GRAYS LAKE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
GRAYS LAKE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
74 Grays Lake Rd.
Wayan, Idaho 83285-5006
Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge is the largest hardstem bulrush marsh in North America. Located in a high mountain valley near Soda Springs in southeastern Idaho, the refuge and surrounding mountains offer incredible scenic vistas, wildflowers, and fall foliage displays. Lands adjacent to the 19,400-acre refuge are primarily wet meadows and grasslands. Grays Lake Refuge provides breeding habitat for over 200 species of mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians.
The refuge hosts a large nesting population of greater sandhill cranes; as many as 1200 individuals are counted in the valley during migration and staging times. The refuge is a birding destination, and a good area to view the rare trumpeter swans. This near-pristine montane wetland is being threatened by the same type of suburban/rural development that has so heavily impacted nearby Jackson Hole.
Grays Lake Refuge is 27 miles north of Soda Springs in southeast Idaho. It lies in a high mountain valley at 6,400 feet. Grays "Lake" is actually a large, shallow marsh. It has little open water and is covered with dense vegetation, primarily bulrush and cattail. Wet meadows and grasslands surround the marsh. Winters at Grays Lake are severe and long. Snow cover lasts from November through April, and frost may occur any month of the year. Warm days and cool nights characterize summers, with high temperatures only rarely exceeding 90 degrees. Annual precipitation averages about 15 inches.
Grays Lake Refuge was established in 1965 with the primary objective of protecting and restoring habitat for nesting ducks and geese. Each spring, when the snow melts in April or May, a large variety of waterfowl migrate through the refuge and some stay to nest. The refuge's common nesting species include the mallard, cinnamon teal, canvasback, lesser scaup, redhead, and Canada goose. In recent years, trumpeter swans have reestablished as an important nesting species. Grays Lake is one of the best areas in this region to observe the rare trumpeter. In a typical breeding season, the refuge may produce up to 5,000 ducks, 2,000 geese, and over 20 swans. Ducks and geese, the last birds to migrate south in the fall, remain until freeze-up, which usually occurs in November.
Grays Lake hosts the largest nesting population of greater sandhill cranes in the world. Over 200 nesting pairs have been counted in some years. Sandhills begin arriving in early April. In the fall, the refuge serves as a staging area, a place where cranes gather before migrating south to New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico for the winter. During the staging period in late September and early October, as many as 3,000 cranes have been observed in the valley at one time.
Abundant wet meadows, shallow water, mudflats, and bulrush marshes provide habitat for a large variety of waterbirds. A great number use the refuge during spring, summer, and fall. Franklin's gulls nest in large colonies in bulrush habitat, along with a lesser number of white-faced ibis. Grebes, bitterns, and elusive rails are also present. Shorebirds include curlews, snipe, phalaropes, and willets.
Refuge habitat supports a variety of other migratory birds, including eagles, hawks, falcons, and many species of songbirds. Non-migratory birds include ruffed and sharp-tailed grouse. Large mammals regularly seen at Grays Lake are moose, elk, and mule deer. Smaller mammals include muskrats, ground squirrels, and badgers.