Like your nature a bit offbeat? Some national wildlife refuges read your mind. Consider these events scheduled for this year.
Unearth a distinctive souvenir from just below the salt-encrusted surface of northwestern Oklahoma: selenite crystals with an hourglass shape. Digging for selenite — a form of the mineral gypsum — predates the establishment of the refuge in 1930. The refuge allows the practice to continue and last year welcomed 75,000 diggers.
Digging is allowed on about 200 of the 13,000 acres of salt flats. Sites are subject to change. Wear a hat and sunblock. Bring plenty of bottled water and a change of clothes — crystal hunting can be messy. Diggers may bring home up to 10 pounds of crystals a day or one large cluster. Selling the crystals is prohibited. More information here or at 580-626-4794.
Valentine’s Day may have passed, but prairie chickens are still in the mood for romance. See males of the species perform their flamboyant courtship dance – complete with foot stomps, fanned tail feathers, inflated orange air sacs and strange booming sounds. Bring your binoculars for a morning trip through the coastal prairies of southeastern Texas. Save time for refuge wildflower tours and walks to explore the diversity of the habitat.
Head into the woods after dark with Alligator River Refuge staff and hear the chilling howl of endangered red wolves. The wolves are bred in captivity as part of a species recovery effort in northeastern North Carolina. Here’s an update on the status of the red wolf recovery program.
Both spring wolf howls are free. Summertime howling events (every Wednesday in June, July and August, from 7:30 to 9 p.m.) cost $10 each for adults. Children under 12 attend free. Look for more free howling events this fall.
Meet at Creef Cut Wildlife Trail parking lot (Milltail Road and Hwy 64, west of Manns Harbor).
Bid on antlers at ElkFest
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Each spring, thousands of elk at Wyoming’s National Elk Refuge shed their antlers and begin migrating north. Jackson District Boy Scouts help refuge staff gather the antlers. Then the antlers are auctioned off in Jackson town square. Place your bid! Most ElkFest proceeds help fund National Elk Refuge conservation efforts.
Other ElkFest events later in the week generally include the Mountain Man Rendezvous, a competition in archery and knife throwing, and the High Noon Chili Cook-Off. Check the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce for updates.
Register for the antler auction at 307-733-5935 or email@example.com. More information here.
While you’re in the area, visit the refuge to look for wild elk that haven’t left yet.
Note: Antler collection is permitted only by special agreement between the refuge and the Jackson District Boy Scouts. Others may not collect antlers. Weeks of preparation – as well as collecting, sorting, tagging and weighing – precede the auction.
Join your neighbors in a free 10-mile spring bike ride on the refuge’s Prairie Parkway Bike Trail. If you’re lucky, you might see bison and elk along the way. Native wildflowers are an even surer bet. The newly paved and expanded refuge entry road features four-foot bike lanes on each side. When you’re done cycling, hike the trails and explore the refuge visitor center.
Not sure you want to commit to 10 miles? Opt for the Family Fun Ride (1.5 miles) instead. Sag wagons will also be available.
No advance registration is necessary. More than 800 people took part last year. For updates and maps, check the 2017 event page on Facebook.
What better time than National Moth Week in July to shine a light on these oft-slighted but ecologically important butterfly cousins? See and photograph some of the more than 750 species of moths documented around the refuge headquarters building. (Refuge manager Stuart Marcus hopes to top 800 before this year’s event.) Using online biological data depositories, you can help map moth distribution and add to information on moth life history. Black lights and mercury vapor lights will aid in attracting and viewing moths. All ages are welcome. For more information, call 936-336-9786.
North America’s largest land mammals need big bones to bear their 1,000-to-2,000 pounds. How big? Find out. You and your team are handed a bag of real bison bones. Your job: Assemble them into a recognizable part — ribs, hip or leg — of the animal’s skeleton. Next, join your 3D puzzle segment with another team’s part. When all six parts are joined, you’ll have the life-size, head-to-tail framework of a bison.
Net a butterfly
Lace up your sneakers and join in Monarch Madness at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa or Monarch Mania at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas. Join other festival-goers in racing around the refuges, nets in hand, to collect monarch butterflies for tagging. Weather patterns and other conditions outside your control may affect your game. Then turn over your catch — carefully — to the wildlife pros to tag the colorful insects. Monarch tagging continues the next month at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The monarchs already will have been netted when you get there. You can watch biologists tag and release them.
September 16, 2017, 9 a.m. to noon. Monarch Madness
Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City, Iowa
Participants try to catch monarchs. Staff tag them. The person who catches a butterfly gets to release it!
September 16, 2017, 9 a.m. to noon. Monarch Mania
Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, Stafford, Kansas
Participants try to catch monarchs. Staff tag them. The festival also includes crafts, netting demonstrations, a live butterfly pavilion and face-painting.
October 28, 2017, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monarch Festival
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, St. Marks, Florida