This 2,154-acre area in southern Butler County is a remnant of the once vast bottomland forests of lowland southeast Missouri. It provides excellent wildlife habitat and an easy way to view wetland wildlife and explore an unusual landscape.
Big Cane Conservation Area is an excellent example of what much of the lowlands of southeast Missouri once looked like — a seasonal wetland bottomland forest. These once-vast forests were flooded for much of the winter and spring, then dried out for most of the growing season and into early fall.
Spring is a good time to visit Big Cane, as much of the lower elevations of this forested area may be flooded. While most of the migratory waterfowl will have migrated north already, resident wood ducks can be seen and heard along the many sloughs and depressions scattered throughout the area. The return of Neotropical migrant songbirds that rely on forests for foraging and nesting also occurs at this time. By late
April, prothonatary warbler, yellow-billed cuckoo, Acadian flycatcher, eastern wood pewee, and red-eyed vireo songs can be heard throughout the forest canopy. Binoculars are essential if you’re hoping to spot these birds in the canopy.
Spring also brings the call of spring peepers and other frogs and amphibians from the many sloughs and shallow wetland ponds on the area. In the early 2000s, five shallow depressions were added to existing amphibian and reptile habitats to provide additional hospitable environments.
The bottomland forest on the area is a forest lover’s dream. Many tree species are found here, including pin oak, Nuttall oak, willow oak, overcup oak, water oak, swamp chestnut oak mixed with hickories, maples, ash, sweetgum, and bald cypress. The forest is dominated by red oak species, which provide an abundance of acorns that are very important for wildlife food. Unfortunately, bottomland red-oak species have proven difficult to grow back in bottomland forests. A forest research project is underway on the area to study red oak regrowth after varying levels of tree harvest. Part of the project also monitors songbird populations, both pre- and post-tree harvest, to determine if the increased complexity of the forest canopy after harvest appears to be beneficial.
The bottomland forests of Big Cane CA provide excellent habitat for swamp rabbit, wild turkey, deer, squirrel, and other less common species.
—Mark Pelton, area manager
Recreation Opportunities: Hunting, wildlife and bird viewing, nature photography, hiking, and drive-through area viewing
Unique Features: Seasonal wetland bottomland forest with many permanent wetland sloughs, wetland pools, and wetland depressions scattered throughout
For More Information: Call 573-840-9788 or visit short.mdc.mo.gov/Z3L
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