By Jane Frazier
The Vicksburg National Military Park offers many miles of parkway bordered by forest and fields and an ample supply of migratory and resident birds. Once in the park, there are numerous places where birders may wish to stop, such as the Shirley House, Sherman Circle, Thayer’s Approach, and Fort Hill. Places to stop within the park are numerous; visitors are charged $8 per car by the Park Service. A yearly pass of $20 is also available. (If you are in a large group you will probably also want to carpool inside the park, since the number of parking spaces per site is limited.)
At Shirley House, Sherman Circle, and Thayer’s Approach, migrants such as Northern Parula Warblers, Hooded Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Mississippi Kites, Orchard Orioles, and Summer Tanagers are often found, while Fort Hill offers an overlook of the Yazoo Canal and views of migrating Hawks, Herons, and Wood Storks.
Directions: To reach the park, in Vicksburg, take the Clay Street Exit from the westbound lane of I-20. The park entrance and visitor center are within one mile of I-20. You will probably want to receive a free map of the park before proceeding, which diagrams the many miles of road and many of the sites you may wish to bird.
Fort Hill has many opportunities for raptors - including the Bald Eagle. Photographs Skipper Anding
Fort Hill (inside the park)
By Skipper Anding
Once you enter the Vicksburg National Military Park by passing under the big arch, you will go about 9 miles to Fort Hill. You may bypass any circles, such as a huge monument shaped like the Pantheon with it's dome, by turning right before it a white house. Stop if you have never seen it. Grant Ave. can also be bypassed if desired (take left). After you pass the Cairo Museum (this was the first boat to be sunk by remote control - a Confederate mine in river - a nice museum is behind the boat) and the U.S. Cemetary, you are on Confederate Ave. One then ascends the mountain called Fort Hill. Pull over at the top and climb the steps. Enjoy the wonderful view!
Where lookouts were once posted to look for invading boats, we now scan the horizon for invading (migrating) Broad-Wing Hawks and other raptors each September.
Note: Late September is a special time here - Hawk Migration!
September through early October for Broad-Wing Hawks. Late September is best. Wintering from the Florida Keys through Mexico, Broad-Wing Hawks range as far as Peru and Brasil. In the fall the Swainson's Hawk of the West, migrates simultaneously with Broad-Wings. They join over Central America to form tremendous kettles of these hawks. The Swainson's prefers the pampas of Argentina, south of the Broad-Wing winter range.
Although the water you see before you today looks like and was the Mississippi River during the war, the river changed course and is out of site to your left. What you see from Fort Hill today is known as the Yazoo River Diversion.
Raptors include Broad-wing Hawks (in kettles of 20 or more during migration), Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Coopers Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Turkey Vulture, and Black Vulture. Also Great Egret, Snowey Egret, Cattle Egret, Red-headed Woodpecker, various Warblers during migration, Summer Tanager, White-eyed Vireo, House Sparrow, Chimney Swift.
Other Possible Birds
Other birds that you might see include Bald Eagle, Osprey, Wood Stork (migration), Peregrine Falcon (especially during migration), Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis.
Big trees and hills make this a special place for both birds and scenery!
The Louisiana and Tennessee Heavy Artillery sank the U.S.S. Cincinnati near Fort Hill after the gunboat appeared and attacked Vicksburg. A marker records the event here. Whistling Dick, their famous cannon that whistled when fired was thrown into the river before the surrender. Note that the Confederate soldiers are buried in the Vicksburg City Cemetery.
When Grant's attack failed he tried digging a canal around Vicksburg. This didn't get very far. You can visit the spot across the river at Delhi and it is considered part of the park. When Grant said he wasn't attacking to end slavery he wasn't kidding. He was a slave owner himself. When Grant was in Holly Springs, MS he had one working in his own home.
Some grumbled when Pemberton surrendered on July 4. Because he had grown up in the north some thought July 4 was no coincidence.
The Vicksburg Military Park has more monuments than any other. This in spite of the loss of many that were recycled as scrap metal during WWII.
Hope you enjoyed seeing Cairo boat and Museum. The gunboat was located and raised from the Yazoo River by the efforts of local Mississippians who placed it and its relics in the care of the National Park Service for preservation.
After passing the 202 foot tall oblisk styled after the Washington monument one begins Confederate Avenue. High ground makes the Naval Monument look over half the size of the tribute to the "Father of Our Country" (555 feet). Quickly come the Cairo and Federal Cemetary as you descend. Now you are ready to ascend Fort Hill! Pull over after reaching the top - don't miss it!
Be sure to visit the MS Audubon Office on Washington St. a block or so north of the Biedenhorn Candy Company, where Coca-Cola was first bottled. Take Clay St. past the Park entrance and go a couple of miles until you are near the river. Washington Street will be brick and you go a block or two to the right. Watch for one-way streets.
Audubon Mississippi's Bird Conservation Office
1208 Washington Street
9 am-4 p.m., Mon. - Fri.
Vicksburg is home to a major field office of the National Audubon Society, a 100-year-old conservation organization named for explorer and artist John James Audubon. Staff is working statewide and throughout the lower Mississippi River region on science and education projects. The office is also a source of regional information on bird watching and regional nature tourism opportunities and includes a gift shop.
Mississippi Audubon has two Audubon
Centers! Please visit our Nature Centers when you are in Holly Springs or Moss
Point, Mississippi. www.msaudubon.org
Webpage SA 2010