By Roger Wall
Strangers in the Neighborhood
The record rainfall and subse-quent wide-spread flooding that this part of the Ozark Plateau experienced in late April, has produced a lot of hardship for people and animals; and has also provided some surprises along the way.
In our valley, we have experienced new “strangers in the neighborhood.” The first strangers noticed occurred about five-days after the record floods. In Hunter Creek, about a ½ mile above its juncture with Bryant Creek, three spoonbills were spotted. Two of them were around 26-inches long and one probably measured just over 40-inches long.
If I hadn’t seen them myself, I would not have believed it. I have purposely neglected to mention this fact until the fish have been long gone out of the area. Hopefully, they made it back to Norfork Lake where they had to have originated. Although the snagging season on area steams and headwaters ended April 30 (May 15 on the Mississippi River), I did not want to alert anyone who might accidentally violate game-laws, as grabbing season did not close until May 15. Anyway, it was an amazing site to observe these magnificent fish in the crystal clear waters of Hunter Creek.
By the way, I have been told that the meat on spoonbills is not that delectable.
Spoonbills are fairly numerous in the Mississippi, Missouri and Osage River systems. There are some in Table Rock Lake, but I never knew of any in Norfork Lake. Old time natives have told me that they have never seen spoonbills in Norfork Lake, or in any of the area streams.
Secondly, there are thousands of trout; some are monsters in Hunter Creek, Spring Creek and Bryant Creek. Now, we commonly can have hundreds of trout in the local streams after major flooding, but never to this extent. For the price of a fishing license and I presume a trout stamp, one can have nice tasty trout fillets, like I have recently, for dinner.
I am quite certain that these fish are “escapees” from Crystal Lake Fisheries on upper Hunter Creek and Rockbridge Mill and Trout Resort on lower Spring Creek. One of the fish hatcheries told me they lost about 400,000 trout in the floods. That is an amazing loss. You better hurry though. These trout will soon head upstream to colder spring waters, and some inevitably will die as warmer river temps occur.
And with all of the fish in the rivers, guess what –– there are still bald eagles in the neighborhood. Normally gone from Hunter Creek Valley by the first of April, the eagles are back or maybe never left as we have been having weekly local flooding since mid-April.
On a recent float from Bertha Ford to Bell/95 Hwy. bridge, we spotted five bald eagles on the river where Spring Creek enters Bryant. Spring Creek flows for several miles in a northerly direction, down thru Souder and Rockbridge, and then about 1¼-miles below the trout hatchery at Rockbridge, it junctures with Bryant Creek.
One of the guys in our group caught a monster 3½ pound rainbow trout at this joining of the two streams. And, there were a couple of dead trout also there which the eagles were feasting on. As you probably know, eagles prefer dead fish to live fish. They don’t have to expand near as much energy to dine on the dead fish as they do to catch the live ones. Anyway, June 10 is the latest that I have ever seen bald eagles on Bryant Creek or the North Fork of the White.
Next, we had a bear in the neighborhood. In mid-May, while sitting on my perch at the bay window in my house, something moving just east of our home, at mid-day, caught my eye. I looked up and a pretty good sized 280-300 pound black bear was strolling down the driveway about 20 yards in front of my house.
He, and I say “he” because of the way the bear was carrying himself, as it was just kind of a slow jog without a care in the world. He went down through my mowed field and jumped across a flood damaged four-barbed fence that is now covered with flood debris and about 2-feet high. I later asked my three hounds why they let the bear saunter through the place like he owned it. They looked at me as to why I would ask such a stupid question. They were all taking an afternoon siesta in the cool garage, and besides that, I believe the dogs were trying to tell me that they had chased that ‘ ole bear more than once.
He took a right on the old Hunter Creek Road and headed upstream. I have lived in this valley for almost 28 years and this is the first bear I have ever spotted on my place. I have seen bear tracks twice, on my driveway, down by the creek. And once, over 30 years ago, I spotted a small cinnamon-colored bear down in Arkansas on the Mulberry River.
By the way, if you’ve never seen bear tracks, look for the following characteristics, of course the front paws produce five round toe-marks, usually with claw marks present. But the rear foot of a bear track leaves a print that looks exactly like a small human foot track.
Finally, it’s been about five years since last viewed, but we did have a pair of handsome red-bellied wood-peckers reappear at our feeding station on the front porch.
Wow, I somehow feel the heavy spring rains that have fallen this year have disrupted the patterns of a lot of the wildlife in the Valley.
Note: A Great Little Snack
My favorite late night snack is coffee ice cream. But it’s mostly a dream as ice cream is the most fattening food one can ingest. So sometimes, I make do with a little pineapple sherbet.
Of course, one should just slice some carrots and celery, but usually that just won’t cut it.
I have re-discovered microwave bagged popcorn.
Here is my home grown recipe to improve what is normally a rather bland snack and improve it without adding too many unneeded calories.
First, take a cup of water alone and microwave for one-minute on high. This will help in later popping all of the popcorn kernels and keeping them from scorching. Trust me on this.
Then place the bag in the microwave. Generally, 1.75 minutes will do the job unless you own a really small or ancient microwave.
After the bag is popped full, carefully open it, and instead of butter, pour a couple of quick spritzes of virgin olive oil on the hot popcorn. Close the bag and vigorously shake.
Open the bag and sprinkle lightly a little kosher Mediterranean sea salt on top, and some ground peppercorn. Then to your taste, deposit some dried parsley flakes on top. Close the bag and shake for the final time.
Now, sit back and enjoy and try not to eat the whole bag!
If anyone is interested, I also have a quick easy recipe for salsa, if you are out of salsa or your garden hasn’t produced the makings yet ––
Take one can of Rotel or just plain diced tomatoes with chilies (usually cost about a dollar), and empty into a bowl and liberally sprinkle garlic powder, paprika and cayenne. Add to taste, a little Tabasco or Louisiana Hot Sauce. Stir, and then I usually zap mine in the microwave for not quite a minute. Of course, then you better not be out of salsa chips.
If you live 16 miles from town like I do, it is important to keep a full and varied food closet. You can, but it isn’t practical to run to town every day, especially if you don’t have to.
It’s amazing but as a much younger lad, I guided. This included shopping for the right foodstuffs and inevitably forgetting something. It is hard to believe, but I advised on fishing –– I also set up tents and camp, and cooked hundreds of meals over an open campfire and cook-stove. I have fileted, in my lifetime, thousands of fish.
What’s really amazing is that I never made anyone ill, and even more amazing, I never outwardly screamed at anyone who complained of Rio Grande sand blowing into their stew or those complaining about a Canadian rock or tree root residing right under their sleeping quarters in their canvas tent. The crazy things we do when we are young!
Now, get up and go visit our beautiful Ozarks outdoors!