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Great Outdoors
Top Illinois Wildlife Watching Location Found In Alton

Bird is the word all around Alton, Illinois on the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway. Located on the Mississippi Flyway, one of the most important bird migration pathways in the world, the Alton region boasts of four nature preserves along the 33-mile byway, providing visitors with optimal viewing of a variety of migrating bird species. Included in the list of sites, the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary recently topped the list of USA Today's "Top 50 Wildlife Watching Locations," as the best place in Illinois to see migrating birds. To add to the notoriety, the first Audubon Center in the Midwest to be located on the Mississippi River opened at the Riverlands in October 2011. During the spring migration, this new attraction and first-class facility added to the visitor experience along the byway with educational programs and opportunities for wildlife and bird viewing.

The Mississippi River is one of the most significant migratory flyways on earth. Approximately 330 species of birds use the flyway to migrate to their summer and winter homes. The Alton region is a unique and special location along this migratory flyway. The region is located at the confluence of three of our nation's greatest rivers — the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. The lands along the rivers provide migrating birds with a place to rest and feed during their long journeys. Not only do visitors see wonderful forest birds such as warblers, orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks, and cuckoos, but other iconic water bird species can also be seen along the river, including herons, egrets, pelicans, and trumpeter swans. In the winter, from late December through the end of February, hundreds of American Bald Eagles reclaim their nests along the Mississippi River bluffs and feed in its waters.

The new Audubon Center at Riverlands is a development of the National Audubon Society, located in the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, directly across the river from the historic town of Alton, Il. The Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary has been designated an Important Bird Area by Audubon and BirdLife International. It is also part of the larger Great Rivers Important Bird Area. The Important Bird Areas Program (IBA) is a global effort to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity.

Features of the new Audubon Center at Riverlands include a silver LEED certified building, optimal for inside bird viewing. Outdoor observation decks, birding trails and informational electronic kiosks will help visitors identify birds by sight, sound and location. The kiosks, which are a development of Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology, will collect data from citizen scientists who can report their sightings at the kiosk to later be used by ornithologists in research and analysis. More information on the Center can be found at

On May 12, 2012, the Audubon Center at Riverlands celebrated the spring migration along the Mississippi Flyway with the Wings of Spring birding festival. This annual festival celebrates birding with guided birding walks, live bird demonstrations, activities for children, vendor displays and an open house for new visitors to the center.

In addition to the new Audubon Center at Riverlands, there are a number of other parks and nature preserves along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway. These combined sites are part ofthe Great Rivers Bird & Bike Trail. Visitors riding the trail can easily follow the Confluence Bike Trail at the southern end of the byway in Hartford, connecting to the Alton Trail in downtown Alton and then cruise along the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail, running parallel to the Mississippi River.

Pere Marquette State Park
Il. Rte. 100, Grafton
Over 50 species of birds are known to nest at Pere Marquette State Park. This is an excellent area for viewing flycatchers and warblers. In March, watch for returning eastern phoebes and Louisiana waterthrushes. Listen and watch for breeding songbirds such as ovenbirds, summer tanagers, white-eyed and red-eyed vireos. From the Visitor Center at the main park entrance, you can lock your bike and hike the Ravine Trail, which has excellent birding for migrating warblers, as well as Louisiana woodthrushes, ovenbirds and northern parulas. Approximately .5 mile on the main park road, there is an overlook for Swan Lake, where you may see American white pelicans in spring and fall migration, worm-eating warblers, vireos, tanagers, and cuckoos. Across IL-100 from the park entrance is Stump Lake, a boat harbor and the Illinois River. Water-loving birds can be seen here in all seasons.

Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge
Gilbert Lake Division
IL Rte. 100, near Brussels Ferry
Located just west of Grafton, Il., Gilbert Lake totals 736 acres, consisting of a 250 acre lake bordered by brush, trees, small agricultural fields, and grasslands. The Gilbert Lake area is an excellent stopover for spring and fall migrating warblers, such as American redstarts, prothonotary warblers and also acadian flycatchers. Watch for egrets and wild turkeys and scan the mudflats for a variety of shorebirds in both the spring and the fall. Twenty species of ducks can regularly be seen here.

Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge

Swan Lake Division
Brussels, IL
Millions of birds of more than 200 species funnel through this important river juncture on their fall and spring migration. Northern harriers, American kestrals and red-tailed Hawks are also common. The area also attracts American white pelicans, green-winged teal, canvasbacks and northern pintails, and other water birds such as loons, grebes, cormorants, terns and gulls. Look for yellow-crowned night-herons near the pump station. Migration brings many ospreys, broad-winged hawks and occasional peregrine falcons. Grassy areas can have eastern meadowlark, bobwhite, ring-necked pheasant and a variety of sparrows.

Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary
301 Riverlands Way, West Alton, MO
The Riverlands is one of the best areas for viewing water-related birds (waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, marsh birds, gulls, terns, etc.). Snipe, yellowlegs and American golden-plovers can be seen on the marsh mudflats. Thousands of canvasback, redhead, ring-necked ducks and lesser scaup migrate through, along with sea ducks such as bufflehead and common goldeneye. Double-crested cormorants travel in large numbers in the spring. Also, watch for northern harrier and short-eared owls.

In addition to the above public lands, the Great Rivers Bird & Bike Trail encompasses additional sites in which visitors are encouraged to stop and enjoy wildlife watching opportunities while biking along the byway. Sites can also be experienced by visitors driving the byway instead. For more details on the entire Great Rivers Bird & Bike Trail, go to

Planning a trip along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway is simple at or Travel Planners are available for download at the website or by calling (618) 465-6676.
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