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DESTINATION

FOLLOWING

THE TRAIL REFUGE IS HOME TO NATIVE WILDLIFE PHOTO AND STORY BY DAWN KOHLER

T

he scenic auto tour roads of Mingo National Wildlife Refuge give visitors the opportunity to see a variety of animals native to Missouri. Located in the Bootheel, Mingo has some of the last remaining tracks of bottomland hardwood forest with trees as large as three or four feet in diameter. The 21,500-acre refuge was established during 1944 to protect migratory and nesting waterfowl and to preserve the last remaining track of forest and swamp habitat. Visitor Ian Vogel was surprised by the variety of wildlife in the swamp. “Wildlife starts exploding everywhere around you as you turn into the park,” Vogel says. “Mingo is one of the most diverse places I know. You can go bird watching, look for snakes and other reptiles, fish and even hike. It is almost like the swamp in Louisiana except there isn’t Spanish moss hanging from the trees.” The population of animals has increased through proper management and conservation. During 1984, Tom Humphrey worked with the Missouri Department of Conservation at Mingo where he helped release captive-bred bald eagles back into the wild. The populations of eagles have greatly increased since the 1980s. While working at Mingo, Humphrey says he was amazed by the variety of wildlife.

detours 20 winter 2014

“Red-shouldered hawks were a rare site for us in the 1980s,” Humphrey says. “They were more of a swamp bird at that time. Now Red-shoulders can be seen throughout the eastern half of the U.S.” During 2007, employees reintroduced alligator gar into the refuge and more were released during 2009. They benefit the ecosystem by eating hundreds of the invasive carp species. Universities use Mingo as a place to do research on the swamp and the organisms within it. Park Ranger Peter Rea says there is currently a study going on in the refuge regarding the mud snake’s diet and habitat loss. Mud snakes — jet black snakes with red-checkered bellies — eat legless aquatic amphibians, called sirens and amphiumas. Both mud snakes and their prey are declining in number due to past deforestation. Mingo is one of the last habitats they have left. The swamp is home to a variety of snake and turtle species. Snakes inhabit the land along the auto tour roads and around the bodies of water in the refuge. Some species of non-venomous snakes that live in the park include water snakes, black rat snakes and ribbon snakes. Water snakes are everywhere sunning on rocks and logs along the road, near the local fishing hole and even in the trees. Turtles crawl along the Swampwalk Nature Trail and in the ponds where cypress roots poke through the tea-colored swamp water.

Park Ranger Rea oversees the public use and the maintenance of the refuge, as well as organizes conservation programs. Rea says it is critical to conserve places like Mingo so people can continue to enjoy hunting, fishing, watching the animals and taking photos. Rea says visitors can see different wildlife depending on the season. Migratory birds, waterfowl and snakes are commonly seen during the spring and fall. During summer, fawns lay twenty yards off of the boardwalk. Many species of birds nest on the refuge during spring, including bird of prey species like barred owls and bald eagles. The peak season for waterfowl is winter.

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Detours Winter 2014 Issue  

Detours Magazine Winter 2014 Issue — Read stories about the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre (pg. 26) and see the beauty of Missouri’s murals (pg....

Detours Winter 2014 Issue  

Detours Magazine Winter 2014 Issue — Read stories about the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre (pg. 26) and see the beauty of Missouri’s murals (pg....

Profile for detours