BRIGHAM CITY — The spring equinox falls on March 20 and officially signals the season of spring.
For many, the spring equinox signifies a new beginning. For Kathi Stopher, visitor services manager at the James V. Hansen Wildlife Education Center and Bob Barret, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge manager, the month of March and the spring equinox marks the return of many of the migratory birds that use the refuge's wetland areas.
The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is located near Brigham City and offers a variety of different activities for families. Inside the wildlife education center, visitors can view videos, pictures, murals and displays depicting the birds, wildlife, habitat and their accompanying sights and sounds found in the refuge. The center has information available about the different bird species that visit the area, and additional guidebooks and other nature books can be purchased in the Avocet Corner Bookstore found within the center.
Outside the wildlife education center, visitors can access the walking trails which take visitors into the habitat. There is a paved half-mile trail which is wheelchair accessible and 1.25-mile unpaved trail where visitors can spot birds, small mammals like raccoon and fox, reptiles (yes, that means snakes too) and possibly deer at times.
As the name indicates, the center is a great place for individuals, families and school children to learn about the wetlands environment. Center employees and volunteers can help parents and teachers create learning experiences suited for school groups of all ages.
The bird refuge is nearly 80,000 acres of open water, alkali mudflats, marshes and uplands. Over 250 species of wild birds can be seen migrating through the refuge, stopping to rest, feed, breed, nest and raise young.
Twelve miles to the west of the wildlife education center is the beginning of the auto tour route. The auto tour route is a 12-mile one-way loop and is the best way to view the wildlife. Early morning and evening hours provide excellent viewing opportunities. Be sure to take along a bird list pamphlet (available at the visitor center) so you can check off the birds you see. There is a checklist for adults and an illustrated checklist for children.
The month of March is a great time to visit the refuge. Some of the migratory birds beginning to return throughout the spring include cinnamon teal, double-crested cormorant, black-necked stilt, snowy plover, eared grebe, American white pelican, American avocet and long-billed curlew just to mention a few. March is also the best month to view bald eagles.
Toward the end of March, the spring peak waterfowl migration usually occurs with as many as 440,000 ducks passing through or using the refuge area.
Besides bird watching, the refuge is also open to fishing in designated areas. Be sure to check with the refuge personnel for any federal regulations. And make sure you have a current fishing proclamation and obtain the proper license. A variety of fish can be caught, but many anglers pursue the large channel catfish that swim the Bear River and its canals.
An organized not-for-profit group called Friends of the Bear River Refuge provides support and sponsorship of many of the activities, programs, and projects in the Wildlife Education Center and in the refuge. The group was officially established in 1998 and are partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Friends of Bear River Refuge recently funded and built a new wildlife viewing tower. The tower is located at the beginning of the auto tour route and will give members of their organization and visitors a better viewing option of the wildlife and vistas.
The new viewing tower will be dedicated Saturday, March 10, in conjunction with Swan Day. The wildlife education center will have an open house from 10 a.m. to noon. A film on swans will be available for viewing, and a nature photography workshop with Jeff Strong is also available at the center.
Visitors can make reservations for the workshop by calling the refuge at 435-723-5887. After the open house, visitors can drive the 12 miles to the wildlife viewing tower for a dedicatory ceremony at 1 p.m. After the dedication of the tower, visitors can take part in a guided caravan tour on the auto tour route at 2 p.m.
The James V. Hansen Wildlife Education Center and Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is a great place to visit this spring.
To get there from southbound I-15, take exit 363 to Forest Street and turn west. Continue west for two blocks and you will see the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge sign on the south side of the road, as well as the entrance to the James V. Hansen Wildlife Education Center. The address to the center is 2155 W. Forest Street, Brigham City.
The wildlife center is open Tuesday-Friday from 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. and the second and fourth Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The center is closed on Sunday and all federal holidays. Since days and times may change depending on the season, it is advised to call to confirm hours before making a trip to the refuge.
Robert Williamson is a graduate of Weber State College and the author of "Creative Flies: Innovative Tying Techniques."