Loess Hills National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri is one of my favorite places to view birds. It is a resting place for millions of snow geese, Canadian geese, ducks, divers, pelicans, swans and other winged creatures twice a year. The refuge is about a 2-hour drive south of Omaha on Interstate 29. The nearest town is Mound City, MO.
In early December, the refuge hosts “Eagle Days,” a celebration of the wildlife and to celebrate the migration season.
During our recent visit, a park employee advised there were about a million birds at the refuge. Most of them were snow geese.
We started our drive through the 10-mile refuge. Our first stop was at the main observation stand. We watched thousands of snow geese and other birds swimming en masse. In the background, you could see a horde of geese flying. It looked like a snow storm heading our way. Looking through the stand’s telescope, you could get an upclose view of the birds flying in circles. Something had likely spooked them into flight. They moved our way, with several landing in the water alongside the ones already there. Others flew farther up the lake.
After snapping our pics and watching for about 10-15 minutes, we decided to start the drive around the water. We made less than a quarter mile before we stopped to watch a large group of snow geese swimming near the shore. We took some pictures from inside the car. I stepped out to get some other shots. They quickly moved away from the shore to a safe distance from me. That reminded me of the Sandhill Cranes near Kearney, NE. that migration starts in a few weeks.
We continued our drive. I noticed there did not seem to be as many muskrat huts in a northern pool.
The eastern side of the lake was almost dried up, I observed later. The refuge employee later told me that the drought has taken its toll on the refuge. The water levels are down significantly. The area itself is about 20 inches short in precipitation since early 2012.
Further into our drive (about halfway around the refuge), we saw an eagle flying across a patch of water toward the main geese population. Birds along the way became spooked and took to flight – Canadian geese, ducks and divers. You could see in the distance the snow geese become agitated, as thousands took to the air. We lost track of the eagle. Moving along, a few feet down the road, I saw an eagle in a nest. We wondered if the other eagle was its partner and went hunting for the family. Altogether, we saw four eagles during the drive.
The southern edge of the refuge was dried up. In a pool that normally shows my favorite – reflections of the trees on the water – stood just the trees and some high grass. On both sides of the road, where water once stood, only grass, trees and mud. Pelicans usually stay separate from the other birds. But, there were none. It could have been too early for them this season. But, the water pool they normally use was dried up.
In addition to the water fowl we saw, there are usually opportunities to see other wildlife, such as deer, foxes, raccoons and muskrats.
We enjoyed the drive through the refuge. We recommend visiting the refuge. It is a nice weekend drive destination.