Dateline – October 12, 2013
On occasion I go into the woods with no other purpose other that to just see what I can see. At these time I let serendipity lead the way, and I am almost always glad I did.
I went on one such hike this past October. Most of this trip was conducted off trail. My objective? To explore!
I started early on a Saturday morning, and had barely stepped off the beaten path when I came across my first find of the day—a White-tailed Deer antler shed. I always keep an eye out for sheds whenever I am moving through a likely area, but I had never found one before this hike. This antler was a nice non-typical form. Its unique shape gives it a good deal of interesting character.
I continued making my way through the forest I soon came across another unusual find. This time I discovered what I believe is a Lantana plant. The bushy green plant was hard to miss with its abundance of small yellow and pink flowers, and it seemingly did not belong here. The thought crossed my mind that the Lantana was likely an ornamental and possibly evidence that there had once been a home nearby. I believe the land in this area became public sometime in the late 1950’s, so if there had been a house at this location it had been a very long time ago.
Moving on, I found another piece of evidence just a few dozen yards away. It was a back forty gulley being used as a makeshift trash dump. Almost every parcel of old farmland I have ever explored in north Texas has something like this somewhere on the property.
This particular dump contained a variety of old appliances and other pieces of metal, with a few glass bottles thrown in for good measure. Judging from the looks of things, I might be inclined to date the artifacts in this trash heap back to the late 1960s or early 1970s. This doesn’t quite jive with what I understand about the history of the property, so this refuse pile may or may not be associated with a possible homestead.
Continuing on my way, I soon began to approach the first significant water feature of the hike—a swampy widening of the creek whose course I had generally been following. It was here that I first began to observe some wildlife.
I spotted an Osprey high in a treetop near the water’s edge while I was still at quite some distance away. I did my best to approach the bird stealthily, but the sharp-eyed raptor spotted me and took to the air before I could make it to a better vantage point.
But all was not lost. As I stepped into a clearing near the banks of the water feature, I was treated to a brief encounter with a juvenile Raccoon. The Raccoon was busy patrolling the shoreline and did not notice me a first. I was occupied with scanning the sky and hoping for another look at the Osprey, so I did not notice the Raccoon until his noisy passage alerted me. We both became aware of each other at roughly the same time. He considered me and I considered him, taking a few pictures in the process. Then I slowly turned and walked away leaving the Raccoon to continue about his business without further interruption.
Not long afterwards I came across another compelling spot near the water’s edge. This time in October is perhaps the height of the Monarch Butterfly’s annual migration to Mexico, and here among a grove of Poverty Weed I found an abundance of these attractive yellow-orange butterflies. The entire congregation was juicing up on nectar, no doubt to help fortify them for the rest of their southward journey. Many other insects were present at this location as well.
As I began to hike away from the marshy creek, I came across what I first believed to be a juvenile copperhead. After checking my photographs of the 10 inch long snake against some reference material at home, I discovered that the snake was actually a young Cottonmouth—a Water Moccasin.
He was eager to retreat as I approached, and I was eager to let him. He quickly crawled into a tangle of grass and branches that made taking an unobstructed photograph all but impossible. But that was alright. It was just nice to have one of these guys fleeing from ME for a change!
A short time later and a little further along the way I made another couple of strange discoveries. I find things like this every once in a while, and it is always fun to think about how and why these items ended up deep in the woods as they did.
The first unusual item I came across was a simple AC/DC badge of some sort. Its hard to imagine a scenario that would explain a fan of this 1980s era rock band losing his paraphernalia out where he did. Sometimes you just have to be satisfied with not knowing.
Other times—as is the case with the next bizarre find I made—there IS an explanation for how something so seriously out of place ended up where it did. See the news report below for what could have been—but fortunately was not—a tragic wave runner accident.
I’m quite sure the owner of this wave runner never wants to see it again!
On the move again, I soon came across a spot that had intrigued me for many months. Looking at satellite imagery on Google Maps, I had noticed that there were a set of utility lines that ran across this property that seemed to terminate in the middle of nowhere.
Sure enough, that was the case. The line stopped right here at these two poles. What is not clear is why. Was this an unfinished project? Had there been a building or home at this location that these lines serviced? Or had the line been disconnected from the grid and mothballed?
The answer was unclear from the evidence at the site. There were a couple of utility poles lying on the ground and spaced as if they were to be next in the route, but it was not obvious if they were simply uninstalled poles or if they had been pulled up. Its a mystery.
Eventually, I made my way to the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, which was my unofficial goal for the day. As I headed back out of the woods, I took a shortcut designed to get me back to civilization as quickly as possible.
The return trip was mostly uneventful, with the minor exception a pair of Beaver skulls I found in close proximity to each other, and this iconic hungry spider vs hapless grasshopper situation I came across.
Back at my car I had one final wildlife observation of note. High above me I spotted an unusual looking large bird tracing out circles up near the clouds.
I took a few pictures of what proved to be barely more than a tiny spec in the resulting photographs. It wasn’t until after I was able to process and manipulate the images on my computer at home that the identity of the bird was revealed to me. There will be more on this situation later in the week!