Birders delight at the eagles, tundra swans and shorebirds
By Lee McClellan
The Ohio River near Henderson cuts across an unusual bend during floods, gouging sloughs across the landscape. Around these sloughs grow cypress trees, which draws tundra swans, bald eagles, ducks, bird watchers and waterfowl hunters. Beginning in the 1960s, the Kentucky Department of Fish Wildlife Resources began purchasing tracts of this unique area of high quality habitat now called Sloughs Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
The incredible bird habitat on the over 10,000-acre Sloughs Wildlife Management Area inspired world-famous ornithologist and bird painter John James Audubon, who once lived in nearby Henderson. The National Audubon Society recently selected Sloughs WMA as one of its Important Birding Areas.
“There are only 1,700 Important Birding Areas in the world,” said Mike Morton, area supervisor of Sloughs WMA for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “It’s prestigious to be selected. The birding community will publish this news in all of their magazines and in tourism magazines in Kentucky.”
Morton estimates there is more birding activity on the area than hunting. It is common to see 20 to 30 vehicles parked along roads in the Sloughs WMA on a weekend day in winter with passengers looking at ducks, geese and the biggest draw, tundra swans. The birding observation towers along KY 268 provide the best viewing opportunities.
“We have a significant number of tundra swans in winter,” Morton said. “The highest number we’ve had is 75, but 30 to 40 at a time is not unusual. You can see them from the side of the road.”
In early fall, shorebirds such as the lesser yellowlegs and sandpipers arrive at Sloughs WMA, as well as early migrating waterfowl, including wood ducks and teal. Two pairs of nesting bald eagles also reside on the area. They’ve produced six pairs of triplets.
“They are the most productive eagles outside of Florida,” Morton said.
The area is also home to the second largest blue heron rookery in Kentucky at nearly 1,000 nests. The rare copperbelly water snake also calls Sloughs its home.
Sloughs WMA is a tremendous waterfowl hunting destination. Quota hunts are held on the area. Some blinds are available by a pre-season random draw while other blinds are first come, first serve. Parts of the area are closed to public access from Nov. 1 to March 15. Consult Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s web page at fw.ky.gov for more information on waterfowl hunting and printable maps of Sloughs WMA.
“The area is composed of six different units in Henderson and Union counties, Morton explained. “That is a mistake many visitors make. They think the area is one place, but it’s 37 miles from one end of the area to the other.”
How to get there: From Henderson, take U.S. 60 west. Turn right onto KY 136, then right again onto KY 268 at Geneva. Birding observation towers and the Sloughs WMA office are located off KY 268.