Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to fall in love with nature. Go outside to experience the excitement of a majestic bald eagle or the thrill of a bright red cardinal, whether in your own backyard or at one of America’s national wildlife refuges. There is a national wildlife refuge or fish hatchery just an hour’s drive from most major metropolitan areas, and all are inviting portals to the natural world.
The Service’s “Let’s go Outside” website contains a wealth of information to help families connect with nature, including:
? Electronic Valentines, featuring bald eagles, red foxes and even turtles, that are great to send to friends and family.
? Fact sheets about numerous wildlife species, including bald eagles, moose, sea turtles and cardinals.
? Tips on how youngsters and their families can start observing wildlife.
? Links to maps and a special events calendar that can help families find places to go and see nature up close.
The following are just a few highlights:
Among the dozen or so national wildlife refuges where bald eagles are common is Klamath Basin Refuges (Tulelake, California, 530-667-2231), which hosts the largest wintering concentration in the lower 48 states. In February, the refuge plays host to the nation’s oldest birding festival: the Bald Eagle Conference.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (Cambridge, Maryland, 410-228-2692) winters more than 200 bald eagles and supports the Atlantic Coast’s largest nesting population north of Florida.
Quivera National Wildlife Refuge (Stafford, Kansas, 620-486-2393) was recently named one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas. The refuge has two large salt marshes, and both are excellent places to look for wildlife. A photo blind, accessible to people with disabilities, sits at the trail head of the Migrant's Mile walking trail near Park Smith Lake, while a second photo blind is available near the Little Salt Marsh. A 14-mile auto route goes through the heart of the Refuge, giving visitors many chances to spot white-faced ibis, great blue herons, American avocets, wild turkey and even coyotes lurking about during the heat of the afternoon.
Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge (Jefferson, Oregon, 503-588-2701) hosts many types of crops to provide winter browse for wintering waterfowl, but other species benefit from the bushy edges and hedgerows left around the farm fields. Red foxes feed in the fields but seek protection from predators among the thick growth on the edges.
Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge (Naples, Florida, 239-353-8442) is a 35,000-acre refuge – part of one of the largest expanses of mangrove estuary in North America – that protects a rich diversity of native wildlife, including loggerhead, green and Kemp's ridley sea turtles. Manatees use refuge waters year-round. Boating and fishing are allowed on the refuge. The fishing in the tidal mangrove estuary is outstanding. The refuge, home to nearly 200 species of birds, including egrets, wood storks, tri-colored herons, swallow-tailed kites and peregrine falcons, is an equally great destination for bird watchers. Throughout the year, visitors can see river otters and bottle-nosed dolphins, among other wildlife.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.FWS.gov .