Outdoor Recreation

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From Missouri Conservationist: Feb 2009

Scout it Out

Wetland Island

wetland isle

  • Area Name: Coon Island Conservation Area
  • Location: Southeast of Poplar Bluff on Highway 53, then 8 miles south on Route HH to County Road 224.
  • For more information: visit our online atleas, keywords "Coon Island".

Coon Island Conservation Area is an Oasis of wild wetlands in the state’s Bootheel. Although the whole region was once a combination of swamplands and forest, much of the area was converted into agriculture land—mostly rice farms. The Department purchased the 3,263-acre Coon Island property to protect remaining wetlands and to recreate seasonally flooded bottomland forest areas.

In 1992, the Department installed a system of levees, spillways, water control structures and submersible pumps to maintain wetland habitat year-round. The system is primarily for the benefit of water birds, including ducks, geese, rails, herons and egrets. Waterfowl probably benefit most. The open marsh and flooded timber provide them with acorns, wild millets, smartweeds, pigweed, sedges, tubers and invertebrates. Fields are flooded in fall to make this food more readily available to migrating waterfowl.

The area also provides access to good fishing for bass, panfish and catfish on the Black River. The access on the south end of the area is disabled accessible.

Beaver Trapping

200 years after the pioneers, Missourians still chase pelts.

Felt hats and clothing drove the demand for beaver pelts during the pioneer era. As demand for these items declined so did the quest for beaver. A good beaver pelt still has value, however, and some Missourians take advantage of Missouri’s trapping season to harvest the fur-bearing animals.

The state’s annual beaver harvest depends greatly on the prices trappers can get for the pelts. In 2005, when prices were high, trappers in Missouri took almost 11,000 beavers. Last year, they took about 7,000, which is about average.

As in the old days, beaver pelts go to the hat and garment industry. Most beaver are sheared and go toward making hats, such as Stetsons. Light colored and black beaver pelts, especially those from younger animals, are made into garments.

Good places for beaver trapping include large public areas, such as Corps of Engineers lakes and the lands surrounding them, as well as public lands along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Private landowners often welcome beaver trappers because the animals girdle and fell trees and try to build dams, sometimes where they are not wanted.

Beaver trapping is not for novices. The traps, usually humane killing traps, are big and dangerous, as are the animals. Try to learn from a mentor, or at the very least read everything you can about beaver trapping before you purchase and set your first trap.

Feathered Fascination

Turkey Vulture


In old western movies, circling buzzards often led rescuers to injured cowpokes. What they called buzzards were likely turkey vultures (Cathartes aura), and the circling they saw is called kettling. The sight of turkey vultures kettling, however, does not always mean food is nearby. They might be taking advantage of thermal updrafts to soar higher or they might just be cruising.

Turkey vultures are scavengers of dead animals. Although they have good eyesight, their exquisite sense of smell allows them to find food concealed by leaves or debris. They are led to it by the unpleasant odor of mercaptan, a gas emitted when animal matter begins to decay. In tests, turkey vultures opted for fresh meat over putrefying meat, and they preferred herbivores (plant-eating animals) to carnivores. They don’t eat live animals, although they sometimes eat insects and might consume fish stranded in shallow water.

It’s easy to spot these black, eagle-size birds as they soar or as they hop from branch to branch at their roosts, to which they routinely return each winter. Their bald, wrinkly heads, lurking posture and grim-looking eyes make them unattractive to many, but their life styles are intricate and they are smart enough to be playful. To learn lots more about these birds visit the Turkey Vulture Society Web site at vulturesociety.homestead.com.

Backtracking Animals

You can learn a lot about animals by discovering where they’ve been.

New overnight snow makes it easy to follow an animal’s trail. Many people, including hunters, are tempted to track an animal to see if they can locate it, but doing so likely affects the animal’s behavior. If you really want to know how an animal spends its life, try backtracking it.

Just turn around when you spot fresh tracks to see where an animal has traveled to find water, food and shelter, its primary needs. Use a field guide to help you identify tracks or learn to recognize the tracks of rabbits, squirrels, coyotes, foxes, weasels and other common Missouri animals by going to Animal Autographs on the Conservation Department’s Web site listed below.

Backtrack in the morning to find out how weasels, skunks or other nocturnal animals have spent the night. Follow the tracks of animals after a daytime snow to discover where they go during the daylight hours. You’ll often find where deer have bedded, where rabbits have browsed near sheltering cover, where squirrels have hidden their food, or where mink poked their noses in search of food. Dress warmly and bring the family. Backtracking is not only educational; it’s fun.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/Editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler