Published April 26, 2012, 07:07 AM

Dancing a spectator sport: Blinds at Arrowwood refuge offer opportunity to see wildlife

Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge is offering the public an intimate look at local wildlife. The refuge’s staff, along with Birding Drives Dakota, has constructed two blinds for the public to use for wildlife viewing.

By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun

NEAR EDMUNDS, N.D. — Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge is offering the public an intimate look at local wildlife.

The refuge’s staff, along with Birding Drives Dakota, has constructed two blinds for the public to use for wildlife viewing. The structures are set up now to offer a view of the mating dance of the sharp-tailed grouse.

“The concept is a photography blind on a wheeled platform,” said Paul Halko, refuge supervisor at Arrowwood. “Throughout the year it can be moved to the best wildlife viewing.”

Now the two blinds are situated on the dancing grounds of the sharp-tailed grouse. The male birds put on a display each morning and evening to attract females. This includes strutting around with their wings extended and the occasional territorial fight between males interested in attracting the same female.

“The majority of grouse viewing will be from about April 15 to May 15,” Halko said. “At peak displays we could see as many as 20 males in the morning.”

The blinds are 6-foot by 10-foot structures and can seat up to five people. The structure features adjustable openings to accommodate a variety of viewing situations.

“We wanted to have a facility for novice birders as well as experts,” he said. “This gives people a comfortable opportunity to enjoy the refuge.”

Already this spring about 20 individuals or groups have used the blinds for grouse watching.

Bird watchers are encouraged to dress warmly, bring a thermos of coffee, bird guides and binoculars or cameras when they visit the blinds. Equipment is also available to loan for those getting started in wildlife watching through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Let’s Go Outside program.

The enhanced blinds are an expansion of the previous program the refuge had offered. It is hoped the blinds’ greater flexibility will encourage use by the public.

“This fills a need,” said Ann Hoffert, president of Birding Drives Dakota. “We are thrilled we can have a friend of the refuge designation. The new visitor’s center gives us an area to promote the resources we have in the region.”

Birding Drives Dakota promotes birding in the state and is designated as the refuge’s friends group, meaning it is an organization recognized for providing volunteers and assistance for the refuge.

Halko said the blinds may encourage more local visitors at the refuge.

“Our visitors come from all over the country,” he said. “But people in our own backyard don’t realize the opportunities we have.”

After the grouse mating season ends the blinds will be moved to other areas of the refuge. Future locations may include wetlands for watching shorebirds and waterfowl or in wooded areas for songbirds. Other possibilities include fox or coyote dens or areas frequented by hawks and falcons.

“If we have some unusual species we may position the blinds for viewing them as well,” Halko said.

The mobile blinds were made possible by a U.S. Fish & Wildlife grant. Birding Drives Dakota members matched the grant with labor for the project.

“The blinds are really the first step working with our friends group,” Halko said. “We want to enhance hiking trails and encourage programs at the refuge in the future.”

Call 285-3341 to reserve time in the blinds. Using the blinds is free of charge.

Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at knorman@jamestownsun.com

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