About the Southeast Trail Region
The Southeast region is one of the most diverse regions in Missouri. This region hosts the highest and lowest elevation in Missouri, thousands of miles of rivers and streams, Ozark forests and intensive agriculture. The Mingo Basin, where Mingo National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and Duck Creek Conservation Area (CA) lie today, was formed about 18,000 years ago when the river ate through the ridge, shifted its course farther east and left in its former path an old channel that became home to a dense swamp. That area is now known as the Mingo Basin. Efforts to conserve the swamp led to the purchase of 21,676 acres to establish the Mingo NWR. The state of Missouri began acquiring land in 1950 to create what is now the 6,234-acre Duck Creek CA, which borders the federal refuge. The basin's restored wetlands have hosted nesting Bald Eagles since 1985 and draw significant numbers of migrating and wintering waterfowl, including an estimated 125,000 Mallards and 75,000 Canada Geese within the refuge alone. In extreme southeast Missouri, known as the “Bootheel” because of its shape, is rich in Missouri history and agriculture. The Bootheel is an especially important region for a variety of birds. Millions of waterfowl and shorebirds rely on low-lying wetland areas to replenish lost energy during annual migration events. Many characteristic and priority birds find their way to the delta, including the Swainson’s Warbler, Least Tern, Mississippi Kite and many more. These wetlands are especially important, given that much of the originally available habitat was drained for agricultural and industrial uses over 100 years ago.
Southeast Missouri contains other important habitats, including mature oak and hickory forest, knobs and glades, hundreds of miles of river frontage, rice fields (home to many egrets, herons, and the occasional Black-necked Stilt), and sand prairies. Several state-record trees are in the delta region, in fact. Big Oak Tree State Park shelters two such champion trees. The boardwalk that leads through the flooded bottomland forest takes you through habitat that looks much the same as it would have in pre-settlement times. Pileated, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers love these forests. Many wood warblers also move through the region during migration, including Prothonotary, Kentucky, and Cerulean Warblers, and more. Up the road from Big Oak Tree State Park sets Ten Mile Pond CA. Ten Mile Pond offers a viewing platform of a shrub/scrub ecosystem. This 3,755-acre area was once a lowland hardwood forest intermingled with cypress sloughs. Most of the area flooded seasonally and was an important habitat for wintering waterfowl, furbearers, eagles, and other wildlife species.
Sand Prairie CA attracts grassland species more typical of other regions, like Dickcissel, Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, and Bobwhite Quail. This area is one of the only places in Missouri where you will be able to see sand prairie, sand savanna, and sandy swale ephemeral wetlands. Other unique public access areas include Donaldson Point CA and Black Island CA. Donaldson Point is a predominantly forested area with large stands of bottomland hardwoods and is home to several species not usually seen in the Mississippi lowlands. These include the endangered Swainson's Warbler that nests in giant cane, Mississippi Kites, Bald Eagles, Interior Least Terns, swamp rabbits, and cotton mice. Black Island CA consists of a recent abandoned river channel of the Mississippi River, bottomland hardwoods, and wetland pools that were created and are managed for waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds. Today, visitors to southeast Missouri can experience some of the history for themselves by visiting Bauvais- Amoureux House in Ste. Genevieve, the Glenn House in Cape Girardeau, or the Missouri State Veterans Memorial in Bloomfield. The Missouri Department of Conservation-owned Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center boasts a 160-seat auditorium, multiple classrooms, many fun and engaging exhibits for kids of all ages, freshwater aquariums, and an indoor wildlife-viewing area. A unique exhibit on Native American artifacts and tools teaches a lesson in humans’ connections with nature.
The southeast region has a lot to offer both birds and birders. Visitors to the region can explore the cultural and historic heritage of southeast Missouri or venture to one of the many bird-friendly conservation areas, state parks, and national wildlife refuges to take in the sights. There are also museums, art galleries, historical landmarks, wineries, and casinos to keep your group occupied between birding outings. Southeast Missouri is truly a remarkable place, steeped in history and full of surprising natural habitat diversity and is well worth a visit.