We all know that our National Wildlife Refuge system provides some of the finest opportunities for viewing wildlife and the plants and other biodiversity that make up their habitats, but I would argue that it can be a serious mistake to head home prematurely after a day of hunting, birdwatching, or photographing, as refuges also provide some of the best sunset watching opportunities anywhere.
Since joining the staff of the National Wildlife Refuge Association a few years ago, I have had the good fortune of spending many nights at several refuges, including Midway Atoll NWR, McNary NWR, and Umatilla NWR and have enjoyed spectacular sunsets at all of them. At Midway Atoll, the paucity of other forms of nighttime entertainment meant that sunset watching became a very regular habit and I enjoyed the intense colors of the crepuscular sky while also admiring the albatrosses, red-footed boobies, great frigatebirds, and other seabirds as they returned to the island to roost.
Umatilla NWR spans both sides of the Umatilla River and also includes several small islands and there are several excellent viewpoints from which sunsets can be seen, the deep red of the early evening sky reflected in the now, calm, impounded waters of the Columbia River.
These days a week each month at McNary NWR and from the bunkhouse where I spend my nights, it’s a short bicycle ride to a new observation deck that looks out over one of the refuge’s many sloughs. There, I’ve recently been been treated to some amazing natural light shows while also enjoying the sights and sounds of flocks of geese, ducks, and other waterfowl as they migrate south. The lights of Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland, Washington also serve as an important reminder of how important this area is as urban development continues to expand in this fast-growing area.
So next time you visit a national wildlife refuge, don’t rush back too soon! Instead, find yourself a good spot to enjoy the sunset and reflect on the many things, in addition to wildlife, that our national wildlife refuges offer.
Written by National Wildlife Refuge Association’s Own Rob Taylor, Restoration Ecologist.
Photo: Sunset at McNary National Wildlife Refuge September 18th, 2019