I left you last to anticipate the final leg of our journey. On Friday we left our cozy hotel in Natchez and began the trek northward and home.
Our first stop was to be at the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest tracts of bottomland hardwood forests in the Mississippi Delta, and the area where the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was last seen for certain. Might we perchance be fortunate enough to see one? Unlikely, but……you never know! We will definitely be looking, and listening.
On the way there we were moving along and saw a man fishing off to the right of the highway. Upon looking closer through the trees we could see hundreds of Great White Egrets. There was a wide shoulder where the fisherman had parked, so we, too, pulled over.
The Egrets were the population of a rookery! (or colony, if you prefer). We saw several on nests, some building nests, some doing their mating dance, some flying around. Wow! What a treat.
In scanning the area, Therese spotted another bird, black and down low in the trees bordering the road. We all had our binoculars and tried to spot it, finally being successful. It turned out to be a Common Gallinule, a rather secretive bird I have only seen a couple of times.
Knowing we had a good trip ahead, we finally left this spot behind.
We took a winding road that, according to GPS would take us ultimately to the visitor center, instead of going the long way around on the highway. Well, as we all know, sometimes the GPS isn’t to be trusted. The turnoff that we were to take was a MUD road, so we kept to the one we were on, knowing it would eventually get us to the visitor center. It was, as you will see, a good thing we were on this road.
There were a couple of turnoffs that we did take, mostly out of curiosity to what we might see. You know, maybe an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Now THAT would be a find! We did see several Little Blue Herons and other assorted birds, but nothing earth shaking.
As we were nearing the final two or three miles before the visitor center, we saw a man walking, and a parked pickup ahead. Seeing that he was wearing camouflage and carrying a camera, binoculars and more, we stopped. Gay asked the fellow what he was seeing. His response, ” Ivory-billed Woodpecker.” Quickly followed by, “I’m kidding.”
We knew he was kidding, because if he had actually seen one he wouldn’t be nearly as calm as he was. Anyway, a conversation ensued. Turns out he lives an hour or so from there and was a fount of information of the area. Then, he said, “I called a Prothonotary Warbler earlier.”
I could barely contain my excitement at these words because I have never seen a Prothonotary Warbler. He told us if we would wait for him to get to his pickup, drive down and turn around, he would take us to where he saw it. Of course, we waited! I think Therese was the only one of us who had ever seen one.
Well, he did, we did, and he pulled over and stopped about 3/4 mile from where we had been. He pulled out his speaker and played the call. Immediately a bird popped out and flew across the road in front of us. It was a Prothonotary! I took a couple of really lousy shots, because a really lousy shot is better than no shot. Then, as the bird seemed to cooperate and sit rather still, I took the time to get my tripod set up and try for some better images.
Folks, this is what those of us who look for birds call a ‘Life Bird’. That simply means it is a bird you have never before seen in your life. It is always a pleasure to see a life bird, and even better to be able to photograph it.
Well, we spent so much time there that we never did make it to the visitor center, or the rest of the 80,000 acres we did not see. One could spend several days in this area and not see everything. We did also see a Loggerhead Shrike, which, on any other day would be quite a find. After the Prothonotary Warbler though, the Shrike took a back seat.
We crossed back over the Mississippi River and spent the night at the Clarksdale, Mississippi Hampton Inn. We couldn’t stop talking about our good fortune in meeting Stephan Pagans who found the Prothonotary Warbler for us.
Saturday we planned to cross over the Mississippi River into Arkansas and spend some time in the St. Francis National Forest and Mississippi River State Park. Highlights here were some Savannah Sparrows and a pair of Carolina Chickadees cleaning house preparatory to nesting.
After a couple of hours meandering back roads and seeing several birds of note, we hustled northward, planning to stop at “Lamberts’-Home of Throwed Rolls” in Sikeston, Missouri around 3 p.m. for late lunch/early supper. HA!
We were left wanting, for when we arrived the parking lot was full and people standing around everywhere. I went to the front to ask what the wait time would be, and was told “2 hours.” FORGET IT! There isn’t a meal I would wait 2 hours for, especially since we had only snacked on chips, candy and beef sticks since breakfast. So, on down the road we went, planning to stop south of St. Louis somewhere for the night.
Best laid plans you know. It was Saturday. It was Spring Break. It was post government incentive checks. Whatever it was, there were no rooms where we stopped. Finally, in St. Charles, north side of St. Louis, (third try) we found a hotel with 3 rooms available. We took 2 of them and were glad they were next to an I-Hop where we could get dinner without fighting traffic. We were all tired, especially Gay, who did all the driving. (Birding is hard work!) Note to self-book the room ahead, or don’t try to find a room on a Saturday night during spring break!
Sunday morning. Last day on the road. We planned to stop again at Ted Shanks Conservation area south of Hannibal to see what changes there would be in bird population since the week before. What a surprise! While the week before there were numerous ducks, there were not nearly as many this day. We did check out the north end of the area which we hadn’t taken the time to do the week prior.
Lo and behold, a large bird we thought at first to be a Turkey Vulture, as it got closer to us, was determined to be a Golden Eagle! Now, this is not a bird one sees frequently here as it is only found during migration, and not very often. It was soaring in front of, to the side and above us for quite awhile, giving us good looks. It was a juvenile, with white underwing patches and tail feathers, which the adult does not have. Still, it was quite the find and made our day.
The other item of note, birdwise, was a Great-horned Owl nest in a tree. It was probably a hawk’s nest that the owl took over. We did turn around to get a better look at it to be sure it was what we thought.
It was later in the day than we had planned when we arrived home, but it was still afternoon and not evening, and we were home, safe and sound, with some great experiences to talk about. And, I was happy to see the birds at home had been cared for by my 2 neighbor children who rode their bikes down every day to fill my feeders.
Really, who could beat a Golden Eagle and a Prothonotary Warbler as well as several sightings of Pileated Woodpeckers and Owls among the 100+ bird species we saw on this trip? I am certainly not complaining. Throw in a bit of history, good food, add in the fun of being with like-minded friends and you have the makings of a great road trip, storms notwithstanding.
We did joke about taking too much luggage and decided we should do a repeat of the 1 day road trip of the year before ( the 1 day that turned into 6!) to minimize the stuff we lugged with us.
I hope you have enjoyed our wanderings. Maybe someday we will get clear to the coast to see what birds we can find there.