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Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

On Saturday, May 23 I visited the Mississquoi National Wildlife Refuge for their open house event. The refuge is located where the Mississquoi River— a tributary of Lake Champlain—empties into the lake. The river begins its journey west from the Orleans County area, briefly enters Quebec, Canada, then flows through Franklin County before entering Mississquoi Bay.

According to the refuge website, “Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1943, is located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain near the Canadian border in Franklin County, Vermont. This 6,642-acre refuge includes most of the Missisquoi River delta where it flows into Missisquoi Bay. The refuge consists of quiet waters and wetlands which attract large flocks of migratory birds. Upland areas of the refuge are a mix of open fields and a hardwood forest of American elm, white ash, white oak, silver and red maple. Both of these areas provide habitat for migratory songbirds, resident mammals and other wildlife. The refuge is one link in a chain of refuges for migratory birds that extends along the Atlantic Flyway between northern breeding grounds and southern wintering areas. The refuge provides important feeding, resting and breeding habitat for migratory birds, especially waterfowl, in the northern Lake Champlain section of the flyway. Refuge lands also protect the Shad Island great blue heron rookery, the largest colony in Vermont.”

And a haven for birds it is. The forests and fields were loud with the singing and calls of many species of birds, and it was a joy to hear. The trails take you through examples of floodplain forests, wetlands, bogs, grasslands and upland areas. Yellow warbler songs seemed to dominate a shrubby wetland area with lots of willows, and great blue herons were seen in a deep section of floodplain forest. I heard veerys (which sound like they are singing down a pipe), bobolinks (the R2D2 “voice” from Starwars was based on this bird’s song), and watched a swarm of tree swallows swoop and dive in a field.

An organization has formed around the refuge, called the Friends of Mississquoi National Wildlife Refuge. They participated in the International Migratory Bird Count, and sponsored a talk by Dr. Fred Wiseman of Johnson State College, an authority on Abenaki studies. Dr. Wiseman discussed the history and relationship of the Wabanaki people with the Iroquois and French explorers such as Samuel de Champlain. He then showed a film he produced entitled, “1609: The Other Side of History”, about the discovery of Lake Champlain from a Native American perspective. The film brought to life a period of history that was not well documented, along with some authenticity by using actors that are members of the Abenaki tribe in Vermont.

The Quadricentennial theme was present with a display at the refuge headquarters called “Lake Champlain’s First Navigators.” A Lake Champlain Maritime Museum 1609-era birch bark canoe replica, built by Abenaki artisan Aaron York was on display, along with other interpretive panels showing 11,000 years of Native culture.

Overall it was a great day to visit a beautiful and important wildlife refuge in Vermont!

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