We are approaching the peak of spring bird migration. National Audubon Day is April 26 and May 9 is Global Big Day. Right now is an excellent time to head outdoors to look, listen, and learn.
Western Skies Scenic Byway is book-ended by two Bird Conservation Areas (BCAs), which aim to protect bird habitat. The Loess Hills Bird Conservation Area "contains 94,048 acres in Monona and Harrison counties, of which nearly 19,000 acres are protected by conservation easements or publicly owned. Bird diversity here is exceptional, with 249 species identified, including 80 Iowa Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Currently, 111 species are known to nest in this BCA’s prairies, savannas, woodlands, and wetlands." Download a brochure.
The Raccoon River Savanna BCA in Guthrie and Carroll counties, "was the tenth to be created in the state of Iowa. Totaling 54,361 acres, this large land tract encompasses three core areas in which conservation measures can be targeted: Whiterock Conservancy, Springbrook State Park, and Elk Grove Wildlife Area. This the first Iowa BCA to focus on savanna, often likened to a transition zone between prairie and forest that is crucial for many of Iowa’s birds. As many as one-third of the state’s 200 breeding birds can be found nesting in this increasingly rare habitat." Download a brochure.
Desoto National Wildlife Refuge is the only national refuge along the byway corridor. Each spring and fall, hundreds of thousands of waterfowl migrate through. Bald eagles and many other birds are also frequently seen. Lakes like Prairie Rose, wetlands, prairies, and woodlands are all grate places to view birds.
The county and city of Audubon, in the middle of the Byway, are named after famous birder John James Audubon. In downtown Audubon, you will find a statue of Audubon at the city park, a stained glass image of Audubon, and more than 200 tiled bird mosaics inset into the sidewalks. Inside the Audubon Post Office is a mural of John James Audubon and his party during their journey down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
As you drive across Audubon County on Highway 44, pay attention to the roads you pass. They're named after birds, alphabetically from west to east (Bluebird, Crane, Dove, Eagle...to Pheasant, Quail, Robin, Swift.
Additionally, the Iowa Ornithologists' Union includes several birding hotspots along Western Skies.
Numerous other parks, wildlife areas, and trails exist along the byway and offer ample birding and wildlife-watching opportunities. Head out to any of these areas. Stop, watch, and listen. You'll be surprised at how many birds you'll see and hear!
Other birding resources & links: