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312. Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Laramie, Wyoming

This refuge southwest of Laramie is an oasis for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and migrant passerines.

In southeastern Wyoming lies a little-known birding gem, the Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. More than 225 species of birds have been found here, making it one of the most diverse birding sites on the high plains. The refuge forms an important complex of five lakes and marshes amidst the arid shortgrass prairie of the Laramie Basin. Sitting at the foot of the dramatic Snowy Range, the refuge is an oasis for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and migrant passerines.

The highest numbers and diversity of species can be found during spring and fall, when waterfowl in particular are attracted to the open water of Hutton Lake. The thousands of ducks attract Golden and Bald Eagles in good numbers, and Peregrine and Prairie Falcons make quick appearances.

Pairs of Eared Grebes nest during the summer alongside Wilson’s Phalaropes, American Avocets, and Black-necked Stilts. Ibis and egrets flock to the marshy Rush Lake, where Soras and Virginia Rails skulk among the reeds during late summer.

I recommend walking out to Rush Lake first and scanning the marsh, where Northern Harriers often hunt and Yellow-headed Blackbirds light up the reedbeds. Then continue to the open water of Hutton Lake, carefully scanning the sandspits and muddy margins for migrant shorebirds before scoping the rafts of ducks out on the lake. 

312. Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Laramie, Wyoming

Directions

Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge covers 2,000 acres of shortgrass prairie, marshes, and lakes 20 minutes southwest of Laramie. From the city, head south on Hwy. 287 for 3.4 miles. Turn right on Cty. Rd. 22, then left on Sand Creek Rd. (Cty. Rd. 34), which turns to dirt not far out of town. In about 8 miles, turn right into the refuge.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
41°10’37.0″N 105°43’03.7″W

Habitat

Undulating shortgrass prairie and sagebrush flats surrounding five lakes that vary from open, deep playas to marshes and dry pans. Denser shrubs can be found in sheltered ravines and along hillsides.

Terrain

The refuge sits at 7,150 feet in the Laramie Basin and is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery. A level, gravel road leads to an overlook. Flat shorelines surround lakes.

Birds

More than 225 species. Year-round: Golden Eagle, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Horned Lark. Spring and fall: Tundra Swan, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Bufflehead, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Horned Grebe, Sandhill Crane, up to 25 species of migrant shorebirds, Prairie Falcon, Mountain Bluebird. Summer (many also occur during spring and fall): 13 species of waterfowl including Canvasback, Redhead, Cinnamon Teal, Eared and Western Grebes, Virginia Rail, Sora, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Wilson’s Phalarope, Willet, Franklin’s and California Gulls, Forster’s Tern, egrets and ibis, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks, six species of swallow, Marsh Wren, Sage Thrasher, Chestnut-collared and Thick-billed Longspurs, Brewer’s and Vesper Sparrows, Lark Bunting, Yellow-headed Blackbird. Winter: Rough-legged Hawk. Rarities: all three species of scoter, Long-tailed Jaeger, Sabine’s and Little Gulls, Arctic Tern, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Bobolink.

When to go

Spring and fall migration bring the highest diversity; summer also excellent for the many nesting species.

Amenities

Short trail to an observation platform with interpretive signs and a refuge map. It is easy to explore off-trail as the terrain is wide open. 

Access

National wildlife refuge. Open all year, no fees.

Tips

Bring comfortable walking shoes and a scope to scan the extensive lakes. A camera will be useful. The weather can change quickly on the high plains, so come prepared with layers and gear for various conditions. It can be very windy and cold. 

For more info

Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Site nearby

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest
The Snowy Range Scenic Byway, or Wyoming Hwy. 130, to the west of Hutton Lake offers easy access to high-elevation boreal forest at around 10,000 feet. The birdlife here is completely different from the plains below; specialties include Dusky Grouse, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Canada Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Townsend’s Solitaire, and northern finches. The road is maintained year-round to elevations high enough to offer a chance for the rare Boreal Owl during early spring.

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Stephan Lorenz

Stephan Lorenz leads international birding tours for Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures and High Lonesome BirdTours. When not leading tours, he enjoys exploring areas seldom visited by birders.

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