Monday, September 22, 2014

Pelicans and Waspers

I didn't get close enough to determine the exact species of the wasps along the bluff.   In my younger days I would have dubbed them 'black waspers'.

If you have never watched a giant flock of pelicans in flight you have missed, uh, well, seeing pelicans in flight! Nothing flies like that. They are kind of pretty, because they soar and twist so slowly, and turn and reflect their snow-white plumage in the sun as they do so. Every year about this time they frequent the upper reaches of Truman Lake by the thousands and thousands.

Nothing I know of has a similar flight, as they don’t flap their wings much, they just soar on those big wings, with their heads drawn back, not extended like geese or cranes. They are, like most large birds today, very overpopulated and growing in number each year. That’s because they really have no predators, and men don’t seek them as a game bird because they are fish-eaters and taste awful. I will never eat another one!

Twenty or thirty years ago you saw none, or few of them, on Truman Lake in September and October and now there are thousands. In Canada in the summer it is the same, thousands of them and growing in number. I don’t know what we are going to do about these burgeoning numbers of large birds; snow geese, pelicans, black vultures, cormorants, even eagles. I wish we could say the same about ducks and pheasants and quail. 

Laws protecting those species are silly nowadays, although I cannot see killing anything you have no use for. It may come to that sometime. In some areas of north Arkansas those black vultures are so thick the Conservation department allows certain docks and resorts along the White River to kill them.  And we just about allow hunters to harvest all the snow geese they want because they are so over populated, and fairly good to eat.

Anyways, pelicans in flight are unusual in that you see dark bodies against the sky, and as they turn they suddenly reflect the snow-white backs. That goes on for a long, long time, as they seem effortless in soaring flight, gliding more than they actually fly.

I caught a nice big bass a day or so ago, and as I landed him I looked up to see a doe watching me. I quickly grabbed the camera and snapped a picture of the doe as the bass flopped around in the boat. If I do say so myself it is a beautiful photo, with the sun backlighting the deer and bright water before her.  I have sent it to all the newspapers that use this column, but you can see it on my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fishing on a river in northwest Oklahoma when we drifted past a beautiful rock bluff with unusual layers of rock. Along that bluff for about 150 yards there were more wasp nests than you could count. 

Surely there were more than 200 active nests covered with black wasps. I couldn’t, or didn’t care to, get close enough to really tell what kind they might be, but they were not the common red wasps we have building their nests inside our sheds and under porches here in my area.

There were also hundreds of empty nests, likely from last year, which is surprising. Wasps do not reuse a nest like you would think they might do. Each summer they build new ones.

But I got to thinking, with likely 30 or 40 wasps to each active nest, there likely were eight to ten thousand of them along that bluff, the most wasps I ever saw in one place.  There is a bluff on the Osage River, which has a number of wasp nests each summer, but nothing like that.

As a kid, my cousins and I used old badminton rackets to kill wasps. We called them ‘waspers’, and we would find a big nest of them on my grandparents’ farm and throw rocks at the nest until we destroyed it and really got them riled, then whacked them in flight as they swarmed us, seeking revenge. On occasion, one of us would get stung, and we would run for Grandma’s garden to cut open a green tomato and slap it on the throbbing sting. 

There is nothing that soothes and heals a wasper sting like a green tomato. It was great fun clobbering wasps with a badminton racket, and of course it demonstrated your toughness to get stung and act like it didn’t bother you. I had some tough cousins, Scotch-Irish descendants, the McNews. I figure some of my cousins were wasper-stung at least 50 times by the age of 15.

As a naturalist today, I regret what we did. We should have allowed them to exist as part of nature’s plan. And if we do indeed urge folks to coexist with copperheads and make it illegal to kill them, we should do the same thing with waspers. After all, “they never are aggressive and seldom sting”... and no one has ever been killed by a wasp sting, I don’t think. Well maybe a few people but not many!

You know there are a surprising number of people who have never seen my magazines, and the fall issues of both are on newsstands this week. The distributor tells me that readers can find copies on the magazine racks at Walmart stores and large grocery chains. One is an outdoor magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, and the other is a magazine of Ozark history and culture, entitled, The Journal of the Ozarks. 

If you are a writer or artist who might want to contribute to either, we would be very interested in seeing your work. But as I have said often, we sometimes get great stories from those who are not writers, and yet have great articles to send us. If you want to submit something to either magazine, just mail it to us at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email it to me at We need good Ozark stories, and one thing I really look for is stories about World War II, Korean War or Viet Nam War veterans from the Ozarks. 

Another thing I am looking for is a nice winter photo for our cover. Deadline for the upcoming winter issues of both magazines is mid-October. If you’d like to get more information, or would like to obtain sample copies of either magazine, you can also call our office out here in the woods on Lightnin’ Ridge at 417 777 5227.

One other thing: I think we will take a day-long trip over to our wilderness area on Truman Lake via pontoon boat, and have a big fish-fry and two three-hour hikes. We can take up to 15 people, and those of you who fancy yourselves Master Naturalists, and those who just like to learn more about Ozarks’ nature, will have a great day. Naturalist and long-time Corps of Engineers Ranger Rich Abdoler will be along, so you can learn a great deal if you don’t already know everything. On this trip you will see some of the biggest trees you ever saw, including the largest white oak tree I ever came across, and an 1800’s cabin site, and an eagle’s nest where the eagles reside year-round, and likely the perfect timing for the best of fall colors and migrating lake birds. Write or call for more information.

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