activities or programs related to the Big 6 uses: hunting, fishing, environmental education, wildlife observation, interpretation, and photography

December Photo Contest Winner

  • River surrounded by trees
  • Pine flatwoods with deer-tongue blooming
  • Great Egret fledglings
  • Freshwater pond in hardwood swamp
  • Sun setting over former burial ground
  • Creek surround by marshes and palm trees
  • Beach at North Key in florida

Peg Hall’s post with Ann Kamzelski’s photo of the Lower Suwannee NWR in Florida was the winning photo for the December contest.

Friends of Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys NWRs is lucky to have two quite different refuges to support, under a single management.

The Cedar Keys NWR was established in 1929 to help protect shore birds, which at the time were being taken in huge numbers for their plumage which was highly valued by the millinery business worldwide. The 900-acre refuge, made up of on 13 islands provides breeding grounds for thousands of ibises, egrets, spoonbills, pelicans, herons, and other shore birds.

The Lower Suwannee NWR was established 50 years later in 1979 to protect the water quality of the historic Suwannee River, 20 miles of which bisects the Refuge at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. The flow of the Suwannee feeds the estuarine waters of the Gulf, habitat for the Gulf sturgeon and feeding grounds for resident and migratory shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl. The land had been heavily logged before becoming a refuge. The Refuge is working to restore and protect the bottomland hardwood swamps and forests along the Suwannee.

The Lower Suwannee Refuge also includes Shell Mound, an archaeological resource prominent as a civic-ceremonial site from about A.D. 400 to A. D. 650. The location held a burial site aligned with the setting sun on Winter Solstice.

What is our all-volunteer, 22-year-old Friends group doing now?

  • Celebrating Winter and Summer Solstice
  • Conducting Native Plant, Butterfly, and Photo Walks and creating trailside interpretive panels and new guides for visitor favorites such as gravel biking
  • Having outreach booths at local festivals and working to acquire a mobile outreach center to take the story of the Refuges to where the people are
  • Designing unique merchandise for our pandemic-inspired Online Store, with board members fulfilling orders from home
  • Acquiring grants to help restore Vista, a 14-acre former in-holding that the donors, who are members of Friends, turned over to the Refuge at our 2022 Annual Meeting.
  • Providing an extensive website with a blog, bios of Friends board and Refuge staff, a list of Friends members, descriptions of places of interest to visit on the Refuges, guides to seeing the Refuges from your kayak, maps and brochures for many Refuge areas and trails, a primer to butterflies of the Lower Suwannee Refuge, and a link to our widely-distributed and popular email News Brief
  • Participating in CORFA initiatives!

Congratulation Peg and Ann!

Continue ReadingDecember Photo Contest Winner

November Photo Contest Winner

The winner of the November Photo Contest is Julie Filiberti’s post of the community of birders at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont. The Friends of Missisquoi NWR hold monthly bird monitoring walks on four of the Refuge trails. As of Julie’s post they have had walks for a total of 151 months! They have tallied 162 different species and also as Julie wrote have “collected a wonderful group of people who come together to share the love of our avian friends.”

  • People looking for birds
  • pond surrounded by trees
  • path through ferns surrounded by trees
  • people in front of a kiosk
  • people on a viewing platform over a marsh

The Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1943 to provide habitat for migratory birds. It consists of 6,729 acres, mostly wetland habitats, which support a variety of migratory birds and other wildlife. The 900-acre Maquam bog is designated as a Research Natural Area and the Refuge was designated as an Important Bird Area in partnership with the Audubon Society. The Refuge in partnership with other publicly owned (State of Vermont) lands has been designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. A mosaic of wetland habitats offers opportunities to see and manage more than 200 species of birds. Fall migration features 20,000-25,000 migrating ducks. Nesting bald eagles, osprey and many other waterbirds are present on the refuge.

The Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2002. The mission of the Friends is to promote a better awareness, appreciation, conservation and responsible utilization of the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge.

The majority of the Board members are birders, so a lot of their efforts tend to lean in that direction. Their aim is always to bring awareness to Missisquoi in new and creative ways. In addition, the Friends are the backbone for the Refuge in obtaining grant monies for invasive species control and natural science education. As with most refuges across the country, Missisquoi NWR does not have its operational needs met financially, so the Friends do what they can to help keep Missisquoi on its feet.

Julie said, “I have such appreciation for the group of birders that we’ve accumulated over the years. Many are regulars that make almost every walk we offer, and some are seasonal or join us occasionally. The Vermont birding community is very small and very friendly so it’s always exciting to have a new face appear and warmly welcome them into our birding group”.

Some other things to highlight about the Friends of Missisquoi:
The Friends offer a store at the Refuge headquarters, but with Covid and subsequent lack of volunteer staffing at the refuge, it has been closed down other than when there has been an event onsite.

The Friends publish a quarterly newsletter highlighting what they have, what they are planning, and any Refuge information that is timely. Their Refuge Manager and Biologist always contribute a column also. All members of the Friends receive a newsletter.

The Friends have been hosting a Big Sit in October at the Stephen Young Marsh at the Refuge for a number of years now. Because they stay stationary on the marsh’s platform, it’s a chance for the public to connect with the Friends to find out what they are doing and maybe share a bit of avian and refuge knowledge. This year they tallied 41 different species in 12 hours in the marsh.

The Friends have been hosting “An Evening of Bird Tales” once a year in February. It started out as a live event where 4-5 people tell stories about birds. It could be any encounter or experience they’ve had with the avian world. Since Covid, it has turned into a virtual event, which has really widened the audience. In 2023, for the 7th annual Bird Tales, the Friends are partnering with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and having biologists on their staff tell some of the stories of their encounters. It promises to be a win-win for both the Friends and VCE by bringing a new audience to both groups.

Because Bird Tales via Zoom has proved to be such a big hit, the Friends have been trying to host other online events throughout the winter months. This winter the focus is going to be on invasive species. They are planning a series of presentations from experts on the threats to the Refuge that are out there, what dangers they pose, and to teach visitors what to look out for.

In the spring of 2022 the Friends of Missisquoi NWR applied for and were awarded the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s O’Brien Prize. Julie wrote: We have developed a land acknowledgement recognizing the Abenaki culture that called the lands and waters home before the creation of the Refuge and have began working with the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi on ways to bring awareness to their existence. As stated in our acknowledgement, “We, the Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, honor the Indigenous heritage of the region and welcome the opportunity to assist the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in maintaining their close connection with their ancestral lands. Through education and partnership, we will work to bring awareness to their culture and existence. We invite our visitors to share in honoring this vision by engaging in mindfulness while enjoying the Refuge lands and waters and by holding the space with care and appreciation.

Congratulation Julie!

Continue ReadingNovember Photo Contest Winner

October Photo Contest Winner

Cathy Allen is the winner of the October photo contest. Cathy and her teddy shared photos from her recent trip to D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and archives in Spearfish, SD. Congratulations Cathy!

  • Gift shop a fish hatchery
  • Teddy bear looking at fish
  • statue if a man and boy
  • Teddy bear in a gift shop

More than 30 years before the first national wildlife refuge was established in 1903, the first national fish hatcheries were created. Throughout 2022 the National Fish Hatchery System has been marking its 150th anniversary. 

Teddy knew hatcheries were an important part of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service history, so he was thrilled to visit the DC Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives in Spearfish, South Dakota in October. What a fabulous day of discovery he had! Founded in 1896, this fabulous place is still carrying out its original mission, stocking more than 50,000 brown and rainbow trout in 14 reservoirs across South Dakota and Montana in 2021. Named after its first superintendent, DC Booth also preserves the historic and cultural heritage of the USFWS, with a living fisheries museum, an active archive of fisheries records and artifacts, plus interpretive and educational programming.

Teddy was surprised to learn that none of the 67 fish hatcheries have Visitor Services staff or funding. Yet, DC Booth was named “Best Place for a Family Day” in a local contest. How are they able to do take such good care of 190,000 visitors annually? Easy! Their Friends! The Booth Society manages the volunteer corps required to operate multiple educational venues on the site including historic homes, a museum, an underwater viewing area, even a replica Fisheries Railcar.  All of it – every single venue on the property – is staffed with two shifts of volunteers daily throughout the season – all managed and paid for by The Booth Society. That’s 14,000 volunteer hours!

Let’s tip our hats to the amazing board of directors and staff at The Booth Society. Executive Director Karen Holzer, Gift Shoppe Manager Nancy Cole, a volunteer board, and a scattering of interns have created a huge legacy – raising the money to pay for facilities renovations, interpretive signage, even land purchases – to build DC Booth National Fish Hatchery into the spectacular place to visit that it is today. Teddy had a great day and highly recommends taking your whole family for a fun day of exploration and learning.

Congratulation Cathy!

Continue ReadingOctober Photo Contest Winner

September Photo Contest Winner

Jim Osborn with Friends of Crab Orchard NWR in Illinois is the winner of the September photo contest. Jim has a passion for photography and leads the Friends photography club in addition to serving on the board. Congratulations Jim!

Thanks for submitting photos of the first live Volunteer Appreciation Event at Crab Orchard NWR since COVID began. It looks like everyone had a great time! The refuge staff presented numerous awards to volunteers in appreciation for the thousands of hours that they donated to the refuge. Janie Pettigrew was named Volunteer of the Year.

The Friends of Crab Orchard Refuge are dedicated to working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the community to enhance use of the Refuge for wildlife conservation, recreation, agriculture and industry. The group was established in 2000 and has built a force of approximately 100 regular volunteers. The activities they support include:

  • Facilitating eagle tours
  • Assisting with interpretive programs
  • Installing a pollinator habitat
  • Enhancing refuge services including public use facilities
  • Sponsoring youth hunting and fishing days
  • Transporting students to the refuge
  • Conducting annual photo contest
  • Operating the Woodland Gift Shop

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge (CONWR) was established on August 5, 1947 and is located in southwestern Illinois near Marion. CONWR is somewhat unique among wildlife refuges in that it is actually a vacation destination for many. The Refuge has four campgrounds, boating and fishing on three lakes, and welcomes hunters, naturalists, birders, hikers and photographers.

The refuge is made up of 44,000 acres of land that centers around Crab Orchard Lake. It has a great diversity of flora and fauna. The major habitats on the refuge include oak hickory upland forest, bottomland hardwood forest, cropland, grazing units, brushland, prairie, wetlands and lakes. The refuge also includes a 4,050 acre congressionally designated wilderness area.

Congratulation Jim!

Continue ReadingSeptember Photo Contest Winner

August Photo Contest Winner

Monarchs feeding on nectar plant

Karen Blakely Van Dyk shared beautiful images of monarchs and monarch caterpillars at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge.

River National Wildlife Refuge was established to conserve and enhance populations of wildlife and their habitats, to protect and enhance water quality, and to provide opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation and research. The refuge conserves the biological diversity of the Wallkill Valley by protecting and managing land, with a special emphasis on forest-dwelling and grassland birds, migrating waterfowl, wintering raptors, and endangered species. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan identifies the Wallkill River bottomlands as a priority focus area for waterfowl management within New Jersey.

Friends of Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge was founded in 2006 to support the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Refuge. Volunteers manage the activities of the Friends group and work in concert with Refuge staff to protect the environment and promote public awareness.

The Friends’ mission is to support the refuge through

  • Environmental stewardship
  • Educational and recreational opportunities for the public
  • Habitat management and enhancement
  • Land acquisition

Wallkill River NWR headquarters is in Sussex, New Jersey and part of the Lenape NWR Complex. The refuge encompasses over 6,000 acres of the Wallkill Valley, which used to be farmland and sod fields. Just 7 miles north of headquarters is the popular Liberty Loop Trail, which is a favorite spot for wildlife observation and photography. A portion of the trail is part of the Appalachian Trail and like the Winding Waters Trail are located in New York. In addition to these two walking trails there are numerous trail along the Wallkill River in New Jersey. You can also fish or kayak on Owens Pond or the Wallkill River. Visitors can also take an archery course or attend one of the many events held at the Refuge.

The Refuge has a variety of wildlife from amphibians to large mammals and is also a stopover for many migrating birds, including an occasional rare one.

Congratulations, Karen!

Photo credits:
Monarchs on liatris at Wallkill NWR by Karen VanDyk
Monarch caterpillar starting to crystallize by Kaen VanDyk

Continue ReadingAugust Photo Contest Winner