We are truly blessed when it comes to birding in Dubuque County. Traveling from east to west our county offers dramatic limestone bluffs over the mighty Mississippi River, rolling hills and remnant prairies. No matter where you decide to stop and take the binoculars out of their case, when you are in Dubuque County you will not be disappointed!
Top 5 Dubuque County Conservation Birding Areas:
Location: From Dubuque, take US 151 South about 10 miles. Just past the junction with Dubuque County Y21 take the first left onto Curoe Road. There is a brown Whitewater Canyon sign before the turn. Follow the signs to the end of the blacktop. Turn right and follow the lane to the parking lot.
What you will see: Whitewater is a birder's paradise. It offers steep bluff lands, Whitewater Creek, prairie, oak/hickory forests, and scenic cavernous valleys…all of which mean diversity of species. For those who love a great raptor sighting, Whitewater has boasted Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, American Kestrels, Cooper's Hawks, Short-eared Owls and Barred Owls. There are game birds galore: turkeys, pheasants, quail, and Ruffed Grouse. Whitewater is also home to some very rare winged friends: Bobolinks, Henslow Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, Cerulean Warblers, Dickcissles, Scarlet Tanagers, Acadian Flycatchers and much, much more!
Location: Heritage Trail is a 26 mile hiking/biking trail that runs from the north end of Dubuque (Heritage Pond on Rupp Hollow Road) to Dyersville. For more information on the trail and how to obtain a user pass please visit www.dubuquecounty.org
What you will see: From end to end riders and hikers will see the county change from rugged terrain to smooth open prairie and cropland. Birders at the east end of the trail will see Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, gulls, American Redstarts, Scarlet Tanagers and raptors a plenty. As you move west you will notice the ever increasing warblers during the summer and the local favorites like the Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, Bald Eagles and of course the Barred Owls. The Heritage Trail is a beautiful place to explore low land forests, remnant prairies, and limestone outcroppings…there is no shortage of wildlife to see on this 26 mile gem.
Location: Mud Lake Park is located 6 miles north of Dubuque off Mud Lake Road on Gulf Lake Road.
What you will see: Mud Lake sits along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and is home to the Osprey Reintroduction Project. Since 2005 the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, Iowa DNR and DCCB have been working together to restore wildlife habitat along the shore of Mud Lake Park. The Osprey Reintroduction Project began in 2008 and will continue through 2013; the hacking tower is located in the southern corner of the park and has a webcam during the hacking period (visit www.dubuquecounty.org ) Sandhill Cranes can be seen and heard during the spring months. There are Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, White Pelicans, Great Egrets, swallows and shorebirds by the dozens. Mud Lake is a prime spot for waterfowl. Spring or fall you will be pleased. Large birds of prey and many song birds utilize this park for habitat. There is never a dull moment at Mud Lake Park.
Location: Finley’s Landing is located 15 miles north of Dubuque off the Great River Road.
What you will see: Finley’s Landing is one of the most scenic Mississippi River Pool 11 access points. The 120 acre area is home to mature upland forests, Mississippi River front, and rugged river bluffs. There are many birds to list; here are just a few highlights: Sandhill Cranes, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Great Egrets, Bald Eagles, White Pelicans, Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers, Prothonotary Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, waterfowls and shorebirds in abundance. Scenic views and spectacular birding await those who follow the nature trails at Finley’s Landing.
Location: Swiss Valley Nature Preserve is located at 13606 Swiss Valley Road 2 miles off of Hwy 20.
What you will see: Swiss Valley Nature Preserve is a 476 acre preserve with 10 miles of hiking trails through oak/hickory forests, maple/basswood forests, prairies and wetland areas. Catfish Creek meanders through the valley and is stocked with trout. Birding is one of the most popular activities for visitors to the preserve. Birds to be seen: Pileated Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, Indigo Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Common Yellowthroats, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Kingfishers, Wood Ducks, Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, Barred Owls and many more. Swiss Valley is your year round birding headquarters!
Location: Dubuque, Iowa www.minesofspain.org
The 1380 acres that make up the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area include a variety of interesting landforms, plant species and communities, animals and water types. A large portion of the area is rugged, wooded Mississippi River Bluff land. While much of the original timber along the Mississippi River was logged off during the steamboat era (1865-1880), portions of the Mines of Spain Area were left untouched, leaving us with burr oak trees today that are over 250 years old. The park is designated as an Important Birding Area, a Watchable Wildlife Area in Iowa, State Preserve and National Recreational Trail System. Numerous birding opportunities with Pileated Woodpeckers, Yellow-breasted Chats, Wood Thrushes, Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures, Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls, Eastern Meadow Larks, Bobolinks and many more species exist in the park. The Mines of Spain is a perfect place to go birding any time of the year. The park has 21 miles of trail going through prairies, wetland, upland and lowland forest and it is adjacent to the Mississippi River.
Location: Bellevue, Iowa
In the Nelson Unit, four trails provide a variety of hiking opportunities. One trail leads out to a scenic overlook of the Mississippi, one winds past Indian burial mounds, one wanders through a restored prairie and a "Garden Sanctuary for Butterflies", and one takes you past an old limestone rock quarry.
The Dyas Unit encompasses almost 4 miles of foot trails, scenic overlooks, a stream with beaver dams, and aquatic and other wildlife. In winter, Bald Eagles concentrate to feed near the open waters below Lock and Dam 12. Pileated Woodpeckers are occasionally seen in isolated areas.
Found along the Mississippi River Bluffs, the park offers good birding, hiking and sight seeing.
Location: Maquoketa, Iowa
Hikers can enjoy the scenery along the 6 miles of trails. The trails in the eastern part of the park connect the park facilities and provide access to the caves. Trail highlights include the dramatic "Natural Bridge" which stands nearly 50 feet above Raccoon Creek, 17-ton "Balanced Rock", and "Dancehall Cave." A trail in the western area of the park takes hikers past a restored prairie, an experimental oak savanna restoration and a wildlife food plot.
Maquoketa Caves is probably Iowa's most unique state park. Its caves, limestone formations and rugged bluffs provide visitors a chance to "step back" into geological time thousands of years. Caves vary from the 1,100' Dancehall Cave with walkways and lighting system to Dugout Cave. The remaining caves are all different sizes and shapes. Some can be explored by walking while others can best be seen by crawling. In any case, a flashlight and old clothes and shoes are most helpful.
Yellow River Forest is home to many species of wildlife who live in its various habitats. From a recreational standpoint, Yellow River Forest presents opportunities for hunters to take deer, squirrel, raccoon and various species of waterfowl and upland game birds; the trapper to harvest beaver, mink and other furbearers and the angler to take trout and other species of gamefish.
The forest has many good opportunities for bird watchers to pursue their interests. Many ducks, wading birds and other marsh dwelling birds occupy the marshes and beaver ponds on Little Paint Creek. Bald eagles may be seen at any time on the forest and surrounding environs. A threatened and endangered bird of the forest is the red-shouldered hawk.
Wyalusing Unit – Lower Wisconsin State Riverway is a 690-acre property located in Grant County. The property consists of river, sloughs, bottomland hardwood forest, and prairie. Find it immediately east of Wyalusing State Park on the north side of County Highway C. The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway was created in 1989 to protect and preserve the scenic beauty and natural character of the river valley, to manage the resources of the area for the long term benefit of the citizens of the state, and to provide a quality public recreational area in a manner consistent with the resource and aesthetic protection goals and objectives. Over 285 bird and 45 mammal species are abundant within the LWSR.
Millville Unit – Lower Wisconsin State Riverway is a 3,625-acre property located in Grant County. The property consists of river, sloughs, prairie, and bottomland hardwood forest. Find it on County Road C in Millville.
Location: Kieler, WI
Fenley Recreation Area is a 287-acre property located in Grant County. The property consists of upland hardwoods and steep bluffs. It overlooks the Mississippi River. Find it 2 miles west of Kieler. This area is good for hiking, wildlife viewing, and bird watching.
Location: Highland, WI
Blackhawk Lake Recreation Area is a 5,038-acre property located in Iowa County. Find it 3 miles north of Cobb on Hwy 80. Then go 2 miles east on Hwy BH. The property is comprised mostly of upland forest, wetlands, farm fields, prairie, lake, and abandoned croplands.
At Wyalusing State Park, you can camp 500 feet above the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. As one of Wisconsin's oldest parks, Wyalusing features Indian burial mounds, hiking trails, a canoe trail, and bird watching. It's a place to go for fishing, boating, bicycling, picnicking, and enjoying nature. There are four historical markers within the park.
Wyalusing's 2,628 acres include hardwood forests, pine plantations, bluffs, springs, waterfalls, wetlands, and backwaters. The park is home to deer, beavers, fox, and many other animals. More than 90 bird species live here during the summer and 100 more can be observed during spring and fall migration. They include Wild Turkeys, Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures, hawks, owls, waterfowl, woodpeckers, and a colorful variety of songbirds.
Location: Cassville, WI
Wisconsin's Nelson Dewey State Park, overlooking the Mississippi River, is a park with a fascinating past. It offers rich fare to visitors, whether they are interested in history or Mississippi River scenery.
Enjoy the view of the Mississippi River Valley from the bluffs of Nelson Dewey State Park.
Nelson Dewey State Park invites you to combine your interest in history with your enjoyment of the outdoors. Walk in the hidden valleys or view the Mississippi River from the bluff tops. Come to camp, picnic, and hike. Fishing is excellent. Boats may be rented in Cassville, or wet your line from the banks of the mighty Mississippi.
Location: Apple River, IL
Apple River Canyon State Park is in the hilly northwest part of Illinois in Jo Daviess County near the Wisconsin border. This scenic canyon area was formed by the action of the winding waters of Apple River. Limestone bluffs, deep ravines, springs, streams and wildlife characterize this area which was once a part of a vast sea bottom that stretched from the Alleghenies to the Rockies.
The 297-acre park was purchased by the State of Illinois in 1932
Location: Savanna, IL
The Native American pathfinders along the rock palisades of the Mississippi River did as present-day hikers do - in coursing the bluffs, they took the paths of least resistance. The trails at the Mississippi Palisades, especially the park’s southern routes, put you in touch with the past. Walk them and you’ll trace the footsteps of all those who came before you, some of whom came this way nearly a thousand years ago.
Located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple rivers in northwestern Illinois, the 2,500-acre Mississippi Palisades State Park is rich in American Indian history.
Location: Lena, IL
Whether you visit for an afternoon or stay a few days, you will leave Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Recreation Area with many happy memories. Located in Stephenson County just west of Route 73 on Lake Road, the park is six miles south of the Illinois-Wisconsin state line and three miles north of Lena.