Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge biologist Nick Wirwa introduces a group of canoeists to Lake Gilliard Saturday morning during the first guided canoe trip of National Trails and Migratory Bird Day at the refuge. At right, Patricia Gaude, right, and Kathleen Bond spy a few of their favorite birds during the Saturday morning bird walk on St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge’s Magnolia Trail as part of National Trails and Migratory Bird Day at the refuge.

Archived Story

Families enjoy birds, trails, canoes

Published 12:03am Sunday, June 24, 2012

NATCHEZ — Nature lovers of all ages had plenty to do Saturday at the St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge, but an unexpected visitor turned out to be the highlight of the day for several of the younger adventurers.

Several of Saturday’s guests chose to participate in a canoe trip to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day, National Trails Day and National Pollinator Week at the refuge.

During the trip, Natchez-native Teri Smith’s boat found itself in the path of a jumping carp, and children in the other canoes enjoyed watching the fish wreak havoc.

“It was really fun. We saw all the trees and birds,” 8-year-old Hannah Lofton said. “I liked when the fish jumped in one of the boats. It slapped a lady’s back.”

Lofton said although it was fun to watch, she wished the fish had jumped in the boat she shared with her father, David Lofton.

“I wanted to catch it, take it home and eat it,” Hannah said.

David said he estimated the fish at approximately a foot-and-a-half in length, and it weighed approximately 5 pounds. He said it was his first trip to the refuge, and he and his daughter enjoyed their visit.

“It was wonderful,” he said. “She’s out of school, and we wanted something to do that involved being outdoors.”

Nine-year-old Fletcher Price Mims said he thought someone had fallen in the water when he heard the fish jump in the canoe.

“I heard somebody scream and hit the water,” he said. “I thought somebody had gone in the water, because I heard a big splash.”

Mims said his favorite part of the canoe trip was watching the birds.

“Sometimes I like to watch birds,” he said.

Hannah said at one point she decided to turn the relaxing canoe trip into a rowing contest.

“One little girl was fun to play with,” Hannah said. “We had a race, but she won. Dad did not paddle fast enough.”

David said he was pleasantly surprised at all the things the refuge has to offer him and his family.

Six-year-old Ethan Read decided to participate in some of the other children’s activities early Saturday morning before heading out for the second canoe trip. He said he went on the animal Olympics trail, made a bluebird house and played games that helped him identify animals.

“I think (my favorite thing) was looking at the butterflies,” he said.

Ethan’s mother, Noelle Read, brought him and his 15-month-old sister, Emily, to the refuge to let them experience nature.

“We had never been out here, and we wanted to be outside,” she said. “The sub-text is it gets them away from video games.”

Refuge Manager Bob Strader said he was pleased with the amount of families that participated in the annual event.

“We have a lot of kids (this year),” Strader said. “It’s good to get people out, and get them interested in the refuge.”

Strader said the refuge is a great place for parents to bring children to experience nature.

Dr. Jim Waddill and his wife, Myla, brought their 5-year-old daughter Maggie to the refuge Saturday, and Jim said his family enjoyed seeing all the birds during the canoe trip.

“We wanted to go canoeing and see some birds,” he said. “We like outdoor activities. We wanted to come and see what all is out here.”

Saturday’s event also featured a bird-identification walk that featured local bird expert Bill McGehee.

Elizabeth Souheaver, the Southeast Region supervisor for the National Wildlife Refuge System, said she enjoyed her morning birding on the Magnolia National Recreation Trail.

“We heard calls mostly,” she said. “I really was impressed with our guide’s interpretation.”

Souheaver said she was also happy with the way the refuge hosted the event.

“I was impressed with the public enjoyment and the different activities at the refuge,” she said. “It’s great exposure for our local national wildlife refuge.”