Missouri Springs in the Extreme

January 20, 2018

A belted kingfisher sits a perch overhanging the spring run at the National Park Service’s Round Spring in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. 

I am always drawn to Missouri’s beloved springs in the dead of winter. The colder it gets, the better, as birds and other wildlife congregate at these dependable sources of life-sustaining water. When I say cold, I’m talking around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. At these low temperatures, springs become magical as the steam rising from the warm outflow flash freezes on everything it contacts including mossy rocks, mid-water snags, and overhanging tree limbs. I can sit in my venerable turkey chair in such a palace of ice, warm and comfy in my pac boots and insulated coveralls, for up to five hours before I take on a chill. If the temperature plunges below zero, I can always pull out the big guns: heat packs for my boots and gloves.

Last Wednesday morning I scouted some sites in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways for open water where I might photograph otters, kingfishers, waterfowl, mink, muskrat, and other critters that frequent spring runs on extreme days. By mid-day, I had found some potential at Round Spring (National Park Service) where a chattering kingfisher gave me what for, a great blue heron stood sentry at the cave outflow, and a variety of ducks swam away from me, suspicious of my intentions as I stood on the high bank with my binoculars. I planned a return a couple of days later when I could arrive before daylight and melt into the icy landscape.

When the alarm clock sounded in the middle of the night on Thursday morning, Joyce languidly inquired, “Where did you say you were going this morning?” My reply was simple and optimistic: “I’m going to get a kingfisher at Round Spring.”

By the time I had arrived at the park, donned my cold-weather gear, and found my hiding place, it was still a good 45 minutes before sunrise. I congratulated myself for allowing enough time for the trip and set-up, something I often underestimate. I’ve learned over the years that it takes a good 15 minutes just to get all of your clothes on after you arrive at a site. Add to that the time it takes to assemble your camera gear and concealment equipment, followed by a hike to your hide in the dark.

It was still quite dark with steam all around me when the ducks began fluttering down. I watched as gadwalls, wood ducks, green-winged teal, and mallards all dabbled together in the warm water, unfettered by the diversity in the group. By the time it was almost light enough to start shooting, an eagle swooped in and scattered most of the flock, except for a wood duck or two. I’ve shared an image below of a wood duck in the steamy spring water.

A wood duck cuts through the steam near a frosty snag.

By 8:00 A.M. the morning light began to cut through the trees behind me, illuminating a great blue heron that was preening on a log near the spring outflow. I tried to catch some of the rising steam around the heron as it contrasted against the blackness of the cave opening behind the heron.

A great blue heron guards the spring outflow.

As the morning progressed, I saw more eagles, a muskrat, a great variety of songbirds, a red-tailed hawk, and a few returning ducks, but there was no sign of a kingfisher. What would I tell Joyce? I said I was going to get a kingfisher! By 10:00, I had been in the hide for almost four hours. It was warming up a bit and all of the frost in the trees was snowing down on me. It was so magical I felt like I was in an episode of Game of Thrones, without the intrigue and nudity of course.

At 10:05 I heard the sound of a kingfisher from very far away, so far away I didn’t even get excited. But a few seconds later, that kingfisher lighted on an overhanging perch, one that I had purposely selected to focus on from the intelligence gathering of my previous visit. It only took a second to focus on the bird that was right in front of me and a second was all I had. I was granted four clicks of the shutter before it skedaddled, never to be seen or heard again for the rest of the morning until my departure at 11:30. Those four clicks turned out to be enough, and the featured image in this edition is Click #3.

Yes, I love Missouri’s “Springs in the Extreme.” They are not only wonderful in the dead of winter; they are amazing on those 95 degree summer days as well. Critters are pretty smart; they know where to find comfort.

Thanks for looking,


Email me with questions or comments at:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery of Images:  www.dannybrownphotography.com

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

John Muir





3 comments on “Missouri Springs in the Extreme”

  1. Enjoyed the post very much..perhaps, one day, I will return to Missouri, but until then, you take me to many parts that I would like to visit!

  2. Great post, those Kingfishers are tricky ones to capture aren’t they.

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