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Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge

Sequoyah, Muskogee & Haskell Counties

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From the 1986 edition of A Guide to Birding in Oklahoma published by the Tulsa Audubon Society, updated in September 2007 by Jeri McMahon.

Nestled in gently rolling foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge is home to wildlife as unique as the bald eagle and as elusive as the bobcat. Fertile bottomlands at the confluence of the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers make this east-central Oklahoma refuge a terrific wildlife viewing destination.

The largest flocks of snow geese in Oklahoma are here in the winter, as well as Mallards by the thousands along with gadwall, pintail, teal, wigeon, shoveler and wood ducks. Bald eagles now nest on the Refuge. In winter, you can see numerous eagles roosting in cottonwoods or swooping over the waters in search of fish or waterfowl.

The refuge is approximately 90 miles from Tulsa. Depart I 40 at the Vian exit and go south for 3 miles. This is the Sandtown Bottom portion of the refuge. Literature and maps are available at the refuge entrance or at the headquarters office at the same location.

Habitat in the refuge is very diverse due to a dynamic riparian geology. The confluence of the Arkansas and Canadian rivers lies within the refuge boundaries and is the major contributing factor for the diverse geological features. Tall steep cliffs harboring upland woods drop off sharply to alluvial floodplains and rich bottomland. Clearly one-half of the refuge is water and numerous islands, flooded timber, and cattail marshes can only be reached by boat. An oxbow, Sally Jones Lake, lies within the Sandtown Bottom of the refuge.

Approximately 5,000 acres are under cultivation throughout the refuge to provide food for wintering waterfowl. Soybeans, milo, millet, corn, and wheat comprise the crops, while weed rows, brush patches, mature woods, and mud flats provide shelter for both resident and migratory wildlife. Two hundred fifty-two species of birds have been recorded on the refuge. The following is a highlight of where some of the birds might be found.

Strips of weeds which have been allowed to grow along the roadsides, around woods and farming tracts, furnish excellent cover for the several species of sparrows, Roadrunners, and others. Woods and pastures harbor orioles, Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, and the other common birds of the area.

The extensive cattail marshes are interesting habitat to work. Marsh and Sedge wrens, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow-breasted Chats, as well as two species of rails, Sora and Virginia’s. King Rails are possible. During the summertime Great Egrets, Great and Little Blue herons, and Green Herons are common. Anhingas have been recorded nesting in dead snags surrounded by water, but not in recent years. The last record of their nesting attempts was in 1974.

The main attraction of the refuge comes in the winter. The largest concentration of Snow Geese in the state spends the winter and they are usually visible from the six-mile auto tour road. Tens of thousands of these bright geese, along with Ross's, White-fronted, and Canada geese, have been recorded by refuge personnel. Mallards make up the majority of the 50,000 ducks visiting the refuge at this time, but Gadwall, teal, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, and Hooded Merganser frequent the watery areas also.

Along with this waterfowl concentration come predators. Common raptors include Red-tailed, Red-shouldered and Cooper's hawks, and Northern Harriers. Peregrine falcons, and Merlins, have been observed occasionally during migration. Bald Eagles are increasing each year. Many have been spotted from one vantage point near the Sandtown Woods trail adjacent to the main channel of the Arkansas river. The eagles have also attempted to nest within view of the tour road. Check with the refuge personnel for the exact location.

A one-mile nature trail winds along a slough where Wood Ducks and Prothonotary Warblers are plentiful. Three observation towers overlook especially good water areas and the auto tour road provides easy birding in all types of weather. The gravel roads are maintained for year-round travel. The refuge is also ideally suited for birding from a boat as some species can only be seen by this method. It can be disorienting, boating through the maze of islands and flooded timber, so it is advisable to go with someone familiar with the water areas. Creeks on either end of the refuge are good spots for canoes, while Sally Jones Lake in the center of the refuge offers a good variety of birds such as Belted Kingfishers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Tree Swallows, and Fish Crows.

There is no camping allowed on the refuge but the Corps of Engineers maintains beautiful campgrounds on the Kerr Reservoir east of the refuge and on Lake Tenkiller north of Vian. Motels are located in Vian and Sallisaw. Vian has a few cafes and Sallisaw has a wide assortment of restaurants.

To visit the refuge, just show up. No registration is required. The Refuge is open from 4:00 a.m. until one hour after sunset every day of the year. Headquarters is located just inside the refuge boundary and is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, contact Refuge Manager, Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, Route 1, Box 18A, Vian, OK 74962, phone (918) 773-5251.

The following information is adapted from the Sequoyah NWR brochure:

Wildlife Viewing

Scan field edges and explore dense wooded areas for white-tailed deer, armadillos, bobcats, and opossums, as well as Wild Turkeys.

Flooded fields and wetlands harbor great blue herons, snowy egrets, pied-billed grebes, and wood ducks.

Large open fields of soybeans and winter wheat attract clouds of grazing snow geese winter mornings and late evenings. During the day, they rest on Kerr Reservoir. Best vantage points are from the tour road on the Refuge.

The Arkansas and Canadian Rivers attract white pelicans, gulls, and shorebirds, as well as nesting Least Terns in summer.

Diamondback water snakes, southern leopard frogs, gray treefrog, and numerous varieties of turtles can be seen regularly during the warmer seasons in wetlands. Look for them from the tour road. Please note that snakes are beneficial to the environment and deserve our respect.

Sandtown Bottom Auto Tour Route

The most popular means of wildlife viewing on the refuge is via our 6-mile auto tour route. Autos make great wildlife viewing blinds. Allow plenty of time for stops to best enjoy the scenic drive through Sandtown Bottoms. This self-guided route takes you through wooded, wetland and agricultural habitats located in Sandtown Bottoms. Drive slowly along the 6 miles of graveled roads for excellent chances to see wildlife. Migratory and resident birds, white-tailed deer, bobcats, river otters and beavers are commonly observed along this route. Winter weekends draw visitors to witness bald eagles, waterfowl and magnificent white-tailed deer bucks. The main tour road is fine for buses and recreational vehicles. During wet and icy weather, the refuge staff may restrict tour road travel to prevent damage to roads. You’ll find fuel and services in the nearby towns of Vian, Webbers Falls, Gore, and Sallisaw. The tour road is open year-round from sunrise to sunset.

Webbers Bottom Auto Tour Route

Webbers Bottom refuge unit offers another shorter driving option, but is not as easy to reach as the popular Sandtown Bottoms.

Horton Slough Trail

Stroll along a paved, 1-mile trail featuring wood ducks and their broods, migrating warblers, herons, and egrets. The Horton Slough Trail leaves from the information kiosk at the refuge headquarters. The trail sometimes features wood ducks and their broods, migrating and resident warblers, herons, and egrets You’ll follow the north shore of Horton Slough to a small swinging bridge, a boardwalk and a covered observation pier overlooking Sally Jones Lake, and return along the south side. Watch out for poison ivy and be prepared for insects during the warmer months. This trail is handicapped accessible.

Girty Bottom Unit

You’re welcome to walk, but not drive in this western part of the refuge by the Canadian River. Meander through woods and small farm fields. Please be respectful of the local cemetery gracing a nearby hill.



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