Iroquois Open House


(This column was first published in the April 22, 2002 Buffalo News.)


This Saturday, April 27, the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge will hold its annual open house.


This coming event provided me an opportunity to ask refuge manager Bob Lamoy to bring me up to date on activities at our premier western New York wildlife sanctuary. In response to my request, Bob took Mike Galas and me on a tour of the 17 square mile preserve and showed us progress on the many activities he and his nine member staff have underway.


There is much to manage here: more than six square miles of wetland, three square miles of grassland and seven square miles of mixed forest and shrubbery. (Together with the state lands of the Tonawanda and Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Areas that bracket Iroquois, a total of 31 square miles is set aside for wildlife.)


Basic to management of the reserve wetlands is a system of dikes and spillways that allow control of water levels. A four-year cycle is followed. In the first year the water in one of the large pools is drained off completely. This largely eliminates the carp that gain access to the impoundments through Oak Orchard Creek. The feeding and breeding activities of these alien fish roil the water, preventing light penetration and growth of the bottom vegetation that serves as food not only for ducks and geese but for nesting marsh birds like bitterns, rails and pied-billed grebes as well. This grebe, common in Iroquois, is a rare breeder elsewhere in the Northeast.


When the pool is re-flooded that first year, the seedlings that established themselves during the draw-down now serve as duck food. During the second year cattails, bur reeds and other marsh vegetation reenter the picture, providing cover for birds like the least bittern, a tiny heron scarcely larger than a robin.


Muskrats return during the second year as well. And finally, during the third and fourth year as the swamp matures, the mats of reeds that muskrats cut, some of them forming their domed houses, serve also as platforms for breeding black terns. In 2001, only 153 pairs of these threatened terns were recorded nesting in New York State; 27 of these pairs were found in the Iroquois, Oak Orchard and Tonawanda reserves.


Grasslands also require attention. Unless they are cut or burned periodically, natural succession takes charge. First the fields fill in with shrubs like blackberries and Russian olives. Then trees like cottonwoods and maples begin to take over and in a few years the area is forested. There is, of course, nothing wrong with woodlands, but grasslands, especially those that aren't cut like winter wheat when birds are nesting, are becoming a rare ecosystem. In addition to supporting waterfowl, the Iroquois grasslands sustain several rare species of landbirds like Henslow's and grasshopper sparrows.


The Saturday Open House will provide a rich schedule of activities between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tours, children's games and a 1 p.m. Corfu-Pembroke Community Band concert will be at the headquarters. Buffalo Audubon Society will sponsor Cayuga Overlook bird observation all day; guided nature walks will begin at the Kanyoo Trail hourly from 11 to 3; and a 4 p.m. bird walk will begin at the Onondaga Trail.


To reach Iroquois take the Thruway to the Pembroke exit (48A), drive north on Route 77 to Casey Road on which the reserve headquarters is located. The Kanyoo Trail entrance and the Cayuga Overlook are also on Route 77 just northwest of Casey Road. To reach the Onondaga Trail, drive east from the headquarters along Casey and Roberts Roads and turn north to the trailhead on Sour Springs Road.-- Gerry Rising