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From Missouri Conservationist: Apr 2014

What Is It?

Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of the Missouri outdoors. See if you can guess this month’s natural wonder.

Ask the Ombudsman

Q. When we moved to our farm there were lots of blue-tailed lizards. Now, nine years later, we don’t see them very often. Is there a way to bring them back?

A. Your blue-tailed lizards were probably hatchling or immature five-lined skinks. It is likely that the young ones that you saw grew into adults, which do not have the blue tail coloration. Five-lined skinks prefer open woods, near wooded bluffs and rocky, south-facing hillsides. They require shelter in the form of rocks, downed logs, stumps, and standing dead trees. They will also live around farm buildings, rock gardens, and patios. The better the local habitat, the more of them you will have, including the young ones with the blue tails. For more information from our online field guide, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/6689.

Q. Although bearded hen turkeys are legal to harvest during the spring turkey season, we’ve always avoided taking them, preferring to keep them around for turkey reproduction. Are we correct in thinking that bearded hens are able to lay eggs and produce young birds?

A. Yes, bearded hens are able to reproduce like other hen turkeys. You should be increasing your chances of having a larger local turkey population by sparing the bearded hens. It is estimated that about 5–10 percent of hens have beards. The reason that they may be legally taken during the spring season is because it can be difficult to tell a bearded hen from a gobbler.

Q. I have been seeing fewer deer in recent years, and they were particularly scarce this past deer season. What is the Department’s plan to increase the size of the herd?

A. Deer density is not evenly distributed across the state. Factors contributing to local deer numbers include hunting pressure, food supply, and frequency and severity of disease outbreaks. The increased opportunities for antlerless harvest in recent years and the unanticipated outbreak of hemorrhagic diseases in 2012 and 2013 have contributed to reduced deer numbers in many areas. Last season the availability of firearms antlerless permits was reduced in all or parts of 12 counties. Our deer biologists and other staff are now reviewing last season’s harvest numbers, input from hunter and production landowner surveys, bow hunter observation surveys, other population size estimates, and public comments to determine if additional regulations changes are warranted. The “2014 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information” booklet will be available by July 1 and will highlight any changes since last year.

Ombudsman Tim Smith will respond to your questions, suggestions, or complaints concerning the Conservation Department.
Address: PO Box 180, Jefferson City, 65102-0180
Phone: 573-522-4115, ext. 3848
Email: Ombudsman@mdc.mo.gov

Agent Notes

Take a Youth Hunting This Spring

Long before I ever harvested my first turkey, I can remember going turkey hunting with my dad. The things he taught me about hunting and fishing fostered my lifelong passion for the outdoors, which ultimately influenced my desire to become a conservation agent. My dad took time out of his busy schedule to be a mentor and to teach me the outdoor skills that I now pass down to my children, who will one day do the same.

Spring is an excellent time to mentor someone in the outdoors. Youth turkey season is April 12–13 for hunters age 6–15, and the limit is one male turkey, or turkey with a visible beard. To give youth hunters more opportunity to participate in the youth season, shooting hours are from one half-hour before sunrise to sunset. All youth hunters must have a permit, which are half-price for youth. All youth hunters who are not hunter education certified must hunt in the immediate presence of a properly licensed adult hunter age 18 and older, who is hunter education certified, or was born before Jan. 1, 1967.

The regular spring turkey season is April 21–May 11. Youth who harvest a turkey during the youth season must wait until the second week of the regular season to attempt to harvest a second bird. More information can be found in the 2014 Spring Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information brochure, or online at mdc.mo.gov/node/72. Missouri is a great place to hunt wild turkeys. Take time out of your busy schedule to take a youth hunting this spring, the experience could last a lifetime.

Kevin Eulinger is the conservation agent in Lincoln County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.

What Is It?

Niangua Darter
Etheostoma nianguae

The Niangua darter grows to about 3–4 inches long as an adult. Breeding males are brilliantly colored, with an orange-red belly and a series of iridescent blue-green bars along their sides. This fish probes for food in crevices between rocks with its long, slender snout, eating mostly nymphs of stoneflies and mayflies. In the first part of April, adults spawn at swift, gravelly riffles where the fast currents keep the substrate free of silt. Males compete with each other for females and for prime spawning territories in these riffles. Darters complete about half of their total growth during their first growing season; they usually only live one or two years, though a few live as many as four.

In Missouri, Niangua darters are classified as endangered. The largest remaining populations in the state are probably in the Niangua and Little Niangua rivers; elsewhere, they are declining or have disappeared. Most of the year they occupy shallow pools and runs that have a slight to moderate current and silt-free, gravelly bottoms. The decline of this species is due to habitat loss from the construction of reservoirs, disruption of stream channels, and runoff from livestock production.
— photograph by Jim Rathert

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - vacant
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Brett Dufur
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler