Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and Mermet Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area
This trip is geared toward waterfowl and wading birds.
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge provides excellent deer and turkey viewing and photographic opportunities year-round. The Wolf Creek Causeway, which cuts through the heart of the refuge, provides outstanding waterfowl viewing as well as access to great blue herons, great egrets, waterfowl of all stripes and during periods of spring and fall, huge flocks of white pelicans.
During the summer months the fields located at the south end of Wolf Creek Causeway are magnets for eastern meadowlarks, northern bobwhites, common yellowthroats, dickcissels and tree swallows. During the winter, the same area is a haven for sparrows and eastern towhees.
Eagles are a fixture at Crab Orchard during the winter months.
The wooded areas around the lake provide a haven for chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers as well as the migratory songbirds that pass through Southern Illinois each spring and fall. During the course of the year, more than 350 species of birds might call Crab Orchard National Wildlife home.
And, the refuge roads put visitors within easy photographic distance of many creatures.
The other part of this journey is Mermet Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area.
Although Mermet Lake isn’t particularly scenic, it offers an amazing array of habitat. There is the lake, a 400-acre impoundment, bottomland hardwoods, grasslands, cypress swamps and even some agricultural fields.
The best part, the levee road around the lake, puts visitors smack in the middle of all of it.
The lake is a haven for waterfowl, great blue herons, great egrets, cormorants and various species of grebe in the fall and winter. It’s not uncommon to see bald eagles and osprey.
The wooded areas feature the common woodland birds of Southern Illinois. During the spring and summer months there is a burgeoning population of the colorful, and noisy, prothonotary warbler. Large numbers of green herons are typically drawn to the swampy area on the south end of the lake.
Deer and turkey also abound. And, Mermet Lake probably offers visitors the best chance of seeing mink, otter or beaver in Southern Illinois.
Mermet Lake is closed for hunting from November until February 1. During that period, we’ll visit Heron Pond, Section 8 Woods boardwalk, the Barkhausen Wetlands Center and the Lower Cache Access.
The short hike to Heron Pond winds along the Cache River. The Heron Pond Boardwalk places visitors directly into cypress swamp habitat. The discordant squawks of great blue herons are frequently heard from the boardwalk as is the drumming of pileated woodpeckers. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility to see a barred owl sailing through the cypress trees.
The Barkhausen Wetlands Center features exhibits exploring the logging history of the region. In addition there is a wildlife viewing blind and paved trails that take visitors through restored Illinois prairie lands.