While National Wildlife Refuge Week is officially set for Oct. 14-19, anytime is a good time to visit one of the many National Wildlife Refuges around the Chesapeake Bay and the nation.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of public lands set aside specifically for the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants, including endangered and threatened species. The system has protected and restored prairies, wetlands and woodlands, providing much-needed habitat for U.S. wildlife.

·Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, refuges range in size from Minnesota’s tiny Mille Lacs (less than an acre) to Alaska’s sprawling Yukon Delta (almost 20 million acres).

The public has an opportunity to directly experience the natural world and wildlife management concerns through the National Wildlife Refuge System. Visitors can observe and learn about plants and animals in their natural surroundings as well as view exhibits, bicycle, and take part in birding tours, hikes and educational activities for children. Some refuges also feature historical and archaeological sites.

About 98 percent of the land in the National Wildlife Refuge System is open to the public for wildlife-dependent education and recreation. More than 50 percent of the refuges offer recreational hunting and fishing.

Almost 33 million people visit the refuges annually. Visitors include hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers, photographers and school groups.

Recent legislation, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, calls for the expansion of such activities as wildlife photography, fishing, hunting, wildlife observation, environmental education and interpretation.

Refuges may feature visitor centers, wildlife observation facilities, auto tour routes, nature trails, interpretive tours, outdoor classrooms or workshops. These activities help to build an understanding and appreciation for wildlife, habitat and the role management plays in the stewardship of U.S. resources.

Here is a partial list of the habitats and wildlife one is likely to encounter during visits to refuges in the Chesapeake Bay region this autumn.

Habitat: tidal marsh, fresh and brackish ponds, mixed woodlands, hardwood swamp, open meadows, cropland, beaches, dunes and open water.

Endangered or Threatened Species: bald eagle, peregrine falcon and Delmarva fox squirrel.

Waterfowl: tundra swan, snow geese, Canada goose, mallard, black duck, American widgeon, northern pintail, gadwall, blue-winged and green-winged teal, wood duck, greater and lesser scaup, canvasback duck, redhead duck, bufflehead duck, red-breasted and hooded merganser, common and surf scoter, oldsquaw.

Raptors: northern harrier, Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, broad-winged hawk, red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, merlin, great horned owl, screech owl.

Other Birds: cormorants, egrets, herons, gulls, terns, plovers, sandpipers, dowitchers, American woodcock, bobwhite, woodpeckers, wrens, towhees, nuthatches, chickadees, warblers, vireos.

Mammals: white-tailed deer, raccoon, river otter, beaver, opossum, skunk, red fox, gray squirrel, muskrat, nutria (introduced), Eastern cottontail rabbit.

Fish: alewive, blueback herring, gizzard shad, hickory shad, American shad, striped bass, bluegill, largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, pickerel.

Refuges in the Chesapeake Watershed

With more than 525 National Wildlife Refuges and thousands of waterfowl production areas in the United States, chances are there’s a refuge close to home. So spice up autumn with a trip to a nearby National Wildlife Refuge. Here’s a list of those in the region.

  • Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia Beach VA, 757-721-2412
  • Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge, MD, 410-228-2677
  • Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Smyrna, DE, 302-653-9345
  • Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Chincoteague, VA, 757-336-6122
  • Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Rock Hall, MD, 410-639-7056
  • Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Charles, VA, 757-331-2760
  • Great Dismal Swamp, Suffolk, VA, 757-986-3705
  • John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, Philadelphia PA, 215-521-0662
  • Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Woodbridge, VA, 703-490-4979
  • Patuxent Research Refuge National Wildlife Visitor Center, Laurel, MD, 301-497-5760
  • Presquile /James River National Wildlife Refuge, Prince George, VA, 804-733-8042
  • Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Milton, DE, 302-684-8419
  • Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Woodbridge VA, 703-490-4979
  • Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Prince George, VA, 804-733-6042

For information about National Wildlife Refuges and waterfowl production areas, and a copy of the Refuge System Guide, call 800-344-WILD (800-344-9453), or visit http://refuges.fws.gov