Monday, March 2, 2015

A Cardinal in the Snow

Photos by Lightnin' Ridge Editor Sondra Gray
It snowed eight inches up here on Lightnin’ Ridge last weekend. This is supposedly the highest point in the county, and it seems like we always get an inch or two more here on this timbered ridge than the weather people predict.
It was only about 20 degrees that morning after the snow ended, so I put on some boots and my duck-huntin’ coat and went out to survey the beauty of it. But I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of a lift to hear cardinals singing their song of ‘good cheer’ just like it was April.
They should sing, because on my back porch I have bird feeders I keep full. Yesterday there were seven or eight species out there making the most of it, one of them a Carolina wren.
The corn feeder down behind my office, above the pond, is a great attraction for doves and squirrels and deer and turkey, but I was amused yesterday to see a cottontail rabbit sitting there. Many people do not realize that a winter blast coming in February or March is much, much worse than the same situation in December.
That’s because wild creatures go into the winter fattening up in preparation for it. In the early half of winter, there is far more food than there is in late winter. Right now is the real bottleneck, the most difficult time to survive for wild creatures. Food is at its lowest level, and wild birds and mammals at their weakest, with less ability to resist cold ice or deep snow. So it is indeed the time you want to feed birds and keep corn feeders full.
It might be that the month of February just past, is the only month of February I can remember in which I didn’t catch a single fish. Because of that, I figure there will be more fish out there in rivers and lakes in March than ever before, so I intend to take advantage of it. While the late snow wreaks havoc on water temperatures, I think it makes it more likely that we will have a bumper crop of mushrooms in late April.
I don’t know why, but it seems that snow puts more nitrogen in the soil, and I think that must be the thing that mushroom seeds need the most. When I hear those cardinals singing like they have been, it really makes me think of mushrooms and poke greens and freshly fried fish. Don’t anyone write me this year trying to buy mushroom seeds! I sold all of them last year and had all kinds of problems with folks who couldn’t get them to grow wanting their money back. What happens so often is that mushroom seeds, which are so tiny you can’t see them with the naked eye, are often spilled before the buyers get them to the woods where they want them to grow. And when you spill a pack of mushroom seeds, you don’t have a chance in the world of finding them and picking them up!
When you see wild turkey in late February and early March, they are usually in huge flocks, because in numbers there seems to be a greater ability to survive. But the largest flock of turkeys I have ever seen in the Ozarks numbered about 75 or 80 one winter in a field along the river above Truman Lake.
I never thought there would ever be any flock like that one. But Gloria Jean, who does that facebook thing, called me in to look at a film on the computer showing what I believe was a wild turkey flock numbering 200 to 250 birds. They were an ever-moving mass of turkeys, going across a Nebraska field, coming out of a tree line like a stream flowing from a spring.
I can’t tell you how to find that, but if you are a computer person you know how. Those Nebraska turkeys are not the eastern gobblers we hunt here in the Ozarks. Most of them are Merriams gobblers, and perhaps they are crossed in some parts of that state with Rio Grande gobblers which are prevalent to the south in Kansas, but they are a different bird up there, not nearly as wild, and much much easier to call in. They have white or beige tail bands usually. I have called them up in the fall of the year, gobbling and strutting just like it is spring.
Several times in Kansas I called up eight or ten Rio Grande gobblers in the spring. And when they come to a call, they don’t fiddle around much. That’s why I have so long joked about those turkey hunters who boast of ‘Grand Slams’ in hunting wild gobblers. All anyone needs to get their ‘Grand Slam’, which includes the four best-known species of wild turkeys, is to have the time and the money to travel to where they are. If you can’t call in and kill a Rio Grande or Merriams gobbler in the spring, you aren’t where one can hear you.
I never thought I would see the day though, when there would be greater flocks of turkeys in a state like Nebraska or Kansas than flocks of pheasants or coveys of quail. Truthfully, I would much rather see the numbers of quail like they once were.
A word of caution to those turkey hunters about to buy shotgun shells for spring hunting… I got a hold of some bad shells last fall made by Federal Ammunition, with the ‘turkey thug’ logo on the box. They weren’t properly sealed and were leaking shot out into the box. I looked at about 20 boxes on the shelves of a local sporting goods store and found four or five with defective shells inside.
The store manager said they could not take back any returned ammo, but she let me have a new box of shells. From this point, after seeing what I have seen, I will buy Remington or Winchester ammunition, and I recommend you do the same thing. How are you going to be a good turkey thug with shells that have leaked their lead shot into your pocket?
Well we are less than a month away from our outdoorsman’s swap meet. You can still get a free table on that last Saturday of March if you want to contact us. You just need to be selling outdoor gear or related stuff that outdoorsmen would use, whether new, used or antique. We anticipate having some good buys on boats and motors and canoes and that kind of thing, so bring them if you have them for sale. We have a place set up in the parking lot for those to be displayed. If you can put up a few flyers in your area letting people know about this completely free event, I will send you some.
I have also had a great deal of interest in the daylong wilderness trip and fish fry in March, and even more interest in the mushroom hunting trip in April. If you want to find out the cost and details and get your name on our list to call, write or call us at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or call 417 777 5227 where my executive secretary Ms. Wiggins will be glad to help you.
My website is and the email address is

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