Afternoon Walk

Posted: December 31st, 2008 under Wildlife.
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It starts out simply, a few hours free to take a walk around and see how things are doing, though since we have not had significant rain for months, and less than half the average annual rainfall, how they’re doing is dry. Still, there’s always beauty, even muted by thirst. I head out across the near meadow, taking a look at a thicket of young cedar elms we decided to let grow for bird habitat…and spot a nest I hadn’t noticed before. Now the tall grass has laid over, and the leaves have fallen and a beautifully constructed nest shows up, perhaps 18 -24 inches above ground in a small cedar elm that’s got branches even lower than that. It’s about 4 inches across, a deep cup, built of twigs on the outside–tiny ones–and then grass, and lined with fine grass stems.

From there I go on to the main grassland, noticing the stunted size of the bluebonnet rosettes that should be twice that size by now to give us a good show in the spring. Without more rain, it’ll be a sparse flowering. Up a diagonal mowed path to the corner of the dry woods, and then down center walk (as we call it) to the creek woods. The entrance meadow is in its winter hiatus, except for greenbriar, and I remind myself that I need to mow this down in the next week or two.

From the entrance meadow I turn left, into the “inside” woods trail to the south, stopping to remove a fallen dead greenbriar stalk from over the trail and drag it aside (why I always wear leather gloves!) , and continue beside the very, very dry “swamp” area. I’ve been noticing deer tracks–not unusual here; the deer use our trails–but also a canid track. We have gray fox, the occasional coyote, and domestic dogs that wander here. About halfway to the south fence, I notice tracks in the drift of fallen leaves, in what is a low, swampy area when we have rain. I decide to follow that track–just for fun.

In the winter woods--deer passage

In the winter woods--deer passage

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have noticed this at all–or been able to follow it if someone had pointed it out–but today it was as easy as if the deer had been wearing booties with wet paint. So I guess all the practice I’ve done on easier tracks is paying off.

When I got to the far end of the place, I checked the water level in the water feature (artificial spring, stream, and pool for wildlife) and since it was low turned on water from the tank the roof feeds into.   Then spent some time watching and photographing birds, as part of an ongoing attempt to document not only what birds are here but exactly what they eat. I saw five species of wintering sparrows, cardinals, mockingbirds, yellow-rumped warblers, blue jays, and a flicker.

My grass stem!

My grass stem!

The wintering sparrows seem particularly fond of the watering possibilities at Owl–some (Harris’s, white-crowned) tend to stay in the upper part of the “stream”, and others come only to the middle (fox), while the “stripey” ones–savannah, song, vesper–seem to like the lower end best, and even get into the aquatic plantings–into the stems–to drink. This one, having been to water, was searching every grass stem for any remaining seed.

After I started back to the house, I remembered I hadn’t turned off the water, so had to go back and turn that off, then start home again.   On the way home, I went up on the knoll and checked the water at the other wildlife guzzler (this one smaller and simpler.)   Spooked a deer across the fence as I walked up from the creek (dry creek this year) but never saw it…nothing else makes that noise.    Then back south across the open grass and the near meadow, noting several savannah sparrows bursting from the grass to perch in the trees and watch me pass.

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