Category Archives: Birding

Birdwatching hotspots on the Great River Road

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Birds are on the move above the Mississippi River! The Mississippi River flyway is a migration route followed by 40 percent of North America’s water and shore birds. Song birds, raptors, ducks and wading birds all travel this route this season. For bird lovers, this is paradise. Travelers on the Great River Road National Scenic Byway will find endless spots for taking in the show. Part of the fun of birding is finding your own special locations, but here are some good bets to get you started.

 

Barn Bluff Scenic Overlook, Red Wing.

You can summit this 340-foot bluff via a trail and some steps. It’s worth the effort. It offers panoramic views of the Mississippi River and Red Wing below and it’s the perfect place to spot flocks traveling north.

Perrot State Park, Trempealeau, Wisconsin.

This park also offers a bird’s eye view of the Mississippi River. Keep your binoculars handy; this is the spot where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi and it’s fantastic habitat for birds.

Pike’s Peak State Park, McGregor, Iowa

This is one of the most photographed places in Iowa for a reason – it offers majestic views of the river channels below. The wooded park has some nice birding trails – keep an eye out for pileated woodpeckers. Not far from parking areas, you’ll find breathtaking vistas that are perfect spots to see passing flocks.

Lake Chicot State Park, Arkansas

This lake was once part of the Mississippi River, before it was cut off from the main channel centuries ago. It’s 20 miles long – the largest natural lake in Arkansas. It’s great habitat for wetland birds and it draws birders throughout the year.

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve, Louisiana

The Barataria Preserve here is a land of forests bayous. It’s fantastic biding country. You’ll find more than 200 species of birds including herons, egrets, vultures, and ducks.

Must-see birding on the Great River Road

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Roseate spoonbill

Roseate spoonbill

The Great River Road is one of the world’s premier spots for birding. The road traces the Mississippi Flyway, a migration route followed by 40 percent of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds. The Great River Road is flanked by vast refuges, expansive forests and beautiful parks that provide rich habitat and protection for these beautiful creatures.

Travelers on the Great River Road have the opportunity to encounter an abundance of species and there are endless places to relax and take in the beauty of the flyway’s birds.

Here are some great places to start a birding adventure on the Great River Road:

Itasca State Park. The home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park in Minnesota, hosts birds in its boreal forests and mixed hardwoods. Established in 1891, Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest park. With 222 species found here, it’s also one of Minnesota’s premier birding locations.

Reelfoot Lake State Park. Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake was created by a series of earthquakes in the early 1800s and today is a magnificent wildlife viewing and birding location. You’ll find many varieties of shore and wading birds here and white pelicans and eagles pay seasonal visits to the park.

National Eagle Center. Want to get up close and personal with an eagle? Pay a visit to Wabasha, Minn., where you can meet bald and golden eagles at daily demonstrations or take a look at eagles perched above the Mississippi River from the observation deck.

Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge—located in southeastern Arkansas—was created in 1935 specifically to protect migratory birds. Birders can find countless species among the beautiful forests and lakes.

Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. In western Kentucky near Benton, this 8,500-acre refuge contains bottomland hardwood forests used by over 200 species of neotropical songbirds for a migration stopover spot or for nesting.

 

Top 5 birds to see on the Great River Road

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Photo: Tom Jerisha

Photo: Tom Jerisha

With warm spring temperatures come the flocks of migratory birds, flying north along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi Flyway is the migration route followed by 40% of all waterfowl and shorebirds in North America. Wildlife refuges, state forests, federal forests and parks protect the crucial habitat and food sources for these birds.

Grab a pair of binoculars, because you won’t believe the variety of fowl that nests along the Mississippi. Here are a few of our favorites, and where you can find them:

  1. Bald eagle. Watch our nation’s bird soar over the pines and lakes along the Mississippi. Nearly every state from Arkansas to Minnesota boasts superb bald eagle viewing. The conditions of the Mississippi are simply plentiful. If you want to learn more about the majestic bird, the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota is a regional favorite for group visits. Climb into an eagle’s nest, meet the resident raptors, or join a guided field tour to see the birds the in wild. Further south, at the Mississippi River Visitor Center in Rock Island, Illinois, you’ll find a bald eagle hot spot. This location is best in late winter and very early spring, when the eagles gather near the open water to feed.
  2. White pelican. These shy white birds start migrating north in early March. They’re frequently spotted near locks and dams near state parks, like the Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge near Bellevue, Iowa.
  3. Prothonotary Warbler. This small vibrantly yellow songbird is conspicuous all along the lower Mississippi River states, like Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. When the weather warms, you’re sure to spot it migrating north from its summer near the West Indies. It forges for food in hardwood swamps and nests in natural and artificial cavities like woodpecker holes.
  4. Great blue heron. Watch this majestic bird stalk its prey in shallow wetlands before taking flight with a loud squawk and a loud thump from its 6 foot wingspan. Great blue herons nest in treetop colonies called rookeries. You can find rookeries along the islands in Minnesota, like the North Mississippi River Park in Minneapolis, or the wetlands of Tennessee.
  5. Ivory-billed woodpecker. If you happen to spot this quirky bird, consider yourself one of the few. Thought to be extinct, this bird was spotted flying over Arkansas in 2002. The Dale Bumpers White River Widelife Refuge in Arkansas is home to 300 lakes and ponds, making the Bottomland Hardwood Forest and the White River an ideal home for migrating birds, and maybe, just maybe, the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Want more birding advice for your Great River Road experience? Be sure to check out our page devoted to bird-watching.

Spring is Prime Time for Birdwatching

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spring is here and it’s the perfect time for birdwatching along the Great River Road, thanks to its location along the Mississippi Flyway, the migration route followed by 40% of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds.

  • In Louisiana, visit the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve, outside of New Orleans. Here, in the Barataria Preserve, you’ll find more than 200 species of birds, from herons, egrets and ibis to prothonotary warblers and painted buntings. The scenery is breathtaking here with canals, forests and swamps.
  • Charles, Arkansas is home to the White River National Wildlife Refuge. Over 300 lakes and ponds, the Bottomland Hardwood Forest and the White River make an ideal home for migrating birds. You’ll see bald eagles, wood ducks, prothonotary warblers and many kinds of birds native to the south.
  • A little farther north at the Mississippi River Visitor Center in Rock Island, Illinois, you’ll find a bald eagle hot spot. This location is best in late winter and very early spring, when the eagles gather near the open water to feed.
  • At the midway point of the Wisconsin Great River Road is Onalaska, home to protected woodlands and wetlands perfect for migrating birds. Drop into the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge and look for raptors and rare birds. Or stop by the Onalaska Spillway and see the white pelicans that make their way through the area each spring. Don’t miss the two eagle nests here as well.
  • At the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota you can meet real bald and golden eagles, climb in a nest or see how your strength stacks up against the national bird’s. Admission is very modest and if you plan your trip at the right time you can even take an eagle viewing field trip to see these majestic birds in the wild.