Newsroom Midwest Region

Celebrating the future and appreciating the past

Key migration stopover turns 60

August 1, 2018

Riverine bottomlands of Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.
Riverine bottomlands of Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.

Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois and Missouri is celebrating its 60th birthday this week! This river refuge is only 20 air-miles from St. Louis, Missouri and almost 3 million people, yet it offers a quiet retreat for birding, fishing, hunting and so much more. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invite you to join us and learn what makes this refuge so special.

Established in 1958, Two Rivers is made up of 9,225 acres that provide essential riverine and floodplain habitat for migratory birds making their journey to and from summer breeding grounds. The refuge was named after its location between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, where you’ll find a mosaic of wetlands, open water, bottomland forests and prairies that are home to numerous mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish and nearly 300 bird species.

The refuge is a great place for animals and people alike, providing opportunities for hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and connecting with others through family-friendly programs and events. January through mid-October, Gilbert Lake offers you solace and a true escape from the demands of everyday life. Come for bird watching and hiking on the three mile gravel trail.

The visitor center photo blind is a peaceful way to experience the refuge and provides excellent wildlife photography. You’ll likely capture photos of waterfowl resting and refueling in the spring and fall. If you do come to photograph the refuge, consider competing in the annual wildlife photography exhibit held every October. We’d love to see your photos!

From boat or bank, try your luck at sportfishing on the rivers and backwaters. The Swan Lake levee near the Brussels Ferry is a popular fishing area where you have access to fish the lake and the Illinois River. Swan Lake is a shallow marsh-like lake that was once a bottomland forest and is best accessed by canoe or kayak. The Batchtown division is a popular place to fish for crappie and catfish. Launch your boat and wet your line at Prairie Pond and Gilead boat ramps in the spring and summer. Bank fishing is available in the Gilbert Lake Division, providing access to both Gilbert Lake and the Illinois River. Water levels in each of the above fishing areas fluctuate depending on floods and refuge management practices. In a non-flood summer, the lakes are often very low so we can produce habitat for migrating waterfowl. Call the visitor center for water level details before planning your next trip.

If you visit during migration, you’ll see that the refuge is an important stopover for hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese. Last fall, more than 324,000 birds utilized refuge habitat - a truly impressive sight! October and November are the best months to easily see thousands of waterfowl feeding in shallow wetlands on the Calhoun Division and Swan Lake.

Wondering how we know how many birds are using the refuge? We count! Each week during fall migration, biologists from the Illinois Natural History Survey fly over rivers to count the number of waterfowl in the Mississippi Flyway. Fall of 2017 reported impressive numbers, ranking as the third largest count at this location since surveys started in 1948. This was also the largest count of northern pintail and ring-necked ducks ever recorded on the refuge.

These counts are more than impressive numbers - they help define general trends in the number of waterfowl resting and feeding at Two Rivers and other neighboring national wildlife refuges. Survey results are used by managers, hunters and birdwatchers to monitor the progress of migration. Counts also give biologists a sense of how healthy refuge habitats are and how restoration work is benefiting birds.

In addition to waterfowl, you’re likely to see white-tailed deer, wild turkey, red-eared sliders and a variety of raptors including bald eagles. Eagles can be spotted year round on the refuge, but winter is the best time to see them. More than 500 of these majestic birds have been counted near the confluence as they gather to feed in open water areas. Overwintering eagles usually begin to arrive in October and stay until early spring. Several adult eagle pairs remain throughout the year to nest and raise young near the river.

Two Rivers is one of 56 national wildlife refuges in the MIdwest Region that permanently protect an array of wetlands, prairies, rivers and forest habitat. Thanks for taking some time to learn about this quiet respite and helping us mark 60 years of conservation in America’s heartland.

Plan your visit to Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge today!

Historic photo by USFWS.

Celebrating the Future and Appreciating the Past

This series of articles is inspired by the long history of land managers and biologists who protect, restore and conserve our National Wildlife Refuge System lands. As our midwest refuges reach milestone anniversaries, we will highlight what makes them special. Look for historic photos, lesser known biological and geological tidbits and reflections from the people who know them best - refuge field staff.

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