Southeast Indiana Birding Opportunities - Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge

Muscatatuck is Indiana’s oldest National Wildlife Refuge (established in 1966) and encompasses 7,724 acres of land in Jackson and Jennings Counties.

muscatatuck national wildlife refuge birding trail
The Refuge contains a wide variety of habitat on gently rolling terrain. Approximately 60% of the Refuge is covered with forest and most of that is bottomland forest. Shrub/scrublands cover 20% of the area, seasonal or permanent wetlands cover 60 %, and 10% is grassland. There are two large lakes (Richart and Stanfield), two creeks (Mutton and Storm), many marshes and ponds, and a vegetated swamp known as Moss Lake.

Muscatatuck is a natural pocket of wetland which floods frequently but most roads are passable throughout the year. A 4-mile Auto Tour loop starts and ends near the Refuge Visitor Center. There are five hiking trails with most being about 1 mile in length. The Chestnut Ridge Interpretive Trail by the Visitor Center is ¼ mile in length, paved, and wheelchair accessible. Other trails are Turkey, Bird, Wood Duck, and Hunt-Richart. The Visitor Center contains a Bird Viewing Room where visitors may watch birds visiting outside feeders. Recent bird observations are noted on a list at the Visitor Center.

Muscatatuck is designated as a continentally important bird area. The refuge is managed to provide habitat for migratory birds and is an important stopover site during the spring and fall migrations. In the warm months the mature forest and shrublands of the Refuge provide opportunities to find species such as Kentucky warbler, wood thrush, summer and scarlet tanager, American redstart, orchard oriole, yellow-billed cuckoo, and prairie warbler. Cerulean warblers also nest in upland mature forests. Old fields provide habitat for other warblers, blue grosbeaks, and many species of sparrows. Wet fields/shrublands provide nesting sites for a large population of woodcock. Indigo buntings are widespread along the Auto Tour. The Endicott grassland provides habitat for nesting dickcissals, sedge wrens, field and grasshopper sparrows, yellow-breasted chats, and sometimes Henslow sparrows. Prothonotary, yellow-throated, and sometimes Northern parula warblers can be found along wooded wetland edges. Great blue herons, green herons, and wood ducks are common in the marshes. During migration a wide variety of ducks (and sometimes Trumpeter swans) can be spotted in wetlands, and in spring sora and Virginia rails appear regularly.

In winter Refuge wetlands host a variety of ducks, geese, grebes, and tundra swans. Open fields attract Northern harriers and a variety of other raptors. Bald eagles are present year-round as are red-shouldered hawks, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, and barred owls. Songbirds like white-crowned and white-throated sparrows, winter wren, and sometimes red-breasted nuthatch are present. A growing population of greater sandhill cranes winter in the Refuge area with peak numbers usually occurring in December and January. Whooping cranes often travel with sandhill cranes and sometimes stop in at the Refuge.

eBird Hotspot Link:
https://ebird.org/hotspot/L712111

Total Birding Time:
1-4 Hours



Best Times to Bird: 
Late April and September are peak for songbird migration. Summer birding can be productive, with best viewing in early morning.

SEYMOUR WEATHER

Address: 
12985 E. U.S. Hwy. 50
Seymour, IN 47274.
There is only one vehicle entrance  on U.S. Hwy. 50 which is located approximately three miles east of the junction of U.S. Hwy. 31 and Hwy. 50. DO NOT use Goggle Maps to locate the entrance as the apps usually take people to a now closed West entrance. First time visitors frequently go to the wrong (closed) entrance.

Hours: The Refuge is open one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
Ownership: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Admission: No entrance fee.
Restrictions: Certain rules apply to National Wildlife Refuges so check Refuge brochures/website for details. Hunting activities take place at certain times but areas remain open to other visitors. Hiking trails and the Visitor Center are in non-hunting areas. Pets must be kept on leash. A “closed” area in the southwestern portion of the Refuge is closed to all public entry except during special events (watch for “Area Closed” signs). Other small closed areas are located around certain buildings. The use of electronic calls to lure birds is prohibited by federal regulation. During flood events the Auto Tour and some roads may be inaccessible (closings are usually posted on Facebook). Hunting activities do not close any part of the refuge. Flood closures are always posted on the refuge website and Facebook page
Parking: Park in parking lots or along road edges.
Nearby Amenities: Modern restrooms are located at Refuge Visitor Center. A pit toilet is located at the Persimmon Pond Fishing Area. The staffed Visitor Center (open Tuesday through Saturday) has water fountains, a large exhibit area, and an exceptional Nature Bookstore operated by the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society. Seymour is approximately four miles west of the Refuge on Hwy. 31 and has numerous motels and restaurants. Public campgrounds are located nearby in Brownstown and Vernon.
Accessibility: Chestnut Ridge Trail (by Visitor Center) is paved, ¼ mile long, and accessible to wheelchairs.
Website: fws.gov/refuge/muscatatuck
Phone Number: (812) 522-4352

Written By:
Donna Stanley
Photo by: Brian Lowry