DATELINE – Spring 2023

The Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex is blessed with an abundance of reservoirs and lakes–both large and small. Many of the larger lakes are bounded by areas of US Army Corp of Engineers lands, or others types of public property. A good percentage of these public lands have remained undeveloped and are largely unmanaged. These areas then become great places for bushwhacking exploration, if you are so inclined!

An abundance of lakes and reservoirs can be found in and around DFW

For me, there are few things I enjoy more than hiking and exploring off trail. A new plot of land than I have not been on previously is all the better. This past spring, I had the opportunity to poke around on one such parcel of public land–a substantial and feral peninsula jutting out into one of our local reservoirs.

A tract of undeveloped public land, like the peninsula
in the far distance, just cries out for exploration

There is always something interesting to be found on parcels of land like this one. Whether it is stumbling across remnants of the land’s past use (much of which is rapidly approaching 100 years of age around the metroplex), or more recent evidence of other human visitors, to exciting wildlife sign or encounters, the notable things you can discover on these kind of hikes is what makes them so much fun.

I visited this plot of land on four separate occasions this past spring, covering a period of time from when things were just starting to green up, until the seasonal vegetation was lush and full. Even though I was thoroughly engaged in hiking and exploring, I still made an effort to document our wanderings in photographs. I tried to take pictures of every notable sight and oddity we stumbled upon.

Further, the abundance of wildlife sign encouraged me to leave behind a few trails cameras to see what they would reveal. Every one of those sets were very productive, and lots of great pictures were recorded. The amount of White-tailed Deer activity–particularly by big, impressive bucks–was remarkable. We placed our cameras in time to catch still-aggressive bucks in some late season sparring, and recorded their interactions until well after the antler drop a few weeks later. The sheer number of pictures we recorded inspired me to begin referring to the peninsula as “Buckland.” See the photo-essay below for more!

A beautiful early spring day. Things are greening up!
The woods were largely clear of underbrush over the majority of the peninsula
Deer sign was heavy on this peninsula. It would certainly
only be a matter of time before we crossed paths with some!
A gnarly tangle of vines and roots
Mean-looking Prickly Ash bark
A well worn game trail–one of many crisscrossing the property
A bird’s nest left over from last season
Though the way was general clear over most of the peninsula,
there were still some areas of dense underbrush
It was only a matter of time before we flushed our first deer!
One part of the property was interspersed with numerous, small vernal pools.
Click Picture to Enlarge
Bucks were attracted to this area. They seemed
to enjoy sparring in and around the pools of water
A stump covered in a dense weave of vines
The first of many abandoned campsites we discovered
An ornament left hanging in the woods
Softballs, baseballs, tennis balls, and golf balls were found frequently
Another campsite. The cloth on these foldable chairs had long since rotted away
Just off a cove, we found a few Spotted Gar skeletons
Evidence that a duck had recently fallen prey to
one of the peninsula’s predators–likely a Coyote!
Beaver sign was to be found in several
different places along the way
A collapsed old shack. This structure likely dates
back to a time before the reservoir was constructed
An animal den dug under the remnants of the old shed
A chain of old tires washed up near the shore-certainly from one of the nearby marinas
This huge tire was found near the shore as well
A huge floating structure, lost from a nearby marina, and stranded
here on the peninsula during a time of high water
Why attach a jar lid to a tree? Your guess is as good as mine!
Discovering another campsite. This one was likely
built by kids from a nearby lakeside neighborhood
Dad won’t be happy his loppers were left to rust on the ground!
My trail cameras began recording deer activity on day one;
in this case less than an hour after I placed the set
Look at this fine fellow!
A near perfect shot… of a trail camera shadow!
Another gorgeous buck
This was not the biggest buck on the peninsula,
but his massive rack was certainly the most impressive!
The bucks chased each other around and around at this location near the shore
After deer, it was Coyotes that were the most frequently photographed.
This one has just recently been in the water
The area of vernal pools was another favorite place for the bucks
They liked to spar in and around the pools of water
It’s almost as if they appreciated that splashing in water made for a more dramatic fight!
Two monster bucks squaring off. That’s the king of the forest there in the background!
Bucks moving through the woods in an intense mid-spring rain storm
Coyotes patrolled this are regularly too!
A flushed deer running for cover
Antler are beginning to drop!
A group of bucks bedding down in front of my camera.
One still has his antlers, the other two have recently dropped theirs
Down to just one antler, this buck decides to take
a break right in front of one of my trail cameras
All antlers dropped in this group
Antlered vs antlerless… who will win!?!

8 Replies to “Buckland Peninsula”

  1. Another excellent and well illustrated with good photographs article.

    Chris, I believe the gar head is that of a long-nosed gar, rather than a spotted gar. Check the relative length of the snout to the total head length.

    1. Hi David,
      Gar identification is difficult for me–especially on small skeletons like this one. Only having the skull makes it more challenging. I do not have a method for making what I consider an absolute positive ID (hopefully there is a good technique that I will eventually have a chance to learn), so I do the best I can and try to make a good educated guess. Here’s how I worked the problem this time… In this case we have three possibilities: The Spotted Gar, the Alligator Gar, and the Longnose Gar. The fourth Texas species (Shortnose Gar) lives only in the Red River and should not normally be found in the DFW metroplex. Next is to look at the snout. It is not clear from this profile picture, but the snout on this skeleton is broad along its entire length, with a gentle taper toward the tip. Too broad for a Longnose Gar, but not broad enough for an Alligator Gar. Finally, I look at the eye socket, and try to make a count of how many could fit down the length of the snout. In this case I get the number eight, which I believe is consistent with a Spotted Gar. With a Longnose Gar I might expect the count to approach fifteen or so. Final ID: Spotted Gar!

      1. You are probably right. When I looked at the photo again, I concluded that the width of the snout was probably wider than a longnose would be, and was going to make that comment. Snout width is the most reliable key feature, but the perspective of the photo does not allow a top view of the snout. I was looking at the ratio of snout length to post orbital length, which is less reliable, especially in small specimens. It is supposed to be 2 or greater for longnose gar. This specimen is just about exactly 2, but the ratio changes with age.

        BTW, I think that following the delivery of Red River water into Lake Lavon, shortnose gars have made their way to the Trinity River Basin, though mainly in East Fork and tributaries. I have forgotten the name of the creek that was compromised to serve as the conduit for Red River Water into Lavon.

  2. Should have been postorbital head length in the description of key characters, not just postorbital length.

    1. Thanks for your input, David. I do wish I could find good reliable algorithms that would help me work the diagnostics on IDs like this one. Without, I have to try to develop one on my own, which is very challenging. Its a catch 22… Without an algorithm it is hard to know all of the diagnostics that need to be considered, and without knowing all the diagnostics to be considered it is impossible to develop a reliable algorithm! Gars are one type of animal that gives me trouble like this… Rats and mice are another. Turtles are another. Cicadas, Spiders, crayfish, and other invertebrates can be even worse! If there is a resource for making these IDs, I am not aware of where to find it! I’ve never been able to find one on the internet!

      1. Hi Chris, Here is one reference, somewhat dated with both classification and nomenclature changed for some species since publication. It also may require examination of preserved specimens in some cases, not something one does in the field. Things like scale counts and lateral line pore counts clearly can only be done with the aid of a microscope on some species:

        A good field guide for freshwater fishes is: Page, Lawrence M. and Brooks M. Burr. 2011. _Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes North of Mexico Second Edition. Houghton, Miflin, Harcourt, Boston and New York. Again, some classification and nomenclature has changed, and of course, the book is encyclopedic in coverage, so for speciose groups like minnows and darters, can be daunting.

        It is always fun.

  3. Chris, the Peterson Field Guide mentions a characteristic of the spotted gar that I completely overlooked. The spotted gar has a series of bony plates on the isthmus, the ventral surface between the angle of the lower jaw and between the gill covers. No other gar species has those. They should be present on skeletons seen in the field.

  4. I am a little surprised you have not seen lots of peanut butter jar lids screwed to trees. I have spent lots of time on public land in the woods. I come across them all the time.

    Usually it’s poachers or baiting on public land where it’s not permitted. Just screw the lid to a tree. Cut the bottom of the peanut butter jar out and screw it back on the tree. They are usually at the right height for deer and to high for hogs.

    If you see one with peanut butter still in it. There might be a trail cam around too.

    FYI… I love your site. I have been reading it for years. Keep up all the good work.

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