Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Masses of migratory waterfowl during an annual migration
Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a 10,795-acre property in north-central Missouri near the confluence of the Missouri and Grand Rivers. Shortly after the refuge was established in 1937, the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived and worked their magic on the land, helping it to recover from the damage done previously by the Euro-American farmers who arrived in the area in the mid-1800's. They surveyed the refuge, built water containment and control structures, then built roads and buildings.
Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established to provide a sanctuary for migratory waterfowl. The refuge is managed with that objective in mind. About 1,000 acres of the refuge is managed as cropland to provide supplemental food for the migrating birds. Slowly the plowed fields are changing back to wet soil units as the refuge staff expand the water control structures on the property. However, the eastern part of the refuge is vegetated with a remnant of the tallgrass prairie that once covered half of Missouri and those grasslands don't appreciate too much water.
In the spring and fall migration seasons more than 200,000 birds pass through. Bald eagles are present year-round but their numbers rise as eagles pour in, following the birds making the fall migration. There are also red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks on the refuge year-round. The refuge also plays host to many neo-tropical migrant birds such as Baltimore orioles, summer tanagers, eastern phoebes and varous species of sparrows.
In additon to the 250+ species of birds seen on the refuge there are also white-tailed deer, river otters, raccoons, fox squirrels,beaver, coyotes, muskrats, opossums, and cottontail rabbits.
The Swan Lake Visitor Center is open Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 4:30 pm year round. The Visitor Center is also open from March 1 through October 26 on Saturdays from 9 am to 6 pm and on Sundays from noon to 6 pm. East of the visitor center is an observation tower (a converted grain silo) that is open when the visitor center is open, just sign out the key and bring it back. There is also a short hiking trail linking the visitor center with an observation platform at the Swan Lake pool.
Hunting is allowed on the refuge in accordance with Missouri Department of Conservation Rules and Regs, however, in season on the refuge, hunting access is awarded via a draw program only until duck season is over. Then it changes over to a daily self-check-in system at the Hunting Headquarters. Fishing is allowed on the refuge from the first Saturday in March to the last Sunday in October, daylight hours only and subject to Missouri Department of Conservation Rules and Regs.
The refuge is a day-use only property, open generally from sunrise to sunset. The auto tour route is open from the first Saturday in March to the last sunday in October, sunrise to sunset. Camping is not allowed anywhere. The cross-country hiking is better in summer after the water levels have been drawn down but much of the property remains wet all year.
Swan Lake NWR in the summer
The Visitor Center
Photos and map courtesy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service