Friday, January 3, 2020

A Winter Walk—


There is a remote little gravel bar along the river where I love to camp, quite a walk from the road. I wanted to see it in the dead of winter.

I saw a very clear bobcat track in soft sandy soil. On such ground it is easy for anyone to tell a cat track. Those bottoms below rocky bluffs and crags have a great population of bobcats. There’s no shortage of them in the remote areas of the Ozarks. There are more of them now than I ever remember. It may be that they have a lot to do with the alarming decrease in wild turkey over the past few years.  Rising numbers of great horned owls are also part of that problem.

There will be young great horned owls hatched and bobcats born very soon, long before the fawns are born. In the Ozarks, there are squirrels being born in late February and bobcats begin having young in February as well. But Ozark bobcats may bear young any time from December on. But most are born in February and early March. Think of that… we are already nearing the time of reproduction. In the White River in Arkansas, brown trout are beginning to spawn.

I happened across a terrapin shell, this one very old because only the white undershell was there. Terrapins have an outer and under shell, and Ozark boys in my grandpa’s generation often carved their initials and dates in the outer shell. When I was just a boy, I found terrapins with initials and dates, and it caused me to realize how long they lived.  I suspect a terrapin might live forty or fifty years if he is lucky enough to stay upright. 
They are unusual in that they are capable of living a long time and yet producing a lot of young. Most all wild things are good at one or the other… not both. A species has high ‘biotic potential’, the ability to survive well and live long, or high ‘reproductive potential’, the ability to produce high number of offspring during a season. The predators have few babies in one year, and live long and survive well.  A rabbit or a woodrat has a short life span because of predation and a weakness to disease and parasites. But all small ground mammals are like rabbits; they raise lots of young to ensure survival of their species, and to feed the predators. 
       The bobcat and fox has a lot to do with the survival of terrapins, not because they eat them, but because young foxes and young bobcats just can’t pass up a terrapin without chewing on it, slapping at it, and curiously examining it. Young raccoons, so adept with their “hands” do the same thing. In doing so, they sometimes leave the terrapin on its back, which is often a death sentence for it.

       It isn’t pleasant to think about, the time it might take a terrapin to die in such a situation.  It has caused me to wonder if the Great Creator didn’t make a mistake or two, giving us snakes and subjecting the terrapin to such a rough end at times.  He pretty much insured the terrapin would never be an easy meal, but if it was me, maybe I’d rather outrun a young bobcat that spend several days trying to regain my feet after becoming his plaything.

There is another flaw in the design of the terrapin. Very often, in mating, a male terrapin becomes unbalanced and ends up on his back.  The cottontail has no option for the terrapin’s long life, but by golly, during the mating season, worn out as he may become, he never winds up on his back.  If you have never seen mating rabbits cavorting in the moonlight, you have missed something.

       At this point, it makes me wonder what I was thinking when I started this column… Oh yeah, now I remember. I was down along the river admiring the ice sculpture on the bluff across the river, when two ospreys came upstream and saw me. Immediately they began to perform acrobatics above me, a sight to behold and impossible to describe. It was as if they wanted to put on a show for me. All the while they were chirping at me in a trilling voice typical of those ‘fish-hawks’ during the mating season. And yes, their mating season is at hand.

I have written before of all the eagle nests I know of in the Ozarks, but I really can’t pinpoint the osprey nest. Their nest is usually along a rock ledge, and not easy to see. They have feet adapted to clinging to small fish, and in diving after fish; they can penetrate the water easier and deeper than an eagle can. 
       The old eagle I saw working on her nest last week on another river is not a fish eater at all right now, because they aren’t available where she is. Eagles on the larger lakes in the northern Ozarks are feeding a little better because of the winter shad die-offs. Eagles are also pretty good at finding crippled ducks and coots, and other things to eat when fish aren’t easy to get. I saw two eagles in the fall sharing a dead deer with some buzzards. Eagles are big time carrion eaters.  I’ve never seen an osprey eating carrion.

       I wish I could answer all the letters and e-mails I get from you folks out there who read this column each week, but I just can’t. But I read them all. To contact me write to Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613. I do not live there, but that is where I pick up my mail. Or you can email me at

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