Tourism officials pushing birding

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 12, 2009

NATCHEZ — Ecotourism is on the rise, and tourism officials believe St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge is a smorgasbord for birdwatchers.

Bob Strader, project director for the refuge, said bird watching is becoming very popular.

“It’s the fastest growing group in the country as far as outdoor recreation goes,” he said.

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Now, Strader is looking to push the refuge as a birding destination.

And he said the refuge has a big pull.

In the winter, ducks are the main attraction.

“Right now we have over a thousand ducks,” Strader said.

As the warm weather rolls in and the migratory birds begin their transition, he said the refuge will be packed with egrets, short birds, song birds and wood storks.

“If people find out we have wood storks, we’ll have people coming from three states away,” he said.

And that’s not all.

“Last week I saw seven bald eagles and two gold eagles,” Strader said.

St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge has even been designated an important bird area by the National Audubon Society.

“It’s a treasure for birders, and that’s something people don’t really know about,” Strader said of the refuge.

Tourism Director Connie Taunton said the city is going to partner with the refuge in promoting ecotourism and birding.

“Birding is just becoming such a big tourism offering now,” she said. “There are just all types of publications right now promoting ecotourism and bird watching.”

Taunton said the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau could send out press releases, place ads and create ecotourism packages for visitors.

Strader said birders are typically retired and are big travelers.

This is a tourism avenue Taunton said the city has never tapped before, and she said it could be big.

“It could be such a tremendous benefit for Natchez,” she said.