Oklahoma lost one of its most successful conservationists last month with the death of Raymond Beck of Marlow.
Beck, 91, was my mentor and longtime friend. We shared a love for the outdoors, a desire to improve wildlife habitat, a National Wetlands Conservation award and countless homemade apple pies at his dinner table.
His enthusiasm for wildlife and the outdoors was contagious.
I first met Raymond more than 30 years ago. I had heard a story about a naturalist in Stephens County who raised hundreds of wood ducks each year and I wanted to meet him.
The sky was full of wood ducks that spring morning when I arrived at his home just east of Marlow. The reason became clear when Raymond showed me the “condominium projects” that he had build for the colorful birds.
The population of wood ducks had plummeted by the mid-half of the 20th century because of the loss of hardwood trees.
Wood ducks, which do not quack but make a high-pitch scream similar to a whistle, build their nests in tree cavities close to water.
As more and more of those trees were cut down, there were fewer and fewer wood ducks.
Measures were taken to protect the remaining habitat and the creation of man-made nest boxes were helping the wood duck population recover.
Beck built 155 wood duck boxes and placed them on wooden poles about 12 feet above the ground.
The conventional wisdom was that wood duck boxes needed to be at least 100 yards apart. In Raymond's wood duck condominiums, some of the boxes were just 3 feet apart. His design proved the birds thrived in a clustered community.