Established in 1990, St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge encompasses almost 25,000 acres between the Mississippi River and clay bluffs bordering the flood plain. The refuge is comprised of diverse habitats, including upland pine-hardwood and bottomland hardwood forests, cypress-tupelo swamps, and extensive wetland impoundments. Annual spring flooding creates desirable backwater habitat for many bird species.
Large numbers of storks, spoonbills, cormorants, stilts, ibises, herons, and egrets gather in summer to forage in wetland impoundments against a distant backdrop of bottomland hardwood forest fronting the Mississippi River just beyond. As dusk approaches, the storks, spoonbills, and cormorants take flight to occupy communal roosts in nearby cypress trees. The setting sun adds a golden shine to the spectacle. As an amateur wildlife photographer with my share of opportunities to photograph birds around the globe, I have found St. Catherine Creek to be a unique experience. The refuge is sufficiently isolated, yet accessible, to offer solitude while enjoying being surrounded by birds of so many feathers.
These summer spectacles are not the only times to enjoy birding at Saint Catherine Creek. Situated in the southern reach of the Mississippi Flyway, the refuge harbors a plethora of spring and fall migrants. When water levels drop to expose mudflats, shorebirds can be plentiful. Walking along the dikes that separate the impoundments in the company of an occasional alligator can be entertaining as well as productive. In winter, the impoundments are managed for waterfowl, which arrive by the thousands. Although hunting seasons pose some access restrictions in the refuge, the main roads and dedicated walking trails remain open to birders. Every February, my wife and I make an annual pilgrimage to the refuge during the Great Backyard Bird Count and always find species to fill out our list.
“The Swamp,” situated at the end of Swamp Road, is perhaps the most popular birding site. The road parallels a bayou that flows to the junction of the Sibley Impoundments and a large area dominated by cypress trees. This area is closed to hunting and the impoundments are open to walk-in birders from April 1st through November 14th. Especially during the closures, a scope would be useful to inspect the impoundments. The Magnolia Trail complex, an out-and-back trail with several easy access points, consists of approximately four miles of trails threading through a variety of upland habitats. Sections along ridges require a moderate level of exertion and can be muddy at times.