Casey introduced me to this location early in the spring. This is Blanchard Springs in Stone County, Arkansas. With an average daily flow rate of ~10 millon gallons per day, it doesn’t fall near the top ten of the fantastic and popular springs found in southern Missouri. However, this amount of water finding its way through a limestone rock face and plunging ten feet or more makes this a spectacular spring indeed!
You might not be able to tell, but this is one of the greatest swimming holes we know in Missouri. Since I have only three regular readers of this blog and I believe only one of them can swim, I don’t think I risk anything by saying this… 😉
We had been anxious to get Steve’s newly acquired canoe wet for sometime. The only questions were, “where to put in?” and “how to find the time to do so?” Because we found ourselves near the halfway mark of the summer season, we knew the favored Ozark streams would potentially be packed with the pop-top kind of crowds. Getting familiar with Mingo, which lies near Puxico in south-east Missouri, had been near the top of my list for sometime. The opportunity to do so during what might be considered the most mildly pleasant summer of our lives made the decision easy.
On what was to turn out to be a perfect July day, I was on the road at 04:00, breaking my fast with an apple, granola bar, and French press that I prepared the night before. Arriving at Steve’s promptly at 05:30, I found he already had his Dagger Legend canoe tied into his tiny Toyota Tacoma – a somewhat comical appearance. We hit the road and it worked out great. We were in the water within ditch number five by a little after 08:00, paddling slowly northward towards Monopoly Marsh, the true Wilderness of Mingo.
In less than fifteen minutes we spotted our first wildlife find of the day, this perched Mississippi Kite. This was my first experience of the fact that Steve had previously explained; wildlife react differently to humans in the water than they do to people on land (a learning that caused me considerable agitation throughout the day). We were able to glide right under this spectacular bird without disturbing it. Not knowing how long I might have, I burned through nearly half a memory card before being satisfied.
Other birds of note in our list, which grew to near 60 species by the end of the day, were Acadian Flycatchers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Wood Duck, Yellow Warbler, and Canada Geese.
To save space in the dry bag inside the canoe, I brought only two lenses on this trip. Covering the extremes of focal lengths, I brought a wide-angle zoom and a fixed 400mm f5.6. As I mentioned above, this proved to be almost heartbreaking, as I have never experienced “having too much lens” in a wildlife photography situation. But, this would turn out to be the case on several run-ins with wildlife throughout the day. It was in ditch number five that we encountered our first of several groups of raccoon. A couple times we came across a mom with up to four youngsters. We were usually so close that I had to settle for head-shots! 😉
In October, 1976 Mingo and Hercules Glades Wilderness areas became the first of the officially designated Wilderness Areas in Missouri (1). At over 22,00o acres, Mingo is the last significant remnant of swamp and marshland in Missouri, which prior to European settlement were the primary habitats in the Missouri boot-heel.
Mingo was named for the mixed tribal peoples known by this name that were composed of assorted Iroquian tribes (2).
Oh, how I wish I would have had a medium-zoom lens on this trip. I was often too close to take an image of any kind. Oh well, enough about this, just learning for the future. We continued following ditch number five, with the flooded hardwood forest of bald cypress, tupelo and assorted oaks on one side of us until we came upon the clearing known as Monopoly Marsh.
We knew that by this late into the green season the marsh might be impenetrable due to aquatic vegetation such as American Lotus, which we found in peak bloom. For the most part we were able to make our way around well enough, although much of the marsh would have been quite difficult to navigate by paddle.
An auto tour route is available that gives access to the refuge area, but the only way to see the Wilderness is by boat. The Wilderness act of 1964 put into law that no motorized equipment can be used within a Wilderness area. It was interesting to hear the staff in the Refuge Visitor’s Center say they could only use hand tools to cut through tree falls across waterways in the Wilderness. I suppose this also means to not expect helicopters or ATVs to come to the rescue in case of emergency?
White-tailed deer where more numerous than the raccoons. The refuge is more popular for the opportunities for waterfowl hunting, although I believe at least a couple managed dear hunts are conducted each year. However, without true predators, it seemed to me that the wilderness area was already being potentially overrun by these animals. We pushed groups into flight nearly every ten minutes along the waterways.
Did I mention all the raccoons?
Mammals and birds are definitely not the only groups of animals that thrive in this Wilderness. Reptiles and amphibians are quite abundant and are probably second only to the insects in shear biomass. We glided gently passed this Broad-banded Water Snake, which feeds on other reptiles, amphibians and fish.
While in Monopoly Marsh, we stopped under a couple of well-placed cypress in order to watch one of the year-long resident Bald Eagles soaring overhead.
After going about as far into the Marsh as we dared try from the south, we headed back to our put-in and had some lunch. Already the day was worth every bit of respiration, but there was so much more to come!
After lunching on the best hippy food Mother Earth provides and paying an entertaining visit to the newly constructed Visitor’s Center, we decided to put it at Stanley Creek. Here we planned on heading downstream and then up into the marsh again via the Mingo River. A GPS or good map skills are critical in finding your way in this area by boat.
We paddled down Stanley Creek with much ease, due to the nearly non-existent currents within these streams. It was in this section that we came upon the highlight of the day for me and one I will never forget. River Otters!!!!
Along a dry bank, almost perfectly eye-level to where we sat in the canoe, we watched a mom and four otter cubs. I tried my best to capture what Steve so wonderfully described as a “collective ball of play”, but mostly struck out due to their non-stop activity and the fact that they were often obscured by vegetation.
It was quite the experience. We let our momentum move us slowly closer to the bank, watching as play was interrupted by periodic rests and grooming opportunities.
Whether due to poor eyesight or that we were mainly a floating log that was downwind, we were quite surprised how close we were able to drift without the alarm being raised. Finally, we put on the breaks and maintained our distance to take in the show. Once in a while the play would evolve into a slide into the water by one or two of the animals, followed by heading back onto the land, not to stray too far from mom’s protective gaze.
The history of the River Otter in the Show-me State is, of course, terrible and controversial. Between the 1930s and early 1980s otter numbers hovered somewhere between 30-70 animals, due primarily to the loss of marsh and swamp habitats like those of Mingo and because of over-harvesting by the fur industry. Following the River Otter being classified as endangered in Missouri, the Missouri Department of Conservation finally began a restoration project in 1982. This was considered a success as River Otter numbers rebounded into the 1990s. As the animals searched outside their minuscule and not-increasing natural habitats, they discovered that other animals, such as one of their primary prey items – fish, were also being stocked by man (3, 4, 5, 6).
Finding easy prey in stock-ponds, the population grew even more. Unsurprisingly, the naked apes could no-longer put up with a species trying to compete with its sport and maintenance of the Missouri River Otter population began via a trapping season in 1996.
Destruction of commercial stock fish ponds and natural fishing holes along with the usual claims of “property damage” were used to justify the change from restoration to management.
Please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing necessarily against hunting or trapping, especially when we have exterminated all the original predators long ago. However, I cannot see justification in this day and age for the hunting season on any predator in this country.
Finally, maybe from the odors of so many digesting fruits, 😉 the jig was up. We were spotted and all five animals headed to the water. The next two minutes was like being in some sort of reverse “whack a mole” game. The pups, sometimes getting within 6-8 feet of our boat, would pop their heads out of the water just long enough to get a look before disappearing. Mom, keeping a greater distance, would snort and snap at the water, throwing splashes in our direction. In the photo below, you can see a curious pup immediately in front of mom’s suspicious private eyes.
Finally, just when we started to worry if we should be worried, the entire group disappeared. We watched them briefly as they resurfaced downstream about 25 yards. After getting ourselves together, we portaged the boat over Flat Banks Rd to continue into the marsh.
Just prior to getting into the marsh, we spot this handsome Cottonmouth. We slowly followed the snake as it swam along the bank. I heard some sort of whimpering coming from the back of the boat, but that fell silent with a dull thud when the snake raised its head and looked back towards us. Remembering that these guys can be a little more curious, or potentially aggressive when in the water, I called for reverse engines, rather than gaining a new passenger.
Arriving into the marsh from this direction got us up close to what must be some of the oldest living organisms in Missouri.
Hooded Mergansers, Belted Kingfishers and Barred Owls were some of the creatures keeping us company as the sun began to fall. We arrived just in time to tie the boat on to the vehicle before last of light. Just before we did, we observed that the night shift was checking in. This juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron was preening and stretching on an overhead snag.
Well, that’s all from Mingo for now. These being the highlights from a single day, I can’t wait for another visit!
Oh, in case you were wondering, yes, that is an 18-pointed sun-star. 😉
1) Farmer, Charles J. “Unspoiled Beauty – A Personal Guide to Missouri Wilderness”, University of Missouri Press, 1999.
3) Schwartz, Charles J., Elizabeth R. Schwartz. “The Wild Mammals of Missouri – Second Revised Edition”, University of Missouri Press and Missouri Department of Conservation, 2001.
About three months ago Steve and I made a trip to southern Missouri in perfect time to catch the songbird migration near its peak. Our primary areas of focus were the two largest springs in Missouri – Big Spring and Greer Spring, two areas located within Ozark Scenic National Riverways. This National Park contains some of the best habitat in Missouri for newly arriving nesting birds as well as good stopping grounds for those birds heading to more northerly destinations.
I was very fortunate in being able to take first photos of several new species during this trip, one of which was this amazing Broad-winged Hawk – a species whose diagnostic vocalization is often heard among the treetops in densely wooded areas but is less frequently seen.
Another species that I finally captured on camera was this Yellow-throated Vireo. This species advertising song is quite similar to the Red-eyed Vireo. The difference being that the Yellow-throated will give you a chance to answer his questions, whereas the Red-eyed won’t shut up long enough for you to respond! 😉
Next up is a species that was just passing through, on its way to nest in northern Canada or Alaska. The Grey-cheeked Thrush is the least studies of North American Catharus species.
Greer Spring is always a place of great beauty, although usually stingy with pleasing compositions. On this visit we took the plunge into the first deep boil immediately outside the cave opening. An unforgettable experience!
At the trail-head on the way down to the spring, Steve found this Pheobe nest with mom on eggs. She patiently sat while I took a few photos.
Probably the most exciting find and photographs for us was this resident Swainson’s Warbler. This warbler is likely the least common of Missouri’s nesting songbirds and is considered endangered in the state. Loss of its preferred habitat of thick shrubby understory within flood plain forests has caused this species to decline across its entire breeding range. The boat dock at Greer Spring is one of the few locations that this species can be expected to be found every spring in Missouri.
This last image, which may be my favorite of the trip, shows a singing Ovenbird, a species of the understory within high-quality hardwood or hardwood/conifer forests. It’s song, often described as teacher, teacher, teacher, can be confused with the similar sounding song of the Kentucky Warbler. We have noticed the difference of habitat preference between the two species, which may aid the novice birder. The Ovenbird is most often observed in dry upland areas with sparse vegetation, whereas the Kentucky Warbler prefers lower, wet areas with dense undergrowth.
In my opinion, one has not experienced anything in the Missouri Ozarks until having spent a sunrise on an April morning listening to the newly arrived nesting songbirds and those just passing through.
There could not possibly be enough Aprils in a lifetime.
Ubatuba, aka Uba Chuva (Chuva meaning rain in Portuguese, in reference to the frequent rains this region receives) is one of the birdiest spots on the South American continent. More than 550 birds have been identified within the city, more than a third of which are endemic to the south Atlantic rain forest of eastern Brazil. Besides the rain forest and the amazing bird habitats are the numerous beaches. A simply beautiful place.
I was fortunate enough to stay a night in a hotel on the 21st floor overlooking a small portion of Sao Paulo. Here is what the Wiki says about this city: “São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, the largest city proper in the southern hemisphere, in the Americas, and the world’s seventh largest city by population.”
A number of years ago one of the first hikes I remember into the Missouri Ozarks was a short spur trail off the OZT up to the summit of Stegall Mountain within Peck Ranch C.A. I had my first “serious” camera that I wanted to document Nature as I found her on these journeys and I made a couple images that I was satisfied with at the time. This past holiday break we found ourselves back at this location and enjoyed a pleasant winter’s day. Here are a few images from this visit.
One of the highlights of Stegall Mountain Natural Area are the Oak savanna and glades. Some of the most gloriously colored rhyolite in the state is found in this area. The trees pictured in thes images are mostly stunted and gnarled Post Oaks. I couldn’t get enough of them.
No, Steve and I did not take a daytrip to make it to the summit of K2 or one of the other Himalayan peaks, although we easily could. This image was made on one of this winter’s sub-zero days at Elephant Rocks. I had an idea of the image I wanted to make that may showcase an optical effect that Galen Rowell made famous called “diffraction fringe“. By putting oneself in the shadow of your back-lit subject at just the right difference and position, one may see a ring of hot light that outlines the silhouette of the subject. This proper geometry of sun, subject and camera (including optical settings) is just one requirement to observe and capture this effect. The other, as far as my understanding allows is the need for dry, clean air. On this particular day we had temps below zero degrees Fahrenheit and the air was as dry as could be with no interference from any noticeable smog. With the air quality requirement met, it was simply a matter of trying to position the model (Steve) at the correct position between myself and the sun. This part was more difficult in this setting and ultimately led to us missing our ultimate goal. Trying to work this out in minus 30 degree windchill proved our undoing. I could only ask Steve to climb so many boulders in this type of weather, which seemed to be increasingly affecting our mood and thought process the longer we were in these elements. Ultimately, I did not achieve the diffraction fringe. I am not sure as to the reasoning for this failure. I feel the geometry of our positioning, afforded by the placement of boulders and the limited availability of where I could position myself was the biggest factor. Getting the required distance that I believe necessary was impossible. Other factors that could have played a part were not having the most appropriate focal length and aperture settings, the air quality not being as suitable as I thought and perhaps the quality of the optics I was using. Many of these optical phenomena are the result of imperfection in lens design. Galen took most of his images with older generation optics that were often lower quality compared to today’s standards.
I’m not exactly sure what the reason for the failure in acquiring this diffraction fringing was. I guess this was just a very long explanation of an image I thought turned out to be pretty successful anyway. I look forward to trying this one again one day.
Pulled from Beveridge’s gift early after my discovery of the book, “The Gulf” of Wayne County has been on my list of desired destinations for a while now. Recently Steve and I made this our target in a winter’s outing, which is an appropriate time for nice viewing of many of the Missouri Ozarks geological features due to lack of green vegetation that blocks views and light. The Gulf is a narrow sinkhole that is approximately 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. This sinkhole is actually an opening to an underground lake that is more than 200 feet deep at its maximum depth.
Here Steve posses for a bit of reference. In periods of lower water, the entrance of the “cave” portion of the underground lake would be seen at the opposite end of the sinkhole from where Steve stands. A small boat and/or scuba equipment would provide for excellent opportunities for exploring.
Just as the Tyndall Effect explains why the sky is blue, it is also the reason that the deep bodies of water found in the Ozarks often appear blue. These carving waters carry the dissolved limestone with them. This ultra-fine suspension scatters the shorter blue wavelengths more than the other colors of natural light, giving the blue appearance in the waters, even though there are no blue pigments to be found. In fact, this blue appearance is somewhat dictated be the angle of light and the viewer’s position to the reflecting light. With a slight turn of the head, the water will often change color.
A potential practice picture for spring, here you can see some old wild hydrangea growing on the edge of the sinkhole. Can you find Steve in this image?