Dawn on the Missouri-Mississippi confluence

Mist obscured the Mississippi, but the barge-loading cranes we saw were across the river in Illinois. We put the car windows down, for the dawn air was still cool. Today promised to heat to above a hundred. Eastern meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, killdeer, and barn swallows flew away on our approach. The Columbia Bottom is supposed to be a conservation area, but soy and corn grew on either side of the road. There was no sign of the ponds my map showed in blue.

Texas also has Columbia Bottomlands, but they are forested, not open. Millions of migrating songbirds use the Texas forests for shelter on their travels north, then back south for winter, bringing along those young that survived their first months. But now the Texas forests have no coolness to them, not even at six in the morning. Anyway, we are in St. Louis now.

We went all the way to the confluence of the two greatest rivers of our nation. But we were on the southern Missouri shore.  Around the bend would be the joined rivers. We could see across the river the point that sticks out like an arrowhead between the two rivers. There you can stand with the Mississippi on your left and the Missouri on your right and watch the muddy union.

On the confluence platform were various quotes. From Mark Twain in 1880 they had “the basin of the Mississippi is the body of the nation.” From unknown Missouri farmers they had “The Missouri River is too thick to drink and too thin to plow.” But in fact, our drinking water in University City comes from the Missouri River.

Note the vine-covered stump that broke off at about the level of the 1993 flood.

We walked along the river trail, watching common grackles, and indigo buntings.  We heard red-bellied woodpeckers and an eastern towhee. Huge maple trunks were broken off maybe 20 feet up at about the height of the 1993 flood. The cottonwoods and sycamores survived. We figured most of the understory shrubs were recent. We wondered what exactly caused the leaf deformity on what might be goldenrod. I’ll have to ask around.

What is causing this deformity? Is it like agrobacterium?

But this birding did not accomplish our goal. We had set out, Missouri fishing permits in hand, to catch some small fish for our pond. We went to the boat ramp where the lone fisherman recommended instead Silver Lake. We went there and did not find any little fish we could catch. We only saw geese, a black-crowned night heron,  and more cardinals.  The fish would have to wait for another day, for it was nearly nine in the morning, on this hot, hot day.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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