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Northeastern Region
De Soto National Wildlife Refuge
De Soto National Wildlife Refuge Sunset through the trees © Tricia Ditto
De Soto National Wildlife Refuge Sunset over the lake © Tricia Ditto
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DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge was established on March 12, 1958 under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 for "...use as an inviolate sanctuary or for other management purposes, for migratory birds." The refuge lies in the wide, fertile plain of the Missouri River Valley in a former bend of the Missouri River about 25 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska. Each spring and fall since the end of the last ice age, spectacular flights of ducks and geese have marked the changing seasons along this traditional waterfowl flyway. The habitat diversity that exists at DeSoto attracts many species of wildlife. But, by far, the most spectacular wildlife event is the fall migration of the snow geese.
Nature of the Area
DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge's primary wildlife management role is to serve as a stopover for migrating ducks and geese. During typical years, a half million snow geese utilize the refuge as a resting and feeding area during their fall migration between the Arctic nesting grounds and the Gulf Coast wintering areas. Peak populations of 75,000 or more ducks, mostly mallards, are common on the refuge during the fall migration. November is the month of peak waterfowl use, with less spectacular concentrations of ducks and geese returning in March and early April.

Bald eagles follow the geese into the area, with many eagles wintering here until March. Peak numbers of bald eagles usually occur in late November and December, and again in early March. As many as 145 have been seen here at one time. Bald eagles are often seen perched in cottonwoods along DeSoto Lake when waterfowl are present, and good viewing opportunities are available from the DeSoto Visitor Center. An interesting assortment of warblers, gulls, shorebirds, and other bird life also can be observed on the refuge during fall (Sept-Oct) and spring (Mar-May) migrations.

In the summer, white-tailed deer, with one or two fawns, are often seen in the morning and evening hours beside refuge roads. Wild turkeys gather in large groups along the roads and in the fields to strut. Cottontail rabbits, raccoons, coyotes, opossums, and fox squirrels also are frequently observed along refuge roads. Backwater areas of DeSoto Lake and several wetlands on the refuge serve as habitat for beaver, muskrat and an occasional mink. Grassland birds are attracted to areas of restored prairie for nesting.
History of the Area
One of the first documented expeditions into this section of the Missouri River Valley occurred when Lewis and Clark traveled through the area seeking a route to the Pacific. The explorers' journal entry, dated August 3, 1804, describes the party's historic meeting with Indians at the "council-bluff", after which the party set sail in the afternoon and encamped at the distance of five miles upstream. Although the river has changed its channel many times since, the Lewis and Clark campsite was located just below the river loop called DeSoto Bend, on the present refuge. Clark's journal notes an abundance of wildlife in the area, including the expedition's first observation of a badger and "great numbers of wild geese."
DeSoto Refuge does not permit overnight camping. It is a daytime-use area only. But, immediately adjoining the refuge, on the south-east, is the Wilson Island State Recreation Area, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources facility. This 577-acre area can be accessed through the refuge, or directly over Route G12 from Interstate 29 at the Loveland exit. Secluded along the Missouri River in giant cottonwoods are spacious, shady campgrounds, hiking trails, and picnic spots. Hunting and fishing are permitted in their respective seasons. There are 140 campsites. A modern camp area offers showers, flush toilets, and all-electric campsites. The non-modern camping area offers 20 electric sites, and two sites for organized youth camping. Camping permits are obtained through self-registration at the campgrounds. Powerboaters will find a boat ramp, which provides excellent access to the Missouri.

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