Wildlife Observation & Photography
There are many opportunities for wildlife observation and photography on Wheeler NWR, which currently has: five (5) designated nature trails (Atkeson Trail, Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk Trail, Dancy Bottom Trail, Flint Creek Trail and the Wildlife Observation Trail; one (1) wildlife observation tower; and one (1) wildlife observation building. Furthermore, a wildlife drive (auto tour) is being developed.
The most popular wildlife observation facility on the Refuge for is the Wildlife Observation Building, which is located just a short walk from the Visitor Center. This facility receives an estimated 40,000 visitors annually. Built on a knoll overlooking a waterfowl impoundment, it offers visitors the opportunity to see waterfowl and other wildlife up close and personal. Spotting scope stations are provided but they are often occupied so visitors' are encouraged to bring binoculars. In efforts to create more attractive conditions for waterfowl, the Display Pool at the Wildlife Observation Building is drained each summer. Following drawdown, wading birds and shorebirds use the area in large numbers while foraging on small fish and other organisms. Aquatic vegetation growing in the display pool by late summer is used by thousands of ducks for foraging throughout fall and winter months.
A Backyard Wildlife Habitat Area on the south side of the Wildlife Observation Building attracts chickadees, goldfinches, house and purple finches, tufted titmice, sparrows, and hummingbirds to feeders. A man-made pond/waterfall provides habitat for native frogs, fish, and plants.
A Wildlife Observation Tower is located on the north side of the Refuge and offers visitors an elevated view of the Beaverdam Peninsula, an area of the Refuge managed primarily for geese, snow geese, and sandhill cranes.
Birding is one of the most popular forms of observation on Wheeler NWR. Viewing wintering ducks, Canada geese, and snow geese, catching spring and fall warbler migrations, looking for shorebirds and wading birds, watching hawks, and seeking unusual visitors such as white pelicans and sandhill cranes is common practice for local and traveling "birders". Bird identification programs are usually offered during winter months. In addition, Wheeler NWR is home to eight (8) sites on the North Alabama Birding Trail.
Watching bats emerge at dusk from Cave Springs Cave is another popular wildlife observation activity. It is not uncommon to see 50,000 gray bats emerge from Cave Springs Cave. Other wildlife often seen on the Refuge includes 47 species of mammals, 74 species of reptiles and amphibians, 285 species of songbirds (11 Federally listed species).
Like all national wildlife refuges, Wheeler NWR has an almost endless variety of natural wonders that can be photographed. Sunrises and sunsets can be spectacular, especially when reflected on water bodies such as Limestone Bay or the Tennessee River. Currently, the Refuge has only one (1) permanent photography blind located near the Wildlife Observation Building. This fully enclosed blind is located in a closed area overlooking the observation building display pool. It may be reserved by special use permit by contacting the Visitor Center. Temporary blinds are permitted , though they must be removed each day and many subjects are available without the use of a blind.
Non-commercial photography is permitted in areas of the Refuge that are open to the public. Refuge signs will notify individuals of closed areas. No permanent blinds are allowed.
Photographers must follow other general refuge regulations, such as not removing any plants and animals. A Special Use Permit is required for any commercial photography conducted on Wheeler NWR. This type of permit can be obtained at the Refuge Headquarters. Detailed information regarding the proposed activity must be submitted so refuge personnel can determine if the activity can be approved and what type of restrictions, if any are required.