Darrin Welchert is a composite of every wildlife biologist I’ve ever met. The profession must attract guys (and gals) who are: friendly, articulate, concise, ridiculously smart, perpetually disheveled (but who really couldn’t care less), unbending in their commitment to protect wild critters and the places they live while absolutely supporting hunting and fishing wherever the resource can support it; all the while standing ready to discuss nearly any critter with a combined hunter’s passion, angler’s enthusiasm and tactician’s precision.
Welchert is the biologist at the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge a 7,350-acre waterfowl and eagle haven tucked into the corner of Missouri that’s practically within a rifle shot of Kansas and Nebraska. Birds don’t have any trouble finding the place. They just follow the Missouri River, which courses through the sunset side of the refuge through the seemingly endless farmland.
“About 5 miles as the crow files,” Welchert said of the property’s proximity to the river that’s forever linked to Lewis & Clark. Signs marking their journey dot the surrounding countryside, including highway 159, which clips the southeast corner of the refuge. “Unless there’s a flood,” Welchert added with a slight smile. “Then the crow doesn’t have to fly so far.”
No flooding this day and not many birds, either. It’s a little early in the season for ducks, geese and eagles to be on the move, although by the time fall freezes into winter and winter thaws into spring about 150,000 ducks, 250,000 geese, 60,000 shorebirds and 250 or so eagles will have come and gone. “About all we have right now are mostly pintails,” Welchert said.
Welchert hedged. “Yea. Some. The fishing is pretty limited. There’s a small pond over there (he pointed north, across the highway where there appeared to be nothing but grass and an occasional tree for 10 miles) where you can do a little fishing.”
Then, almost as a consolation prize, he added, “We have some deer hunting.”
Waterfowl are off limits. Squaw Creek is strictly refuge. It was established in 1935. Some of the buildings still show the carpentry talents of Civilian Conservation Corps workers.
The 10-mile auto tour loop (also open to bike and foot travel) more or less circles the refuge. Water control structures stand ready to provide visiting birds with needed moisture: Pelican Pool. Eagle Pool. Pintail Pool. Mallard Marsh. Bluff Pool: Cattail Pool. Long Slough. Squaw Creek and Davis Creek flow southward and hem the property. I would assume these free flowing creeks would hold a few fish but the federal “no access beyond this point” signs kept them out of reach.