Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge
Sequoyah, Muskogee &
From the 1986 edition of A Guide to Birding in
Oklahoma published by the Tulsa Audubon Society, updated in
September 2007 by Jeri McMahon.
Nestled in gently rolling
foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge is
home to wildlife as unique as the bald eagle and as elusive as the
bobcat. Fertile bottomlands at the confluence of the Arkansas and
Canadian Rivers make this east-central Oklahoma refuge a terrific
wildlife viewing destination.
The largest flocks of snow
geese in Oklahoma are here in the winter, as well as Mallards by the
thousands along with gadwall, pintail, teal, wigeon, shoveler and wood
ducks. Bald eagles now nest on the Refuge. In winter, you can see
numerous eagles roosting in cottonwoods or swooping over the waters in
search of fish or waterfowl.
The refuge is
approximately 90 miles from Tulsa. Depart I 40 at the Vian exit and go
south for 3 miles. This is the Sandtown Bottom portion of the refuge.
Literature and maps are available at the refuge entrance or at the
headquarters office at the same location.
Habitat in the refuge is
very diverse due to a dynamic riparian geology. The confluence of the
Arkansas and Canadian rivers lies within the refuge boundaries and is
the major contributing factor for the diverse geological features. Tall
steep cliffs harboring upland woods drop off sharply to alluvial
floodplains and rich bottomland. Clearly one-half of the refuge is water
and numerous islands, flooded timber, and cattail marshes can only be
reached by boat. An oxbow, Sally Jones Lake, lies within the Sandtown
Bottom of the refuge.
Approximately 5,000 acres
are under cultivation throughout the refuge to provide food for
wintering waterfowl. Soybeans, milo, millet, corn, and wheat comprise
the crops, while weed rows, brush patches, mature woods, and mud flats
provide shelter for both resident and migratory wildlife. Two hundred
fifty-two species of birds have been recorded on the refuge. The
following is a highlight of where some of the birds might be found.
Strips of weeds which have
been allowed to grow along the roadsides, around woods and farming
tracts, furnish excellent cover for the several species of sparrows,
Roadrunners, and others. Woods and pastures harbor orioles,
Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, and the other common birds of the area.
The extensive cattail
marshes are interesting habitat to work. Marsh and Sedge wrens, Common
Yellowthroats, Yellow-breasted Chats, as well as two species of rails,
Sora and Virginia’s. King Rails are possible. During the summertime
Great Egrets, Great and Little Blue herons, and Green Herons are common.
Anhingas have been recorded nesting in dead snags surrounded by water,
but not in recent years. The last record of their nesting attempts was
The main attraction of the
refuge comes in the winter. The largest concentration of Snow Geese in
the state spends the winter and they are usually visible from the
six-mile auto tour road. Tens of thousands of these bright geese, along
with Ross's, White-fronted, and Canada geese, have been recorded by
refuge personnel. Mallards make up the majority of the 50,000 ducks
visiting the refuge at this time, but Gadwall, teal, Pintail, Shoveler,
Wigeon, and Hooded Merganser frequent the watery areas also.
Along with this waterfowl
concentration come predators. Common raptors include Red-tailed,
Red-shouldered and Cooper's hawks, and Northern Harriers. Peregrine
falcons, and Merlins, have been observed occasionally during migration.
Bald Eagles are increasing each year. Many have been spotted from one
vantage point near the Sandtown Woods trail adjacent to the main channel
of the Arkansas river. The eagles have also attempted to nest within
view of the tour road. Check with the refuge personnel for the exact
A one-mile nature trail
winds along a slough where Wood Ducks and Prothonotary Warblers are
plentiful. Three observation towers overlook especially good water areas
and the auto tour road provides easy birding in all types of weather.
The gravel roads are maintained for year-round travel. The refuge is
also ideally suited for birding from a boat as some species can only be
seen by this method. It can be disorienting, boating through the maze of
islands and flooded timber, so it is advisable to go with someone
familiar with the water areas. Creeks on either end of the refuge are
good spots for canoes, while Sally Jones Lake in the center of the
refuge offers a good variety of birds such as Belted Kingfishers,
Pileated Woodpeckers, Tree Swallows, and Fish Crows.
There is no camping
allowed on the refuge but the Corps of Engineers maintains beautiful
campgrounds on the Kerr Reservoir east of the refuge and on Lake
Tenkiller north of Vian. Motels are located in Vian and Sallisaw. Vian
has a few cafes and Sallisaw has a wide assortment of restaurants.
To visit the refuge, just
show up. No registration is required. The Refuge is open from 4:00 a.m.
until one hour after sunset every day of the year. Headquarters is
located just inside the refuge boundary and is open from 7:30 a.m. to
4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, contact Refuge
Manager, Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, Route 1, Box 18A, Vian, OK
74962, phone (918) 773-5251.
information is adapted from the Sequoyah NWR brochure:
Scan field edges and
explore dense wooded areas for white-tailed deer, armadillos, bobcats,
and opossums, as well as Wild Turkeys.
Flooded fields and
wetlands harbor great blue herons, snowy egrets, pied-billed grebes, and
Large open fields of
soybeans and winter wheat attract clouds of grazing snow geese winter
mornings and late evenings. During the day, they rest on Kerr Reservoir.
Best vantage points are from the tour road on the Refuge.
The Arkansas and Canadian
Rivers attract white pelicans, gulls, and shorebirds, as well as nesting
Least Terns in summer.
Diamondback water snakes,
southern leopard frogs, gray treefrog, and numerous varieties of turtles
can be seen regularly during the warmer seasons in wetlands. Look for
them from the tour road. Please note that snakes are beneficial to the
environment and deserve our respect.
Sandtown Bottom Auto
The most popular means of
wildlife viewing on the refuge is via our 6-mile auto tour route. Autos
make great wildlife viewing blinds. Allow plenty of time for stops to
best enjoy the scenic drive through Sandtown Bottoms. This self-guided
route takes you through wooded, wetland and agricultural habitats
located in Sandtown Bottoms. Drive slowly along the 6 miles of graveled
roads for excellent chances to see wildlife. Migratory and resident
birds, white-tailed deer, bobcats, river otters and beavers are commonly
observed along this route. Winter weekends draw visitors to witness bald
eagles, waterfowl and magnificent white-tailed deer bucks. The main tour
road is fine for buses and recreational vehicles. During wet and icy
weather, the refuge staff may restrict tour road travel to prevent
damage to roads. You’ll find fuel and services in the nearby towns of
Vian, Webbers Falls, Gore, and Sallisaw. The tour road is open
year-round from sunrise to sunset.
Webbers Bottom Auto
Webbers Bottom refuge unit
offers another shorter driving option, but is not as easy to reach as
the popular Sandtown Bottoms.
Horton Slough Trail
Stroll along a paved,
1-mile trail featuring wood ducks and their broods, migrating warblers,
herons, and egrets. The Horton Slough Trail leaves from the information
kiosk at the refuge headquarters. The trail sometimes features wood
ducks and their broods, migrating and resident warblers, herons, and
egrets You’ll follow the north shore of Horton Slough to a small
swinging bridge, a boardwalk and a covered observation pier overlooking
Sally Jones Lake, and return along the south side. Watch out for poison
ivy and be prepared for insects during the warmer months. This trail is
Girty Bottom Unit
You’re welcome to walk,
but not drive in this western part of the refuge by the Canadian River.
Meander through woods and small farm fields. Please be respectful of the
local cemetery gracing a nearby hill.