Iroquois Observations


(This column was first published in the September 2, 2002 Buffalo News.)


The Buffalo Audubon Society deserves recognition for initiating a series of excellent natural history programs, many of them at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Begun in 2001, expanded last spring and continuing this fall, these activities have already become popular despite little publicity. Some data about the spring sessions will give a sense of the extent of this program: volunteers contributed over 500 hours of their time, almost 2000 attended the various programs and a total of 151 species of birds as well as many mammals, insects and wildflowers were identified.


Too many of us in this region think of the Iroquois refuge in only two ways: as a hunter’s reserve and as a way-stop for hundreds of thousands of Canada geese during their spring migration. Unfortunately, the fact that those geese have gone from the uncommon migrants they were in the 1930s and 1940s to the lawn-grazing pests that they have become takes a good deal away from that second feature.


Today, however, the refuge has expanded its role to serve not only hunters and anglers but also those interested in all forms of natural history. For example, this year the Cayuga Pool has been mostly drained so that shallow water and mud flats will attract shorebirds during their southward migration. Species like dowitchers, whose long mud-probing bills remind me of sewing machine needles, are being seen there already. (I urge observers to stay on the dikes in order not to flush the birds.)


This year’s Audubon “Iroquois Observations” program will include opportunities to watch birds through telescopes with experts providing identification assistance; to spend evenings listening to the whistles and hoots of various owls, often sighting them as well; to attend interesting talks; and to join car caravans to tour the area.


Kicking off the fall program will be an afternoon and evening “Welcome to Autumn” party this Wednesday at the refuge headquarters. Beginning at 3 p.m. visitors will have a “walk and talk” opportunity to interact with manager Bob Lamoy and members of his staff. Then, following a potluck dinner, Jessica Morgan, the new staff wildlife biologist, will describe her work.


A central feature of this fall’s activities will be a “Basics of Birding” class led by one of this region’s distinguished field ornithologists, Brett Ewald. His three class sessions will meet from 7-9 p.m. on September 12 and 26 and October 17 and his two Saturday field trips on September 28 and October 19. There is a $40 fee for this program.


All the other activities are free and there are many of them. Owl prowls are scheduled for the evenings of September 28 at Iroquois and October 19 at the new North Tonawanda Nature Preserve. Leading will be this region’s leading owl specialist, Chuck Rosenburg. Anyone who has not yet heard Chuck whistle in screech owls or hoot up barred owls has a treat in store.


Another premier regional birder, Dick Miga, will give two talks. On Saturday, October 12, as part of National Wildlife Refuge Week, he will speak at 1 p.m. on waterfowl identification. His other talk on Wednesday, November 13 at 7 p.m. will be about backyard and feeder birds. That program will be at the North Tonawanda Public Library.


I salute Garner Light, Tony Wagner and Paula Losito for their work in organizing these and many other activities as well as the many volunteers for supporting them.


To register for the birding basics course or to obtain more up-to-date information, call Ms. Losito at 433-6624 or visit one of the two websites: Iroquois Observations or Buffalo Audubon Society. -- Gerry Rising