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.
Back in October, Steve and I had the pleasure of spending a couple days doing our favorite things in the Missouri Ozarks. We made our base at our usual, the cabins at Big Spring SP, our last stay here for at least three years as the cabins will be closed for construction. For our first day, we decided to take care of something that had been on my list for a number of years, to hike the largest official Wilderness Area in the state – the Irish. Named after the Irish immigrants who settled in this area in the mid nineteenth century, the Irish was visited and pushed for protection by Aldo Leopold himself. The Irish was finally designated by law as an official wilderness area in 1984 after close to two decades of work by a number of caring people. This area was virtually cleared of its timber by the early years of the 1900s, but was replanted with its current deciduous hardwood mix by the CCC in the 1930s.
Officially listed as 18.4 miles, the Irish Wilderness loop trail is typically tackled with a night or two of backpacking. Being the athletic super-freaks that we are, Steve and I put down an estimated 22 miles, with some back tracking and assisting a lost backpacker (a GPS unit with topographic map display is quite the asset here), in about 16 hours. It would have been more enjoyable with a night or two sleeping in the woods and spending more time, but we had other plans in store as well. The image below is from an overlook of the Eleven Point River at close to the halfway point of the hike. I will never forget standing here in the late afternoon light with hundreds of ladybird beetles covered the rocks and filled the air.
Covering 20 miles in a single day does not leave much time for taking photos. After getting some much appreciated sleep back at the cabin, we arose early to arrive at Richard’s Canoes to be in the water by ~07:30. We put in at Greer Spring Access (mile 16.6) and had the day to move the ~12 miles to our take out at Whiten Access (mile 27.6). The Eleven Point offers a perfect mix of slower moving stretches and deep pools mixed with just enough class 2 rapids to keep things interesting. Make sure to bring along some wet bags if carrying delicate camera or other electronic equipment. We were offered autumn views like this around nearly every bend.
As if the landscape and feelings of being on the river were not enough, the wildlife opportunity are surely the highlights for a float trip like this, assuming you are quite and keep your eyes open. This White-tailed buck was moving upstream when Steve spotted him.
Of course the birds will be abundant along any Missouri Ozark stream at any time of year. We were thrilled to see this Osprey come in to perch nearby as we floated.
Within a couple of miles from our take-out point, we were presented with our pièce de résistance for the float, two groups of River Otters! The images below are the first group, a mom and four pups. These animals were venturing out of their den to play in the day’s last light.
The pups seemed not too concerned, but mom kept a close eye on the floating log with ugly heads.
These guys will turn anything into a toy… 😉
I leave you with a sunset from the nearby Big Spring State Park and eternal thanks to those who worked so hard against heavy opposite forces so that, at a minimum, we have what we have today.
The day is almost upon us when canoe travel will consist in paddling up the noisy wake of a motor launch and portaging through the back yard of a summer cottage. When that day comes canoe travel will be dead, and dead too will be a part of our Americanism…
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.