Otter Pond is the deepest portion of pool 3 at the Duck Creek Conservation area. Like most wetland impoundments, pool 3 is relatively flat with most of the elevations falling within a three foot range.
Southeast Missourians can be proud of our diverse landscape. The wetlands of Duck Creek are a part of our Southeast Missouri backyard that I've been missing out on. When I told my five-year-old son, Liam, I was headed to the swamp for a day he was concerned for my safety.
"You know that's where ogres live, Mommy," he cautioned me.
Well, I didn't see any ogres. Instead, I was delighted to find bright yellow Biden flowers, a myriad of mushrooms, and the graceful silhouettes and knees of bald cypress trees.
Located 6 miles south of Zalma, Mo., on highway 51, the Duck Creek Conservation Area has a Puxico address and extends over parts of Bollinger, Stoddard and Wayne counties. Duck Creek's 2,400 wetland acres is just a portion of the habitat available in the Mingo Basin area.
Guided by Missouri Conservation employee and biologist Frank Nelson, I received a one-day immersion course in Duck Creek's many resources. The area is a remnant of the bottomland hardwood forest that covered most of "swampeast" Missouri years ago and was purchased by the Missouri Department of Conservation in 1950 for the purpose of establishing a waterfowl hunting area. Now an actively managed wetland area, it provides a diversity of habitats to a variety of wetland dependent species.
According to Frank, providing diversity and variability is important in maintaining a healthy and productive wetland system. Open marsh areas, called moist soil units by the Conservation Department, are periodically flooded and drained to mimic natural flooding and to stimulate a variety of natural foods for waterfowl and other wildlife. Frank explained how the 1,800-acre manmade reservoir (Pool 1) is used to flood the green tree reservoirs in the fall to provide habitat and hunting opportunity.
The birds, just like humans, he said, need a balanced diet. While corn is beneficial and plays a large role in providing carbohydrates during migration, other foods such as acorns, moist soil seeds and invertebrates provide other essential nutrients and proteins that are important as waterfowl over-winter and migrate.
"You can think about corn for ducks like a jelly doughnut for a human," he said. "It tastes great and gives you a boost, but you'll be in bad shape if that's all you eat."
That's why the management plan also includes some other waterfowl buffet favorites, like barnyard grass, smartweed, and small acorn producers like pin oak trees. During my one-day visit to Duck Creek, I saw several great blue herons, wood ducks, and wild turkeys.
Fishing is also popular in designated areas at Duck Creek except during waterfowl season which begins October 15. Pool 1 supports excellent populations of crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, channel catfish. I'll be going out to learn about Duck Creek fishing resources and management with biologist Paul Cieslewicz soon and will offer some of his insight and my experiences in an upcoming blog.
Bicyclers, hikers, bird-watchers, horseback riders and campers use the Duck Creek area; although the camping is primitive and horse riders with groups over 10 need a special permit to ride.
With so many recreational opportunities, many local residents, as well as returning hunters and fishermen from outside the local area, have interests in how the area is managed. This is why Frank said the Department of Conservation is planning a public meeting Wednesday, Sept. 24, at the Puxico
Elementary School cafeteria, 393 E. Reed St. The informational meeting will start at 6 p.m., with an open house at 9 p.m.
I hope those of you who are familiar with Duck Creek will attend the meeting and learn more about what the department is doing to better manage and maintain the area.
Those of you who are just getting introduced to our local wetlands may want to attend the meeting, but I recommend taking an afternoon to share with your families a landscape that is unique to our area in Missouri. You can learn a lot just by driving through or stopping for a picnic. If you're really adventuresome, stop at the marina and inquire about renting a john-boat to paddle around in for the afternoon and enjoy some time on pool 1.
For more information about Duck Creek, go to www.mdc.mo.gov and search for "Duck Creek" or call (573) 222-3337.
These bright yellow biden flowers are in bloom throughout the Duck Creek Conservation Area.