Tag Archives: photography

The Cure for Cabin Fever at Fort River

Winter fun for everyone!

Winter is here, and so are cold temperatures and snow. During the winter months in the Northeast, many people find themselves feeling restless with “cabin fever”. Thankfully, the National Wildlife Refuge System provides fun winter activities at the Fort River division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley, Massachusetts throughout the winter! Whether it be snowshoeing the trails of the refuge, tracking wildlife through tracks and signs in the snow, wildlife viewing and photography, learning about the subnivean zone, hunting, or visiting the Connecticut River exhibit and watershed demonstration table at the Springfield Science Museum, the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge provides winter fun for everyone!

Snowshoeing at the Fort River Division trail allows you to continue your outdoor adventures all year long, and get a first hand look at wildlife in the winter. Snowshoeing is a great way to access and explore areas that would otherwise not be accessible during the snow-covered winter months in New England.

Who goes there? Winter is a great time to find out! While exploring the trail of Fort River, keep an eye out for animal tracks and sign in the snow to discover the wildlife present and their behavior. Tracking may reveal an animal’s size, gate, diet, and habits, and is a source of wonder and imagination. A 2 page animal track identification guide will be available for viewing in the main kiosk at the start of the trail – use this visual to help you identify the wildlife tracks left in the snow.

Evidence of an owl hunting prey under the snow.

Raccoon tracks.

When planning a visit to the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, don’t forget to pack your binoculars and camera! The Fort River trail offers picturesque views of birds and other wildlife, providing us with the opportunity to see the natural world differently through a camera lens. Allow yourself to be still, silent, and humbled at the multiple overlooks along the trail, where you’ll have the perfect vantage point for wildlife viewing and photography. A bird identification guide is in the main kiosk at the start of the trail – use this visual as a guide for identifying the birds you see from the trail.

Male and female northern cardinals.

For the winter months, the story book kiosks along the Fort River trail will feature “Over and Under the Snow” by Kate Messner, a children’s book that explores the secret kingdom under the snow where animals live throughout the winter – the subnivean zone. Be sure to check the Friends of Fort River Facebook page to keep updated on books featured in the story book trail kiosks!

An illustration of animals living in the subnivean zone.









Hunting is a fun activity that offers a sense of freedom and self-reliance that cannot be matched.” The Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge offers regulated hunting opportunities at Fort River and other divisions of the refuge, including the Nulhegan Division in northern Vermont and the Pondicherry Division in New Hampshire. It is essential that all hunters understand and comply with both refuge-specific and state hunting seasons and regulations. Wondering how regulated hunting contributes to conservation and the mission of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service? Check out A Non-hunter’s Guide to Hunting to learn more!

A mother and calf moose at the Nulhegan Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge.

On days where you’d prefer an indoor expedition, check out the Connecticut River Exhibit at the Springfield Science Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts! The exhibit features 5 interactive educational kiosks, including a salmon game, a grip strength comparison between your hand and the talon of an American Eagle, and fun facts about the Connecticut River Watershed. Don’t miss the Conte Refuge’s watershed demonstration table, where you can learn what defines a watershed, how watersheds are formed, what ecological services watersheds provide, and how you can do your part in ensuring watersheds stay healthy and clean for wildlife and people alike.

Part of the Connecticut River Exhibit at the Springfield Science Museum.


Students restore urban landscapes and learn about natural communities

Today we are hearing from Denise Clay and Catherine Gatenby from the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office about their versatile pollinator garden and what it means to Silo City! 

For two years, biologists with the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office have been working with urban school children, girl scouts and volunteers from the Buffalo, NY area to restore habitat at a historic site called Silo City  – home to our nation’s longest standing grain elevators, located along the Buffalo River Area of Concern. The site had been invaded by nuisance plant species and was suffering from decades of environmental contamination and habitat degradation.

Photo 1. Grain Elevators, Silo City, Buffalo NY (1)

Silo City, Buffalo NY

Together with many partners, we planted a native garden and restored a steep slope along the riverfront after invasive Japanese knotweed was cleared away, and we created a pollinator garden in an upland area. Local students and girl scouts grew seedlings of milkweed, and then planted them in June with other native flowering plants. Project partners include Silo City and Rigidized Metals Corporation, People United for Sustainable Housing Buffalo, Landscape and Urban Design Department of the State University of New York at Buffalo, Great Lakes Experience Friends group, McKinley High School, Tapestry Charter School, Elmwood Village Charter School and Girls Scouts from Daisy Troop #31055 and Cadet Troop #31313.

These projects not only restore habitat for migrating fish, birds and butterflies, they also are living outdoor classrooms for environment-based curriculums in schools, and serve as public demonstration models for restoring urban habitat for the thousands of Silo City visitors each year.

Students and scouts returned to the project site several times to see first-hand how their actions created healthy habitat for plants and animals. After one month, the area was lush with plants and flowers. In August, students observed monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants growing in the garden. Then in October, we harvested milkweed seeds from the plants and dispersed them to expand the garden for next year.

Additional restoration plans include encouraging native grasslands, improving riverbank habitat, and creating natural drainage pools for collecting run-off from the area before entering the river – all of which will offer public education on how and why restoring habitat is good for people and nature.

We also bring students from the Buffalo and Rochester area out to visit us on the Iroquois NWR. Our goal is to help them follow the through line of natural communities from the Great Lakes through the city to the open big woods and wetlands on the refuge, so they can see how where they live is connected to and part of the natural world.

Elementary schoolchildren from northern Buffalo area enjoy a day in the woods, exploring nature through the lens of photography. Pathways Intern and Biologist, Kwamina Otseidu leads the group.

Elementary schoolchildren from northern Buffalo area enjoy a day in the woods, exploring nature through the lens of photography. Pathways Intern and Biologist, Kwamina Otseidu leads the group.

Students enjoy a day of learning, exploring and photographing nature, followed by writing about their experiences. Students then receive a framed print of one of their photographs with their personal reflection captioned below, to share with friends and family – and as a keepsake from us which we hope will inspire them to keep exploring.

Woods in Black and White. “This is my favorite picture because I like how the forest looks in black and white. I also like how all the light makes the forest stand out. It gives a different view of the plants and trees.” Credit: Kareema Wallace, McKinley High School, Buffalo NY

Woods in Black and White. “This is my favorite picture because I like how the forest looks in black and white. I also like how all the light makes the forest stand out. It gives a different view of the plants and trees.” Credit: Kareema Wallace, McKinley High School, Buffalo NY

Through all of our outreach programs, we aim to cultivate environmental awareness, develop connections to outdoor spaces, and foster future land stewards.


Happy Birthday, National Wildlife Refuge System!

This year, the National Wildlife Refuge System turns 111. On March 14, 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt founded the nation’s first wildlife refuge at Pelican Island in Florida, to protect brown pelicans. (Note: not the same Pelican Island from True Detective.) Other things that are 111 include the anniversary of Boston’s first of seven World Series titles, Panama’s independence, and Bilbo Baggins’ age when the first Lord of the Rings begins. More to the point, over the 111 years of protecting habitat and species, the system has grown to over 560 refuges and 38 wetland management districts, pumping $2.4 billion annually into local economies and supporting more than 35,000 jobs. More than 47 million people visit these refuges every year to connect with nature and learn about wildlife conservation. Here’s some of what you can do when you visit:


There’s great fishing up here in the Northeast, so if you’re of the angling persuasion, grab your gear and check out the many lakes, ponds and streams that make up the Refuge System. There’s brook trout, largemouth bass, American shad and many other fish in the plentiful river basins of conserved habitat in the area. Or if you prefer ocean fishing, many refuges along the coast provide outstanding opportunities. You’ll definitely want to check out Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach, which offers unique nighttime surf fishing during certain times of the year. Check out our guide to fishing on refuges here!


Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts holds an annual fishing day where all anglers – beginners and experienced – join refuge staff and other experts for a day of fishing!


There’s nothing like photography for capturing a moment to remember forever. At refuges across the Northeast, the pristine landscapes and an assortment of your favorite wildlife make framing up great shots a breeze. Make sure to go at just after dawn or just before dusk for that golden hour, and bring a tripod and a quality zoom lens. For more tips, take a look at our photography guide here!


Many wildlife species benefit when duck hunters, artists and conservationists collaborate to protect vital habitat through the 80-year-old Federal Duck Stamp. Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from sale of the $15 stamp go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which supports the purchase of wetland habitat on refuges. Where permitted, there are opportunities to hunt deer, waterfowl, small game and other species on refuges across the region. Take a gander at our guide to hunting refuges here!


Many national wildlife refuges permit waterfowl hunting as a traditional recreational use.

Wildlife Observation

Sometimes it’s better to put down the camera and just experience the moment, especially when it comes to nature. Many refuges offer boardwalks and observation decks to view wildlife from a safe distance—some even offer education centers that put you behind glass right in the middle of a teeming ecosystem! And nearly all refuges in the region have scenic drives or trails so you can experience nature in motion. Some of my favorites are the wildlife drives at E.B. Forsythe and Blackwater national wildlife refuges. Meanwhile, observe this great guide!

Environmental Education

Educating children about the importance of being environmentally aware and wildlife conservation is a priority for the Service. Northeast refuges make a great daytrip during school vacation, and a memorable fieldtrip for a fun way of getting the class to learn in the outdoors. Refuge staff and volunteers are on call and ready to help anyone explore and discover nature. Here’s more about learning on a refuge!


Beyond exploration outside the classroom, refuges offer a variety of ways to learn about nature. Some of these include events open to the public that teach people about the importance of conservation. Refuges also offer informational kiosks and signage for the autodidact to teach themselves as they make their own way through the refuge. One unique example: At Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York, you can take a self-guided tour of the refuge using your cell phone. Whichever way you like to learn, national wildlife refuges are open for you to experience all the diversity of nature.


A school group looks at exhibits at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center in Rhode Island.

What’s your favorite of these activities to do on a refuge? Would love to hear about it in the comments below!