Many years ago I had a teacher who said people remember the first deer they see, but not the first golf ball. Regardless of which critter or object you choose, the general idea holds some merit—living creatures, especially those we rarely see, are just more fascinating than even the oddest common objects.
This is true even for veteran researchers. I recall a seasoned researcher describe with excitement the first time he saw a collared lizard. There was literally a twinkle in his eye! Whether it’s a deer, collared lizard, strutting turkey or indigo bunting, our first glimpse of a wild animal strikes a chord.
The Ozarks offers many places to experience “wildlife firsts.” All you need for the adventure is water, a snack, binoculars and a camera. One of the latest wildlife-viewing hot spots is Peck Ranch Wildlife Refuge in Shannon County. For decades it has been one of the best places around to see collared lizards, deer, turkey and other wildlife, and now it is home to Missouri’s restored elk herd.
Unfortunately, because we have just few dozen animals in a very large area, seeing an elk at Peck Ranch is not a sure thing. However, you can increase your odds of success.
Our elk like what I call “bobcat hours”--the times of day when it isn’t completely light and it isn’t completely dark. That would be early morning or early evening. At those times, you may see them browsing the taller rye fields in the bottoms. During the day they retreat to the cooler wooded areas, making them hard to see from the road.
Before or after touring the loop for a glimpse of elk, try heading up to Stegal Mountain to visit the desert-like habitat of the collared lizard, scorpion and tarantula. Remember that many of the Ozarks’ conservation areas, including Peck Ranch, have rough gravel roads, so try to travel in an all-wheel-drive vehicle if you have access to one.
Peck Ranch CA is open seven days a week during daylight hours. For more information on local conservation areas and wildlife-viewing opportunities, call 573-325-1381, or stop by Twin Pines Conservation Education Center for information or maps of the Peck Ranch driving tour. We’ll even give the kids a backpack with a pencil and journal so they can record the experience or draw pictures.
What “wildlife first” will you capture with family and friends? The only limit is the time you spend exploring.