Category Archives: Wildlife

Grand Trace Conservation Area

The camping bug had been nibbling away at me for quite some time. The problem was we were tight on funds. And I didn’t really want to spend a weekend in a state campground, hearing loud music I cared nothing about, and having car lights swing through the tent in the middle of the night. And we had recently added a dog, a clumsy puppy that we weren’t sure how he would react camping. So with that in mind I set up camp at Grand Trace Conservation Area near Bethany, Mo., for free camping and no neighbors and waited for my wife to get home from work.

Grand Trace is a 1,562-acre conservation area with a primitive camping area. There’s no water, no vault toilets, no actual hiking trails — nothing but a few fire rings, a gravel road, a couple of ponds, lots of timber, and more peace and quiet I had experienced in quite a while. One car came down the road Friday. Three came Saturday, one was a Missouri Department of Conservation agent, but not a single one came by after about 5 p.m. It was like having your very own campground.

Actually there were a couple of other visitors. Each morning and evening a cottontail would come by camp to nibble at clover. And each day, all day long, a bird — a mockingbird, perhaps? — tweeted a variety of songs from atop a pine over our heads. There were only a couple of drawbacks. One was that tick season was in full swing but we treat the dogs each summer for ticks and fleas so that wasn’t a major problem. The second was we became hot and dirty at times and came to the conclusion we need to invest in a camp shower. A pleasant breeze kept us comfortable most of the time. And as for the new puppy, well except for trying to get into the tent when it was zipped and awakening us at 6 a.m. each morning by jumping onto to our bed, he did great. Both dogs got all the exercise they needed. In fact so much so that after we got home they didn’t even want to go outside and explore the yard like they usually do. All they wanted to do was just lie around and nap.

Spring Fishing

After getting a new fishing license for the first time in a couple of years, this morning seemed like a good time to, uh, test the water.

I grabbed a rod and reel, a tackle box, my camera, a water bottle, a boiled egg, an apple, and, just in case I felt really lucky, my fly rod and some flies. It’s a good thing I took the egg and apple because not a single strike was to be had on the ponds at Emmett and Leah Seat Memorial Conservation Area. All I caught was morning solitude, the smell of blackened earth left from the Missouri Department of Conservation’s controlled burns this spring, and the sound of birds.

In fact except for a half dozen swallows sweeping insects above a pond and two turkey vultures having a road kill squirrel for brunch there were few bites of any kind. I did, however, lose two lures. But I’m happy to say I lost them to submerged logs and not to a tree limb like the one pictured above.

A New Cheap Daypack

The old free Sierra Club daypack had served its purpose. It had carried water bottles, oranges, apples, sandwiches, M&Ms, peanuts, deer sheds, assorted rocks, a wide variety of feathers and more treasures my two youngest girls discovered on our explorations over the last twelve years or so.

Because of that, I had been watching the price of a cheap daypack at Walmart for weeks. As soon as the fall deer season was over and the pack was marked down from about $50 to $25, I bought it.

This morning the dog and I tried it out with a windy almost warm hike at Elam Bend. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the pack — a Mossy Oak Highland Internal Frame — when I bought it but I knew it would certainly be better than the old flimsy Sierra Club pack. So when the hiking bug wouldn’t let loose I thought it would be dumb to waste a relatively warm February day and filled the Mossy Oak with some water, a few treats, warm clothes and a bit of gear and tried it out.

The pack, weighing about 20 pounds loaded, did all right. In fact is was much better than the old Sierra Club, which had no waste belt. The Mossy Oak was fit snug and comfortable during our two-mile or so hike. The pack turned out to be much larger than I first expected — 64 liters. There’s a couple of storage compartments, another small one on top, plenty of zippered internal storage pockets, a couple of side pockets perfect for water bottles or tent poles, and a place for water bladder. In fact the pack is large enough I plan to try it out as a weekend pack later this year.

And as far as discoveries this hike, I didn’t come across any I needed to bring back with me. It’s more fun when my girls make their own discoveries. The only thing is that now that they’re both in high school our explorations are fewer and fewer. That’s just the way it is, though. We’ve still got three granddaughters and a grandson who I’m sure would enjoy scaring up a flock of wild turkey, finding an abandoned bird’s nest, wondering if a coyote or hawk or something else that scattered bluejay feathers as leftovers and marveling at the dozens of Canada geese fly overhead toward their summer homes.

Thousand Hills State Park

I have few photos from our recent four-night camping trip to Thousand Hills State Park just west of Kirksville, Mo. You see, our youngest wanted to do an overnight backpacking trip so we loaded up our small tent, sleeping bags, a bit of food and the new Mini Sawyer water filter I bought just for the trip and hit the Thousand Hills Trail early one Friday morning before the day’s heat overtook us.

We backpacked about five miles to our campsite to discover a fire ring, picnic table and a place to hang a lantern, far more than we expected. Of course we also found way more ticks than we cared for, the typical poison ivy and the expected hot and humid days late June brings. One bonus, though, was a cove to cool off in just about a quarter mile from camp.

The trail, along with others, was nice to explore with a cave nearby our campsite. A public swimming beach not far from the campground came in handy on those hot afternoons while we were car camping but we soon discovered past inconsiderate visitors have ruined some of the attractions, mainly some Native American petroglyphs that have been defaced. On an early visit the structure protecting the petroglyphs was open to visitors but its doors are now locked. While the early rock carvings were still visible the awe we experienced when viewing them a few years earlier wasn’t quite the same when peering through glass and seeing the names of contemporary vandals along side the petroglyphs.

Wallace State Park

Always remember to double check your camera battery before you begin a hike. About halfway through our day hike on Deer Creek Loop at Wallace State Park my battery died while trying to get photos of some jack-in-the-pulpit. Fortunately, I had a spare battery but it was back at our campsite. That meant I missed out on other photos along the trail.

It wasn’t a great loss, though. Wallace State Park has five different trails for more than six miles to hike. Of course if you’re camping, like we were, you can add another quarter mile or more to each hike when you walk to the trailhead. And spring is a pleasant time to hit one of the trails. The mornings are still cool, the wildflowers are out, gooseberries and blackberries are beginning to ripen, and songbirds are plentiful to make a hike that much more enjoyable.

You should probably keep in mind snakes, ticks, and poison ivy are also easily found. We came a cross a copperhead and fortunately our dog didn’t stop to investigate. We also found a garter snake, more ticks than we cared for, and a healthy poison ivy population. Other pests such as mosquitoes and flies were few, though.

Wallace State Park is near Cameron, Mo., and about 60 miles north of Kansas City just off of Intestate 35. The park includes a small lake, a pavilion, and four drive-in camping area as well as four walk-in campsites. Wallace is one of our go-to camping areas, a site we have returned to with our two daughters for nearly the last ten years.

From My Front Porch

I began watching a couple of cardinals from my front porch soon after they laid three mottled brown eggs in a nest in a spirea bush on the east side of my porch. I didn’t realize the nest was there at first but heard Mom and Dad’s chirping each time I was near the nest. Here, the couple bring food to one of their young who has left the nest too soon and is alone on the ground. For the past few days I’ve been helping the cardinals by making sure the neighborhood cats stay out of the yard. Tomorrow I must be out of town so I wish the family well.

The squirrels are my regular distractions and the robin is making a nest beneath the eves on the east side of the porch. I’ve got a couple of doves with a nest in a crabapple tree nearby but they’re pretty shy. There are also a couple of cottontails around the house that excite my dog (I will try to get photos of the rabbits, too). The dog, Daisy, smells the rabbits but doesn’t always see them immediately. This morning, for example, I saw cottontail when we went outside but led Daisy away from it but that didn’t stop her from giving a thorough search of the spirea bushes where the rabbits like to hang. The robin is making a nest on the west side of my front porch, beneath the eaves. A couple of doves also have a nest in a crabapple in my yard but they have been too shy for photos.

Pawnee Prairie Natural Area

It wasn’t the most colorful time of year to visit but I felt the need Sunday to get outside for a while so with a backpack, a water bottle, and a camera, I hiked a few miles around the Missouri Department of Conservations’s Pawnee Prairie not far from where I live.

What I found was little more than the wind, the sound of a few killdeer, the leftovers of coyote meals, and a single startled whitetail. Not far from the Nature Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch Preserve, the 400 or so acres of tallgrass prairie is best visited in the summer or fall when you can better appreciate the bluestem, Indian grass, side-oats grama grasses, pale purple coneflower, and finger coreopsis wildflowers. Better yet visit the Pawnee Prairie, call the Dunn Ranch to find out when to view greater prairie chickens and bison, and experience grassland similar to what Lewis and Clark discovered.