Located about 60 miles west of 1-275 on US Route 50, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge is best known for its wetlands and active waterfowl management. There is no waterfowl hunting there, small game hunting is limited to restricted areas, and deer hunting doesn’t start until December. As a result, it is a great place to view ducks and geese and stay out of the way of hunters. Raptors hunt the open fields and sparrows hide in the bushes along the road. Neotropical migrants find a home or stop-over in the fields, brushy areas, and good second-growth forest. There seems to be habitat for every type of bird and many mammals.
To avoid traffic, and for some of the better birds, leave early in the morning. About 10 miles west of North Vernon, Indiana on Route 50, look for the sign announcing Muscatatuck and turn south (left) into the refuge. Follow the driveway; past second-growth forest and open fields, and go through the gate (which opens automatically at dawn and closes automatically at dusk). At the “Y” in the road, take the right branch to the Visitors Center.
This is a must-see stop and has some of the best birding in the area. Pick up a map and a brochure about the refuge at the counter. Volunteers have built a wonderful bird viewing room, with benches to sit and watch the activity outside. The area outside the room has been landscaped for birds, providing food (natural and feeder-borne), shelter, and water. The short trail behind the Center winds through a mixed forest, a low wet area, and past a wooded pond. It is home to Great Horned Owls, and Cooper’s Hawks have nested in the pines. Spring-time warblers and vireos love it.
Return to the car and the road. Follow the auto tour along to Richart Lake This is a shallow lake but hosts ducks in all seasons. Bald Eagles and Osprey are regulars in migration. Beaver have also been spotted there. Take the first turn to the right. This road crosses a creek, wanders between two wetlands, past grassy fields, and makes a hard turn left. You can park your car here and walk west along the old abandoned road, past more wetlands and fields, through a wooded area to a large marsh. This one-half mile hike has hosted Sedge Wrens, Henslow’s Sparrows, a White Pelican, White-faced Ibis, rails, Least and American Bitterns, and Little Blue Herons. Northern Harriers are regular winter-time visitors.
There are many more “birdy” areas: abandoned lanes that wander through habitat edges; a large pine stand that sometimes holds wintering Long-eared Owls; grasslands, crop tracts, and brushy fields that can hold Short-eared Owls. Scarlet and Summer Tanagers love the old second-growth timber. Bobwhite and Wild Turkeys are shy but frequently seen. Stanfield Lake, a larger, deeper lake than Richart, is a refuge for migrating waterfowl of all kinds, including Mute and Tundra Swans and Loons.
Mammals are also easily found. Coyotes raise their young here and deer are plentiful. Raccoons, opossum, skunks, foxes, and squirrels are commonly seen. The first river otters to be reintroduced in Indiana were released here, in January of 1995, and they have successfully reproduced.
There isn’t room here to list everything to be seen and enjoyed at Muscatatuck. You’ll just have to go there and find them for yourself!