Anglers take their lumps on Big, Little Sugar

NWA Outdoor Briefs

August 6, 2020 Comments Off on Fish, birds put on vanishing act Featured, Fishing, Latest

Fish, birds put on vanishing act

Flip Putthoff
NWA Democrat-Gazette

People ask, “Do you always catch fish when you’re out doing those fishing stories?”

How about birds? Do we always see lots of birds when we’re on safari for a bird-watching story?

The answer is yes. Most of the time we do. Yet the fish don’t always bite and the birds can be no shows on occasion. That’s sort of the theme of today’s NWA Outdoors.

This week’s feature about fly fishing on Big Sugar Creek isn’t filled with photos of majestic smallmouth bass ambushing the crawdad-imitation fishing flies we lobbed from dawn’s early light through midmorning. That’s how fishing is sometimes.

Cliff swallows build colonies of nests under rock shelves along bluffs at Beaver Lake. Nests are seen here on July 24 2020 north of Rocky Branch park.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

But a trip to Big Sugar isn’t all about the fish. The water in this serene and beautiful southwest Missouri stream is some of the clearest to be found. Wade-fishing Big Sugar in summer is a joy, clad in shorts and sandals hip deep in refreshing, pretty water.

That was our catch of the day during a visit to Big Sugar last month.

Our luck with birds wasn’t much better on July 24th when Terry Stanfill and I headed out on Beaver Lake bright and early. The game plan was to team up on a story about the hundreds of cliff swallows that nest among the high lakeside cliffs near Rocky Branch park.

On summer mornings, flocks of cliff swallows put on a dazzling aerial show, darting and diving every which way as they feed on tiny insects high above the water near their nests.

Cliff swallows construct crazy-looking mud nests that resemble gourds. Some say the nests look like a hillbilly moonshine jug. There are colonies of these cliff swallow nests on a massive bluff near the Point 7 sign and another towering bluff line one-half mile east of Rocky Branch park.

Swallows were swarming big time during a morning fishing trip on the lake three weeks ago. Hopes were high to come up with a great NWA Outdoors cliff swallow story. I called Stanfill to see if he’d like to join me on a cruise to photograph these feathered summertime visitors.

Stanfill lives near Decatur and hopped in his pickup at dark-30 to meet me at Rocky Branch park at sunrise. I figured that’d be prime cliff swallow time and the best light for good photos.

In the world of nature photographers, Stanfill is one of the best. He’s kind enough to share his photos with readers almost weekly here in NWA Outdoors.

We set off in my small boat, motoring across the water that was tile-smooth this early in the morning.

Terry Stanfill looks at cliff swallow nests along a Beaver Lake bluff north of Rocky Branch park. Hundreds of nests can be seen along bluffs near the park. Swallows can be seen, too, earlier in the year.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

A 15-minute boat ride took us to the bluff about a mile north of the park on this wide part of Beaver Lake. The nests were there all right, lined up like row houses of cliff swallow dwellings, but no cliff swallows.

We were two dollars short and more than a day late at the end of July. The babies had already fledged and left the nests. The adults were gone, too. Guess you could say they were out of their gourds. Instead of hundreds of cliff swallows, we saw a grand total of three fly into nests.

Stanfill and I were happy to see those, but three cliff swallows doesn’t quite make a great story, not when you expect hundreds.

No birds, no problem. We enjoyed a nice sunrise cruise on a beautiful lake and admired the artful nest-building talents of cliff swallows.

We promise you a cliff swallow feature next summer, only we’ll head out in June, not the last part of July.