Iroquois NWR / Tonawanda and Oak Orchard WMA
|Description: Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, is flanked by the Tonawanda and Oak Orchard wildlife management
areas, managed by New York State. Together, these three properties comprise
a refuge complex of roughly 19,000 acres of freshwater marsh, bottomland
hardwood swamp, forest and grassland.|
Known locally as the Alabama Swamps, these wetlands south of Lake Ontario
formed in poorly drained areas as glacial Lake Tonawanda receded thousands
of years ago. Dikes and other water-level control structures have been added
to keep water levels up. Wetlands are host to tens of thousands of migratory
birds, mostly waterfowl and shorebirds, as they fly to their breeding grounds
each spring and their wintering grounds each fall.
The diverse wetland and upland habitats support 42 recorded species of resident
mammals. The area also provides excellent habitat for several warmwater
fish species, as well as many types of reptiles and amphibians.
Wildlife to Watch: More than 100,000 waterfowl stop on their migration northward each spring.
Many common species of ducks stop to rest, feed and perhaps nest here. Less
common waterfowl species, including ruddy ducks, tundra swans, cackling
geese, greater white-fronted geese and both color phases of snow geese, are
found in limited numbers every year. Occasionally, unusual species such as cinnamon
teal and Eurasian wigeon are sighted. Sightings of migrating shorebirds,
such as yellowlegs, dowitchers, sandpipers and killdeer, peak in May and again
in July and August. Marshbirds, including bitterns, rails, pied-billed grebes, and the state-endangered black tern stay to nest on the areas. Upland birds include
ring-necked pheasant, ruffed grouse, American woodcock and snipe.
White-tailed deer, muskrats, red and gray foxes, eastern cottontails, eastern
gray squirrels and woodchucks are the most commonly seen mammals,
though coyotes, beavers, mink, raccoons, Virginia opossums and northern
river otters have also been reported.
The most familiar reptiles are painted and snapping turtles. Common garter
and northern water snakes may show themselves on sunny days. Less commonly
seen are northern brown, northern redbelly, smooth green, eastern
milk and black rat snakes. None are venemous.
As temperatures rise in spring, eastern American toads and many species of
frogs create a chorus of song as they try to attract mates. Blue-spotted and
Jefferson salamanders are there but seldom seen, coming out only in the
evenings to hunt for insects along the forest floor.
Warmwater fish species, including northern pike, black crappie, bullhead,
carp, sunfish and yellow perch can be seen in ponds and pools, as well as in
Oak Orchard Creek.
Special Tips: The Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge visitors center is open Monday
–Friday 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. year-round, except holidays. In spring
and fall, the refuge is also open on weekends 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Access
to the refuge is limited during breeding/nesting season, March 1 to
July 15. Flyway Nature Store and restrooms are available. There are
no restrooms at either Tonawanda or Oak Orchard. A picnic pavilion
is available at Oak Orchard and open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Iroquois: 585-948-5445, 1101 Casey Rd., Basom, NY 14013,
Oak Orchard and Tonawanda: 585-948-5182,
Other Activities: The refuge has a visitor contact station and four nature trails. The Swallow
Hollow Nature Trail has an elevated boardwalk along half its length, with
accessible ramps and packed gravel sections with bumpers. The Cayuga Marsh
Overlook has an observation deck with an accessible ramp. Two photo blinds
are available by request only.
Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area has photo blinds, an observation
tower and access for non-motorized boating.
Much of the wildlife habitat in the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area can
be easily viewed from the parking lots that overlook the marsh wetlands. On
Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMAs, walking on the dikes, administrative
trails and laneways is permitted.
Ownership: Iroquois (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service); Oak Orchard and Tonawanda (NYS Department of Environmental Conservation)
Size: Iroquois: 10,828 acres; Oak Orchard: 2,500 acres; Tonawanda 5,600 acres
Closest Town: Alabama and Medina
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: