Northern Mockingbird photo taken by Sherry Burnett
Muscatatuck, Indiana’s first National Wildlife Refuge, was established in 1966. Funds from the sale of federal “duck stamps” were used to purchase 7,724 acres which were set aside to provide resting and feeding habitat for migratory waterfowl. Muscatatuck is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of over 500 refuges whose habitat is managed specifically for wildlife. The refuge also operates a 78 acre parcel near Bloomington, IN known as the “Restle Unit” that will not be covered in this site guide. The refuge takes its name from the Muscatatuck Riverwhich forms its southern boundary. The name means “the land of the winding waters”. The name is a very good description given of the area that the Native Americans were attracted to for its abundance of wildlife.
The refuge contains a wide variety of habitats on its gently rolling terrain. “Approximately 55% of the land is woodland (43% upland forest and 57% bottomland hardwood forest), 20% shrub/scrub, 13% water, 11% cropland and 1% grassland” (LEWIS and VANOSDOL 1999). There are three large lakes (Richart, Stanfield and Moss), two creeks (Mutton Creek Ditchand Storm Creek Ditch), many marshes and moist soil units(flooded in the fall and drained or allowed to dry up in the spring) including the Mac Donald and Endicott Marshes. The refuge also maintains a few “green tree reservoirs” that are flooded in the fall then drained in the spring.
Muscatatuck has 8 hiking trails varying in length from 0.2 miles to 4 miles. All trails are easy to moderate although the two river trails may become impassible due to flooding. The 0.4 mile self-guided Chestnut Ridge Interpretive Trail leaves from the visitor center parking lot and is wheel chair accessible, Richart Lake Trail 0.9 miles, Endicott Trail 0.2 miles,Bird Trail 0.7 miles, Turkey Trail 1 mile, Wood Duck Trail 0.5 miles, East River Trail 3 miles and West River Trail 4 miles.
The Muscatatuck self-guided auto tour is a 4 mile loop that begins and ends near the Visitors Center. About half of this route is one way. Along this route are Richart Lake, 4 large marshes, cropland (a 57 acre “farming for a Clean Watershed” project), green tree units, and moist soil units.
The refuge is home to a great variety of birds with over 280 species having been recorded. At least 90 species breed here, including Bald Eagle. Since 2003 “Operation Migration” has used a remote area of the refuge as a stopover site in its efforts to reintroduce the endangeredWhooping Crane.
17 species are of management concern. Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, Sedge Wren, Eastern Meadowlark, and American Woodcock have a high priority conservation status with Henslow’s Sparrow and Sedge Wren being state endangered species (LEWIS and VANOSDOL 1999).
Muscatatuck NWR is recognized as a “continentally important” bird area. The refuge became a reintroduction site for the River Otter in 1995 when 25 otters from Louisiana were released. They have adjusted well to their new home and may be seen on most trips. The refuge is also home to the endangered Copperbelly Water Snake which is abundant on the refuge.
There is a 97-acre Acid Seep Spring Research Natural Area located on the refuge. This type of seep spring is very unusual in Indiana and would be more commonly found in Canada. The boggy area contains several species indigenous to an acid seep spring including: alder, winterberry,and black chokeberry; 4 species of ferns, including spotted, touch- me- not, and halberd tearthumb; and at least 3 species of sedges: roughleaf goldenrod, bog bluegrass and autumn bluegrass (INDNR).
A visitor center which houses a bookstore, Conservation Learning Center and bird viewing room is open when the bookstore is staffed by volunteer members of the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society.
The Wildlife Society operates one of Indiana’s finest natural history bookstores, offers the free use of a nature viewing kit (containing binoculars, a bird field guide and check list) for visitors who need them, maintains the feeders at the bird viewing room, helps fund projects on the refuge, works on cabin restoration and trail maintenance as well as staffing events held at the refuge i.e. Take a Kid Fishing Day, Wings Over Muscatatuck Festival and Log Cabin Day which is part of National Wildlife Refuge Week.
The property is also home to the restored Myers family cabin and barn and 2 pioneer cemeteries.
Typical Time to bird: 3-4 hours will give pretty good coverage of all sites within refuge.
BIRDSOverview: Muscatatuck is a great location for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds and passerines. A large variety of dabblers and divers may be seen during spring and fall migrations. Several species of shorebirds visit when water levels are right. Families of passerines to be expected are: woodpeckers, flycatchers, vireos, swallows, wrens, thrushes, warblers, tanagers, sparrows and orioles.Specialty Species:Tundra Swans can be found December through early March on any of the large lakes.Much of the refuge is managed for Wood Ducks. Large numbers occur here and may be found any time there is open water–especially in the greentree reservoirs. 117 were seen in an hour in October 2003. Ospreys usually make appearances on Richart or Stanfield lakes late April through mid-May. There is a nest platform on Richart Lake that unfortunately has not been used. Bald Eagle. In the closed area of the refuge Bald Eagles nested successfully from 2002 through 2004, fledging 8 young. In the spring of 2005 a storm blew the nest tree down, however the eagles have begun construction of 2 new nests and hopefully more eaglets will be fledged in the future. Eagles can often be seen on other parts of the refuge year round. American Woodcock occur February through May. Courtship flights may be witnessed just north of the main entrance gate, north of the Sandhill Ponds or across the parking lot from Myers Cabin. Yellow-billed Cuckoo can be heard and seen mid-April through June.The area just east of Sioux Pond is a good area for these birds.Large numbers of Red-headed Woodpeckers nest on the refuge. They may be seen nearly year round in and around M-2 and M-6.Check the Visitor Center feeders December through March for Red-breasted Nuthatches.Late July through September Sedge Wrens can be found at south Endicott Marsh.The area around Mallard Lake and Lake Sheryl are good spots for Prairie Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat and Orchard Oriole mid-April through June.Mid-April through June just east of M-6 where the road crosses Mutton creek listen and look for Prothonotary Warbler and Northern Parula. Check for Henslow’s Sparrow in the Endicott Marsh area in May and June. Blue Grosbeak can often be seen late April through June in the area near the maintenance buildings.Noteworthy Records:Western Grebe – (08-Jul-1995); 4 birds found deadAmerican White Pelican – (18-Apr-1994); (05-Apr-1996); (14-Oct-1998)Little Blue Heron – (10-May-2003)Black-crowned Night Heron – (11-May-2002)Glossy Ibis – (24-Oct-1992)Surf Scoter – (02-Dec-1995); (18-Mar-1996)White-winged Scoter – (04-Mar-1990)Black Scoter – (15-Nov-1995)Long-tailed Duck – (08-Mar-1997)Mississippi Kite – (20-Jun-2002)Northern Goshawk – (28-Nov-1993)Wilson’s Phalarope – (10-May-2003)Yellow Rail – (23-Apr-1994)Common Tern – (10-May-1997)Black Tern – (May 1999)Long-eared Owl (01-Jan-2004)Northern Saw-whet Owl – (01-Jan-2004)Bewick’s Wren – (29-May-1988)Golden-winged Warbler – (10-May-1997)Clay-colored Sparrow (Sep 2002); (Sep 2003)Brambling – (31-Mar-1996)
GENERAL SITE INFORMATIONOwnership:U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceSite Phone Number: 812-522-4352Hours: The refuge is open daily sunrise to sunset. There are automatic gates inside the main and west entrances. The gates normally give plenty of time to leave the refuge after sunset before closing.Fees:None.Restrooms:Modern restrooms are available at the Visitors’ Center. Pit toilets are located before you reach the Stanfield Lake boat ramp and at the Persimmon Lake parking lot.Lodging:There is no camping available on or near the refuge.Several national hotel / motel chains are available in nearby Seymour.Access Restrictions:There is a waterfowl sanctuary within the refuge that is closed to public access. The sanctuary is open to foot traffic only during National Wildlife Refuge Week the 2nd week of October. Guided tours are available during the Wings Over Muscatatuck festival the 2nd Saturday of May. It may be accessed other times of the year by special permission. Part of the refuge is open to hunting (deer, rabbit, quail) and access may be limited to birding from the road only. All hunting areas are well marked.SpecialConsiderations:Please adhere to the “No vehicles beyond this point” signs located though out the property. Foot traffic beyond these signs is permitted.Temporal Considerations:March and September through November are the best times to visit the refuge for waterfowl. Mid-April through June are best for migrating passerines.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Muscatatuck NWR
- Information on Muscatatuck NWR from the U.S. FWS website.
- Bird Checklist for Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge
- Bird checklist from the U.S. Geological Survey website.
- Darlena Graham’s Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge Page
- An excellent discussion of the birds of Muscatatuck from Ned Keller’s Birding in Cincinnati website.
- Exerpts on Muscatatuck NWR from “America’s National Wildlife Refuges, A Complete Guide”
- From the Defenders of Wildlife website, selected information from the 2002 publication, America’s National Wildlife Refuges, A Complete Guide.
Author: Gary Dorman
Additional Species Reports: Donna Stanley, U.S. FWS
Editors: Darel Heitkamp and Dick Patterson
Last updated: January, 2007
South Central Indiana
Jackson and Jennings Counties, Indiana
DeLorme Page 51, grids 12 E and 12 F
Main Entrance –
38° 58′ 01” N 85° 47′ 44” W
Visitor’s Center –
38° 57′ 35” N 85° 47′ 55” W
Richart Lake –
38° 57′ 19” N 85° 47′ 54” W
Endicott Marsh –
38° 57′ 19” N 85° 48′ 43” W
West Entrance –
38° 56′ 25” N 85° 49′ 39” W
38° 56′ 25” N 85° 49′ 03” W
38° 56′ 27” N 85° 48′ 32” W
Stanfield Boat Ramp –
38° 56′ 14” N 85° 47′ 51” W
Myers Cabin –
38° 55′ 59” N 85° 48′ 14” W
Sandhill Ponds –
38° 55′ 16” N 85° 47′ 48” W
Stanfield Lake Dam –
38° 56′ 02” N 85° 47′ 57” W
From the North: Take I-65 South to exit 50A . Go east on US 50 for 3 miles. The main entrance to the refuge is on the right side of the road. An alternate route from north: US 31 south to US 50, turn left (east), go three miles to main entrance on right.
From the South: Take I-65 North to exit 50A . Go east on US 50 for 3 miles. The main entrance to the refuge is on the right side of the road. An alternate route from north: US 31 north to US 50, turn right (east), go three miles to main entrance on right.
From the East: Take US 50 west approximately 10 miles west of North Vernon, IN. The main entrance is on the left.
From the West: Take US 50 east and continue three miles east of Seymour, IN. The main entrance to refuge is on the right.
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Indiana Audubon Society's mission is to stimulate interest in birds and their protection; to serve the needs of youth, civic, church, schools and other groups by providing information concerning birds; and to educate the public concerning the necessity for conserving and preserving Indiana's natural heritage, its unique flora and fauna.