Cranes return to refuge

By Ashley Lee: PNT staff writer

There is a wildlife refuge a short journey away. The Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge is the oldest refuge in Texas and home to 250,000 sandhill cranes during the winter season.

And winter is the best time to visit, according to refuge manager Harold Beierman.

“We have the largest concentration of sandhill cranes,” Beierman said.

Sandhill cranes began arriving at the refuge Oct. 12, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release.

The 5,800-acre refuge was established as a wintering area for waterfowl. When the lakes are full, 600 acres of water are available for wildlife, according to the Web site.

“When the park was established in 1935 the water table was much higher and there were 700,000 ducks using the area. Since then farming practices have changed and the water table has changed so there are not as many ducks and the sandhill cranes became present,” Beierman said. “They did a flip-flop.”

There are other animals to observe when visiting the refuge, such as many species of ducks, mule deer, prairie dogs and some coyotes.

Location
From Clovis take U.S. Highway 84 east to Muleshoe, then take Texas 214 south 20 miles to the refuge sign. Go west on a caliche road for 2.25 miles to refuge headquarters. The trip takes about two hours. From Portales, take highway 202 to Muleshoe.

Admission
There is no fee to visit the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge. Park staff ask that all visitors sign in at the park headquarters.

Activities
Camping and picnic facilities are available at the refuge as well as a one-mile nature trail located near the refuge headquarters. Paul’s Lake, six miles northeast of the headquarters, also has a quarter-mile nature trail. There is a small visitors center at the refuge office with animal displays, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Web site.

Roosevelt County has a smaller sister wildlife refuge called the Grulla National Wildlife Refuge, located near Arch, about 25 miles northwest of the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge. It has 3,239 acres with 2,000 acres being saline lake bed, according to the Web site.

Information
Call (806) 946-3341 or visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Web site at southwest.fws.gov.

Wildlife viewing tips
— Dawn and dusk are the best times to see wildlife.
— Observe wildlife from the sidelines.
— Leave “abandoned” young animals alone. A parent is most likely close by waiting for you to leave.
— Do not offer snacks; our food can disrupt wildlife’s digestive system.
— Cars make good observation blinds. Drive slowly, stopping to scan the area for hiding creatures.
— Use binoculars or a long lens for a closer look.
— Try sitting quietly in one location to let wildlife get used to your presence. Animals might reappear once they think you are gone.
— Have children observe quietly.
— Look for animal tracks, scat, feathers, abandoned nests.

Source: Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge brochure

— Compiled by Ashley Lee, Freedom Newspapers