Bolt and I loaded up the boat and headed for Truman Lake the day before thanksgiving. Bolt is my big brown Labrador, the third or fourth greatest duck dog in the world. I call him that; so all the other Lab owners who think their dog is the ‘best one in the world’ have no reason to argue with me.
We didn’t see many ducks, but there were 8 or 9 back in one cove that seemed about half tame. I slowly motored toward them they didn’t want to fly. Suddenly realized what they were. They are known as ruddy ducks, and their range does not include Missouri. This was a species of duck I had never seen before, a member of the ‘diver’ duck group in a family all by themselves known as stiff-tailed ducks. In the spring, in breeding plumage, the drakes of this species are beautiful, displaying fantastic color and courting the female with a high spread tail something like a wild turkey tom. The flock I saw, in winter plumage, had little color.
In the Missouri Department of Conservation list of ducks in the states bag limit, ruddy ducks are not found. But they are legal and if I had shot one or two, no game warden in Missouri younger than 40 would have known what it was. According to an old waterfowl book I use for research, ruddy ducks are very plump and exceptionally good to eat.
There are few species of waterfowl I have not seen before, now even fewer. To most folks, coming across a ruddy duck wouldn’t mean much, but to me that was a day and discovery of great importance, one I will never forget. I have a strange way of discovering wild creatures well outside of their range. When I was 19 years old I spent a week on the Big Piney River after Christmas trapping ground mammals for a class project at the University of Missouri. I live-trapped a small rodent known as a brush deer mouse, (Peromyscus boyli) that had not been found in Missouri, a large deer mouse with a hairy tuft at the end of an unusually long tail–whose northern- and eastern-most range was in Oklahoma until I found those two in the center of southern Missouri. I sold them to the St. Louis Zoo back then, to a man creating a small mammal display. His name was Marlin Perkins. That was before he became famous on T.V.
Here on Lightnin’ Ridge I found a silver-colored gray shrew, (Notiosorex crawfordi) also said not to exist in Missouri. I photographed him, another critter you can see on my website, and his silver pelt leaves no doubt what he is. On Bull Shoals Lake one winter I photographed a flock of avocets, a shore bird far from the edge of its range there on that lake.
As a boy I dug up a large ivory pendant three feet down in a cave floor and found out years later it is the only ivory artifact ever found in the state and perhaps the whole Midwest. But I see so much because I spend more time outdoors than hardly anyone I know. It means as much to me nowadays to get a photo like I did that day before Thanksgiving as shooting a limit of ducks or pheasants or catching a stringer of crappie or bass or walleye.
My deer hunting and turkey hunting is now done with a camera. I’ll pack it more often than a gun and even when I am trying to get a couple of rabbits or squirrels for the grill, I will have that camera slung across my other shoulder. I have always loved to explore new places in the Ozarks. No telling what I will discover next. I look at any unusual thing in my path as a treasure, and a gift from the Creator.
Much of that comes from the times decades ago when I explored wilderness areas in Arkansas’ Ouachita mountains and Ozarks as a paid naturalist for the Arkansas Heritage Commission. The things I saw and found back then roaming throughout the winter in beautiful mountain country was spectacular, and the result was several areas set aside and preserved, saved from loggers and development, hopefully forever.
Today there are over 100,000 acres of watershed on Truman Lake that are likewise preserved as least for awhile, until the MDC loggers get a good picture of what is there and convinces the Corps of Engineers there is a better use for the money than the trees. In that watershed are some of the biggest trees of several species I have ever seen.
If you would like to join me in exploring a little of the best of it, we take from 10 to 15 people on day- long expeditions there in February and March, complete with a shore-side fish fry at midday. Who knows, maybe we will find something that none of us have ever seen before!
Photos of the ruddy ducks and shrew can be seen on my facebook page or my blogspot under larrydablemontoutdoors on your computer. To contact me, write to Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you happen to live close to Houston, Mo you might want to come visit with me there, at the Texas County library where I will be helping them raise some money to buy books. I will be selling and signing my books at a good discount and giving away my Christmas magazine from 9 to 1. But if you have a youngster between eight and fourteen years of age, bring them to get one of my books free, or pick one up for your youngster to give away on Christmas morning. That book is entitled “Dogs and Ducks and Hat-rack Bucks and it consists of 25 chapters, each of which is a short story about boys in the outdoors.
Years ago Gloria Jean was working at a local school trying to help kids who couldn’t read well. This book was to help boys get interested in reading. I give it away to anyone at Christmas who has a boy who needs and will value a book for Christmas. You can acquire a copy for such a youngster by contacting me at email@example.com or calling my office. I will inscribe it to him and sign it.