There’s always something new. Sometimes pretty, sometimes not. Sometimes a known thing I’m glad (or sorry, like an invasive alien plant) to see. And sometimes a total mystery–not just a UID (unidentified) bird or plant, but a mystery that’s startling and stops me in my tracks.
This morning I went out as usual, to do a complete walkaround of the west grass, up and across the “hump” on the north fenceline, and back along the east side of the dry woods, and time it. Warm and humid (lots of dew on the grass), but an easy walk west along the south fenceline of the near meadow and then west to Cloud Pavilion and that patch of big bluestem. No breeze at all yet. The sun had gilded the creek woods, and didn’t touch me until I was maybe halfway down the south fenceline. It was a nice morning–some birds calling but not as many as a month ago. Those birds have left. The white-eyed vireos were calling, though. I didn’t spook a deer from the brush near the south fenceline–no “sneezes” and no crackle of leaves or twigs. I could hear people with shotguns trying to hunt doves in the distance. I got into the tallgrasses near the creek, where the mowed path is narrow and the big Argiope orb weavers like to build across it, but didn’t find any this morning. Admiring the bright golden spear tips of the Indiangrass as they were poking out of their sheaths. Spotted a dull-colored female damselfly perched on an Indiangrass leaf. Usually I hear at least one deer “snuff” or crackled the undergrowth as I walk from the south end up to Center Walk, but today the woods were stiller than usual.
I was in sight of Center Walk, which runs from the Entrance Meadow of the Creek Woods up across the West Grass to the SW corner of the Dry Woods when I heard a loud call I’d never heard before. At first I thought it was a big bird of some kind so I looked at the treeline to the north, along the fence, and couldn’t spot anything it might be. Whatever it was called again…and then again…and that made it clear it was in the West Grass north of Center Walk, moving downslope to where my planned path ran. I compared it mentally to other critter sounds I’ve heard: loose dogs, coyotes, feral cats, various birds, sheep, goats, cattle, horses. Nothing fit. I stopped at Center Walk. North of there, the tallgrasses disappear except for Little Bluestem (which right now ranges from waist to shoulder high; some of its tallest seed stalks were about eye level. The sound came again, this time in sharp, staccato phrases, all on one pitch, and now (as whatever it was got closer) clearly not a doggish sound, but the sharp 2-to-4 short sounds in a row reminded me of the warning cries of some critters to their young or group, from “Come NOW!” to “Stay DOWN” or “SNAKE! SNAKE! SNAKE!” It sounded like a large whatever, *intending* to be heard at a distance.. I had the sense that the volume filled the entire West Grass with a warning of some kind. I was the obvious object of the warning. “Human!”
Did coyotes have a separate call for that? R- had come across a coyote family in the gully system, and they made no sound at all, but did a quiet, quick, trot into cover. I had started a gray fox vixen once, who “knew” me and had gone to sleep under a bush while I was watching the birds at the water and photographing them. Then I got up, without any warning, and she exploded out from under her bush with a yelp, then stopped and gave me a dirty look…”You scared me, you stupid human! You’re supposed to make a little noise without moving to let me know you’re getting up.” Then she faded into the brush. So foxes have a very small-canid yelp. Coyotes yelp. This was not a yelp–more like a very loud chirp-squawk. I couldn’t make that sound (didn’t try, then.)
Even though it didn’t sound like a dog, I’m very wary of stray and feral dogs and just stood there watching the trail north. Suddenly there was movement beyond where I was looking and a longish, dark shape moved quickly across and into the Creek Woods. Because of the tall grass between us, I know it had to be higher than knee high. I had the impression is was perhaps 2 1/2 times longer than tall, but I was guessing on how high because of the grass. It wasn’t trotting like a dog. It wasn’t running like either canid or felid. The movement struck me as surreptitious, trying not to be seen, but more interested in getting into cover. The calls had ceased. I heard no more. But I had a serious concern about following the trail north to the north fenceline. The whatever it was had impressed me as being big enough to give me trouble if it wanted to, and the thick growth along that trail would make ambush easy. If whatever it was had young (could’ve been following it without my seeing them) that would be … not exactly safe.
So I called R- (back home, eating breakfast) , told him what I’d seen, that I didn’t want to take the trails I’d planned and would instead take Center Walk straight away from the Creek woods, and check behind at intervals. I did that, then circumnavigated the Dry Woods, with a side visit to Fox Pavilion to refill the wildlife waterer there. No further calls were given by the whatever. No deer stirred in the Dry Woods, either. I usually spook at least a couple-three deer there. Plenty of deer tracks on the trails. I heard small birds–Carolina Chickadee, Black Crested Titmice, one mockingbird. Black Vultures were out and about but not much else. Back up to the north fenceline and east, silence in the woods, but for the flup-flup-flup of Black Vulture wings as they finally decided they could get up in the air.
So my mystery is still a mystery. Not a bear, not an elephant, too big for a fox and also I think for a coyote. We don’t have wolves here now, and all the wild dog types have pointy noses: this was blunt in front. Bobcats look “square” because of their short tails, not long and flowing. All the cats in the area are tannish (with or without spots) although there’s a dark gray-phase jaguarundi down in extreme S. Texas …and it’s not large–2-2.5 feet long, including tail, 15-18 pounds, says my mammal field guide. They’re not known this far north. I’m reasonably sure (even discounting my size guess as much as possible) the whatever was bigger than that. Jaguar…not known in Central Texas, though it has a black phase much farther south. Mountain lion–we know we’ve had one around now and then, but they’re tan, not dark. It’s tempting (but it’s HOT) to go back out as the day heats up and try to see if there’s anything in the midst of the West Grass or the Dry Woods to indicate a kill site. A bunch of vultures, disturbed grass, etc. We’ll see how dedicated I am….R- is busy sawing up a large branch that came off the pecan tree in the other house’s front yard.
Here’s an article on the wild cats of Texas. https://texasnativecats.org/cats-of-texas/