Greetings to you all, and thank you for coming and visiting the sleepy little town of Stella, Missouri where the eagles hang out in down town. We were glad to have you as our guests on a chilly Saturday in January. If you weren’t able to join us this year, I hope you were safely snuggled up in a blanket watching nature documentaries involving warm tropical waters and sun soaked beaches. Maybe you can don your fuzzy coat and join us next year? It really is a great opportunity to get in touch with nature and see some of the most amazing birds!
The Festival of Eagles brings many people to Stella from some pretty great distance, but I wanted to write to you today as a master naturalist who lives in Stella year round. I wanted to share with you some of the sights and sounds of Stella and the country side around it, and not just in the blustery, cold days of January. Stella has many great things to offer to someone who is interested in the natural world and seeing wildlife. The greatest thing about the wild lands surrounding Stella is that they are so easy to access. Most of the wildlife viewing, as you found out while watching eagles, can be done from the comfort of your car. Some of it though requires getting your feet wet and that is where we will start.
Indian Creek starts around Stella as three little branches all meandering and gurgling west. Maybe you noticed the one branch, the most southern of the three, which flows right through the middle of town and next to our little park. That clear and clean little stream is host to many underwater denizens and even some that hang out above the water. Just this past summer a Baltimore oriole created an amazing feat of engineering and built a nest right where the creek passes under the bridge in town. It is only in a town like Stella where you can park in the middle of the bridge for an hour and watch an oriole build a hanging nest of grass and not bother anyone else’s traffic schedule. On that same location, on another day the drama of a cow bird trying to steal that nest played out in front of my eyes. The male oriole knew what was at risk and, ever vigilant, drove off the cow bird at every turn. Far below this sight was another under the water.
Indian Creek is home to some small, but amazing, fishes. If you are brave enough to get in the water starting in March then you might get to see some of these jewels. The easiest to view are the orange throat darters. The males compete for territory and for the attention of picky females by showing off fins painted in bright reds and blues. They dance and wiggle their flamboyant colors across the bottom of the stream with either a message of love or a message of competition, depending on who is there to watch. Believe it or not though, these aren’t the most colorful fish in the stream. Later in the spring and early summer the cardinal shiners will start looking for clean, fast flowing riffles to spawn over and when they do, they will flip a switch and turn from little silver minnows into a red blast of colors worthy of their name. If you are in the right place at the right time and you take a moment to glance at the waters of Indian Creek you will see it running red, not with the blood of fallen Civil War soldiers as once happened in this area, but with the colors of male cardinal shiners competing for the opportunity to chase a girl through the cold waters.
If getting into the water on a cold spring morning doesn’t sound like a great idea, then maybe consider visiting us in the late summer when we become home to a myriad of wildflowers that make our roadsides look like someone forget to put the lid on the paints before driving around. Yellows, oranges, reds and purples all sway in the warmth of the late evening breezes. The different varieties of sunflowers all tower into the glow and beg beautifully for the title of biggest, yellow flower. The butterfly weed with its crown of small blooms handily wins the best in orange award. Butterfly weed and purple milkweed both attract their own tourists as the butterflies start to store up energy for their plans for the winter months. The cone-flowers, which almost seem melancholy with their drooping petals, can stretch for miles down the sides of the country roads and are a subtle reminder to the children that school is once again about to come to session. Maybe they are in fact empathetic to the pleas of the young kids of the area? If you are brave enough to eat at the roadside tables of Stella then I would tell you to check out a menu of passion fruit with its exotic flower and blackberries which do not give up a sweet treat without first collecting a price if you are not careful. All of these treats, both of the eye and the mouth can be found on a late summer day on the country roads of Stella.
I hope you enjoyed the time you had to visit with our national symbol while you were visiting Stella. I hope you had a chance to meet someone new, feathered or otherwise, and I hope you learned something. We were glad to have you as our guests, and please take the opportunity to come back to Stella in the spring or summer to see what nature has to offer you then. Make sure you bring your binoculars though; you never know who might be sitting on a strand of barbed wire waiting for you to take a look.
Kevin Mouser is a member of the Chert Glades Master Naturalist Chapter. He is the Special Education Science teacher, Ecology teacher and Science Club sponsor at East Newton High School. When he is not teaching, driving a school bus or sleeping, he really enjoys spending time with his wonderful wife Cristal and getting into the great waters of the Missouri Ozarks.