Wintering American Coots Gathering in Flocks of Thousands at Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Turrell, Arkansas

While in Arkansas, I visited Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Turrell, Arkansas. This wildlife refuge was established in January 1961 as a sanctuary for migrating waterfowl. Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge is located only four miles west of the Mississippi River and about 15 miles northwest of Memphis, Tennessee. This refuge is an important stopover for migrating waterfowl that travel the Mississippi Flyway as well as for neotropical migrants such as song birds that migrate to and from Central and South America.

On the afternoon of January 9, 2021, I went to Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge to scout out the potential the refuge had for wildlife photography of migrating waterfowl. On this particular day, I was unfortunately not able to have my long lens that I use primarily for wildlife photography and just had my mid-range telephoto lens. As I entered the refuge and started traveling down the six mile auto drive around the refuge property, I was immediately greeted by a red-tailed hawk flying over the road just in from of me. I saw this as a good omen.

As I continued to slowly travel down the nature drive, looking for migrating waterfowl in the impoundments on each side of the nature drive, I came upon a very large group of American coots. As I carefully and quietly exited the car and began photographing the coots, I saw another very large group of coots swimming down the impoundment toward the flock of coots that I was already photographing. Eventually these two very large groups of American coots merged and started to swim back behind the cypress trees. So, I continued on, traveling down the auto nature drive, when again, I saw another very large group of hundreds of American coots that were swimming just off the drive in the cypress swamp.

Wintering American coots gather at Wappanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Turrel, Arkansas

This was fantastic to me, as I have seen and photographed many American coots over the years, but I have never seen thousands of American coots gathered in one area like this before. I was in awe and sure wished I had my longer lens. So, I did not come away with a lot of images, but I sure came away with a spectacular nature outing to Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge and an image of these coots that is imbedded as a photograph in my head. It was just a spectacular site to witness.

In addition to the thousands of American coots on this January afternoon, I saw some pied-billed grebes, four white-tailed deer, and hundreds of snow geese flying overhead. I heard several owls but could not locate any of them, and I saw a beaver swimming amongst the cypress trees. I noted several places along the nature drive that I thought looked like they had potential to be beaver houses. I have been coming to Arkansas for over 30 plus years and had never known that this place existed until recently.

Along the six-mile nature drive are numerous types of habitats including cypress swamp, bottomland forest, water impoundments, grass fields with small trees and agriculture fields. In addition, there is an observation pier off the nature drive from which the scenic 600-acre Wapanocca Lake can be viewed. The diverse habitats at the refuge offer plenty of opportunities to see a wide range of different wildlife species. 

The peak period for waterfowl at Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge is during the months of December and January. In addition, the refuge contains approximately 190 wood duck houses, and wood ducks are seen year-round but are most prevalent in the spring and fall.

American coots in large flocks at Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Turrell, Arkansas.

As I will be spending a lot more time here in Arkansas, especially over this next year, I plan to make many more returns to Wapanocca to see what wildlife I might find in the diverse wildlife habitats. I have learned that bald eagles, great blue herons, great egrets and anhingas nest on the refuge.

In a couple of weeks in February, I will be making another return to Wapanooca National Wildlife Refuge, and this time I will have my long lens for wildlife photography. However, I am sure the wintering waterfowl such as the coots will not be in the abundance that I saw a few weeks ago, but I am eager to see what I may find to photograph in February. Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge, on just that one trip in January, has become a favorite place of mine to witness and even photograph wildlife. I look forward to returning throughout this year at different times and seasons to see what I may experience and photograph. In addition to seeing thousands of coots and the other wildlife, I really enjoyed the nature drive and how easy it was to photograph the birds and wildlife from the nature drive. I do recommend, if anyone finds themselves out here in Arkansas, to check out Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge. Nestled among the agricultural fields in this part of the Delta region of Arkansas is this wildlife oasis called Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge.

American coots taking off from the water image created into a digital art image.

Thank you for taking the time to view and read my blog.

All the very best,

Lori A Cash

Copyright © 2006-2020 Lori A. Cash Photography. All Rights Reserved.
All images on this website is the sole property of Lori A. Cash/Lori A. Cash Photography. Images may not be copied, printed or otherwise disseminated without express written permission from Lori A. Cash Photography.

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  1. Those are some awesome shots! Crazy to see all the coots. The photos give a good feel for the nature of the refuge. The art image is really cool! Lots of action and color!

    Liked by 1 person

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