Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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Winner of 75th Anniversary Federal Duck Stamp Contest Named

Credit: USFWS

Credit: USFWS

The Refuge serves as a riparian buffer along the Tennessee River and consists of bottomland hardwoods, mixed hardwood, pine uplands, shallow water embayments, and agricultural fields. Of the Refuge's 35,000 acres, 16,000 acres are water. The land acreage consists of some 10,000 acres of forested wetlands and upland hardwoods, with main species consisting of red and white oaks, hickories, poplar, ash, and tupelo gum; 3,000 acres of pine plantations; and 4,000-5,000 acres of farmland, with the remainder including open shelves, and other areas. Habitats on the refuge and species that occur in each are described below:

Open water: This includes the Tennessee River and its bays and sloughs. Common species include great blue herons (except spring) and great egrets (spring and fall) in shallow waters; mallards, ring-necked ducks, Canada geese (fall and winter); ring-billed, Bonaparte’s, and herring gulls; and basking turtles such as the southern painted and river cooter (sunny days in late spring, summer, and early fall).

Credit: USFWS

Credit: USFWS

Mudflats: Mudflats form mainly in the fall, winter, and early spring when the Tennessee Valley Authority reduces the amount of water in Wheeler Reservoir. Canada geese, ring-billed, Bonaparte’s and herring gulls use these for resting during the day.

Swamps: These are shrubby or wooded wetlands usually at the head of bays and sloughs. They may be in other low-lying areas where water is present. Waterfowl such as wood ducks, mallards, and black ducks can be observed in the fall through winter; green-backed, little blue, and great blue herons fish in shallow waters or rest on limbs or in shrubs and trees; and belted kingfishers scream as the search for fish. Southern painted turtles will bask on logs. Various water snakes (for example, midland, brown, and red-bellied water snakes) and eastern cottonmouths may be seen in the water or basking. Frogs such as green frogs, bullfrogs, and leopard frogs are abundant.

Credit: USFWS

Credit: USFWS

Ephemeral ponds: These are ponds that are dry during part of the year, usually in the summer months. Many species of amphibians use these for breeding. Examples include American, Fowlers, and spadefoot toads; upland and mountain chorus frogs; southern leopard frogs; and spotted and marbled salamanders. Midland water snakes hunt for breeding frogs. A large variety of invertebrates are found in these ponds also. Examples include diving beetles, backswimmers and dragonfly larvae.

Streams: Streams occur for relatively short distances on this narrow refuge, usually in forested settings. Species commonly seen include big and little brown bats foraging in the evening (larger streams); dusky salamanders under rocks and other debris; and various songbirds that may take drinks. Green frogs croak as they jump into the water.

Impoundments: These are areas we manage for waterfowl. The water level is lowered in late winter and raised again in the fall. Spring and fall migrating shorebirds, such as semipalmated plovers, greater and lesser yellowlegs, and least sandpipers may be seen in shallow waters or wet, open areas during spring and fall migrations. Herons (great blue, little blue, and green-backed) and great egrets feed in the shallows. In the fall and winter, many species of ducks are common—mallards, wood ducks, American wigeon, northern pintails, gadwall, and green-winged and blue-winged teal are a few examples. Painted turtles commonly bask on logs. Northern cricket frogs and southern leopard frogs call from the shallows or rest on the banks.

Credit: USFWS

Credit: USFWS

Hardwood, pine, and mixed forests: A variety of migrant and resident songbirds call the forest home. Examples include red-shouldered, broad-winged, and red-tailed hawks; yellow-billed cuckoos; red-bellied, hairy, and downy woodpeckers, as well as their relative the northern flicker; Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice; and Tennessee, pine, and palm warblers to name a few. Eastern gray, and fox squirrels gather nuts and sit in trees. Eastern box turtles may be seen crossing forest roads. Black rat snakes, garter snakes, and black racers slither along the ground. Creatures of the late evening, night, or early morning include bats such as little and big browns; eastern screech, great horned, and barred owls; common nighthawks and Chucks-will’s-widows; and salamanders such as the zigzag and slimy.

Old fields: These are areas where mainly grasses and some shrubs or small trees are present. Eastern cottontails jump into cover as one approaches. Black racers and black rat snakes search for abundant small mammals. Quail use old fields for cover, feeding, and nesting, especially if these are located adjacent to thick, woody areas and corn fields. Mourning doves, eastern bluebirds, loggerhead shrikes, chipping sparrows, field sparrows, savannah sparrows, and eastern meadowlarks, as well as other birds, use these fields depending on their size and openness.

Credit: USFWS

Credit: USFWS

Caves: At least two cave systems are present on the refuge. One of these is closed to the public because endangerd gray bats use it for breeding. Other species found deep within one or both caves include little brown bats, eastern pipistrels, and cave crayfish. Species observed at the entrances or short distances within the caves are slimy, cave, long-tailed, and two-lined salamanders; black rat snakes; and beavers.

Farm Fields: Between 3,500 and 4,000 acres are being farmed on the refuge. This is done to help feed waterfowl and other wildlife (see the Waterfowl Management section for more information). Crops grown include soybeans, corn, winter wheat, milo, and millets. Various waterfowl, such as Canada geese, snow geese, and mallards, feed in the fields during fall and winter. A growing number of sandhill cranes feed in the larger fields on the Beaverdam Peninsula and Flint Creek Island. Deer enjoy feeding on corn, soybeans, and winter wheat. Raccoons and squirrels drag ears of corn into the woods and feed on it there. Various species of songbirds feed on these crops also.

 

Last updated: June 9, 2009