The Lost Mound Unit of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge has a storied history and excellent birdlife. This was the former location for the Savanna Army Depot, a bustling ammunitions recycling, storage, and testing facility. In 2000, the depot was closed and over 9,000 acres signed over to various agencies to convert into a wildlife refuge.
The majority of the refuge is closed to hiking because of contaminants and unexploded ordinances. The cost to clean up the area is estimated at around $350 million and will take close to 20 years or longer to complete. Birding from the car is highly rewarding though as the wildlife has remained practically undisturbed in most areas.
We were in search of Upland Sandpipers and Blue Grosbeaks, birds rumored to nest at the refuge, but were unsuccessful. However, Dickcissels and other grassland birds were abundant. We were taunted by other blue birds perched on the numerous fences – Blue Jay, Eastern Bluebird, and Indigo Bunting all in a row. A big highlight was discovering two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, rare this time of year.
The Lost Mound is an oddity for a refuge because it appears so non-birdy with buildings and barb-wired fences everywhere, not to mention “no tresspassing” and “high security” signs. There is even a railyard with numerous railcars that look too nice to be wasting away in a refuge.
After birding at the Lost Mound Unit we continued down the Mississippi (by car) and headed to another section of the Upper Mississippi NWR. Here we found Green Herons, Great Egrets, and an unexpected woodpecker. Soon after exciting the car, we were delighted to hear the call of a Pileated Woodpecker from the small forest near the slough.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part 3 of our Mississippi Birding trip, Lock & Dam No. 13