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