Treasures Found in the Woods

Nature's Still Life

If you find yourself on a human trail in the woods, look off to the side to find a wildlife trail.  This is where the riches are.  Treasures in the woods can be found off the beaten path just about anywhere. Here are the things that caught my eye during my time at Waubonsie State Park in Iowa.

This oak leaf is impaled by the turkey feather. How does it happen that the quill pierces the leaf? Wouldn’t you think it would just push the foliage to the side and continue on its trajectory?  I’d like to know the full story.

Not far from the feather and leaf, was this shed antler peeking out of the leaf cover. In all my years of hiking in deer habitat, I have never found an antler.  I looked for its pair to no avail. Conventional wisdom has it that when one falls, the other is close behind.  It has cute little teeth marks on it where rodents chew to get valuable minerals.

Shed Antler
Shed Antler poking through the leaves

It was the year of the spider in southwest Iowa.  Spider silk is still drifting through the fields on the fall breezes.  Apparently, the orb weavers had a heyday.  The remains of their silks are caught up on the tips of dried plants, so artfully arranged.

These large wasp nests hang from trees throughout the park.  The cottony substance filling some of the chambers is attention-grabbing along with what appear to be insects – the remains of the colony? – in others.  The paper home was too high for closer inspection. And, as these are wasps and not bees, I’m not sure I would’ve inspected more closely if I could have.

I’ve never seen a mole in the flesh before.  I noticed this one out in the open. It was near the lakeshore where the ground is rutted with burrowing mole trails and digs.  Look at those hands!  Don’t they look like big man hands with such human-like fingernails?  If you didn’t know a thing about moles and saw one, you’d know they are excavators.

I wrote about the ecosystem at Point Reyes National Seashore here and how it revolves around gophers.  The ecosystem at Waubonsie State Park, however, is powered by the oaks.  Everyone eats the acorns; turkeys, squirrels, rodents, deer, coyotes, foxes, woodpeckers, blue jays…

I was surprised by the number of deer bones that I encountered.  Mostly cannon bones (the lowest leg bones), but a variety of others, too.  I could assemble an 18-legged deer in no time at all.

Nature is always telling stories.  Some are easier to piece together than others. Clearly, a blue jay met its demise here, likely eaten by a raptor.  Only feathers remain, not a drop of blood, not a piece of skin or bone.  Plucked and consumed entirely.

Blue Jay Feathers
The remains of a Blue Jay

Further along the same trail, I found a fresh kill site. One bright red piece of keel bone still laid among all the white woodpecker feathers. I may have scared the predator away.

One of my favorite ways to glimpse the secrets of the woods is through footprints.  I’ve written about tracking before here and here.  I always get excited to see who’s been around when I wasn’t.

Raccoon Prints
Close up of raccoon prints

Unexpected desert yucca grows on the river bluffs of southwestern Iowa.  Look at the white curls formed from the edges of the leaves.


YuccaWhen there aren’t animals around, I find animals anyway.  A cute little screech owl face in a mushroom, a whale in a burl of wood or prairie flowers long-since-gone, their barren stalks bracing into the wind like little faces.

The patterns of oak leaves frozen in the pond edges accented with duckweed kept me entertained for longer than I care to admit.

Frozen Oak Leaves
The ice almost makes this look like a painting

The trees themselves have treasures, too.  A thickly-barked tree wears a single, solid stripe (from sap?) snaking artfully down its side.  A thick old cedar appears to have been cleaved neatly in two.  The intimidating thorns of the honey locust grasp winding vines, like ornaments and garland on a Christmas tree.  And, when the limb of a neighboring tree grew too close, it was devoured.  The result is reminiscent of Cookie Monsters simple, but wide mouth.

So get out there, find the path less traveled and marvel at what you might find.

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2 Replies to “Treasures Found in the Woods”

  1. You were the absolutely right person to be given this amazing opportunity to spend time at Waubonsie State Park. You have a skill for finding amazing items in your wanderings. And then describing exactly and accurately what you have photographed, and sharing so many interesting things in nature with the rest of us. Thanks for taking us on your wanderings.

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