80 Acres Fall Has Begun

Signs of fall: departure: seeding of warm-season grasses: the yellow spear-heads of Indiangrass, the color shift of the seedheads of Big Bluestem, the graceful dangling seeds of sideoats grama, the rich purple and silver of Eryngo, the spikes of gayfeather suddenly showing up, with faint color before they open to their own shade of purple, Maximilian sunflowers shooting up much taller (no flowers yet, but there will be), other grasses browning off, grape leaves covered in spots of ashy fungus (grapes have long been consumed by now) and curling at the edges, occasional bright red leaves of poison ivy and Virginia creeper.

Departure of some summer-only bird species…migration heading south.  Today, a brilliant yellow and black male goldfinch in the back yard–haven’t seen one here in breeding plumage before, so an early migrant.  We have them in their sober winter colors, and they start molting to their spring finery just before they leave…usually patches of bright yellow on the winter brown.  The yellow-billed cuckoo is gone (left a week or more ago).  Morning bird voices are less, but will pick up again as the winter-resident sparrows arrive, and the robins, and others.   Sandhill cranes, occasional Whoopers, some years the geese and ducks fly over us and some years they sail on by without calling or being seen.

And spiders.  From sometime in August (it varies with weather) until the first frost, trails are barriered by the big yellow and black Argiope orb-weavers.   Things fly down the trails, right into their webs.  I walk down the trails, trying not to walk into them (they often hang out on the web about face-height, and I do not like finding a startled and frantic palm of hand sized spider  on my face and glasses, eager to escape.)  Normally I carry my bamboo pole, and swing it up and down along the trail to  dislodge these large ladies.  But today, I was on another mission, to measure the trails with my latest expense: a distance measuring wheel with a circumference of three feet, a movable kickstand, and a readout of feet traveled.   It’s not designed for swinging up and down, and even if it were, it can’t both swing while I walk and do its counting.  I was walking the West Grass Loop, and found that–with a side trip to Fox Pavilion to check the water level (fine, and trembling from the wings and tongues of quite a few bees, though not as many as yesterday evening.  The West Grass Loop, including that side trip, is about 1.2 miles long.

Why a measuring wheel, you might ask.   Because most of our trails were made by cattle when this was an overgrazed pasture, so they mostly aren’t straight, which makes them more fun to walk, in our opinion.  Straight lines are for developers, not for us (except the fences.)    So measuring tapes or ropes just won’t do the trick, but the measuring wheel handles curves, turns, ups and downs (ours are gentle) , and surface that includes solid rock, gravel, dirt, rocky dirt, grass clumps on dirt, and mown grass.   The 1100+ foot stretch on the north fenceline, from creekbank to the dry woods, is a steady gentle, but noticeable, climb if you’re going east.

I got my measuring wheel from Allen Precision, whose online catalog has everything from old-tech machetes (and measuring wheels) to the latest in surveying equipment in which the words “electronic,” “bluetooth,” “modem,” and “robotic” appear frequently along with brand names: Leica geosystems,  Nikon, Geomax, and Spectrum….and there’s not a plain old theodolite in the bunch.  That I found, in a hurried look anyway.  Theodolites I understandMarking flags, marking paints in multiple colors,  a wheel with a handle like mine modified to hold the special marking paints upside down so you can paint a line on a road (or, I suppose, a trail), tripods, etc, etc, etc.    Also, the sales person I talked to on the phone was a) a real human and b) talked to me as if I were too, when I asked for advice on *which* (of pages of them) measuring wheel would be good for my purposes.  And the wheel arrived Thursday, a day earlier than it was promised.   I may have WriterBrain not EngineerBrain like my mother, but I was raised around engineer stuff and I like engineer stuff.   It DOES stuff.   Later I’ll add a picture of my measuring wheel to this post, maybe this afternoon, but it’s nap-time now.

It’s still summer-hot, Texas August summer-hot, but this morning, walking down to the creek woods, the air was actually COOL until the sun got up enough I wasn’t in shade anymore.

12 thoughts on “80 Acres Fall Has Begun

  1. I didn’t know American robins migrated, ours are territorial, holding the same territory year long. We are in the midst of a territory here, but when we lived in Sheffield we were near the edge of a one. The two robins would have vicious sing-offs at each other, ‘ours’ perched at the top of a holly so you could see how much effort went into the singing.

    Your wheel sounds perfect for your conditions, I hope you don’t run into any more Argiopes while weilding* it, having large spiders on your face is disconcerting.

    * sorry too good to resist.

    1. I didn’t know your robins *didn’t* migrate, so we’re even. Where I’ve lived in Texas has always been on a migratory flyway, though in different segments of it, so we saw different things. Right here, we have multiple bird populations: the winter migrants who arrive in the fall and stay the winter, the spring migrants that come through here on their way to nesting ground farther north, the summer migrants who arrive in spring and stay for the summer, nesting here, the fall migrants who come through on their way farther south (spring and fall are not usually the same species, oddly enough), and the permanent residents, here all year and nesting over much the same time-frame as the summer migrants.

      When I got back to the house today, my husband pointed out a large Argiope which has webbed the screen door into the kitchen. I need to move here because we need to go in and out that door multiple times a day. Sorry, lady, there are plenty of other places you can be, but not blocking my kitchen door…it’s how I get laundry out to the clothesline, how I get to and from the barn, and how I get out to the 80 acres from the house.

    2. And of course, the thing I didn’t realize until I moved from California to France, is that European robins are tiny little cute balls of fluff compared to American robins. Such different birds…

      1. Exactly. NA “robins” are thrushes, and European robins are flycatchers, more nearly related to the NA small flycatchers, not the bigger “tyrant” flycatchers. And the UK (and Europe?) has the “buzzard” that’s a hawk, while our “buzzards” are vultures, the Black and the Turkey Vultures.

  2. Picturing you with your stick to avoid spiders reminds me of walks in the woods with my daughters way too many years ago. The older two would pick up sticks and walk out front, waving them to get rid of spiders across the path. The little one, about a year and a half, always picked up one and waved it, too. She had no idea what her sisters were doing, but she had to do it, too.

  3. Hi – hope everyone is still safe and still sane. We have goldfinches come to our feeder up here in New Hampshire also. And at least you can fend off the spiders – unlike another certain creature which actually invades your house. Enjoy the outdoors. Extremely hot and humid up here.

    Jonathan up here in New Hampshire

    1. When do New England’s goldfinches abandon your feeders and head south for the winter? Most of yours, I’d imagine, take the Eastern Flyway down, east of the Appalachians, and our winter goldfinches are coming down from the middle of the country, but would be interested in when yours arrive and leave.

      It’s hot and humid down here, too, but we had a very small shower today. Every drop is welcome after several dry weeks.

  4. Hi – I am not sure when the goldfinches leave for the south as there a variety of birds who come to the feeder and we do not watch continuously. It is fun though to watch them. We have a resident loon on the pond and some ducks. There is a hummingbird who chases away any other hummingbird and some woodpeckers who attack the suet. Also some titmice and a pair of juvenile cardinals – the parents used to come but no longer.

    Stay safe and sane

    Jonathan up here in New Hampshire

  5. With my (slightly dated) smart phone, I have a choice of free apps that can track activities. Strava allows you to designate them as walks, bike rides, etc. RideWithGPS assumes that everything is a bike ride. Both, of course, require starting, stopping, and naming your outing. I’m not entirely consistent at the starting and stopping bits, so have outings that sometimes are short or longer that actual.

    A wheel with a counter doesn’t have those issues, nor require fighting with technology.

    Thanks for the flora and avifauna update!

    1. Of course, both apps want you to buy subscriptions, and beg repeatedly, but those supplications can be ignored, but come back time and again.

    2. When I was still on Facebook (can’t figure out how to get back on) a number of the horsewomen in the horse group I was in used an app to track their rides. I don’t think I want such an app, myself, but then I also don’t have a smartphone. I have a half-smart clamshell.

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