Bounded by the Mississippi River and loess bluffs, the 25,000-acre St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge (SCC NWR) is uniquely located and provides essential habitats that support a wide variety and large number of birds. It lies within a National Audubon Society designated “Important Bird Area.” Birds are drawn to the refuge as they follow the river and bluffs during migration or in search of desirable habitat. This provides special opportunities to bird watching enthusiasts. The refuge is in southwest Mississippi, located just south of Natchez. The Sibley Unit, which is the most developed and accessible refuge unit, is located off of U. S. Highway 61 about 12 miles south of Natchez.
To get there, turn right onto York Road for 2 miles to the refuge entrance on Pintail Lane. SCC NWR was established in 1990 to provide habitat for waterfowl and protect the dynamic floodplain ecosystem of the Mississippi River. The refuge is bordered for about 18 miles by the Mississippi River to the west and the loess bluffs to the east. Important bird habitats found on the refuge include bottomland hardwoods, upland pine-hardwoods, early successional wetlands, cypress-tupelo swamps, lakes and ponds, willow-cottonwood forests, and agriculture fields.
Annual flooding from the Mississippi River backwater creates unique and desirable habitat for large numbers of birds, especially water birds. These same high-water events often limit access to portions of the refuge, mostly during late winter and spring. The refuge is in the Lower Mississippi River Valley and the Mississippi Flyway. The predominant feature of these geographic designations is the Mississippi River, which is the dominant watershed in North America, draining 41% of the continental United States. It is the third largest and longest watershed in the world. The Mississippi River and its tributaries are used as a bird migration corridor or flyway by 60% of all bird species in the United States.
St Catherine Creeek NWR is uniquely located in the lower third of this funnel-shaped flyway. The river and loess bluffs that border the refuge are thought to serve as navigational aids during migration. This coupled with a diversity of desirable habitats and annual backwater flooding, make SCC NWR and important area for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, and neo-tropical songbirds. Birding “Hotspots” Each suite of birds has adapted to use a particular habitat where they are most abundant.
Popular birding locations are: Magnolia National Recreation Trail is a 4.5-trail that winds through a variety of habitats on the refuge and is frequently used to watch forest-breeding birds and wetland-dependent birds throughout the year. A short, well-marked section of the trail is closed during hunting season. Marked trailheads are located at the north and south end of the trail, off of Pintail Lane. Sibley Impoundments provide easily accessible, excellent viewing opportunities for water birds including waterfowl, shorebirds, and long-legged waders. There are two elevated observation points from which to observe birds. The area is a walk-in only, except for November 15 through March 31, when visitors are restricted to the edges of these impoundments to minimize disturbance to waterfowl. This area is closed to hunting. Access to the Sibley Impoundments can be restricted by high water from the Mississippi River during winter and spring.
The Swamp is a cypress-dominated, forested area adjacent to Swamp Road on the northeast end of the Sibley Impoundments. It is easily accessible and provides year around habitat for a variety of birds. It serves as a roost for wading birds in the warmer months and for waterfowl in fall and winter. It is not uncommon to see a Bald Eagle perched in one of the cypress trees or an alligator sunning on one of the mud banks. The area is closed to hunting. Access can be restricted by high water from the Mississippi River during winter and spring.
Cabin Road Trail skirts the base of the loess bluffs, providing bird watchers the opportunity to view resident and migrating forest-breeding birds. The area is open to hunting. Access can be restricted by high water from the Mississippi River during winter and spring.
Gilliard Lake is dominated by centuries-old cypress and supports a large rookery for wading birds and a Bald Eagle nest. Visitors are warned not to disturb either site. The lake is accessible primarily by boat and is open to hunting.
Access from Pintail Lane can be restricted by high water from the Mississippi River during winter and spring.
Butler Lake is a large open lake ringed by cypress and shrub habitat. During winter, large numbers of ducks will raft in the middle and wading birds frequent the edges throughout the rest of the year. The lake is accessible primarily by boat and is open to hunting. Access from Butler Lake Road can be restricted by high water from the Mississippi River during winter and spring.
Hiking trails, boardwalks, and boat launches are open year round sunrise to sunset. ATV access for hunting on designated trails is limited to hunting season. Consult the St. Catherine Creek NWR regulations website for further details.
An annual public use permit is required for all hunting and fishing on St. Catherine Creek NWR.