Take a Trip to Where the Wild Things Are

Sunday, September 30, 2007; P02

On Oct. 7-13, hug a natural habitat. During this week, friends of flora and fauna will celebrate Natural Wildlife Refuge Week, which focuses on the protected areas (548 nationwide) and their recreational uses, such as photography and environmental education. The National Wildlife Refuge System protects nearly 97 million acres, including chunks of open space within a two-hour drive of Washington. Here are seven nearby refuges -- one for each day of the special week -- and some of the activities they are hosting during this period. -- Andrea Sachs

1. Bombay Hook NW R (Smyrna, Del.)

The 15,978-acre area is a bird magnet, but it also attracts muskrats, river otters, etc. Explore the refuge by car on a 12-mile loop road or by foot on any of five nature trails.

Between Oct. 13 and Nov. 2, the park will hold the Family Nature Scavenger Photograph Search Challenge; the first 50 families to follow all 10 clues and photograph themselves at each site win a free annual pass to the refuge. Also on Oct. 13, entomologist Michael Higgins discusses the life of pollinators.

Info: 302-653-6872, http://www.fws.gov/northeast/bombayhook. Admission $4 per car, $2 per pedestrian.

2. John Heinz NWR at Tinicum (Philadelphia)

Fox, deer, turtles, frogs and other creatures run -- or hop or creep -- through the 1,200-acre space one mile from the Philadelphia airport. In addition to service roads and boardwalks accessible to hikers, visitors can canoe a 4.5-mile portion of Darby Creek.

During refuge week, the park will host a variety of bird- and flower-related events, such as a beginning birding class (Oct. 7) and a bird walk (Oct. 13).

Info: 215-365-3118, http://www.fws.gov/northeast/heinz. Free.

3. Blackwater NWR (Cambridge, Md.)

The Eastern Shore refuge covers more than 27,000 acres. Waterfowl roost in the tidal marshes, and such species as the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel inhabit the evergreen and deciduous forests. Nature-viewing options include three- and six-mile Wildlife Drive bike loops, two interpretive hiking trails and three paddling routes.

The refuge holds its 12th annual open house Oct. 6; activities include bird walks, puppet shows and live animal exhibits.

Info: 410-228-2677, http://www.fws.gov/blackwater. $3 per car, $1 per pedestrian.

4. Eastern Neck NWR (Rock Hall, Md.)

The 2,286-acre island refuge sits at the meeting point of the Chester River and Chesapeake Bay. Nearly 240 bird species flock here, including tundra swans. Visitors can view wildlife from six miles of trails and roads, a boardwalk, an observation tower and a new 10-mile kayak/canoe route that links a number of scenic and ecological sites.

The park extends NWR week by a day (Oct. 14) with its Big Sit! event, during which birders gather in a 17-foot circle and record the winged specimens they see or hear from their seated position in 24 hours.

Info: 410-639-7056, http://www.fws.gov/northeast/easternneck. Free.

5. Patuxent Research Refuge (Laurel)

The 12,750-acre refuge is divided into three sections of land near the Patuxent and Little Patuxent rivers. The North Tract provides 20 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and horseback riders; an electric tram runs through wetlands and woodlands. In addition, its National Wildlife Visitor Center is the largest science and environmental education center in the Department of the Interior.

The Oct. 13 wildlife festival will feature exhibits on research projects, a bus tour of the wildlife research center, naturalist-led walks and more.

Info: 301-497-5763, http://www.fws.gov/northeast/patuxent. Free.

6. Occoquan Bay NWR (Woodbridge)

The 644-acre preserve sits at the junction of the Potomac and Occoquan rivers and packs a lot into a small space: 220 bird species, 600-plus plant species, 65 butterfly species. Navigate the one-mile wildlife drive or hike more than three miles through grasslands and tidal marshes and along river banks.

During the Oct. 13 fall festival, activities include a hayride around the refuge, a bird-banding demo and a peek at reptiles and raptors.

Info: 703-490-4979, http://www.foprr.org. $2 per car, $1 per pedestrian.

7. Rappahannock River Valley NWR (Warsaw, Va.)

Rappahannock River Valley covers 7,711 acres on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. The refuge, an Audubon-designated Important Bird Area, has three Virginia wildlife and birding trail sites. Canoers and kayakers can paddle the 35-acre Wilna Pond, and hikers can trek new trails by Wilna Creek.

On Oct. 13, the refuge will dedicate a new green environmental education building and feature speakers, music, bird walks and nature tours.

Info: 804-333-1470, http://www.fws.gov/northeast/rappahannock. Free.