On Sunday last, my wife and I took a breakÂ fromÂ watching the BillsÂ fumble through yet another yawner and drove out to the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in Basom, NY, which is about half way between Rochester and Buffalo.Â This NWR has been on my wishlist for sometime.Â Montezuma NWR lies about the same distance from our home in Rochester, and gets a bit more attention when it comes to birding.Â We have had some excellent birding at several NWRs with Mike and Sara, so it was about time we saw this gem so close to home.Â Iroquois is much different than Montezuma, with more hiking trails and more obvious signs of hydrologic manipulation.
Iroquois is composed of the remnants of a large glacial lake called Tonawanda that existed roughly 10,000 years ago.Â Eventually the lake evaporated as Lake Erie, which fed it, dropped in elevation.Â The Oak Orchard Swamp and River system is a remnant of that prehistoric lake and is the larger system of which the refuge is a part.Â Human impact on the system began with the Seneca nation, which cleared and drained parts of the swamp for farm land.Â In 1958, the Oak Orchard Swamp NWR was created with duck stamp monies, and in 1964 the area was renamed Iroquois NWR.
As many of you have heard, the Buffalo area was hammered by an early winter storm two weeks ago and the impacts to Iroquois were impossible to miss.Â The heavy snow combined with the leaves yet to fall was too much for many of the deciduous trees.Â Many of the small and medium sized Aspens that were not bent to the ground snapped in half from the weight.Â Our camera was damaged earlier in the year, so pictures of birds from the day were too blurry or too far away, but we did snap some pics of the habitat we saw.Â
The other effect on the area was an excess of water.Â We have had quite a wet fall in Western New York State and the two feet of snow melting in twenty-four hours tipped the scales.Â It was certainly duck weather, but less attractive to duck watchers.Â
Speaking of ducks, our bird list for the day consisted of eighteen identified bird species, all but one of which are fairly common to the refuge at this time of year.
- Bald Eagle
- Blue Jay
- Red-Wing Blackbird
- Canada Goose
- Great Black-backed Gull
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Golden-crowned Kinglet
- Hermit Thrush
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Mallard/Black Duck
- Blue Heron
- American Crow
- Cedar Waxwing
- House Sparrow
- White Breasted Nuthatch
- American Kestrel
- Pied-billed Grebe
- Mourning Dove
- European Starlings
Our favorite bird of the day was the Bald Eagle.Â Â Chris and I caught the movement of his take-offÂ peripherally, and needed the binoculars to see his hoary head.Â Maybe it is the marketing, but our national bird never fails to please in my opinion.Â With one pair of binoculars, I got a better look than my wife, so I owe her one eagle sighting.
Another suprirse was a large group of Red-winged Blackbirds, which will not beÂ a surprise to a more veteran birder.Â On the far side of a large pond, a stand of dead and partially dead trees held a large congregation of Starlings.Â This was no bigÂ deal, so we headed on after a moment of scanning.Â Then I heard the “gurgling “oak-a-lee”"Â and “a dry “chek” and “cheer.”"Â Â Â We hadÂ no way ofÂ getting close enough for a good look, and I didn’t believe my ears anyway.Â We have Red-wings in the summer at my father’s ponds, but every winter they leave, returning in the spring.Â I had always assumed that they migrated and had no reason to doubt this belief while in the field.Â But, lo and behold!Â When I got home a quick look at the Cornell Lab website and I found this clarifying paragraph:
The Red-winged Blackbird forms roosting congregations in all months of the year. In the summer it will roost in small numbers at night in the wetlands where it forages and breeds. In winter, it can form huge congregations of several million birds, which congregate in the evening and spread out each morning. Some may travel as far as 80 km (50 mi) between the roosting and feeding sites. It commonly shares its winter roost with other blackbird species and European Starlings.
So Red-wings they were.
Our finalÂ surpriseÂ consisted ofÂ a group of maybe five Golden-crowned Kinglets enjoying the company of a colony of Black-capped Chickadees bouncing from branch to branch in a stand of conifers.Â I identified the Kinglets as Golden-crowned based on the USGS bird checklist for Iroquois NWR. The Kinglets are the only uncommon visitor to the refuge that we encountered.
So nineteen birds during a three hour walk on a cold and rainy day felt like a good tally.Â Number 19 was a lone Great Blue Heron startled by our arrival at the pond overflow, and like the eagle is a consistent crowd pleaser.Â Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge is a definite revisit for us.