Wildlife refuge offers visitors a closer look


OAK HARBOR -- At some point in their lives, just about everyone has been tempted to sneak backstage at a concert, peek inside the kitchen at a busy restaurant, or pull back that curtain and see what the Wizard of Oz is really doing back there.

The Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is going to provide its September visitors with a similar opportunity. The inside gates will be open and the chains will come down, exposing seven miles of roadways through the park that are normally off limits to the public.

The rare peek inside these protected areas will come by way of self-guided driving tours that will be available on Sept. 15, 16, 22, 23, 28, and 29. At their own pace and in the comfort of their own car, visitors can take in much of the refuge's complex of marshlands and see firsthand the management techniques that are used to provide an optimal habitat for a variety of wildlife.

Jennifer Brown, visitor services specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the refuge about 10 miles north of here, said the timing of the vehicular auto tours will put visitors to the grounds in close contact with many of its feathered residents.

"There will be a wide range of waterfowl -- trumpeter swans, ducks, shore birds, many wading birds, herons, and bald eagles," she said. "This is a great opportunity to see many, many different species."

Brown added that the active eagles nest inside the refuge now includes juvenile bald eagles stretching their wings and testing their flying skills.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is also hosting a continuing series of free lectures to familiarize the public with the most pertinent issues on the habitat, wildlife, conservation, and environmental fronts. The "Naturally Speaking" sessions are held at 2 p.m. on the second Sunday of the month at the visitor center at the refuge at 14000 West State Route 2.

On Sunday, Brown will address the variety of ways individuals can help reduce the pollution that reaches Lake Erie by taking just a few simple actions on the home front.

"What you do at home is connected to your lake, so every one of us can play a role in confronting this problem," Brown said. "We all want to see a cleaner, healthier lake, so if we all work together and do the little things, then we can ultimately make a big difference."

Recent sessions in the "Naturally Speaking" series have covered sandhill cranes, the economic impact of tourism along the lake that make the business of nature so vital: Lake Erie shipwrecks and maritime lore, native freshwater mussels, and the amazing lives of bats.

The refuge has a resident population of beavers and will showcase that reticent group of inhabitants on Sept. 14 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a lesson in beaver biology followed by a tour of the areas where beaver lodges are present -- sections of the refuge which are normally closed to the public. Reservations are preferred for the beaver biology session and are available at 419-898-0014.

A "Hike the Dikes" tour on Sept. 15 will feature a detailed look at the butterflies in the refuge, from the vantage point of the many earthen berms inside the sanctuary.

Participants should meet at the nearby Magee Marsh Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center at 9 a.m. to take part in the tour, held in conjunction with the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

"There's so much to see, and so many things to experience here at the refuge, and fall is a very good time to observe a lot of the wildlife," Brown said. "In so many other places, the habitat for these birds and animals has been compromised and fragmented by development, roads, and houses. But here, with the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, plus the Metzger and Magee marsh areas, we have such a great amount of space that is not only wonderful habitat, but it is connected, so all of this wildlife has more room to thrive."

Located about 20 miles east of Toledo, the refuge has a little under 5,000 acres that are managed for waterfowl, shorebirds, a wide range of migrant songbirds, and numerous other animal and plant species. The federally endangered prairie fringed orchid and Blanding's turtle are found there.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, a remnant of the "Great Black Swamp," is part of a complex of federally managed areas that include Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge, West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Schoonover Waterfowl Production Area.

LAKE ERIE FISH KILL: The Ontario ministry of the environment received reports this week of a large fish kill along about a 25-mile long remote section of Lake Erie shoreline stretching from Port Stanley, due south of London, southwest to near the tiny hamlet of Morpeth, near Rondeau Provincial Park. Officials are investigating the fish kill, which according to the Chatham (Ont.) Daily News involved thousands of sheepshead, yellow perch, catfish, suckers, and bigmouth buffalo, a species of sucker.

The kill is believed to have been caused by an inversion, when colder water on the surface of the lake drops down the water column, forcing oxygen-poor water from below towards the top layer of the lake, where the fish are located.

The site of the fish kill is due north from the suburbs east of Cleveland.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068