Cowan's Ford Wildlife Refuge
Habitats: Early-mid and late successional fields, oak-hickory forests, mixed pine-hardwood forests, bottomland hardwood forest.
Key birds: Summer: Prothonotary Warbler, Scarlet Tanager. Winter: Brown Creeper, American Pipit, Snow Goose, Tundra Swan, waterfowl. Year-round: Raptors, woodpeckers, sparrows.
Best times to bird: Year round.
Description: The refuge is a 668-acre peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Catawba River. Cowan's Ford Wildlife Refuge was the first site in North Carolina to receive designation as a North Carolina Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society of North Carolina.
Directions: From I-77, take Exit 23. Go west onto Gilead Road (SR 2136). Follow Gilead Road for approximately 5 miles to Beatties Ford Road. Make a left onto Beatties Ford Road and follow approximately 3.5 miles to Neck Road. Make a right onto Neck Road. Continue on Neck Road for approximately 4 miles. At the “Y” in the road take the left fork; continue straight until reaching the Refuge Parking Lot.
From I-85 South take Exit 37. Go north on Beatties Ford Road for approximately 8.5 miles to Neck Road. Turn left onto Neck Road. Continue on Neck Road for approximately 4 miles. At the “Y” in the road take the left fork; continue straight until reaching the Refuge Parking Lot.
Birding Highlights: Birding is permitted along the two-mile entrance road and at the Observation Platform viewing area at the end of the road. Most of the birds can be seen from these areas. There have been 206 species of birds documented at the wildlife refuge. Over 50 species of neotropical migrants can be commonly seen moving through each spring and fall. Most of these are different species of warblers that can be seen foraging for insects in trees and shrubs along the roadside, sometimes in considerable numbers. During breeding season, watch for nesting Osprey and roosting Black and Turkey Vultures on the powerline right-of-way shortly after entering into the refuge. The shrub-scrub habitat just before the powerline is maintained to provide habitat suitable for breeding species like Prairie Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Orchard Oriole, Eastern Towhee, Blue Grosbeak, Northern Bobwhite, and Field Sparrow. In winter you can watch the courtship flight of American Woodcock from the roadside while listening to Great Horned Owls.
Viewing from the parking area and from the covered Observation Platform is good all year. Twenty-two species of waterfowl visit the viewing ponds during the winter and can be observed using binoculars or spotting scopes. Over 20 species of shorebirds visit the mudflats and shoreline of the viewing ponds, along with nine species of wading birds, and 13 species of raptors. The fields host a variety of grassland species including Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper, Savannah, Le Conte's, Vesper, Clay-colored, White-crowned, and Swamp Sparrows, Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, and American Pipit during the winter.
General Information: There are no public facilities available at the wildlife refuge with the exception of a parking area and observation platform. The closest public facilities can be found at Latta Plantation Nature Center, approximately six miles away off Beatties Ford and Sample Road. You can pick up a bird checklist for the wildlife refuge at the nature center and submit your bird observations there as well.
DeLorme map grid: page 57, B5
North Carolina Travel Map grid: F3
For more information: Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department (704) 598-8857. http://www.charmeck.org/Departments/Park+and+Rec/Inside+The+Department/Divisions/Stewardship+Services/Nature+Preserves/Cowan's+Ford.htm