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Stop 18: Washita National Wildlife Refuge

Directions: Continue east on OK 73 to OK 44 North. Take 44 for 7.6 miles to Butler, and turn west on OK 33. Follow the signs to the refuge headquarters and get maps, checklists, and current viewing information from the refuge rangers.

At the intersection of 73 and 44, just after turning north, check the right side of the road for a small herd of American Bison. Park and walk up to the fence in order to get closeup photos, but do not harass or otherwise disturb the bison. Winter is a particularly good time to photograph them, when their coats are full and luxuriant. On the way to the refuge, scan the lake for Bald Eagle, Osprey, and waterfowl.

The refuge covers 8,200 acres along the Washita River. Prairie habitat, edge-habitat associated with agricultural production, riparian bottomlands, and a variety of other interesting features make this a haven for wildlife. Proximate to the refuge headquarters is a prairie dog town. Visitors can get good looks at these fascinating mammals, which are relatively unafraid of humans due to the absence of hunting or other human predation. Check the town for Burrowing Owls, and for raptors such as Swainson's Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk. Rough-legged Hawk and Ferruginous Hawk occur here in winter, and the giant shape of Golden Eagle can occasionally be seen on the refuge. These large, wary birds are difficult to photograph; much bigger than Turkey Vultures they can be easily distinguished by their flat wings, as opposed to the slight "v" of the vulture. An observation deck provides an excellent view of wintering geese behind the headquarters. A second observation deck is located at Owl Cove near the Washita River Inlet. Coyotes, badgers, bobcats, and a small but growing population of mountain lions exist on the refuge. Porcupines, skunks, beaver, and deer may also be seen. Opossum, six species of bat (cave myotis, silver-haired, western pipistrel, big brown bat, red bat, and hoary bat), ringtail, weasels, badgers, skunks (spotted and striped), gray fox, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, porcupines, jackrabbits, and a wide variety of rodents also live on the refuge.

Check the river edges from late spring through early fall for an abundance of butterflies that include sulphurs, hairstreaks, monarchs, and checkerspots. Dragonflies and damselflies also abound along the river edges. Sandhill cranes also field in the farm fields that surround the refuge during winter. Spring migration brings a variety of shorebirds that include Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, and Long-billed Dowitcher.

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black kettle grassland