“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

"Everybody dies. Not everybody really lives."

The saddest sound in the world is a man saying, "I wish I'd have done that."

Monday, November 30, 2015

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

One of my favorite Alabama places, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in north Alabama is 34,500 acres of wetlands, open rivers, sloughs, hardwood forests, swamps and fields.  Established as a refuge for waterfowl in 1938, Wheeler is the winter home to thousands of ducks, geese and other waterfowl.  In recent years it has hosted an increasing number of sandhill cranes and endangered whooping cranes.  In 2014 over 15,000 sandhill cranes overwintered at Wheeler and in the past dozen years a slowly increasing number of whooping cranes have spent their winters there. Twenty-six whooping cranes were present in 2014.  There are less than 600 whooping cranes left in the world so Wheeler hosts a significant population of these rare and striking birds.

From November through March overwintering waterfowl are always visible on the refuge.  Popular viewing spots are Limestone Bay, Beaverdam Peninsula, Flint Creek, and Crabtree Slough.  But perhaps the best place to see birds is from the refuge's Observation Building, a modern two-story structure that overlooks open water and fields.  On any winter day you can count on seeing hundreds of ducks and geese, sandhill cranes and maybe a handful of whooping cranes, often within close range, from the warmth of the heated building.  The Observation Building has one-way glass so the birds are not disturbed by your presence.  Arguably the best place in Alabama to observe waterfowl up close and in my opinion the best place in the world to view whooping cranes.

Check out this photo gallery of Wheeler's visitors, courtesy of photographer George Lee.

Sandhill cranes showing off

Two Whooping cranes trying to blend in with Sandhill cranes (good luck!)

Lots of water means lots of reptiles and amphibians.  Wheeler is home to a small population of American alligators

Northern shovelers are just one of many species that call Wheeler NWR their winter home.

Amphibians abound!

Coyotes and bobcats are two predators on the refuge

Hooded Mergansers

Crowded skies are a common sight in winter

Sandhill cranes, mallards, gadwalls American wigeons, northern shovelers, ringnecked ducks, wood ducks and others share space at Wheeler

Beautiful shot of a sandhill crane in evening light.


More sandhills in flight

The fields near the Observation Building teem with birds

Whooping crane sharing airspace

Armadillo posing for a glamour shot

Wood ducks are plentiful.  Wheeler NWR personnel conduct annual banding efforts

American wigeons

A curious river otter

White-tailed deer are common

Two of the resident bald eagles

Pied billed grebe

Rafts of hundreds of American white pelicans and snow geese are present in winter in the Flint Creek and Limestone Bay areas. It is not unusual to see 2000 pelicans and a like number of snow geese on Limestone Bay.

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