I still remember my first time at South Llano River State Park. It was in August of 2002. There were turkeys brazenly wandering through the campground. They were doing that thing where they spread out their tail feathers real pretty and dance around trying to get attention. Well, it worked! This impressive display of turkey manhood got my attention and made me curious about turkeys.
This week (February 2018), I was back in South Llano River State Park for a few days and spent most of my free time looking for Turkeys. Wild turkeys are hard to find. They are smart. They hear well. They see well. Basically, they do a good job of avoiding predators and that makes them hard to capture on camera. I spent hours walking the hiking trails in the turkey roost area looking through pecan stands for wild turkeys.
A roost is a place where birds regularly settle or gather to rest at night. Texas turkeys roost in trees. In this park, the big roosting trees are pecans. Here, pecan trees are common along the rivers and in the flood planes (i.e. South Llano River).
The roosting areas are off limits to park visitors during times that might interfere with or otherwise degrade turkey habitat. If humans (or dogs for that matter) bother turkeys while they are getting ready for bed, the turkeys will just move somewhere else. Presumably, somewhere else means outside the park where they might be hunted as game.
Don’t get me wrong. I saw plenty of turkeys – mostly either far-far away or when I didn’t have a camera handy. I did my best and captured this pair of foraging Rio Grande Wild Turkeys about 200 yards away.
Other types of birds are easy to find and see in the park. A number of bird blinds are setup with food, water fountains and pools to attract birds.
Additionally, birds are visible in campgrounds and on trails. This was the first time I’ve seen ducks in the park. This group of ducks was swimming in Buck Lake.
These two were steaming along on the river.
Chickadees perched in brush along the river.
There are two kinds of blinds in the park. The first kind, mentioned above, has water and food and is designed to allow park visitors to see birds up close. The second kind of blind can be used for either birds or other wildlife. I’ve found these in the turkey roosting areas and just assume they are used for watching turkeys.
I made a list of the different wild animals (doesn’t include birds) I saw during this trip:
- feral hog
- coyotes (heard, not seen)
- gray fox
- rock squirrels (black ground squirrels)
It seems as though armadillo populations are up. One used to have to pay attention in order to see one. Now they are happily chugging and snorting around the campground as they dig up bits of edible treasure. The following little guy, concerned by the commotion our dogs were making, took one last sniff before seeking safety in his underground tunnel.
It has been hard to get good pictures of deer even though they have been more than plentiful. I see tons of deer just before dawn but the light is just too low for pictures. The few that I’ve seen midday on trails always seem to be running away from something.
One morning, while exploring, I happened upon a bird blind. I heard this kitten meowing but couldn’t see the kitten. The dogs were with me and they were sniffing all over. I assume they were looking for the kitten too.
That was no kitten.
Finally looking up, I see this big orange cat staring down at me. Obviously a stray and obviously VERY WELL FED.
Last time we were in the park, there as a stray dog that wouldn’t leave our dogs alone. I had to shoo him off a couple of times. He is still here. This week, one of the park hosts was finally able to tame him and it looks like they will be able to adopt him. They named the little guy Llano, after the river.
Drivers traveling to the park from Junction, the nearest town, will see ranches raising goats, sheep and/or cattle. Much of the park boundary is accessible by trails. I walked the park boundary near the camping area on the north-east side of the park, then along the river forming the northern boundary of the park and finally from the river on Park Road 73 to its first big turn on the north-west side of the park. The fences are such that hikers can easily see into adjacent properties.
In addition to ranching, some landowners use their property for hunting game. Hunters pay to hunt (kill) game animals at game ranches. Game ranches typically have high eight foot or higher fencing around the property. When the game animals are not native to the area (e.g. from Africa), the game is called exotic.
The ranch on the north-west side of the park has high fences and what appears to be a non-native grazing animal. Deduction – Exotic Game Ranch.
The ranch on the north-east side appears more traditional. They have goats. Surely looking goats.
Junction is on the eastern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. Junction’s average annual rainfall is 25 inches. Compared to the Chihuanhuan Desert interior, this is quite a lot of rain. Even with all the rain, you find plants in the park that are common to the desert.
Thorns are common on desert plants.
Yuccas are often found in the Chihuanhuan Desert. It looks like I found Cousin Itt from the 1964 sitcom The Addams Family.
Not sure what this plant this is. I just like how it brings color to otherwise drab winter landscapes.
The park has a few old windmills that are still pumping water in service to the wildlife in the area. The following windmill is one of the more accessible ones.
We chose a campsite near but not too close to the bathrooms. The campground forms a loop. We chose to be on the outside of the loop so that there wouldn’t be any campers behind us. Depending on the space and the need for shade, we put up a tent and/or a shade shelter (e.g. Pop-Up Canopy Tent). This campsite had a shade shelter over the picnic table so we only needed the tent.
We surrounded our campsite with Foldable Metal Exercise Pens, a form of portable fencing. Fencing makes the dogs very happy and allows all of us (humans and dogs) to enjoy the great outdoors together.
On the cold days, using an extension cord run from the camper to the tent, we used an electric heater to take the edge off the cold.
As I write this post, I’m listening to KOOK 93.5 FM (K Double Oh K) broadcasting from Junction. Despite the station carrying Rush Limbaugh and Fox News (I’m not a fan of either), this is a really good community radio station. The music is mostly the older Country Western that I like (e.g. George Jones, Johnny Cash).
Early in the week I needed quick links for a problem I was having with my tie downs. I went to both hardware stores. Both had what I needed and both were super helpful. We needed a propane refill. I asked a park ranger who in town sold propane. He recommended a good provider where I got my tank filled. Super nice people. Finally, I went to the grocery store to get a battery for my mouse. Great grocery store with super nice people.
I came home with the feeling that I could live in Junction.
I believe it when the people around here say “Y’all come back you hear.”