Southern Road Trip Continues….

A few days ago I left you after our auto tour of the Vicksburg Battlefield National Park.

Leaving the park we stopped for gas, a bathroom and then some lunch and on to Natchez. One thing about traveling with my 2 friends….we stop frequently. Mostly we stop for birds, but we also take bathroom breaks and snack/coffee breaks as often as necessary! Believe me, it is often necessary!

Funny thing we do when traveling, we look for those brown signs on the side of the road. You know, the ones that say So and So State Park, or Historic Marker, or Museum, or whatever. If we see one that looks interesting the car goes that way.

After leaving Vicksburg we saw a brown sign that said ‘Emerald Mound’. It was a short distance and our curiosity got the better of us, so we checked it out. Basically it was a small flat-topped hill in the surrounding flat land.

Who knew?

Another of the signs we saw was for the Natchez Trace Parkway. For the uninitiated, The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile recreational road and scenic drive through three states. It roughly follows the “Old Natchez Trace” a historic travel corridor used by American Indians, “Kaintucks,” European settlers, slave traders, soldiers, and future presidents.

We did a short walk on this portion of the Trace. It was awe-inspiring to walk where our forefathers may have traveled, even if it was for a short bit of the trail.

                                      The portion of the Natchez Trace we walked.

From the Parkway website: “Whether famous, infamous, or anonymous, travelers of the Natchez Trace relied heavily on this wilderness road. The Trace was a road home, a path of exploration, and a link to the growing population of the Old Southwest. Over time, new roads and population centers were developed and steamships carried people and supplies upstream. The Old Trace fell out of use. Reestablished as a unit of the National Park Service in 1938, the Natchez Trace Parkway was completed in 2005. The route still serves as a connection between population centers, and allows modern travelers to explore and discover the history and culture of earlier generations.”

After stopping to walk the Trace and increase our knowledge of said trail, we continued on to Natchez, in all driving about 20 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway.

We got our room and settled in after deciding to find an Italian restaurant for dinner. The one we decided upon was called Pearl Street Pasta, located in a very old building. The directions on my phone said it was .4 mile to the restaurant, but with our unfamiliarity with the area, one way streets and poorly marked streets, it was more like 2 miles! Another possibility was my direction giving, but I don’t think that could have been the problem!  It was a bit frustrating, but we got to see some lovely old buildings we hoped to have time to check out later. Dinner was delicious and the trip back to the hotel was actually about .4 mi.

Wednesday was hot and humid and there were severe storms predicted for later in the day. We decided to proceed as planned to go to St. Catherine Creek NWR south of Natchez, at least for the morning, then check the weather again. It was a short birding morning and the birds apparently knew there was a storm approaching as they were a bit on the scarce side. If you can believe it, I did not take one bird photo that day! Unfortunately, we did not have time to spend an extra day to explore more of the nearly 25,000 acre complex.

We returned to Natchez about 12:30 and the hotel graciously moved us from the 4th floor to the 2nd, as we really didn’t want to be at the top of the building in case of a tornado. We had some lunch, did a bit of sightseeing in town, then returned to the hotel until morning. The predicted arrival of the storm at 3 was pretty much on target with heavy rain, wind, thunder and lightning. A tornado did touch down about 20 miles south, but we were snug and safe, and dry, at our hotel.

I love the old Live Oak trees of the south. Some have Spanish Moss hanging from them and some have ferns growing on their branches, giving them a fuzzy look. These particular ones were in the churchyard of  St. Mary Basillica, dedicated in December, 1843. It is seen in the background. The image below was taken between lunch and the arrival of the storm at around 3 p.m.

Live Oaks

After checking our maps and hotel availability in the area of Louisiana just across the river where we would spend Thursday, we decided to stay at our current hotel one more night before heading on north. Having taken care of that change in plans Thursday morning, we crossed the Mississippi into Louisiana and the Bayou Cocodrie NWR, and Red River State Wildlife Management area.

This proved to be a good outing with us finding more birds than expected, and MUCH cooler weather. The high was 23 degrees cooler than the day before.  There were some areas we could not access due to flooded roadways from the previous days rains, but it was still a good day. Probably the highlight bird-wise, was the Little Blue Heron, of which we saw at least 5.

This is a view of a part of the Bayou.

After leaving the Bayou, we headed a bit southwest, again following the Mississippi River, at times on the top of a levee next to the highway. We saw numerous ducks from that vantage point and it was a nice drive to the Red River State WMA, a 78,000 acre area manned by only 3 people. We were fortunate enough to see the only person at the visitor center area as he was just getting off work. He told us we could drive through on the highway, but if we wanted to go on any of the side roads, we would need to get a permit. It was an easy process, and no cost involved, but due to the lateness of the day we opted to not do that and headed back to Natchez.

I will leave you here to anticipate the rest of our travels northward and back home, with a last look at one of the birds we saw that day, a Red-shouldered Hawk.






Southern Road Trip


It is always good to get away, but it is especially nice to get back home.

Last year (2020-remember that year??) before the pandemic I wrote in this space about our day trip that turned into a 6 day trip. What a riot! This year those same two friends and I planned a little better and headed south hoping to see some great birds.

When we first began talking about the trip and where to go, we knew we would need a week to go to Louisiana and Mississippi. Of course the discussion led to what birds we might see and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker came into the conversation. Some think it is extinct, but there is evidence of sightings over the last few years, so who knows? At any rate, we wanted to include the areas of old stands of hardwood trees where it would be if not extinct. Thus, the need for a week to allow time to look for birds and for travel.

Our first stop was at Ted Shanks Conservation Area south of Hannibal Missouri. There were large numbers of ducks, but also Bald Eagle, woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, etc. My favorite find there were the Hooded Mergansers, which we startled and they took off.

Male Hooded Merganser in front with female as they took off from the water as we stopped nearby. Nikon D4 with 600mm lens. Copyrighted.

What beautiful birds they are! The male is especially attractive, which is true of most bird species. This is intentional design as the female is most often the one sitting on the nest, and, being less conspicuous in her coloration, is less likely to be found by predators.

Also seen there were Northern Pintail Ducks, one of my favorites. Bear in mind, I have a LOT of favorites. These are especially striking and not seen as frequently as some of the other ducks.

Northern Pintail male with female and female Mallard in front. Out of focus in the background is a male Mallard. Nikon D4 with 600mm lens. Copyrighted.

From there we planned to head further south, perhaps to either Sikeston or Cape Girardeau, Missouri. We didn’t get quite that far, stopping at Perryville, MO. Next morning our goal was to Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. What a beautiful area for spending some time, with a variety of habitats. Here were MANY turtles sunning themselves on shore and on logs. There was also a good variety of birds, including another favorite, the Wood Duck. These ducks like backwaters and water with plenty of places to hide, and are quite difficult to photograph out in the open.

                                This is the male Wood Duck. Female is out of sight.

Moving on, we decided to just drive for a bit to find a place to spend the night, then cross the Mississippi River into Mississippi the next day. We ended up staying in Helena-West Helena, AR. and had dinner at Sonic. It was Sunday evening and the restaurant we had chosen for dinner was closed for the day, so, Sonic it was. Actually, the meal was quite good.

On Monday we headed east to Mississippi and Moon Lake where we met a lovely lady when we stopped near her house to watch the Purple Martins on the other side of the road. Her name was Cheri and she invited us to park in her driveway and sit in her yard to watch them. She told us how she came to have 3 Martin houses and said she has a 4th that her husband hasn’t put up yet.


She inquired if we would like something to drink or anything, so we asked to use her bathroom. She invited us in and told us they had lived there for 6 years, a lovely spot with a great view of the lake. She had a little shop in the back where she paints metal birds made by a friend. These she sells through craft fairs, but we bought some from her shop. This little owl was unpainted but so adorable.


After driving on down the road, (by the way, we don’t just drive, we stop and look at birds along the route) we found ourselves at Dahomey National Wildlife Refuge. By now it is 1:30, but we planned to spend the night at Vicksburg, MS, another 2 hours drive time, and knew we couldn’t see the whole refuge. That was too bad because we only did a short loop and the refuge is quite large, almost 10,000 acres. Still, we were there and it is a potential ‘return to’ place. Highlight of that visit was, for me, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This tiny bird hardly sits still long enough for me to depress the shutter release, but I did get an image. When excited he shows the red on top of his head, but I guess he was pretty calm.

Upon leaving the refuge we drove on to Vicksburg, arriving too late to attempt the auto tour at Vicksburg National Battlefield, one of the sites of the Civil War. We did discover that the Visitor Center was closed due to Covid 19, but the auto tour opened at 8 a.m.

We asked about places to eat and discovered a great Barbeque place very near our hotel. Great food and very friendly staff. Next morning, Tuesday, we drove the Battlefield.

The auto tour was 16 miles long with numbered stops where you could use your cell phone to call a number and input the sign number to listen to a recording (complete with rifle fire) about that particular area.The red signs designated Confederate lines and the blue signs were Union lines. This is a map of the tour. It was nearly 1 p.m. when we left the park.

There are numerous memorials from all the states who fought in that battle. This is the Iowa Memorial, but throughout the park are smaller Iowa Memorials and markers telling where certain units fought.

In addition to the recordings, there are many descriptive signs explaining what occurred there from March 29-July 4, 1863. To read these signs, just click on the image.

There are also signs giving names of places of battles, and casualties of both North and South units.

While everything there is quite sobering, the area is beautiful now. The redbuds were just starting to bloom and there are a lot of birds there as well. We saw MANY people walking various portions of the park, and one man stopped to visit with us twice. He was very knowledgeable and answered a lot of our questions.

                                      These were Union cannon on a ridge. Trench to the right.


I leave you with these thoughts:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”
Abraham Lincoln

Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the Southern Road Trip.