A BIRDER'S PARADISE
The Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Alfalfa County is a birder's paradise, and now is one of the best times for bird watching.
Normally, this is the time of the year for peak migration of waterfowl, said Glen Hensley, wildlife biologist at the refuge.
At last count, the refuge was holding about 36,000 sandhill cranes, 30,000 ducks and 20,000 geese, but those numbers could easily climb.
“We are a little late this year (in migration) because the weather has been warm everywhere,” Hensley said. “They didn't move down south as quick as normal… We are gaining birds. Right now is the time to come out and see the Salt Plains.
“We can get as high as 80,000 to 90,000 sandhill cranes. We can get up to about 50,000 ducks. That is just kind of an average number. It gets pretty packed. They will line up all around the edge of the bay on the north side of the lake.
Pelicans and geese also are abundant on the refuge and visitors might even see a rare whooping crane. Only 360 to 370 whooping cranes are believed to be in existence, and the Salt Plains Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places to see them.
“We are one of the most heavily used stopover sites for whooping cranes on their migration path from Canada to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast where they winter,” Hensley said.
“It's very rare for a lot of birders to get to see them. We usually don't see the last of them until the first or second week of December.”
The refuge has walking trails, an auto-tour and observation towers where visitors can view birds.
There also is a public hunting area on the refuge north of State Highway 11 that is popular for waterfowl hunting.
“We get people from other states coming here (for the waterfowl hunting),” Hensley said. “I have had people from as far away as Illinois contact me about it.”