6 New National Wildlife Refuges Established

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announces the establishment of six new national wildlife refuge units during the past year and the renaming of a seventh in honor of a late Fish and Wildlife Service director by laying commemorative planks on a walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first refuge.

Commemorative planks on a walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation's first refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Commemorative planks on a walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Each time we establish a new national wildlife refuge, we set aside a treasured landscape, conserving our priceless fish and wildlife and their habitat not only for this generation but for future generations,” said Salazar.

“We also provide a place for people to connect with nature through fishing, hunting, hiking and other outdoor recreation. This not only restores the spirit and refreshes the mind but also supports economic growth and jobs in local communities.”

Last year, more than 47 million people visited the nation’s 561 national wildlife refuges, Salazar noted. These visits generated over $2.6 billion in economic activity and supported more than 36,000 jobs.

During the Pelican Island ceremony, Salazar added planks to the walkway that now commemorates all 561 national wildlife refuges. The new planks include:

Valle del Oro National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
This urban refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was established through the acquisition of 390 acres of Valley Gold Farms, a former dairy and hay farm. It is within a 30-minute drive of half of New Mexico’s population, providing ample outdoor recreation and education opportunities. With its outstanding birding and outdoor recreational opportunities, Valle del Oro will also be an economic engine for local communities.

Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, New Mexico

Planks on the walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge now commemorates all 561 national wildlife refuges. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Planks on the walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge now commemorates all 561 national wildlife refuges. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This refuge near Mora, New Mexico, will ultimately protect and manage up to 300,000 acres of one of the most significant grassland landscapes of North America. The refuge is possible because of a generous donation by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust of 4,200 acres. The Thaw’s donation of the ranch and their support for ongoing environmental education, research, and habitat management in north central New Mexico will provide endless opportunities for the local community to connect or reconnect with the great outdoors.

Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin & Illinois
This refuge, located in southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois, will restore wetlands, prairie, and oak savanna as well as provide new and expanded recreational opportunities for environmental education, interpretation and other wildlife-dependent recreation for the estimated 3.5 million people within 30 miles of the project area.

Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area, Colorado & New Mexico
This refuge, made possible by the donation of easements by Louis Bacon on his Blanca and Trinchera ranches, will conserve a wildlife corridor in the Southern Rockies in south-central Colorado and far northern New Mexico that spans some 170,000 acres. When completed, the two easements will represent the largest donation ever to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Swan Valley Conservation Area, Idaho & Wyoming
The Montana refuge helps connect the Canadian Rockies with the central Rockies of Idaho and Wyoming. The Fish and Wildlife Service established the refuge in partnership with landowners who voluntarily entered their lands into easements. It will protect one of the last low-elevation, coniferous forest ecosystems in western Montana that remains undeveloped and provide habitat for species such as grizzly bears, gray wolves, wolverines, and Canada lynx.

Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
The Fish and Wildlife Service worked in voluntary partnership with ranchers and other stakeholders to create this refuge that combines traditional public land acquisition strategies with conservation strategies for private working lands. The refuge and conservation area ultimately will include a 50,000- acre publicly owned national wildlife refuge and 100,000 acres of land that will remain in private ownership under conservation easements. It will connect existing conservation lands; create wildlife corridors; enhance water quality, quantity and storage; protect rare species; and provide opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation.

Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi

The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the national wildlife refuges of the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In February 2012, Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, located just south of Starkville, Mississippi, was renamed the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee Wildlife Refuge to memorialize one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s greatest leaders. The late Sam Hamilton was the Service’s 15th Director from September 2009 to February 2010. Under his leadership, vision, and guidance, both as Director and the Southeast Regional Director for 12 years, the service began moving away from opportunistic conservation in favor of landscape-level conservation to protect entire ecosystems.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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Louisiana Receives Second Group of Whooping Cranes

A second group of juvenile whooping cranes was delivered December 1 to White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WCA) in Gueydan as part of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) species’ restoration project.

Notice the feather coloration, the juvenile in front has little brown left but the bird on the left is still quite brown. (Credit: Jane Chandler, Patuxent)

“Our biologists will continue their work to establish a non-migratory population of whooping cranes in coastal Louisiana to assist with this endangered species recovery effort,” said Robert Barham, LDWF Secretary.

Sixteen whooping cranes were flown to southwest Louisiana on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) aircraft from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, according to a Monday (December 5) news release.

The White Lake location in Vermilion Parish is the site where 10 whooping cranes, the first cohort in the long-term restoration, were released in March. That group of birds marked the first presence of whooping cranes in the wild in Louisiana since 1950.

“This is an impressive project launched by the Louisiana Department of Fisheries and Wildlife to bring the whooping crane back to this part of its historic range and marks a bold step for its ultimate recovery,” said Cindy Dohner, USFWS Southeast Regional Director. “We are excited about their work and proud of our partnership with Secretary Barham and his agency as we continue working together to bring this majestic bird back to Louisiana.”

LDWF continues to work cooperatively with USFWS, USGS, the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and the International Crane Foundation to bring the species back to the state. Project funding is derived from LDWF species restoration dedicated funds, federal grants, and private/corporate donations.

“The USFWS Migratory Bird Program is honored to participate in the efforts of adding additional birds to the group of reintroduced wild whooping cranes to Louisiana.” says Jerome Ford, Assistant Director, Migratory Birds Program.”Our pilot biologists were thrilled to contribute by using their Kodiak planes to ensure the whooping cranes’ safe arrival.”

Female whooping crane foraging in a pond. (Credit: Jane Chandler, Patuxent)

The whooping cranes Louisiana receives are designated as a non-essential, experimental population (NEP) under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. This designation and its implementing regulation were developed to be more compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area.

Of the 10 cranes released in March from White Lake, three have survived and continue to be tracked by transmitter devices attached to each bird. Two cranes were killed by predators, one was euthanized due to illness, two are missing and unaccounted for, and two were shot and killed on October 9 in Jefferson Davis Parish. LDWF Enforcement Division agents have charged two juveniles, who were alleged to have been involved with the two crane deaths.

Anyone who spends time in the marshes and rice fields of southwest Louisiana should welcome the opportunity to see these magnificent birds. Although whooping cranes in Louisiana are considered an “experimental, non-essential population” under the Endangered Species Act, they are still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be pursued, harassed, captured, or killed.

Waterfowl hunters should be accustomed to seeing large-bodied, white birds with black wing-tips, such as white ibis, white pelicans, and wood storks, which must be distinguished from the legally-hunted snow geese.

Mature whooping cranes are equally identifiable as they stand five feet tall and have a wingspan of seven to eight feet. Easily identifiable characteristics of whooping cranes in flight include black wing tips and fully extended neck and legs, which extend well beyond the tail. Standing whooping cranes also exhibit the bustle of rump feathers more pronounced than other large white birds.

Related

Ten of the 16 chicks can be spotted in this photo. (Credit: Jane Chandler, Patuxent)

Details

White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WCA)

White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WCA) is located in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana. The contiguous unit is 70,965 acres, located along the western boundary of Vermilion parish; it is bounded on the south by White Lake the northern boundary is 7.4 miles south of Gueydan at the south end of Highway 91. Lafayette is 32 air miles northeast and Lake Charles is 40 air miles northwest. The southern boundary of White Lake is 17.5 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico. The property averages 12 miles from east to west and 9 miles from north to south.

Phone: (337) 479-1894

Website: wlf.louisiana.gov/refuge/white-lake-wetlands-conservations-area

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

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Solitude, birds, and an RV Park: St. David, AZ

Just an hour’s drive east of Tucson, and five miles south of Benson on the route to Tombstone and Bisbee is the agricultural community of St. David.

Shrine of the Holy Cross can be seen from Highway 80 as you drive south of St. David to Tombstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like much of southeastern Arizona, this peaceful little village was booming when nearby mines were open. Today, you can enjoy browsing in antique shops or visit the Benedictine Holy Trinity Monastery.

Due to its height (70 feet), the Shrine of the True Cross is likely the first thing you will see when approaching the monastery along Highway 80. The second is the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. This beautiful little church is located across the road from the shrine but is hidden somewhat by vegetation.

Located on 132 lush acres curving along the wooded banks of the San Pedro River, the monastery features Trinity Library, meditation garden, Monastery book store and gift shop, Gallery Grinitas (art gallery and museum), and Benedict’s Closet—a thrift shop of real bargains.

And yes these are all open to guests and visitors.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is a beautiful little church located across the road from the shrine, © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors who have their own recreational vehicles can stay in the Monte Cassino RV Park housed on the property. During their stay, they are invited to join the community in daily prayer and eucharist, plus other activities.

Half wilderness preserve, half religious retreat, the priory welcomes nature lovers and spiritual pilgrims alike. Both groups appreciate the Benedictine practice of silent reflection and meditation. This river oasis is blessed with a series of ponds fed by artesian springs where ducks and geese splash among the lily pads.

In 1992, the Bureau of Land Management helped dedicate a 1.3-mile bird sanctuary trail that borders along the property and the San Pedro River. In 1993 the monastery received the “Conservation Co-operator of the Year” award presented by San Pedro National Resource Conservation District.

With the beauty of the large, tree lined pond, visitors attain a peace and solitude that is difficult to find in a busy world. An Oriental garden is also a place for meditation. It has a small pond, oriental bridge and lovely flowers to lend its feeling of serenity.

A 1.3-mile bird sanctuary trail borders along the property and the beautiful San Pedro River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Fiesta Primavera held on the Mother’s Day weekend and Festival of the Arts held the second weekend in November are two day festivals filled with entertainment, booths with artists and crafters, and a wide variety of food. These events raise funds for the expansion and building.

For a complete 2011 calendar of events, click here.

Worth Pondering…
When you get to the end of all the light you know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.
—Edward Teller

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Birding Hotspot: Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, AZ

The combination of deserts and sky islands combine to make Southeastern Arizona one of the most spectacular regions in North America for bird watching.

Thousands of sandhill cranes winter at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Southeastern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During our numerous visits to this region we have visited many excellent birding spots including San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Ramsey Canyon, Patagonia/Sonoita Creek Preserve, and Patagonia Lake State Park.

Our most recent discovery was Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in the Sulphur Springs Valley.

The Sulphur Springs Valley, west of the Chiricahua Mountains between Bisbee and Douglas to the south and Willcox to the north, is great for birder watching. The valley’s highways and back roads offer access to a variety of habitats, including grassland, desert scrub, playa lake, and farm fields. A wide variety of birds winter here alongside permanent residents.

The Sulphur Springs Valley’s crown jewel is the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.

Located in the southwestern part of the valley, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area lies within a desert grassland habitat. Nearly half of the Wildlife Area falls within a floodplain. Over 600 acres of the area is intermittently flooded wetland with two small patches of riparian habitat. The surrounding agricultural community of the valley enhances feeding opportunities for wintering birds.

Group of birders at Whitewater Draw. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Formerly a cattle ranch, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area was purchased in 1997 and is now managed to enhance wetland habitats and provide waterfowl habitat, and wildlife viewing.

For a detailed map of Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, click here.

Managed by the Arizona Fish & Game Department, Whitewater Draw has a newly developed one-mile boardwalk trail that takes you around cattail marshes, shallow ponds, and eventually to several viewing platforms. Here you can use permanently-mounted telescopes to observe the spectacle of 10,000 to over 20,000 wintering sandhill cranes. Flocks of snow geese and tundra swan share the sky with the cranes.

The winter bird watching here is simply amazing with many species of ducks, grebes, teals, shovelers, pintails, egrets, herons, shorebirds, and terns.

A pair of great-horned owls sits on the rafters of the large open barn that currently serves as a picnic shelter.

There is no visitor center at Whitewater Draw. Visitors are asked to sign in at register boxes located at each parking area. The register sheets include spaces for comments and sightings, so sign in when you arrive and check to see what recent visitors have reported.

A pair of great-horned owls sits on the rafters of the large open barn that currently serves as a picnic shelter. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) offers Whitewater Wetlands walks each Friday morning at 9 a.m. for a nominal fee. Reservations are recommended.

Directions
Whitewater Draw is located on Coffman Road, accessible either from Central Highway via Double Adobe Road or directly from Davis Road, 1 mile west of Central Highway near McNeal.

From Bisbee drive east on Highway 80 for 4 miles and continue east on Double Adobe Road; turn north onto Central Highway until you see the blue Wildlife Refuge sign.

Alternately, drive 4 miles south of Tombstone to Davis Road; drive east on Davis Road for about 20 miles until you see the blue Wildlife Refuge sign at Coffman Road and turn right and follow Coffman Road south to the Refuge.

The journey continues…

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

Worth Pondering…
Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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Globally Important Bird Area: San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, AZ

If you are a birder, Southeastern Arizona is the place to go.

Lesser goldfinch are a common sight at San Pedro House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area encompasses 56,000 acres and some 40 miles of the meandering Upper San Pedro River between the Mexican border and St. David.

The word riparian refers to an area where plants and animals thrive because of an availability of water, either at or near the soil surface. This riparian corridor supports one of the Southwest’s last remaining desert riparian ecosystems.

The San Pedro River enters Arizona from Sonora, Mexico, flows north between the Huachuca and Mule mountain ranges, and joins the Gila River 100 miles downstream near the town of Wickelman. The San Pedro River flows year-round through the conservation area, though sometimes a trickle, a rare occurrence in the Southwest.

The Bureau of Land management (BLM) manages this area, which may be one of birdings best kept secrets. Designated a Globally Important Bird Area in 1996, this 56,000-acre preserve is home to over 100 species of breeding birds and invaluable habitat for over 250 migrant and wintering birds.

Gambel's Quail is also a frequent visitor throughout the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The BLM is a key member of the Upper San Pedro Partnership, a consortium of local, federal, and state agencies and groups working together to meet the water needs of the southern Arizona area and protect the resources of the San Pedro River.

Because of its location between the Huachuca and Mule mountains, the conservation area attracts such varied species as loons and grebes, cormorants and pelicans, larks and swallows, lesser goldfinches and house finches, and, of course, hummingbirds.

A good way to visit is to go to San Pedro House, seven miles east of Sierra Vista off Route 90. Located on the site of an old cattle ranch, the visitor center is in the old ranch house beneath the umbrella of two gigantic cottonwood trees. One of these great patriarchs has lived over 130 years. This tree alone is worth a visit. Here you will find informative exhibits, plenty of birds, a guided walk along the river, and a charming bookstore run by The Friends of the San Pedro River.

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area encompasses 56,000 acres and some 40 miles of the meandering Upper San Pedro River between the Mexican border and St. David. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outside, you can nab a walking stick and explore several miles of trails that lead through sparrow-laden sacaton grasslands, along the cottonwood- and willow-strung riverbank, and beside cattail-lined ponds.

Other San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area access points include St. David Holy Trinity Monastery, St. David Cienega, Fairbank, Charleston, and Hereford.

Worth Pondering…
Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.
—Langston Hughes

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