Visitors flock to refuge for bird festival


Over the past few years, attendance during the annual Wings Over Muscatatuck Migratory Bird Festival has been down because of rain and chilly temperatures.

Picture-perfect weather during this year’s festival reversed that trend as record numbers turned out for the event Saturday at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge east of Seymour.

“It’s a destination that visitors from far away plan on visiting, but many locals don’t even know about,” Sally Crouch, a volunteer with the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society, said of the refuge.

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Wings Over Muscatatuck is a celebration of the passage of thousands of birds through the 7,802-acre protected area. It is designed to teach the public about the importance of migratory birds and especially the importance of the refuge to both humans and the migratory bird population.

“We are mammals and our health depends on the creatures in our environment and the migratory birds are part of that environment,” Crouch said.

The festival, first held May 15 and 16 in 1999, began Friday and ended Saturday. A third day was available for people who wanted to travel to Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge near Madison to see uncommon birds and plants species.

On Friday, there were guided bird walks for those interested in trying to catch a glimpse of some of the more than 280 species of birds that have been recorded at Muscatatuck since it was established in 1966; bird photography by local wildlife photograher Bob Herndon; a program on Indiana’s frogs and toads and an evening Owl Prowl to identify different species of owls.

The festivities continued Saturday with a continental breakfast, a morning bird walk, native plant sale, birdhouse building for kids, a program about hawks and eagles presented by the Hardy Lake Dwight R. Chamberlain Raptor Rehabilitation Center and other bird and nature-related activities for children and adults.

“I think it’s a great event,” said Dustin Fenton of Seymour, who attended the event with his wife and children. “The kids really like anything that has to do with hands-on activities.”

He said his kids really enjoyed building a bird feeder.

“We learned a lot, so it’s great,” Fenton said. “One thing that I learned is that there are different types of flowers for feeding and hatching butterflies.”

Anthony Fox also attended the event with his family and agreed that the bird feeder building activity was one of the activities he enjoyed the most along with just being able to spend time with his son.

Fox also won one of the cakes at the bird cake walk.

Crouch said she was pleased with the positive feedback she had received from visitors.

“I think that the continued success of natural places like the refuge are important to the world,” she said. “We are losing species of birds, and other migratory animals and a large part of these losses is because we lack knowledge about the habitats they live in.”

Crouch said she hopes Wings Over Muscatatuck and other events at the refuge will help teach people about the importance of the environment on animals and through it their interactions with people.

The wildlife society, the refuge’s nonprofit friends group, is the main sponsor of the festival.

Planning began several months ago, with a committee assembling activities, both old and new, she said.

“We try to think of new things, but we also include older favorites,” said Crouch, highlighting activities such as the raptor program.

“We’ve also included new events,” said Crouch, mentioning butterfly activities, hoverball archery and the bird cake walk.

“In the end we need everybody’s gifts to make events like this happen,” she said. “I think events like this help green spaces like Muscatatuck, and I think places like Muscatatuck are important to the survival of the planet.”

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