About the Central Trail
The Central Birding Trail’s center is based around Columbia, home of the University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Stephens College. About thirty minutes south lies Jefferson City, the state capital. As you explore the Central Trail, you will notice that these two urban areas give way to the countryside much more abruptly than in the more populous Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas. Fortunately, without the traffic congestion of a densely populated urban area, it is much easier to reach some of the outer locations on the Central Trail.
Several large lakes and wetland conservation areas scattered around central Missouri attract large numbers of migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, and waterbirds like herons, egrets, rails, and bitterns. Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area (CA )and Overton Bottoms of the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge are large wetland areas just southwest of Columbia. Little Dixie Lake east of Columbia and Binder Lake in Jefferson City are among the largest bodies of water in this section of the trail, providing hundreds of acres of open water for migrating waterbirds. A vast tract of the Mark Twain National Forest stretches between Columbia and Jefferson City, providing acres upon acres of quality forest and woodland. These forest tracts attract a great diversity of woodpeckers, wood warblers, vireos, thrushes, nuthatches, and Brown Creeper. While the countryside around Columbia and Jefferson City is largely cropland, a good deal of grassland can be found as well . The University of Missouri's Bradford Research Farm is a surprisingly bird-friendly place, great for finding Le Conte's Sparrow, Horned Lark, and Western Meadowlark. Tucker Prairie, east of Columbia, is a jewel of unplowed prairie, providing more crucial breeding habitat for Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, Dickcissel, Eastern Meadowlark, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. MDC's Hite Prairie southwest of Jefferson City and Sears Prairie northeast of Columbia are also important areas for breeding grassland birds. No matter what rural country road you drive down, keep a watchful eye for American Kestrel perched on power lines.
Birding and Biking in Central Missouri
Columbia features two very popular biking and walking paths that provide ready access to prime bird habitats. These natural areas are as popular with the birds as they are with Columbia’s residents. The Katy Trail is a cycling path that nearly stretches across the state from Clinton to St. Charles, cutting right through Columbia and Jefferson City. Many birders enjoy combining cycling with birdwatching, and luckily there are excellent birding hotspots located just off the Katy Trail, allowing visitors to bike right to their birding location. The popular Eagle Bluffs CA is accessible from the Katy Trail, as is the Katy Trail State Park, and Diana Bend CA.
The MKT Fitness Trail, another popular cycling and walking path, runs through the southern portion of Columbia all the way to the town of McBaine. The MKT Fitness Trail follows the path of the erstwhile Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad line, and users can travel its entire nine-mile length without ever having to cross a road or highway. Like the Katy Trail, many of Columbia’s best birding locations are located right along the MKT Trail for easy access. Some of these locations include the 3M Wetlands, Forum Nature Area, and the Grindstone Nature area. These trails are heavily used, so expect some light pedestrian and cyclist traffic, especially over the weekend.
Let’s go birding!