October 23, 2012 Visit Madison

It’s not too late to enjoy the fall color here at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge. We have a few more opportunities to fish, hike, photograph and explore the refuge before we close for public use in November.

Sassafras, maple, oak and sweet gum are just a few of the tree species showing impressive fall color. The summer drought didn’t diminish the fall colors as we had feared.  Refuge Manager, Joe Robb believes that the last bit of summer rain in September was just the right hydration that the trees needed to perk up their colors.

Meanwhile, the staff here at Big Oaks is finding themselves well occupied with the annual deer hunting season.  Deer hunting isn’t the only thing that happens here in the fall. Northern Saw-whet Owls are migrating through the refuge this time of year and refuge volunteers will be found setting up an owl banding station and preparing for some late nights on the refuge.  Banding Saw-whet owls involves measuring, weighing, sexing and finally placement of the tiny band on the bird’s lower leg. These diminutive owls are so much fun to band! The Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds describes Saw-whet Owls as a “very tame little owl”. That is an excellent way to describe them. To give you an idea of just how tame they can be, a few years ago after we finished banding one of the little guys, I put the bird on my shoulder and walked over to the edge of the forest so he could fly away. Well, that owl sat there and sat there and I finally had to give him a little nudge to get him to fly back to his natural habitat.

Listening for Saw-whet owls might be the best way to know if there are any in your area. Their song is a “mellow whistled toot repeated mechanically in endless succession, sometimes as many as 80-100 times per minute:  too, too, too, too, too”.  If you’re lucky enough to see one, look for a small bird, only about 8 inches tall and huge yellow eyes.

Interested in exploring the refuge? We’re open for public use only a few more days, October 26 and 29, November 2, 9, 16 and 19. Call 812-273-0783 for more information.


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