Metcalf Refuge ‘Bitterroot Bird Airport’ Take-off
This is a good time to visit the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge if you'd like to see Great Blue Herons, Trumpeter Swans, Canada Geese and a wide variety of smaller birds that are either coming back or just passing through on the spring migration routes. It's fun to watch Blue Herons land in the two large ponds near the refuge headquarters. If you have patience, you can watch them wade along, occasionally striking into the water and gobbling down a fish. But, watching them lift their bodies out of the water is pretty intriguing, too.
The wings of these feathered giants are key to initially getting out of the pond. The wingspan can be up to six and half feet, which allows a near-verticle lift-off. By the way, cruising speed of Great Blue Herons can be up to 30 miles per hour.
Not much "runway" is needed to get into the air.
The herons don't travel very far once they leave the water. Nearby, tall trees literally crowded with nests as the pairs of herons get ready for the new generation to hatch out. Following that, the youngsters experience the "fly or fall" flight school lessons that lead to the mastery of the sky and the ability to jump into the air from the water.
The Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is northeast of Stevensville and accessible via a county road that loops through the area and is accessed in two places along the East Side Highway. There are a number of trails and great places to watch all sorts of animals, near the ponds, fields, forest and the Bitterroot River.