Sign up for our newsletter
Stay up to date on all the latest photography gear!Subscribe
Curating Your Images Will Improve Your Photography. Here’s HowCurating your images well is a critical...
Close Encounter With Bear Gives Photographer A Jolt (& A Great Image)Ever stumbled across an animal...
5 Ways to Create Stunning Photos Using New AnglesEven a small change in perspective can...
A Year Photographing The National Parks
Ten highlights from an epic tour photographing all of the U.S. national parks.
Ends Of The Earth
Paul Nicklen on his career in conservation photography, climate change in the polar regions and his new book, Born To Ice, celebrating those ecosystems and their inhabitants.
Using A “Normal” Lens
Mastering composition with standard focal length lenses.
How To Use Hyperfocal Focusing
Understand and use hyperfocal focusing to create sharper images and enhanced depth of field.
Watson Lake Park is located four miles north of downtown Prescott, Arizona.
Be A Wildlife Biographer
My discovery of wildlife photography felt like a fulfillment of that lifelong affinity and fascination for animals.
This is the 1st of your 3 free articles
Become a member for unlimited website access and more.
FREE TRIAL Available!
Already a member? Sign in to continue reading
Celebrating Our National Wildlife Refuges
A yellow-headed blackbird performs its courtship display at the edge of a marsh in Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah.
Do you love wildlife photography, but come up short on ideas for destinations? Did you know there are almost 600 areas set aside all across the U.S. that are havens for wildlife? That these havens are actively managed to attract birds and other animals, and are often sited along migratory pathways? That they’re places eager for people to visit, observe and photograph nature? These places offer auto tours, hiking trails, occasional photo blinds and thousands of acres to roam.
Some of these havens are located in remote areas, while others lie within an hour’s drive of major cities. These places provide habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 1,000 species of fish, and 250 reptile and amphibian species. More than 380 of our endangered or threatened species find refuge here, from the Florida panther to the leatherback sea turtle.
These are our National Wildlife Refuges. They’re all over the United States, yet many Americans are barely aware of them, or confuse them with other federal land. The NWR System is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the mission “to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”
Back in 1948, legendary naturalist and ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson wrote: “The insignia of the flying goose marks the Fish and Wildlife Service refuges. These sanctuaries are usually the best places for wildlife for miles around, and bird watchers who live within striking distance of one often make it their headquarters on weekend trips.”
My own immersion in refuges first took place a couple of years ago when I planned a trip to Medicine Lake and Bowdoin Lake NWRs in Montana. From a blind, I photographed sharp-tailed grouse displaying on a lek, and I spent many hours lying flat on my belly along the edge of the lakes, my camera trained on dozens of grebes, avocets, phalaropes and stilts. Hours would go by, and I wouldn’t see another soul. Sometimes I would only see a couple of other cars the entire day. Though I was grateful for the solitude, I also wondered why these places weren’t better visited. Some of the photos I left with went on to win awards and garner magazine covers. And now I have a long list of refuges I want to visit. I hope you’ll make a list, too. Let me help you with some tips.
Twilight falls on Bowdoin Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Montana in early spring.
Research and Plan Your Trip
Blinds are often available for photography, free of charge. Some blinds are on a first-come basis; others require advance reservations. Ask for a map and directions to the blind, and try to scout out the location the day before so you can find it in the dark. Don’t forget your headlamp!
Fees and Rules
Some refuges are free to enter, some charge a nominal fee. The best bet is to buy a Duck Stamp (at the refuge, or in advance at your post office or online). With that stamp, you’re entitled to free admission to any U.S. refuge. What’s more, your monies go directly to acquisition of wetland habitat and conservation easements for the NWR System. It’s wonderful to be able to directly support the critical habitat these refuges provide the wild animals we love.
Will you need to purchase a photography permit? There’s been a lot of confusion about this, but what you need to know is that as stated in 43 CFR 5.2, Code of Federal Regulations, still photography doesn’t require a permit unless:
These conditions apply to very few of us photographers.
Know the other regulations of refuges that may pertain to photography. Operating drones on refuges is illegal, as are trail cameras or remotely controlled cameras. Baiting of wildlife and altering their habitat is illegal. Keep a safe and respectful distance from animals.
A couple of other personal favorites:
Some crowd favorites:
Kenn Kaufman, leading birder and conservationist, shares with us some of his recommendations:
Recently, I asked my Facebook followers to name their favorite NWRs. My favorite response was from someone who simply wrote, “Mine is wherever I can go….”
To see more of Melissa Groo’s photography and learn about workshop opportunities, visit melissagroo.com.