Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Raptor in a Redbud - 2-15-16

You can see in his eyes his contempt for the bright sunlight. He looks like I do when I am awakened in the middle of the night


       I had my pickup parked overnight out in the woods on Lightnin’ Ridge, loading some firewood.  The next morning when I started it, a little bird flew out from beneath.   Bolt, my Labrador, nearly caught it, but it escaped him and flew up in a nearby redbud tree.  I got some good photos of him.

      He looked to be only a tiny little screech owl, about six or seven inches high.  I hear him and his family often at night… their weird little wavering call, really not much of a screech, but more of a wail.  I’m sure he got beneath my pick-up after a field mouse. As daybreak came he was confused about the sky becoming so low and he just hopped up on the transmission to roost.

      Over at our lodge on Panther Creek, where we have a big back porch enclosed in glass windows with screens, another owl problem. I found one of the windows broken, and I swear, you can see the outline of a large owl with wings spread, in the remaining glass.  I think he just sat in one of the high trees and saw a rabbit playing around in the moonlight in the bushes beneath the porch and he made a swoop at it in which the window became a problem.

      How do I know for sure it was an owl?  Apparently he liked the porch well enough to roost for a time on the rail of a bunk bed.  Beneath it I found a regurgitated ‘pellet’ which owls are known for.  All of the owls, eating a diet of meat, are known to be unable to digest and pass hair or bones or feathers.  So they pass the meat through their digestive system and cough up ‘pellets’ of indigestible material.  In that pellet left on the floor, there was mostly fine hair, but I could see a little mouse tooth in it as well.  An owl pellet usually is about the size of a rabbit’s foot but weighs very little.  You can find them in the woods under an owl roost on occasion but owls usually do not keep roosting in one spot, like turkeys often do.

      Barred owls and screech owls are easy to call into trees right above you if you can imitate them.  I have called up lots of them, both species.  Not so with the great horned owl, which will answer, but seldom comes in close. The reverse is true of the great gray owls way up north that seem to be about half tame.  Once I called up a pair of them and we enjoyed watching them hooting away in a big pine above our camp on a Canadian Lake.  Then it got complicated.  They just kept on all night long, keeping us awake. 
      If you think about it, owls really do not have a predatorial enemy.  They get to where they aren’t afraid of man because we don’t shoot them anymore, though I would have liked to have shot those great gray owls that night.  

      My grandpa shot quite a few great horned owls back in the 1930’s because there was a fifty-cent bounty on them.  You had to bring in both feet to collect it.  Back then they were a heck of a problem for Ozarkians because chickens were seldom put up at night, they just roosted around farm houses where they were an important part of farm produce; eggs for breakfast, chickens for Sunday dinners.

      You might enjoy that owl article I wrote in the February- March issue of the Journal of the Ozarks magazine.
        Which brings me to a somewhat sad place.  “The Journal of the Ozarks”, which I started a couple of years ago to take the place of the old ‘Ozark Mountaineer’ magazine, comes to an end with this issue.  But only the title is ended.  It will continue under the guidance of three of my friends who will be publishing a full-color magazine entitled, “Ozark Hills and Hollows’.  Because I love the Ozarks, and its history, so much, I didn’t want to see the Ozarks Mountaineer magazine end forever, so I kept it going with many of the same writers for quite awhile.  And it will keep going now as an even better magazine under that new name.  I will keep writing Ozark articles for the publication so I still get to be part of it, but I missed a good fishing trip and a good hunting trip in the past month because I had to work on the magazine, and I can’t let that happen again.  With spring approaching I am very happy to pass this on to the folks who can do so much better at publishing it than I can.  So that final issue of the Journal of the Ozarks is out this month on newsstands.   It might be a collectors item some day, so get your copy just in case.

            I wrote awhile back about the rancher who throws plastic from his hay-bales in the Pomme de Terre River. We are making plans to float the stream soon to clean up the unbelievable mess he has created.  We have only to wait for rains to bring the river up a little. 
      The float will cover a lot of miles, and there will be boatloads of white plastic now adorning the stream in thousands of fragments. At mid-day we will stop for a   fish fry dinner at the riverside ranch of Jim Hacker, where Jim and local employees of the Department of Agriculture will talk to everyone about what they have done to protect a couple of miles of the Pomme de Terre.       The rivers of the Ozarks can be helped a great deal by a program which is paid for by the USDA, in which wells are drilled, and cattle are watered from those wells and kept out of the river by fencing.  The buffer strip is planted in grasses and trees to stop erosion, and Hacker’s place is the best example I have ever seen of the success such a project can be.  You have to see it to believe how well it works for all involved. 
      Landowners with riverside property who are interested in seeing the results of this, and learn how the same thing can be done on any stream, should make arrangements to at least join us for dinner, even if they choose not to join us on the river clean-up.

      When I first wrote about this awful plague of white plastic on a beautiful Ozark river, I got response from all over, and we will likely make it look like rivers are suppose to look.  But the Missouri Department of Conservation apparently can’t do a thing about what this man is doing.  They just don’t consider it their job!!   Well whose job is it?  If I got caught throwing trash off a river bridge, would anyone have the same attitude?  Can just anyone throw trash in the river or is just a few allowed to?

       I talked to Enforcement Chief Larry Yamnitz, and asked him to perhaps send MDC people along to help clean it up and do something about this littering on a big scale.  He said he would look into it and get back in touch with me.  That was about two months ago and there has been no further word from him. 
      No one from the area or the county where the Pomme flows has contacted me.  I don’t think folks in this Polk County area see the stream as the treasure that it is. Apparently, with the lack of local interest in the river itself, this will just go on forever, and I will try to keep cleaning it up. 


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