer a threat…” Why are they no longer a threat?

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    1. Hi Ellen. Education is key when we are approached by people who aren’t familiar with wildlife. When approached by a neighbor down the street about unwanted foxes under her garden shed, it was a good friend of mine in the rehab business who suggested the woman put a radio out in the garden shed at night to annoy the foxes, in hopes they would move – and they had vacated by the next morning! Most people don’t consider that they are responsible for attracting critters at times too. People leave pet food outdoors, or dump food scraps in a compost pile. It’s important to try and deter them, rather than invite. It’s all about education and working together for the good of all. Snakes are always a good predator to have around. We must learn to understand their importance in Nature.

      The foxes were relocated. Normally, I don’t mind foxes – they’re great gopher hunters, and we have LOTS of gophers here. Foxes and raccoons must be taken many miles away or they find their way back (at least that’s been our experience). The past two mornings Forrest relocated two adult raccoons who were in the deer pen area. And just this past weekend, neighbors down the street whose property borders our orchard, said they have seen a red fox in the area below them (orchard) so already another red fox has set up a territory. Mammals come and go, depending on food sources. It is a constant battle tracking predators.

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      1. Such sensible methods of encouraging animals to relocate themselves. Love the radio idea! Wew did something similar at one house when a squirrel family thought they would move in…luckily we found them before finishing and furnishing their “room”…it would have been more difficult with littles in a nest. Each year we look for any access into the house/attic….easier than trapping and getting them to a safer location
        It does sound like this year of fewer humans out and about was great for animals.

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        1. That radio trick is something I’ve passed on to many people with varmints that get in the attic or under a home. Of course one has to let the neighbors know what they’re doing – can’t have them thinking there is a party going on all night! I’m glad you were able to curtail the squirrels moving in. Squirrels can do a LOT of damage!

          I’m not sure about fewer humans out and about in these parts. We just got our newer truck back from the body shop after a near “deer” incident. It was nearly 20K worth of damage to the truck avoiding a mama deer and two fawns! The body shop guy said this had been the worst year on record for deer/vehicle mishaps that he can remember.

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      2. Most folks new to the country don’t take their own interloper status into account. We live on former farmland that was developed for housing because of the growing population due to the UMass increasing student and faculty numbers.It’s amazing the trouble a small animal can cause and lead the new home owners seek to kill them. Although our neighborhood has been establish now for over 50 years, the coyotes, foxes, fishers, bobcats, snakes, and occasional bear still look at this as their roaming territory are not appreciated as the original residents of this land.

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  2. Most of these anlmals I only know from documentairies. When you live near to a city (and surely in Belgium) you never see any animals. We only have some rabbits in the parks. What a difference with your place ! I loved to read your story.

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    1. We sure get a lot of action from various birds and mammals, reptiles too. Most of the time it’s not a worry since our chickens are not far from the house and we check on them daily. It’s the night time activity that is difficult to monitor. Often, it’s the morning that I open up the chicken door that I realize there’s been trouble in the night. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

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    2. Hi Rudi! I’m glad you are enjoying the wildlife here. We are fortunate to have such an array of wild critters. Just today Forrest and I walked the four deer to the river, and we ran into other deer, and some wild hogs. I wasn’t too keen about the hogs… so we changed our route through the woods. Mostly, I discover what wildlife is on our property by watching what scat is left behind. It took me a few years, but I consider myself a scat expert now!! Ha ha!

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  3. You get to see country life as it really is: stray body parts, eat and be eaten. Along those lines, Tennyson (in his poem “In Memoriam”) popularized the notion of “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”

    You’ve made a good portrait of the Cooper’s hawk. The bull snake seems to have as many meanders as the Mississippi.

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    1. Oh, I’ll have to check out Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”! Almost every year I see a big bull snake sunning itself on the driveway, and I wonder if it is the same one. I have several shots of snakes over the years, but this one was very photogenic and didn’t seem to mind me moving around her. I always thank my subjects for posing for me. I hope they know I’m a friend, and not a predator!

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  4. I find them all fascinating… I love the photos and story about how you share your environment and with who. All creatures have a role to play even though sometimes we wish their stage was elsewhere. Yesterday our resident Willy Wagtail was making a ruckus so I knew something was up… sure enough, a hawk… perched in the undercover patio area overlooking the birdbath… cheeky! I encouraged it to move on. A few days earlier our rooster Ketut had alerted me to it out the back, put out the call and herded his hens straight back into the pen. We prefer to live and let live and have become accustomed to dealing with most things… I have an affection for foxes, so despite its dilapidated appearance our chook run is well fortified and has never suffered incursion from a fox, although it’s impossible to keep the carpet snakes and goannas from partaking of eggs… it’s always a good idea to check before entering the coop. The raccoons and opossums look so cute, but I’m glad we don’t have to deal with them here.

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    1. I am always fascinated to learn about the environment in other parts of the world, and especially to discover what species of animal, bird and reptile exist. I have a reader from Australia who feels fortunate that a carpet snake frequents her backyard, as it keeps roof rats under control. I like snakes, but I’m not too fond of pythons! GADS! And I had to look up what a goanna was. Sheesh, I’m glad we don’t have to tangle with either one of those species! I’ll keep my raccoons and opossums any day! Ha ha! And I’m like you, just in case there is a critter in a chicken nest box, I always look before reaching in.

      I think most of the time, it’s a gradual process where we learn to respect and appreciate all species. Living here with all of nature has led me to consider the importance of all life. Even the weeds!

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    1. Thank you! That snake let me get very close with my iPhone. She was a beauty. Instead of slithering off she stopped and waited for me to back off. I always thank critters for letting me photograph them. 🙂

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    1. I didn’t know that about Los Gatos. Normally, bobcats are quite reclusive. The big one I saw wasn’t a bit worried about me until I got closer. It later crossed in front of me along the trail. I thought that was unusual!

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      1. They are not as reclusive ad the mountain lions. I have seen only two mountain lions ever, and one was only seen because it could not get out of my way fast enough on a steep mountain road (with a cliff above and below). Bobcats are more numerous, so not so easy to avoid.

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  5. Bravo for Dale! Sorry to hear about Twinkie, though. Mother Nature is a cruel mistress. Fascinating reading today Lori, thank you. I’m so glad you and Forrest are easing into retirement so nicely. My husband has been retired for 10 years and he still doesn’t understand it! Whatever makes him happy.

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    1. Dale has been a great rooster over the years. He’s getting very old – maybe thirteen years or more. He’s slowed down a good bit this winter, but he still protects the girls. Twinkie and a couple of other hens have been famous for finding trouble. Hawks are a constant threat here, even though the chicken yard has plenty of cover to protect them. Where there is a will, there is a way… my mom always said! The hawk won this battle, unfortunately.

      Forrest and I have been laughing at just how easy settling into retirement has been this first three weeks. I have discovered how to kick back a little and enjoy an easier pace. 🙂

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  6. Goodness me. I started reading and had to come back every now and then. I do find a bit of nature envy at your place. I don’t envy the killing of your “livestock” and farm yard. I decided to not have chooks anymore due to coming home to find dead chooks. Foxes, Carpet Pythons and Quolls are the biggest threats. At least foxes eat their catch. So do Pythons. Some dogs (cough neighbours but no proof) ripping apart random chook. But Quolls, a Native Australian Cat like animal, like ripping the throat out and drinking the blood leaving me with a carcass to deal with. I did lose a Rooster like that as well. Brave to the last. I love your place 🙂 Seeing a Bobcat and Coyote must be special

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    1. Thanks so much for your informative comment. I have another Australian friend who says she’s thankful for carpet pythons because they keep varmints like roof rats under control. I had to look up what a quoll was, and it seems to be similar to our weasels, except weasels do not drink blood.

      This was the first time I had a good and lengthy siting of a bobcat, so it was indeed quite special. We rarely see them, as they are quite reclusive, but we know of two that exist between here and the river as we capture them on game cameras a lot, especially near the old river channel. Coyotes are seen a good bit on the leased property west of here, and also in the orchard. I know they run our property here around the house as I find fresh scat most mornings. They blatantly leave their scat on well-traveled trails. I have heard people say they’ve seen them in the neighborhoods in this area. That doesn’t surprise me – most all wildlife here have acclimated to living in or near towns and cities.

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  7. Your photos are always so wonderful, and I appreciate your thoughts on the cruel realities of the wild. I take it personally when predators attack my chickens, and if they hurt the goat, sheep, or cats I would be heartbroken. We do all we can, but as you said, nature sometimes finds ways to overcome our best efforts.

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    1. Being an owner of chickens, you understand the issue of predators and most likely have made some horrific observations over the years. We hear more and more about mountain lions in Oklahoma, but it is downplayed by officials most of the time. I suppose they do not wish to panic people, but we know they exist. Coyotes and foxes are common here and much less of a threat. As you say, we do what we can to protect our livestock and local wildlife.

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  8. I grinned at your mention of the radio. A friend had raccoons in her attic, and about 18 hours of Led Zeppelin took care of that. Of course, she was ready to make tracks to anywhere else, too, but at least the raccoons left.

    The last time I was at the Brazoria refuge, there had been quite a bit of rain, and a lot of mud was created. In one area, I found deer, cat, alligator, and raccoon tracks. It was a good reminder that we’re never alone out there, and someone’s almost always watching. There are coyotes and feral hogs, too; the hogs are beginning to really tear the place up. Carcasses are more common along the highways, and I worry about hitting one as much as I do hitting a deer.

    Down south, there are increasing sightings of mountain lion, too. I told someone (you?) about the hunter who was tracked by one on his way to a deer stand. The critter stayed about 20′ away, skirting him the whole way. He had a sidearm, but made it to the blind before there was any need it. He still was breathing hard when I heard him tell the story, a week later.

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  9. Interesting about the feral hogs in your area. I had heard Texas was thick with them in all regions, and even in the outskirts of large cities. We see them quite often here, and they are very destructive. On our last hike to the river with the deer, We ran into two different groups of hogs, but one was primarily two sows with a lot of babies. Fortunately, they all ran from us, but it sure spooked our fawns. I don’t venture any further into the river if I see signs of hogs.

    Yes, you mentioned your hunter friend. Forrest had a co-worker who had a similar experience hunting just southwest of here. For some reason the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation downplays the sightings of mountain lions here. I think it would be better to inform the public about them.

    The woman who sent the foxes packing played Hispanic music. She had alerted her next door neighbor about what she was going to do, and he asked if since he had to listen to music all night, could it at least be something he enjoyed. He even helped her tune into his favorite station! That’s being a good neighbor!!

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