Flying high at Muscatatuck: Annual migratory bird festival offers something for everyone


Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge’s 24th annual Wings Over Muscatatuck Migratory Bird Festival this past weekend featured a bundle of events for both young and old and everyone in between.

The three-day affair included a guided birding trip by van on Friday and a guided tour of nearby Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday.

On Saturday, the day started at 7:30 a.m. with a continental breakfast featuring muffins and more and ended at 4 p.m. with one last tour of an area general closed to the public at the refuge, located just east of Seymour off U.S. 50.

Between those times, visitors could find plenty of activities to enjoy and keep them occupied at the festival.

Bonnye Good of Seymour said on Saturday that it had been a busy morning compared to 2023 with many kids and parents embarking on a bird hike at 8 a.m. People from more than 10 different counties and even Kentucky had visited the refuge early in the day.

Other events included making plant starters, face painting, rock painting, a silent auction and migratory bird activities.

There were guided tours and programs, one of them a Muscatatuck management tour led by refuge wildlife specialist Angela VanWinden, plein air painting with Kay Fox of Seymour and a crane program by Lauren Benedict with the International Crane Foundation. There also was a cakewalk and lunch was available.

At the station for making plant starters, Bernie Bryant and Mike Caudill with the Seymour Department of Public Works helped guide parents and their kids through creating plant starters from newspaper, dirt and seeds.

Bryant said she was excited to be back after not being involved for some years with Wings Over Muscatatuck while Caudill said this was his first time helping out.

At the birdhouse building station, Robert Becker of Seymour guided visitors through nailing together the pieces of wood to make birdhouses for families to take home.

Kirsten Carlson ran a big station with many migratory bird activities. Kids were able to sift through a box filled with leaves, dirt, onion peels and other environmental elements to look for various creatures such as snails and isopods. Along the way, the kids checked off items on their scavenger hunts.

At another table at the migratory bird activities station, Carlson had a box of feathers and many papers, books and diagrams displaying information about bird feathers. An example of the minute differences between some feathers was those of a hawk and a falcon. Magnifying glasses also were provided for kids to get a closer look and see how to identify them, such as one having softer, frayed edges compared to the other.

Jackson County Invasive Partnership (JCIP) sold plants with white labels for a freewill donation. Rose-Marie and Tori Howell ran their part of the plant sale with binders filled with information on native and invasive plants to educate visitors as they found the right plant for them.

There were two painting-based stations, one for rock painting and the other face painting. At the rock painting station, kids could pick a rock from the box provided and got to work with the paints and brushes at the station. Some of the painted rocks included depictions of strawberries, faces and scenery. There was one with googly eyes, appearing just like the once popularized pet rock.

Addie Otte, 15, found a rock that was shaped similarly to Indiana. She cleaned up the edges with black paint to really make it look like the state.

Darnell Dukes of Seymour painted snakes, butterflies and spiders on kids’ faces at her station. There also were hats, wine glasses and porch decor that she painted for sale. For her designs, Dukes said they were from the last time she was at Wings Over Muscatatuck, about four or five years ago, that she had repurposed for this year. To get the perfect designs, she said they must be easy and doable in a short amount of time while attracting kids’ interest.

“People take [the refuge] for granted,” said Dukes.

Since it is so close to people in the community, she said it can be easily overlooked, but events like Wings Over Muscatatuck prove how important and special the refuge is to people, coming from all over the state and even the Midwest as a whole.

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