TAKE REFUGE: Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge

An eastern painted turtle clings to a floating log.

When you think of New York, you may think of Broadway, bright lights, busy streets and expensive living. But far from the big city, you can find a striking example of New York’s iconic natural beauty. The Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge–often called one of western New York’s best kept secrets—sits midway between Rochester and Buffalo along the Oak Orchard Creek.

The 10,828 acres of wetlands, forest and grasslands was originally called the Oak Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. However, the state of New York managed adjacent property known as the Oak Orchard Wildlife Management area. To avoid confusion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) renamed the wildlife refuge “Iroquois” for the Native Americans who once inhabited the area.

The refuge is located along the important Atlantic flyway. Many birds travel this route to move between their nesting grounds and their winter homes. A variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, warblers and sparrows are among the more than 260 bird species documented on the refuge.

In 1986, two bald eagles took up residence in the refuge. The birds were relocated from Alaska in attempts by the state and FWS to restore New York’s eagle population. Today, several nesting eagles live in the refuge. The return of the eagle is a triumph for the natural environments of the state and the country. Other birds of prey include the red-tailed hawk and the American kestrel, which are both common sights.

Decorah Eagles Live Cam Screenshot

Webcam catches nesting eagles guarding their eggs.

What to Do

Photographers and nature observers can find great viewing spots along nature trails and overlooks. Hiking, fishing, skiing and snow shoeing are also popular activities.

Kayaking and canoeing are permitted (no motorized boats allowed) and offer closer looks at wildlife around Oak Orchard Creek. Beavers, turtles, mink and red fox can be seen along the river edge.

If you need to borrow a pair of binoculars, head over to the refuge headquarters. Here you can grab brochures, view display panels and talk with personnel to find out where you should start exploring.

The refuge hosts several special events throughout the year, including guided tours and bird watching days hosted in partnership with the Buffalo Audubon Society. Through a continued partnership with Canisius College, visiting groups can team with specially trained college students who guide them through a day of wildlife observation.

So while skyscrapers are still stunning sightings, you should find a little time to ditch the big city for some truly awe-inspiring scenery and TAKE REFUGE at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in the towns of Alabama and Shelby, New York.

And don’t forget:  If there’s a refuge you want us to spotlight, comment on this post, and we’ll do our best to answer your questions or feature your refuge, here, on our blog.