Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Other Side of the River

I spent yesterday driving along the southern/western bank of the Big Muddy (that's the Missouri River, folks), visiting several National Wildlife Refuge's and Conservation Areas.

My first stop was Overton Bottoms North Unit, which is part of the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Overton Bottoms is a large area of flood plain that was purchased from farmers after the disastrous flooding of 1993. It is currently being "managed" in a manner that helps to promote a healthier river system. Having undeveloped flood plains helps to alleviate downriver flooding and avails native fish and other wildlife natural places too spawn or breed. Pallid sturgeon and interior least terns are only two endangered species that need a more natural Missouri River system in order to maintain viable populations. Anyway, the bottoms were flat, hot, and brimming with birds (and turtles). Two lark sparrows were the highlight of the stop for me.

From there, it was south on MO 179 to Marion Bottoms Conservation Area. This was another floodplain, located, in a southward bend of the east flowing river, near the confluence of Moniteau Creek. The floodplain, with its rich, black bottomland soil, is thick with stands of willow trees and cottonwoods. Typical Missouri River riparian habitat. A dirt field road meanders through the conservation area, squeezing through the willows, and it is covered in many spots (and closed) during periods of high water. It has been relatively dry this spring, so most of the road was easily passable, but one section was pretty muddy (and bottomland mud is some sticky, slippery mud, let me tell you); the Penguin, not equipped with legitimate mudding tires, did a little slipping and sliding, but made it through. Not knowing the road ahead, I decided to turn it around. I was not looking forward to getting stuck (even with the four wheel drive, the clearance on the Penguin is not that high). We (the vehicle and I) made it back easily. We didn't see much through the thick stands of willows, but the highlight of this spot was certainly the Baltimore oriole glimpsed in one of the few clearings.

I swung back north from there, looking for Plowboy Bend Conservation Area. I found it at the end of County Road Y, on the other side of the railroad crossing, after waiting for a train full of empty livestock cars to pass by. Plowboy Bend was basically just a lot of cornfields. I couldn't find a map anywhere (except on the posted signs (and one that I should have printed out before hand at the MO Dept. of Conservation website, but who knew?)), and I couldn't find any access to the levees or trails (but, obviously, it's there). It was really not much to look at from the access road: flat land with corn, white gravel raods intersecting under a hot, bright midday sun, a couple of turkey vultures wheeling on the thermals above. I think a return visit might reveal much more, especially if I can find the trails that lead down to the river, itself. I hung a right and headed back to Y, and, from there, home. Highlight of this stop, while technically occuring on the other side of the area's borders, was a male orchard oriole in an oak tree.

Back home, Joby, who was in town (from Lexington, KY) to defend his dissertation, called to say he had successfully defended. I met him for a couple of celebratory beverages. A little evening softball (Deadliners 10, High Flyers 5), and Monkey, Osculator, Timmy Ocean, and I met up with Joby again at the team clubhouse. It was good to see my old poker buddy again. He has a job lined up in Terre Haute, working as a staff psychologist at a Federal prison. It's work that he likes, but I don't know if I could do it. Congratulations, Dr. Joby!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, I must admit I'm impressed with your What I Did On My Summer Vacation, Post-Maine blog entry! It sounds like a cool trip. Though I was hoping for more adventures in the mud, I expected and appreciated your more cautious strategem.