Birdwatching In the Galena Area
Along the Upper Mississippi River in northwest Illinois and across the river in Dubuque, IA, there are many great places to go bird watching. Millions of songbirds, including warblers, vireos, thrushes and sparrows, use the Mississippi River corridor as their migration route. Thousands of tundra swans rest and feed here from October until freeze-up, while hundreds of thousands of diving ducks, including canvasbacks, redheads, lesser scaup, ringnecks, buffleheads and ruddy ducks use the open water areas. Mallards, wigeon, gadwalls, teal and other dabbling ducks gather in shallow backwaters.
Because northwest Illinois -- along with portions of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa -- escaped the continental glaciers of the Pleistocene Epoch, it is known as the "Driftless Area." Approximately 271 bird species regularly occur in the Driftless Area of Illinois. This represents almost 90% of the 300 species of birds that regularly occur in the entire state of Illinois. Of these 271 species, more than half of them breed in this area. This fantastic species diversity is due to geographical location and topographic complexity.
The following places are typically great for bird watching, especially during spring and fall migration, and are great places to see bald eagles during the winter months:
Casper Bluff, Galena: A nature preserve owned by the nonprofit Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation, Casper Bluff has spectacular views of the Mississippi River. From U.S. Route 20 in Galena, go south on 4th Street/Blackjack Road (located 3 blocks east of Main Street) about 2 miles to Pilot Knob Road, turn right, and watch for the Casper Bluff sign a couple of miles down on the right.
Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort, Galena: Open year-round, this resort is right on the Mississippi River and features a bar and restaurant with an outdoor deck where you can enjoy refreshments while taking in the view. Take 4th Street/Blackjack Road south from U.S. Route 20 in Galena about 7 miles and follow the signs.
Blanding Landing, Hanover: Just south of Chestnut Mountain is the recreation area and campground called Blanding Landing. From Galena, take 4th Street/Blackjack Road south about 7 miles to Blanding Road and turn right. Follow the signs to Blanding Landing campground. It’s a great wooded area on the Mississippi, good for spotting warblers and other woodland birds.
Mississippi Palisades State Park, Savanna: Drive or hike to the top of towering bluffs over the Mississippi River for breathtaking views. This beautiful state park is located between the towns of Hanover and Savanna on Illinois Route 84. From U.S. Route 20, go south on IL Route 84 (just west of the town Elizabeth) about 18 miles and watch for signs for the park on your left.
Spring Lake and Upper Mississippi National Fish & Wildlife Refuge District Office: About 1 mile south of Savanna is a recreation area that is part of the Upper Mississippi National Fish & Wildlife Refuge called Spring Lake -- a wonderful place to view migrating waterfowl. Take 84 south and look for signs on your right that say “Spring Lake” and turn right. After going to Spring Lake, continue south on Rt. 84 and turn right on Riverview Drive, going toward the district office of the UMNFWR. There is a wildlife viewing area between the road and the river with spotting scopes. It is located across the street from the district office, where there is refuge visitor center.
Thomson Causeway, Thomson: Take IL Route 84 south from Savanna and go towards Thomson, IL. Once in the town of Thomson, follow signs to Thomson Causeway. This is a wonderful campground on the Mississippi backwaters with several great spots to see migratory waterfowl.
Frentress Lake, East Dubuque: Frentress Lake is actually a large area of backwaters of the Mississippi River and often a good place to see migrating birds, especially white pelicans. From Galena, take U.S. Route 20 west about 11 miles. Turn left on Frentress Lake Road. Cross rail tracks and follow signs to the marina.
Eagle Point Park, Dubuque, IA: A beautiful 164-acre park located above Lock and Dam #11 in Dubuque, Iowa, and overlooking the Mississippi River and three states, this is a great place to bird watch. From Illinois, take U.S. Route 20 across the Mississippi River. Turn right at the first stoplight after crossing the bridge and follow signs for Rt. 52 North. Take 52 North to Central Avenue, turn left on Central and take that to Rhomberg Avenue and turn right. Go north on Rhomberg to Shiras Ave. Turn left on Shiras Ave, and you’ll see the entrance to the park.