There are plenty of reasons for me not to like cross timbers forest. It’s hot out here in the summer, and the ticks can be pretty bad. To combat them, I wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants with rubber boots. Then I duct tape the boots to my pants. I also tend to carry more water, which just weighs me down even more.
In most of these forests, fire suppression has allowed eastern redcedar to proliferate beneath the canopy of oaks, so there is a frequent impenetrable gauntlet of interlocking cedar boughs blocking your way. Where there isn’t cedar, there is greenbriar, hooking your ankles and puncturing your thighs. It seems sometimes that every step takes extra effort. Oh for the soft crunch of leaves underfoot and the occasional downed log on which to rest!
But the cross timbers’ patchwork of oaks and prairies also holds delights that have taken hold of me. I once came upon a nestling chuck-will’s widow in a cross timbers patch. I’ve seen a young black snake rattle its tail in the leaves to mimic the sound of an angry rattlesnake. I’ve bonded with a foraging armadillo on a warm December day.
Last week, I spent a delightful morning in the cross timbers. I knew it would be a good day when we found this tarantula in the road nearby our survey site:
Then this dickcissel sang his prairie serenade (such as it is) for (or rather, “in spite of”) us:
Finally, I had the great luck of finding two nests in the span of just a few minutes. The first belonged to a Bewick’s Wren, and it was the first nest of that species I’ve ever discovered. Next, I was thrilled to locate a nest of Louisiana Waterthrush – the pinnacle of avian evolution. Here’s the mother sitting tight:
So if you’re willing to brave some heat and ticks and greenbrier, wonders await you in the cross timbers.