Of all the things I love about living in the Missouri Ozarks, there’s one that’s definitely at or near the top of the list: Viewing many types of wildlife on a regular basis.
Honestly, I don’t know if there’s another place in the U.S. where so many wild species are in such close proximity to humans.
Obviously, deer are not in short supply here in Texas County and can be seen at any time of year in a variety of landscapes. But does it ever get old to see a young fawn with its mother, or a big, majestic buck with a huge rack? Not hardly.
And how cool is it to watch a fox sprint across a road in front of the car you’re in? They’re just so sleek and handsome. It always makes me smile.
Of course, birds are a very plentiful group within the Ozarks wildlife menagerie, but there are so many cool sub-committees within the feathery organization.
Surely, turkeys are one of the leading affilitates. But again, it just never gets old seeing a flock (or rafter, if you prefer) of the big avian creatures walking one-by-one across a gravel road, especially when it’s a bunch of hens led by a tom that’s so big a city dweller might think it’s an ostrich, or some other exotic ground-based fowl.
And watching them fly? Now there’s a sight to behold. They’re doing well keeping their secret, but the fact is they do darn well airborne when they want. Not that a flock of Missouri turkeys is going to migrate to Peru any time soon, but on several occasions I’ve witnessed a pretty rotund hen take off and land high in a tree, or even glide about a third of a mile from a piece of high ground down into a valley.
Since moving to a spot on a ridge high above the Big Piney River, I’ve had the opportunity to watch bald eagles come and go on a frequent basis. Wow, what an awesome sight it is to see a gigantic bird soar quietly along a tree line, or circle about 400 feet above the river bottoms.
And a friend and I were fortunate enough to actually see an eagle pluck a full-grown crow right out of midair. No kidding – it was awesome.
Speaking of big raptors nearby home, my wife Wendy and I have become quite familiar with owls over the past year or so. In fact, there’s one particular barred owl (the kind that looks like it’s wearing a scarf) that for many weeks this summer made a habit of appearing during broad daylight well after sunrise or well before sunset. We figure he (or she) just likes to get up early and go to bed late. Whatever the case, it’s wonderful to see the big, flat-faced bird fly from one tree branch to another and then matter-of-factly look our way as if it’s half tame or as fascinated by us as we are of it.
And how about those pileated woodpeckers? Before becoming a resident of the Ozarks, I had no idea a woodpecker could be so big and beautiful.
And how about the incredible sound they make? It’s like a chatter or scream you might hear in a movie that’s set in an African or South American jungle. Amazingly stark and totally recognizable.
Not being a person who hates every snake, living in the Ozarks allows me the chance to get an up close look at some highly impressive examples of the legless reptiles.
Especially when my family lived for all those years near Tyrone; on that remote property, it wasn’t uncommon for an absolutely enormous black snake or king snake to show up on the lawn, and that always gave us a thrill.
Of course, I’m not a fan of venomous snakes, and while coming across a big copperhead (like I did last Sunday) is interesting in a fearsome sort of way, I take more interest in making 100-percent sure nobody ever comes across it again. For the record, I haven’t seen a timber rattler yet, and I’ll be OK if I never do.
Another thing I haven’t yet seen is a black bear, although I would love to have that experience as long as I’m inside a car or our house (I’m not sure I care to be in the position of deciding what to do after coming face-to-face with one. I’ve seen bears in California, Washington, Oregon and Georgia, and I’m hear to tell you they’re daunting-looking animals.
But a formidable predator Wendy and I have each seen here in the Ozarks is a cougar (or mountain lion, if you prefer the regional vernacular). Now, you want to talk about a thrill; hoowee, that’s one big cat!
Of course, we all know from Missouri Department of Conservation information that the cougars we saw had to be male, had to have come from a state to the west and had to be traveling to a state to the east in search of territory or a mate.
Right. And the one I saw stopped in the house for a bite to eat and laid on the couch and purred for a while as we watched a Criminal Minds rerun on TV.
And I sold him a bridge before he headed east.
Anyway, there are plenty more varieties of wildlife to enjoy in these parts than the handful I mentioned, like turtles, butterflies, woodchucks (or groundhogs, if you prefer) and even horses (over there in Shannon County).
The bottom line is, I truly do appreciate many of the things the Ozarks has to offer as a place to live. And the critters are one of the best (at least most of them).
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.