A Frigid Floodplain

Heading down to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area for the afternoon duck-hunting hiatus, I encountered a frozen, clean-edged landscape.  Puffy clouds dappled most of the pale blue sky and short bursts of sunshine had no effect on the frigid air.  The mid-day temperature hovered near 22 degrees F and a steady north wind made it feel more like ten.

While most of the ponds and marshes were frozen over, the central channel, fed by flow from the Missouri River, attracted mixed flocks of mallards, coot, gadwall and shovelers.  Other flocks wheeled above the refuge, seemingly taking advantage of the hunting break to stretch their wings.  Stoic great blue herons stood in the icy shallows, ring-billed gulls gathered on the frozen ponds, red-tailed hawks soared above the grasslands and a lone merlin perched on a dead cottonwood limb.  Other species active on this raw, winter day included eastern meadowlarks, horned larks, song sparrows and a few fox sparrows.  Unfortunately, no trumpeter swans or snow geese graced the refuge yesterday afternoon.

Completing my tour within an hour, I left the Missouri floodplain to the wildlife and the duck hunters, returning to the safety and comfort of our Columbia home.  As night envelops the refuge, the temperature is forecast to dip near zero; nevertheless, nocturnal predators and the prolific rodents on which they feed will emerge from their roosts and dens, oblivious to the brutal weather.  After all, their very survival depends on that hardiness.