A friend had been seeing a bald eagle at the wetlands just outside of town, and it seemed like a good reason for an early morning walk around my stomping grounds out there, and as I crept along the gravel road toward the wetlands, sure enough, perched high in an old dead cottonwood snag sat one lone stately bald eagle. I walk there mostly in the winter when the trails have been mowed and the grass and weeds have been frosted and tromped down by waterfowl hunters, so this morning’s excursion found the wetlands in her working clothes so-to-speak. I stepped out of the truck into a literal sea of yellow; no, someone had not peed in the pool, these were yellow wildflowers that were thick as ticks on a hound’s back and waist high. I knew everything would be wet with dew, so I wore my chest waders and was I ever glad I did. The wetlands manager told me the beavers were back and causing drainage problems again, so I decided to look into that before paying a visit to the eagle.
I’d gone a hundred yards or so when the flowers ahead exploded with quail; like the fireworks the night before, they erupted a couple at a time seemingly from nowhere, showing no sign of their presence until they were in the air in front of me. No sooner had they entered the air space over the nearby pond when a pair of cackling pheasants joined them from somewhere amidst the cattails. All that ruckus stirred-up a gazillion little frogs in the grass, and splashes dotted the surface of the pond as they all scurried for the safety of deeper water. There were ponds all around me and every few steps sent cranes (blue herons) and white egrets into the air; I lost count after a couple dozen, probably more cranes than I would see the entire rest of the summer.
When I got to the drainage ditch that runs the entire length of the wetlands and drains all the various ponds and the two “sinkholes” it was easy to see that the beavers had constructed a nice wall of mud across the front of their dam where we had previously cut notches to drain standing water from nearby farm ground. The farm ground was dry now and the dam was presently doing no harm, so catching those rascals might be an adventure for another time.
I parked and walked in from another direction to get a view of the beaver dam from the other side. The trail ran parallel to the drainage ditch, and walking along it was like strolling along a lazy river. Small trees lined the banks on both sides and farther out in one direction massive cottonwoods stood like giant sentries guarding a small swamp. Here and there the sun filtered through the canopy above and danced on ripples in the ditch. Though I had gone only a few hundred yards from where I first walked, this was like an entirely different world. Raccoon tracks littered the ground and small frogs dove for the cover of the ditch with each step. The only thing thicker here than the coon’ tracks were the hoards of poison ivy plants wherever the ground got a little sunshine. Other than them, few plants grew here at all. A glimpse of the beaver dam from this side confirmed what I’d seen before, so I wound my way back to the truck and prepared to approach the eagle if it was still there.
The eagle continued its vigil from high in the old dead cottonwood, so I stepped into the soybean field that skirted around behind its perch. I couldn’t see the eagle or the tree anymore and was afraid it had skedaddled, but rounding a corner in the field brought me face-to-face with it at less than a hundred yards. I used to be a die-hard camera-carrying fanatic, but the last while have just used my cell phone, as it’s so convenient and most of the photos I take are close ups anyway. So there I stood, offered one of the best photo opportunities ever and my cell phone was in my pants pocket. As I fumbled to extract my stupid phone from my pants pocket INSIDE my waders, the photo opportunity took wing and was gone.
I’ve often wished there existed a pair of glasses that was actually a camera where the mere press of a button photographed what you saw through the lenses; boy howdy it would have paid for itself on the spot! I’ve driven past the wetlands numerous times since and have not seen the eagle again. Although as I sat there on the road early this morning before church, a wild mink scurried across in front of me; that almost made up for the foolhardiness of not carrying my camera… almost. Continue to Explore Kansas outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]