The highest numbers and diversity of species can be found during spring and fall, when waterfowl in particular are attracted to the open water of Hutton Lake. The thousands of ducks attract Golden and Bald Eagles in good numbers, and Peregrine and Prairie Falcons make quick appearances.
Pairs of Eared Grebes nest during the summer alongside Wilson’s Phalaropes, American Avocets, and Black-necked Stilts. Ibis and egrets flock to the marshy Rush Lake, where Soras and Virginia Rails skulk among the reeds during late summer.
I recommend walking out to Rush Lake first and scanning the marsh, where Northern Harriers often hunt and Yellow-headed Blackbirds light up the reedbeds. Then continue to the open water of Hutton Lake, carefully scanning the sandspits and muddy margins for migrant shorebirds before scoping the rafts of ducks out on the lake.
At a Glance
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Undulating shortgrass prairie and sagebrush flats surrounding five lakes that vary from open, deep playas to marshes and dry pans. Denser shrubs can be found in sheltered ravines and along hillsides.
The refuge sits at 7,150 feet in the Laramie Basin and is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery. A level, gravel road leads to an overlook. Flat shorelines surround lakes.
More than 225 species. Year-round: Golden Eagle, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Horned Lark. Spring and fall: Tundra Swan, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Bufflehead, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Horned Grebe, Sandhill Crane, up to 25 species of migrant shorebirds, Prairie Falcon, Mountain Bluebird. Summer (many also occur during spring and fall): 13 species of waterfowl including Canvasback, Redhead, Cinnamon Teal, Eared and Western Grebes, Virginia Rail, Sora, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Wilson’s Phalarope, Willet, Franklin’s and California Gulls, Forster’s Tern, egrets and ibis, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks, six species of swallow, Marsh Wren, Sage Thrasher, Chestnut-collared and Thick-billed Longspurs, Brewer’s and Vesper Sparrows, Lark Bunting, Yellow-headed Blackbird. Winter: Rough-legged Hawk. Rarities: all three species of scoter, Long-tailed Jaeger, Sabine’s and Little Gulls, Arctic Tern, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Bobolink.
When to go
Spring and fall migration bring the highest diversity; summer also excellent for the many nesting species.
Short trail to an observation platform with interpretive signs and a refuge map. It is easy to explore off-trail as the terrain is wide open.
National wildlife refuge. Open all year, no fees.
Bring comfortable walking shoes and a scope to scan the extensive lakes. A camera will be useful. The weather can change quickly on the high plains, so come prepared with layers and gear for various conditions. It can be very windy and cold.
For more info
Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest
The Snowy Range Scenic Byway, or Wyoming Hwy. 130, to the west of Hutton Lake offers easy access to high-elevation boreal forest at around 10,000 feet. The birdlife here is completely different from the plains below; specialties include Dusky Grouse, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Canada Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Townsend’s Solitaire, and northern finches. The road is maintained year-round to elevations high enough to offer a chance for the rare Boreal Owl during early spring.