Short-eared Owl

When You Visit

Winter in the Grasslands

Winter in the Grasslands

Image © John Ward

Protect Your Refuge – Wildlife Comes First

The spectacular Short-eared Owls and other raptors rely on our Refuge's unique grassland habitat to rest and feed during the cold-weather months.

It is critical to their conservation for these birds to receive adequate rest and forage before migrating back to their breeding grounds.

Short-eared Owls are a New York State Endangered Species, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird of Conservation Concern in the Northeast, and a Partners in Flight North American Landbird Conservation Plan priority grassland species.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Image © James Waterman

A Portion of Our Trails Are Closed November 1st - April 1st

During last year's Owl Season -- the period of time which USFWS defines as November 1st - April 1st when peak human visitation occurs --  USFWS reports that our Refuge had over 32,000 visitors!  The season was successful due in part to visitors' cooperation and understanding the need to protect our Short-eared Owls and other wildlife.  

To help protect the overwintering Short-eared Owls and other wildlife from the Refuge's peak human visitation period, from November 1st - April 1st a portion of our trail network is closed to the public. 

Shown below is the 2022 - 2023 Owl Season Trail Map.  Paper copies will be available at the Refuge at the restroom and in our gazebo. 

Slightly more than one mile of hiking trail is offered this winter. 

Trails beyond the "Stop" signs on the map are closed to the public from now until April 1st.  This has been done to maximize the total habitat available for Meadow Voles and the raptors which hunt them, especially the Short-eared Owls.

Untitled photo

These trails, all five of our observation blinds, and our observation platform are available for use every day of the week.  As always, thank you for your cooperation and understanding.

For a downloadable version of this map, please click here.

Please follow these guidelines to avoid disturbance and/or harassment of wintering Short-eared Owls and other raptors at our Refuge:

• View owls at a safe distance from the parking lot, observation platform, blinds, gazebo, or designated Refuge trails.

• Respect Refuge trail closure signs. Do not venture off-trail into sensitive habitat in pursuit of an owl.

• Owls and harriers are ground-roosting birds and must not be disturbed. Pets are not allowed; bicycles are not permitted on the trails; all visitors on foot, cross-country skis, snowshoes, etc., must remain on designated trails.

• Avoid flushing owls or causing them to alter normal behavior. Unnecessary amounts of energy are expended by birds flushing that would otherwise be used for migrating or just surviving a cold winter's night.

• Do not attempt to bait or feed artificially. The use of electronic bird calls is prohibited everywhere in the Refuge.

• Owls, harriers, and other raptors often forage along the driveway. Human visitors walking onto the driveway are not always immediately visible. There are 5 mph speed limit signs posted. For the safety of all, do not exceed the speed limit.

• Owls have keen eyesight but it is sound that helps them locate prey that is out of sight, underneath deep snow, or below layers of vegetation. The noise level generated by human visitors must be kept down. Please avoid shouting, loud car radios, beeping car alarms, loud cell phones, etc.

• The Refuge is open daily from dawn to dusk. As you prepare to leave at day’s end, avoid shining your car headlights out into the Refuge for an excessive time. It is disruptive as the owls forage at night.

• Smoking, vaping and the use of heaters anywhere in the Refuge is prohibited, as is the use of drones.

• All plants and animals, parts thereof, and other objects of nature are protected from disturbance. Collection is prohibited.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Image © Susan Ward

One of the beauties that winters in our Refuge

Observation platform, blinds, gazebo, and main parking area

Our Refuge not only provides much-needed quality habitat to wintering raptors, it also provides exceptional opportunities to the public for viewing them.

• When visiting our observation platform, please note that standing in the habitat in front of, alongside, or underneath the platform and its ramp is prohibited.

• The observation blinds are equipped with flags to notify visitors about their availability. Putting the flag up means a blind is in use; flag down means it's available. If the flag is up, please do not approach. The blinds are for single visitor use only.

• Maintain a respectful distance of 20 yards from an occupied blind. For example, setting up tripods or spotting scopes close by a blind or directly in front of its windows not only defeats its purpose of hiding the occupant from wildlife, it also makes it impossible for the person inside the blind to see out.

• When vacating a blind, put the flag down and close and latch the windows and door.

• Our gazebo provides some protection during precipitation. Membership forms for our “Friends of Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge” plus a bird seed donation box are located in it. Enjoy visiting our beautiful gazebo and when you do, please consider becoming a member or dropping a monetary contribution into the box.

• When viewing wildlife from our main parking area, be mindful of those who remain seated in their vehicles, especially those in the designated handicapped parking spots. Do not set up directly in front of them and block their view. When in doubt, ask before setting up. Maintain at least a 20 yard distance from an occupied wildlife blind.

• Remember to be quiet and courteous so we can all enjoy the beautiful wildlife at our Refuge.

The Refuge Manager is responsible for balancing the needs of wildlife and public recreation. To report issues:

Mike Horne: (973) 417-9552

Jared Green:  (978) 440-0280

Mike McMenamin: (973) 417-9556

For a downloadable version of this information, please click here.

Short-tailed Weasel

Image © John Ward

Image © John Ward

Of course, winter in the Grasslands isn't strictly "for the  birds"!  If you're especially lucky, you might catch a glimpse of some of our more seldom-seen wildlife, like this Short-tailed Weasel in her gorgeous cold-weather coat.

Track Wheelchair

Track Wheelchair

If you or someone you know has mobility challenges that may hinder their ability to explore the Refuge, we might be able to help.   Our track wheelchair is available for visitor use by advanced reservation.  Signed release forms are required from users, as is  wearing the seat belt.  To learn more, please email Scott Lenhart at USFWS at (phone #845-545-6758).