You just can’t say enough about autumn in Missouri. Festivals abound, hunting seasons open, the crisp weather beckons. Best of all, it brings out your wild side, as you traverse the region for amazing bird watching and wildlife viewing in the Show-Me State.
Missouri is blessed with an abundance of wild places: conservation areas, national wildlife refuges, even specialty attractions.
Start your viewing adventure at one of the top birding areas in the state: Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge, twenty minutes southwest of Mound City. Established in 1935 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife, it is named by the American Bird Conservancy as one of America’s top 500 Globally Important Bird Areas. The 3,400 acres of wetland habitat is often so covered in migrating waterfowl you can’t see the water. Climb the observation tower for a great view of Canada geese, bald eagles, hundreds of blue-winged teal, and – this time of year – thousands of northern pintail. In late November and early December, Loess Bluffs hosts nearly a half-million snow geese. It is a sight well worth the drive.
Another northwest Missouri birding hotspot is Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, two miles south of Sumner. Take an evening drive through the area for wildlife viewing, particularly white-tailed deer; also, coyote, beaver and raccoon are common sights. You’ll need a sharp eye to spot the rarely-seen river otters that call Swan Lake home. Use the viewing scopes located at the overlooks along the road and on the nature trail to spot American white pelicans, trumpeter swans and several species of geese. The auto tour leads to Silver Lake, where diving duck species like to feed and rest. Look for common mergansers, buffleheads and lesser scaup.
Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, 10 miles southwest of Columbia, is designated an Important Bird Area by Audubon Missouri. There is always something to see: shorebirds in spring and fall; ducks and geese during fall, winter and spring; amazing songbirds year-round.
Recent reports cite the presence of white-faced ibis; trumpeter swans are not uncommon winter visitors. Be sure to watch for our national symbol, for which the area is named.
Get your best look at the area from the viewing deck/tower, located on top of the bluff. Access is from the Katy Trail State Park, approximately 2.5 miles south of the McBaine trailhead. Biking and hiking the Katy Trail also offer wonderful bird and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area, about a 20 minute drive southeast of East Prairie, in southeast Missouri, is a managed wetlands area where duck and goose hunting are popular. With the Richard T. Reed Observation Platform, Ten Mile Pond is another prime location for viewing migrating waterfowl, bald eagles and wetland wildlife. Special regulations apply to season dates and designated areas, so be sure to contact the area headquarters to find out the best time to visit.
For a change of pace, head to Shawnee Trail Conservation Area, four miles south of Mindenmines. The area is primarily grassland habitat, providing good territory for a number of songbirds and grassland wildlife species. Bird-watch while biking one of the service roads and from horseback on roads open to vehicles. A great sighting is a short-eared owl, which are common there in the fall and winter months.
For some guaranteed-can’t-miss wildlife viewing, make sure you include the World Bird Sanctuary, four miles west of Valley Park, in your itinerary. A self-guided tour offers displays of live eagles, owls, hawks, parrots and other birds. The nature center showcases the thick billed parrot – the only parrot native to the United States – as well as some snakes and other creatures. WBS offers amazing Owl Prowls, November through mid-March, to discover the wild barred owls and the great-horned owls who are setting up territories and courting on the property.
No tour of wild Missouri is complete without a visit to the Endangered Wolf Center, seven miles east of Eureka. Visit Mexican gray wolves, red wolves, maned wolves, swift foxes and African painted dogs as you learn why each are endangered in the wild. Endangered PredaTours are offered Friday-Sunday. Nothing says “wild” like the call of a wolf, so don’t pass up a chance to experience an evening program that includes a half-mile walk where the staff attempts to get the pack to howl. Check the center’s calendar for howl dates. Reservations are required for PredaTours and howl events.
Set aside a little time to be outside this fall and winter – it’s a great time to enjoy the wildness and the wild things that call Missouri home.