Two Refuges That Work Especially Hard for Birders
By Jennifer Anderson
A mountain bluebird perches at Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho. The refuge is along a 280mile U.S.Canada driving tour known as the TwoNation Birding Vacation.
Credit: Stan Bousson
When you think of all of the magnificent places to see birds on the Refuge Systems 150 million acres of land and waters, Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho and Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge in TennesseeKentucky might not come immediately to mind.
However, those two refuges are doing a lot to attract and serve birders from their local areas and, occasionally, from farther afield.
Reelfoot Refuge is a major stopover and wintering area for waterfowl on the Mississippi Flyway.
As many as 200 bald eagles land in the area each winter, joining the 23 nesting pairs. To help visitors spot eagles, the refuge provides driving tours.
In addition to eagles, the 10,428acre refuge near the Mississippi River in northwestern Tennesseesouthwestern Kentucky hosts more than 115 waterfowl species, including pintails, gadwalls, widgeons, hooded mergansers, mallards and American white pelicans. Warblers and other songbirds are common in spring.
Reelfoot Refuge has worked hard to enhance birdwatching activities, although a lot of people just are not aware of what were doing, says refuge education and volunteer coordinator Tara Dowdy.
The refuge has a 200foot boardwalk over Reelfoot Lake that leads to an overlook designed to accommodate birders. A second viewing tower overlooks moist soil unitsexcellent food sources for waterfowl.
For birders who like to paddle, the refuge last spring established three circuit trails that launch from Reelfoot Lake. Fifty colored stakes in the water help paddlers stay on course; this summer the refuge plans to install 17 interpretive signs highlighting wildlife likely to be spotted.
At the refuges annual Migration Celebration during National Wildlife Refuge Week in October, 100 or so visitors enjoy a hayride with stops at moist soil units and hardwood forests to learn waterfowl identification and wood duck banding.
The refuge, which maintains bluebird and wood duck boxes and a pollinator garden, also is affiliated with seven birdrelated citizen science projects, many of them run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The situation is similar at Kootenai Refuge in the panhandle of Idaho 20 miles south of the Canadian border. Were not thought of for birding, says refuge manager Dianna Ellis. People come here to see moose.
But birding opportunities are plentiful. And the 2,774acre refuge, whose 1964 establishment was funded by Duck Stamps sales, has been gaining a reputation as a birdwatching destination.
In 2006, Ellis joined representatives from other regional organizations to create the TwoNation Birding Vacation. The 280mile selfguided driving tour extends from British Columbia through northern Idaho and eastern Washington along a national scenic byway. More than 250 species of birds along the Pacific Flyway migrate through the area.
The refuge is highlighted in all of the maps and travel guides, she says, citing in particular the 2009 Rand McNally Road Atlas Best of the Road trips.
The Friends of Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge sponsor bird walks on the third Saturday of each month. Last year, the refuge dedicated its first photo blind in honor of International Migratory Bird Day. The Friends hope to fund a second one soon.
Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge in TennesseeKentucky is a major stopover for waterfowl on the Mississippi Flyway. Here, snow geese and whitefronted geese share foggy habitat.
Credit: Tara Dowdy/USFWS
Through a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, last year the refuge restored a quartermile path to a 100foot waterfall lined with cliffs that are ideal for viewing black swifts.
The refuges 4.5mile auto tour road can be driven, biked or, in winter, crosscountry skied. A compact disc that details likely bird sightings is available to visitors, and future plans include installing interpretive panels along the route as well as an eagle cam and viewing tower.
Were continually making improvements, Ellis says. For most of us, this place is our second home.
Jennifer Anderson is a frequent contributor to Refuge Update.