I know that at least one of these birds pushes the definition of a raptor a little far, but, there is no denying that each of the birds featured in this post is a truly horrific predator if your are unfortunate enough to be considered their prey. It’s been a lot of fun this season shooting these birds. I get out as much as I reasonably can and although it looks like the season is turning over, I’ll have a lot more photos of these birds to share in the following weeks.
That is all for tonight. I will hopefully have more photos of these species to share soon.
We actually had a couple weeks of a deep freeze, old-fashioned winter during the 2020/2021 season. It was enough to get a lot of ice on our rivers and lakes but it didn’t seem to be quite long enough to bring the eagles into Lock and Dam #24 in big numbers. A couple friends and I tried during the last couple days of the deep freeze and although we had fewer than 12 birds, there were opportunities that made it worth our time. Here are a couple photos of a juvenile eagle (a 1.5 to 2.5 year old bird) that I captured as it came to the water to catch a fish that was stunned following its passage through the dam.
Check back soon as I will be posting more photos of eagles and other birds that were making their living in the open waters beneath Lock and Damn #24.
A visit to Loess Bluffs NWR in Holt County near the far northwestern tip of Missouri is a must for any nature enthusiast who has the means to do so. I’ve made this trip approximately seven times during the Thanksgiving week over the past ten or so years. You can see more photos I’ve taken at this location here, here, here, and here. This year, since the pandemic limits so much of social gatherings and we hoped visitor numbers would be low, we made the trip on a very warm Thanksgiving day itself. Today, I am sharing some of my favorite images made during this visit.
Not wanting to stay in a hotel during the great pandemic, we decided to make this a long day trip. We left St. Louis around 1:00 am. This gave us plenty of time to make the ~5 hour drive with stops and allowed for a quick nap before first light when we arrived.
I highly recommend to anyone making the visit to be sure and be here for as much of the day as you can, whether it is one full day or over the course of days. I always find it amusing to watch photographers arrive 2-3 hours after sunrise or leave before last light. By doing so, you are missing some of the best light of the day and perhaps the most activity of the birds and other wildlife.
Snow Geese may be the main attraction, but they are not the only species worth paying attention to. Approximately 25,000 Green-winged Teal were present on the refuge on the day of our visit. Not only that, but they were focused on foraging near the eastern banks of the large pools of the refuge, allowing easy access for getting a little closer.
We found this Pied-billed Grebe preening near the road and stopped to shoot way too many photos of it.
I have had much better success with raptors on other visits but we did find a few Bald Eagles. These birds are always present on the reserve at this time of year. I was surprised there were not more of these and other scavengers. We found at least a dozen goose carcasses in the pools of the refuge, likely the result of mid-air collisions as the blizzards blast off into the air.
I have spotted Sandhill Cranes at the refuge during previous trips, but not in the numbers we saw this year. With a final count of near 35 birds, it was very nice to see. Unfortunately distance and light angle limited our photographic option.
Muskrat mounds are always worth a closer inspection as you make the drive around the refuge. Not only will you likely find muskrat, but several species of birds like to perch upon the them.
Of course daylight is at a minimum this time of year and it’s always surprising to notice how quickly the sun begins to set. This is a fantastic location for sunsets and the snow geese are just as active as they have been all day.
Hopefully these images might persuade you to go and see this spectacle for yourself. It is a natural wonder of the world found in Missouri and should not be missed!
I’m finally ready to share a few more images from a float down the upper third or so of the Current River that Steve and I had the great fortune to experience this past October. We started at navigable mile 8.0 at Cedar Grove Access and pulled out three days later at mile 51, the confluence of the Current and that other, oh-so desirable, Ozark stream – the Jacks Fork. If one floats slow and quiet, the opportunity to see wildlife is very high in this National Park (Ozark National Scenic Riverways N.P.). I’v shared a couple of images of these guys previously. I believe we found 8-9 Mink during the first day of this float. It was enjoyable watching them busily hunt along the stream banks, mostly oblivious to our presence. As usual, Steve did a great job in keeping us quiet and pointed in the optimal direction for capturing some images.
It was quite a challenge to keep up with these guys as they fished. This one below had caught a nice-sized crayfish and barely slowed to stop and enjoy his snack.
Here is a photo of one investigating the water prior to dipping back in.
Not only does a float down the Current allow for great observations of wildlife, but many geological features are most easily seen by being on the river as well. Cave Spring can now be accessed via a nice newer trail, but it is much nicer accessing it by boat. The endpoint of a vast and interesting karst drainage system, Cave Spring rises from the back of a short cave. At the rear of this cave one can guide a boat over the vertical conduit of the spring, which is ~155 feet deep! What an eerie sensation it is to shine your light down and still see no more than a fraction of the length of the conduit shaft. In the image below, I am on a dry exposed shelf adjacent to the spring’s outlet and Steve is guiding the canoe towards the river.
Pultite is a spring found on this upper stretch of the Current River that is surrounded on all sides except the river by private property. This means that one must boat or wade/swim to visit it. At only ~ 1/10 the output of Big Spring, Pultite is still quite a good-sized spring with and average daily output of ~ 25 million gallons. The effluent channel on this one is quite attractive and I hope to visit more often.
If day one was for the Mink, day two was our River Otter day. We had no Mink, but 5 or 6 of these large weasels were spotted.
Not to forget the birds! These days, a trip to nearly any permanent Missouri water source will likely bring an encounter with a Bald Eagle. Observing these guys in the Ozarks will never get old to me.
Another constant companion on these floats are the Fish Crows, here pictured finishing up a little Ozark lobster.
We were fortunate in having mostly clear and dry skies on this trip, which allowed us to throw our bags directly on whatever gravel bar that struck our fancy and sleep directly underneath the stars. A morning fire was necessary – not only to burn the dew off of our sleeping bags, but of course, for the river-water French-press coffee. Dark skies on these streams afford great opportunities for astrophotography. My only wish for this trip is that I was a little more tolerant of the cold, tiredness and laziness that limited my patience for getting better nightscape images… 😉
I will be posting more images of this trip on my Flickr account in the near future. Thanks for visiting and I hope to post again in the near future.
Greetings on a gorgeous wintery day. I hope everyone is safe. I was driving yesterday evening when the snow was really coming down, and was reminded that the first day of winter precipitation in the StL metro area is very much like one of those figure eight races.
I also want to apologize for being so tardy in posting these images from my last visit to the Bald Eagle nest.
Bill Duncan – 11/16/2014
Arriving near first light on a very foggy morning, I could not find any presence in the nest. I feared that the chicks had fledged and the family had moved on. After waiting about 30 minutes, I decided to walk under the nest tree to see if I might find evidence of what they ate, or some other artifacts that may have landed during their nearly three month stay. Not finding much on the ground, I peered up the trunk of the giant sycamore to see what the nest looked like from my vantage. As I did, I saw both chicks 10-15 feet above the nest looking down at me! They were hidden from my view earlier due to the low light, fog and foliage. Not wanting to disturb them, I slowly hiked back up the hill to my usual observation spot.
I watched for a few hours as they climbed up and down the stout branches that rose over their nest, exercising their wings as they went. I was sure they were close to taking that first plunge. Little did I know what was in store. I watched as the older and bolder of the two took what was likely its first flight attempt. It fell like a rock. After the initial “flight”, I listened for sounds of life behind the dense foliage below the nest. I heard not a single sound for nearly half an hour. I had to see if the bird might have broken its neck or perhaps landed in the river below. I slowly walked down the slope, under the nest tree and onto the flat of the river’s bank. I looked up and finally, to my relief saw this one looking back at me from about 50 feet above me and ten feet or so from the nest. Not much of a first flight, but this one was out of the nest.
With its older sibling out of the way, the remaining chick put even more efforts into practicing…
The chick spent a lot of time in limbs well above the nest. When one of the parents brought a meal, it must have been confused that nobody was there to take it…
The chicks have been out of the nest for about five months now. I hope they are doing well and learning a lot during their first winter. Maybe we’ll run into each other one day.