Daytrip to Mingo

Last Sunday (May 17,) I made the hour long drive over to Mingo National Wildlife Refuge near Puxico. I always enter the refuge via the Job Corps entrance and then turn left and go to the spillway. The road is normally closed at this point, so after backtracking to the Bluff Road, I follow it past the Board Walk and Visitor Center and exit through the Red Mill Drive area. But this time, a seasonal “driving tour” was open and I entered it from the Spillway area.

The road runs along the entire northwest edge of the refuge then returns to the Bluff Road by a route that skirts the western edge of Monopoly Marsh. Most of the road along the edge of the refuge has flooded bottomland timber on the south/east side and what I think is the eastern edge of the Ozarks on the north/west side. There were many grassy, open areas along this part of the road. Most were on the west side of the road, oddly enough, and several were wet, but most were not. At each of these grassy areas, there were huge swarms of hundreds, if not thousands of dragonflies. Most were Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis,)

Pachydiplax longipennis - Male

Pachydiplax longipennis - Female

but there was also a significant number of Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis.)

Erythemis simplicicollis - Male

Erythemis simplicicollis - Female

There were so many of these two species that they became something of a distraction and made it difficult to pick out anything that was different. Still, I managed to find a couple of female Common Whitetails (Libellula lydia,)

what I’m calling a female Spangled Skimmer (Libellula cyanea,) though please feel free to correct me if that’s inaccurate,

a Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans)

and a Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros,)

a species that I had never seen before. This was by far the most productive area as far as dragons went and I didn’t find a species other than these the rest of the day.

Changing gears a bit, I was surprised at the lack of variety of wildflowers. Cinquefoil was everywhere; any open space was carpeted with it. But the only other flower that caught my attention was a Copper Iris (Iris fulva.)

It’s native to Missouri, but it only occurs in eight or nine counties in the southeast corner of the state plus a single county over in the southwest corner. According to Missouri Plants, it can grow both in shallow water or rich soil (this one was in about a foot of water) and is becoming rare due to habitat loss.

Birdwise, this part of the refuge produced about what you would expect. I saw, to name a few, American Redstart, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Turkey Vulture, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Indigo Bunting (VERY abundant,) Eastern Wood Peewee and a much larger number of Great Crested Flycatchers that I would have believed.

I stopped counting after I hit thirty and that was only halfway through this area. One was sitting in the road, apparently dusting him/herself and I very nearly ran over it.

Turning down the road that skirts the western edge of Monopoly Marsh, I found myself on a narrow, elevated levee with marsh and flooded timber on each side. Not much new along this area though I did find my first turtles

Red-eared Sliders

and a Prothonotary Warbler

When I first saw the Prothonotary, he was right beside the road, but by the time I had the camera up and ready he had moved to the other side of the ditch that paralleled the road. I took 10 shots anyway and this was the best of them.

Once I hit the Bluff Road, I turned east and drove past the boardwalk and visitor center. This road is paved and there was enough traffic that I wasn’t comfortable stopping to take photos (though I did continue to keep an eye on the water for the pair of Wood Ducks I was hoping to find.) I passed up the boardwalk also because there were a couple of groups on it and I could hear a group of noisy children, which is not conducive to photography.

From there I turned out Red Mill Drive and stopped at one of the restrooms to use the facilities. Before returning to the truck, I walked around a bit and found this handsome fellow in a ditch at the back of the pull-off area:

According to Tom Johnson’s “The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri,” Nerodia fasciata is only found in the southeast corner of the state, so this was a snake I wouldn’t find back home in Carter County.

Soon after returning to the truck, I spotted a white butterfly flitting about in a grassy wide spot in the road. He was very flighty and hard to approach – this was the best photo I managed to get:

I wasn’t familiar with this butterfly, but a quick check of “Butterflies and Moths of Missouri” revealed it to be a Checkered White (Pontia protodice.) Another species that occurs statewide that I had never found before. *sigh*

Soon, the road crossed a drainage ditch with a water control gate on the upstream side. There were 8 or 10 barn swallows here and even though I parked right next to them, they paid me very little attention.

Two pairs were building nests beneath an overhang:

Not wanting to disturb them, I moved on after a few minutes. The road was now crossing a levee approximately 1/4 mile long and the entire north side was covered with Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens) entwined with this:

You would think that something this distinctive looking would be easy to identify. You would be wrong. It has taken me two hours, using all of my reference books and searching online, to finally decide that it’s probably Swamp Leatherflower (Clematis crispa.) The breakthrough finally came while looking through “Missouri Wildflowers” for the 300th time and noticing that Fremont’s Leather Flower has a similarly shaped blossom. There was also a note that this was the only non-climbing Clematis in the state. Armed with that piece of information, I dragged out Steyermark’s “Flora of Missouri,” found Clematis crispa and verified the ID on several web sites. *Whew!*

Meanwhile, back at Mingo… While I was photographing the Clematis, I noticed a slender, graceful raptor flying overhead. I knew that Mississippi Kites are considered “uncommon” at the refuge in the spring, but despite making at least one trip especially to find them, had never seen one before. Now I had.

Hopping back in the truck, I drove maybe two hundred yards, far enough that I could see past a side levee, and spotted a pair of Great Egrets wading in the shallow water. I pulled the truck onto the entrance of the side levee and tried to ease down it, closer to the birds. They were having none of that and the only photos I got were from a pretty good distance.

I hadn’t seen the ducks until I was out of the truck (where the binoculars were,) so I took the photo above, hoping to identify them from the photo. They were far enough away that I thought they were Woodies, which are common on the refuge, but as soon as I looked at the photo I knew that was not the case. I’m not very good with waterfowl, so out came the Sibley’s and within the space of 5 minutes, I had another life bird – Hooded Mergansers!

Now, after five hours, I was nearing the exit from the refuge. I had planned to hit Duck Creek Conservation Area, so I turned north on Highway 51 for the short drive to the Duck Creek entrance. The first thing I saw upon entering the Conservation Area was two more Mississippi Kites, flying together over the road next to Ditch 104. From there it was on to Pool 1, the main body of water in the CA. Several pairs of Eastern Kingbirds had divided up the area around the pool

and I also saw a couple of Spotted Sandpipers and a Killdeer.

I made a quick side trip around “Unit A” where I saw another Great Egret, a Great Blue Heron (the first of the day, surprisingly) and a beautifil Whitetail doe.

Coming back to Pool 1, even though the light was starting to fade, I drove around the north end of the pool still hoping to find that pair of Woodies. A pair of ducks did flush from the edge of the water as I neared the exit road, but they flew directly into the glare of the sun and I could not identify them. Even without the Wood Ducks, it was a pretty successful day, so went back to Highway 51 and headed for home.

2 comments to Daytrip to Mingo

  • Mollie Freebairn

    Thank you for your fantastic photos and tale of your day at Mingo!

    I wonder if I could use the photograph of the egret and the mergansers is a presentation I am preparing?

  • admin

    Hi Mollie,

    Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to leave a comment. And yes, you can absolutely use the photo of the egret and mergansers. I appreciate the fact that you asked before using it.


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