Arriving at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area early this morning, activity on the pools was subdued except for scattered groups of great egrets, great blue herons and double-crested cormorants. The reason was clear when I spotted a flock of decoys near a marshy shore and saw duck-wing pinwheels along the channel. Pickups and flatboats in the parking lots also provided evidence that teal hunters were hiding in the marsh grass.
Before long, a series of shotgun blasts echoed through the valley as tight flocks of blue-winged teal bolted from the wetlands and raced above the Missouri River floodplain. Ignoring this activity, a pair of bald eagles surveyed the refuge from a large, dead tree, a northern harrier skimmed the crop stubble and a lone osprey circled above the larger pools, hunting for fish. High water and flooded fields (likely produced to attract more teal) negated shorebird sightings and I turned my attention to the woodlands along Perche Creek where blue jays, Carolina wrens and red-bellied woodpeckers provided a raucous background chorus. Unfortunately, the woodland birds seemed to sense the hunting as well and had retreated into the shadows.
While I am not morally opposed to hunting (assuming it provides sustenance or is used to reign in uncontrolled wildlife populations), I do have a visceral reaction when "refuges" and "conservation areas" are managed for hunters. They would point out that their fees serve to fund refuge maintenance. And I would respond that nature provides maintenance free of charge.