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From Missouri Conservationist: Nov 2014

By Jim Low

Discover Nature With Elk Driving Tours

An additional route makes viewing elk easier than ever this year. Self-guided elk driving tours became an instant hit a few months after the Conservation Department brought the first elk to Peck Ranch in 2011. Elk also live on nearby Current River Conservation Area (CA), which is in the 346-square-mile Elk Restoration Zone.

To help visitors locate elk, the Conservation Department has designated a driving tour route that follows portions of Roads No. 1, 9, and 10. Signs mark the driving routes on Current River and Peck Ranch CAs. The routes also appear on maps available through the Conservation Atlas at Simply enter the area name and follow the links to the area map.

The best times to see elk and other wildlife are right after sunrise and right before sunset. The tour routes are open from sunrise to sunset daily, unless closed because of inclement weather or a managed deer hunt.

Elk driving tour routes at Peck Ranch CA will be closed for managed hunts Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, Nov. 15 through 25, and Dec. 6 and 7. For more information about elk driving tours at Peck Ranch CA, call 855-2-MDC-ELK (855-263-2355). For information about the tour at Current River CA, call 573-663-7130.

While you are in the area, stop at the Twin Pines Conservation Education Center, which is 1 mile east of Winona on Route 60. Twin Pines is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information on Twin Pines, call 573-325-1381, or visit

Wild Turkey Brood Survey Shows Continued Progress

Results of the annual wild-turkey brood survey are in, and the news is good, especially in the northern half of the state.

This year’s survey showed strong reproduction, bolstering gains posted in 2011 and 2012. It showed a statewide poult-to-hen ratio of 1.7. This is a vast improvement from 2007 through 2010, when the statewide poult-to-hen ratio ranged from 1.0 to 1.2. This year’s poult-to-hen ratio is 26 percent above the 10-year average and identical to the past 20-year average.

This is the third time in four years Missouri has had a statewide ratio of 1.7 poults per hen. The exception was last year, when a late spring coupled with heavy rainfall during the critical incubation period held the ratio down to 1.5 poults per hen. Even that was good compared to the 2007–2010 performance.

Northeastern Missouri had the best news this year, with a ratio of two poults per hen. Northwestern Missouri was close behind with a ratio of 1.9. The lowest poult-to-hen ratios were reported in the western Ozarks (1.3), in western prairie counties (1.4), and the Mississippi Lowlands (1.5). The rest of the state was near or above the 20-year average.

The strong showing of turkeys in northern Missouri is very heartening, because that area was most affected by the downturn in turkey reproduction that began in the early 2000s. This year’s poult-to-hen ratios were higher than last year’s in eight of nine of Missouri’s turkey-production regions, and the statewide ratio was up 31 percent compared to last year. That will translate into more turkeys in the woods for the fall hunting season.

A four-year run of good turkey reproduction is highly encouraging for long-term turkey hunting prospects. Although this year’s hatch won’t have too much of an effect on next year’s spring harvest, it will result in an abundance of 2-year-old gobblers during the 2016 season. Couple that with carryover from previous years of improved production, and Missouri hunters have quite a bit to be excited about right now.

Results of the 2014 wild turkey brood survey are available at Details about fall turkey hunting regulations are found in the 2014 Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations & Information booklet. It is available wherever hunting permits are sold or online at

Conservation Agents to the Rescue!

Conservation agents teamed up with other state workers to rescue motorists stranded by flash flooding in September. Torrential rains inundated parts of Interstate 29 and other roads in Holt County on the night of Sept. 9 and 10.

Conservation agents Jade Wright and Anthony Maupin, working with the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), plucked several people from muddy, swirling waters between midnight and 2:30 a.m. Swift current had pushed a vehicle off Highway N north of Mound City. To reach it, they first had to hook a boat and trailer to a front-loader to reach a launching point. They were then able to get the driver into the boat and back to shore, but not without some tricky maneuvering.

“It took a couple of attempts to get up to her,” Wright said. “The water was very fast; we were very lucky.”

Later that night, Wright and Maupin helped six people in vehicles stalled on I-29. They rode in the bucket of a MoDOT front loader to reach those stranded and carried them to safety.

Conservation Agent Eric Abbott and a MoDOT road-grader operator rescued a man clinging to the luggage rack of a Jeep Cherokee. Current had swept the Jeep into a median where the water was at roof level. A boat appropriate for the swift water was not available, so they improvised. The road grader was driven near the vehicle. Abbott moved out to the front of the road grader, tossed the man a rope and instructed him on how to secure it.

“On the count of three, we made a big leap of faith,” Abbott said. “He jumped into the water toward the road grader, and I pulled with all my might, and we got him pulled out.”

Also on the scene for all rescues were law enforcement, fire, and ambulance personnel. “It was a team effort,” said Conservation Department Northwest Region Protection Supervisor Roger Wolken. “Everybody responded quickly and it put them in a very dangerous situation. It’s something we train for and hope we don’t have to use. But we want to be prepared for it, and we were.”

MDC Staff Fights Western Fires

Thirty Conservation Department employees traveled west to fight wildfires this past summer, protecting lives, property, and natural resources while ensuring that help will be available to fight Missouri fires.

Summer is the peak season for wildfires in the Western United States. Missouri’s fire season occurs in late winter, so sending firefighters to fight western fires doesn’t leave Missouri unprotected. In fact, helping fight Western fires means added protection for Missouri. Out-of-state firefighting gives Missourians valuable experience in conducting large-scale operations. It provides hands-on firefighting experience and hones the organizationalskills of fire and other emergency administrators.

Coming to other states’ aid also guarantees that they will send firefighters and other assets to help combat wildfires when the need arises in Missouri. Taking part in out-of-state firefighting efforts is voluntary for Conservation Department staff, and the USDA Forest Service compensates them for their time.

Natural Events Calendar On Sale

What costs $7, lasts 12 months, and makes you smarter and happier every day? If you guessed the Conservation Department’s Natural Events Calendar, go to the head of the line and buy a copy of the 2015 edition. Next year’s calendar goes on sale this month at conservation nature centers and regional offices statewide. It includes captivating wildlife portraits, stunning landscapes, and glimpses into the macroscopic nature universe where crystalline frost stars decorate twigs and river mud becomes geometric art. Daily notes about seasonal nature events keep you in touch with the outdoors, even when you are indoors. The calendar sells for $7 per copy, plus shipping and handling and sales tax where applicable. You also can buy copies by calling toll free 877-521-8632 or through The Nature Shop at

Banding Woodies

Ever harvested a banded wood duck in Missouri? If you have, you probably reported the band number to the Bird Banding Lab to learn where the bird was banded. This citizen cooperation, paired with lots of hard work by bird banders, aids in the monitoring of wood duck populations across North America.

Bird banding involves capturing the birds and affixing a lightweight aluminum band to their tarsus, or what appears to be their lower leg. (A bird’s tarsus is actually an evolved foot bone that elongated over time — what we see as their foot is really just their toes!) Banding is the primary tool to assess wood duck populations, both as a measure of how well the birds are surviving year to year and also to measure effects of harvest regulations. Traditional survey techniques used on other waterfowl species, like aerial flights over breeding grounds, are not effective methods for wood ducks due to their secretive nature and use of forested sites — these characteristics make wood ducks difficult to detect from the air. Each state within the Mississippi Flyway has a wood duck banding goal, and these goals are a more reliable way to determine population estimates. Missouri’s wood duck banding goal is 1,200. This includes 200 each of adult male and females and 400 each of juvenile male and females.

The Conservation Department has participated in the wood duck banding program for more than 50 years. The Department has the most complete data from 2000 to 2012 on 11 banding sites across Missouri. Here are some statistics from that dataset:

  • More than 44,000 wood ducks have been banded from 1960–2012, ranging from a high of 2,059 birds in 1989 to a low of 169 birds in 1986. More than 10,000 of those wood ducks were banded between 2000 and 2012.
  • 1,097 of the wood ducks banded by the Department have been harvested or recovered in 28 states and three Canadian provinces.
  • Wood ducks banded in Missouri by the Department have had the highest band recoveries in Louisiana (25 percent) and in Missouri (23 percent).
  • 65 percent of banded wood ducks recovered in Missouri were banded here.
  • Capturing wood ducks for banding is an exciting venture. Portions of wetland areas where wood ducks have been observed are baited for a week or two, and rocket nets are used when the ducks have gathered. Rocket nets use gunpowder charges to shoot weights attached to a large net out over the baited ducks. These nets have also been used to capture deer and turkey for research, and they do not injure the animals. Staff then quickly set up the banding station, remove ducks from under the net, band them, record their band numbers, and release them in the same spot.

If you harvest a banded wood duck (or other waterfowl) this year, please report the band number at or call 1-800-327-BAND. They only require the number — you get to keep the band.

About Wood Ducks

True to their name, wood ducks use wet areas with or near trees, including swamps, marshes, streams, or small lakes. Their bodies are stouter than most ducks with broad tails and shorter wings to help them maneuver between trees when flying. Wood ducks nest in cavities in dead trees, usually where a limb has broken off of the trunk and can easily be 60 feet above the ground or water. Wood ducks also use man-made wood duck boxes near water, if made to specifications that can be found on the Ducks Unlimited website at

—by Sarah Kendrick

Did You Know?

We help people discover nature.

Discover Nature Schools Education Units

  • Our Discover Nature Schools program features hands-on outdoor learning and helps Missouri students from preschool through grade 12 become life-long conservationists.
  • Students in outdoor learning programs perform better on standardized tests and earn higher grade-point averages in science, language arts, and math.
  • Full-color Discover Nature Schools instructional units meet Missouri’s grade-level expectations and include a teacher guide, student book, and science notebook.
  • Parents, teachers, homeschoolers, and school districts can download and review the primary, elementary, middle, and high school instructional units at The preschool unit will be available online in January 2015.
  • Participating teachers and schools can also receive Discover Nature Schools training and funding for equipment.
  • To launch a Discover Nature Schools program in your school or class, contact your local education consultant (start with your regional office). He or she can introduce you to the units, register you for training, and help you get started.
  • The annual Discover Nature Schools Science Fair helps participating schools win recognition and equipment for outdoor learning. Find more details at
  • In the spring, Discover Nature Schools can visit our online falcon camera at and use study guides to observe the falcon family’s activities. Check out our falcon camera education material at


Frost Flower

Not really a flower at all, frost flowers are delicate, beautiful ribbons of ice crystals that form on the lower stems of a few species of Missouri native plants. They occur only in late fall after the first few hard freezes and while the ground is still warm. Their season is brief, and they disappear quickly on the day they occur, melting when the air warms or rays of sunlight fall on the delicate structures. While the plants’ stems are ruptured by the first hard freeze, the root system is still sending up plant sap from the warmer ground. The sap pushes through the broken stem and freezes on contact with the cold air. As more sap moves up, it forces the freezing stream of white ice crystals into ornate, folded ribbons that look like petals, puffs of cotton candy, or snarls of white thread. Missouri plants known to produce frost flowers include dittany, stinkweed, and white crownbeard. Scientists don’t know what it is about these species that allow them to produce frost flowers. Perhaps their root systems are more active later in the year than other species, or their stems rupture in just the right way to force the ribbons of sap. Whatever the reason, frost flowers only appear on the stems of a few species.

—photograph by David Stonner

This Issue's Staff

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