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Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area

DEC announces special permits for duck hunting at local reserves

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today announced that special permits will be issued for the opening weekend of duck season to hunt waterfowl at two popular state-managed locations. The permit requirement applies to waterfowl hunting at the Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management areas located primarily in Genesee and Niagara counties (with small portions in Orleans and Erie counties). The intent of the special permits is to promote hunter safety and increase the quality of hunting on days when the areas receive the greatest use.

A special permit is required to hunt waterfowl at Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management areas on the duck season’s first Saturday and first Sunday. These days are the only times the special permits are needed. Waterfowl may be hunted without a special permit during the rest of the season. The permit system has been used successfully at both wildlife management areas in recent years. No special permits are required to hunt other game species at Oak Orchard or Tonawanda Wildlife Management areas.

DEC has announced tentative 2015-2016 duck hunting season dates. Western New York’s tentative opening day/weekend dates for duck hunting are Oct. 24 and 25. This year goose season will be open during the opening weekend of duck season, and goose hunters are also required to obtain the special permit. These dates will not be finalized until the federal regulations are adopted in late summer. Hunters are advised to confirm the final dates before hunting any waterfowl.

Opening weekend waterfowl hunting permits for the two wildlife management areas will be distributed by a random lottery. For each of the two days, DEC will issue 100 permits for Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area and 50 permits for Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area. Hunters must choose from four options: Oak Orchard first Saturday; Oak Orchard first Sunday; Tonawanda first Saturday; and Tonawanda first Sunday.

To apply for the lottery, hunters must send in a postcard with their name, address and their first three choices, in order of preference, clearly indicated. Applicants must also have completed a Waterfowl Identification Course, and their course certificate number must be indicated on the postcard.

Applications will be accepted through Sept. 15 and must be mailed to the New York State Bureau of Wildlife, 1101 Casey Road, Box B, Basom, NY 14013. Each permittee will be allowed to bring one companion over the age of 18 and an additional companion 18 years old or younger.

Duplicate permits will not be issued to hunters who have already been issued a permit to hunt on the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Any cards submitted by hunters who have been selected to hunt on Iroquois on the first Saturday will be excluded from the lottery for that day at both Oak Orchard and Tonawanda.

Issued permits are nontransferable and are not valid for companion(s) unless the permittee is present and hunting within 50 yards. The permittee is responsible for completing and returning the questionnaire portion of the permit to the New York State Bureau of Wildlife by Nov. 15. If the completed questionnaire is not received by Nov. 15, the permittee will be ineligible for next year's (2016) lottery.

NYSDEC is also currently planning the annual Waterfowl Information meeting, which is held at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on Casey Road in Alabama, Genesee County. This year the meeting will take place on the evening of Sept. 2 from 7 – 9 p.m. Wildlife biologists from Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and NYSDEC will discuss items of interest to waterfowl hunters in an informational and interactive forum.

Topics to be covered include:

--    Highlights of waterfowl management and research programs at Iroquois NWR, Tonawanda, Oak Orchard and Braddock Bay Wildlife Management areas, including drawdown schedules and hunt program news;

-    Regional and statewide waterfowl news and updates, including waterfowl banding results;

-    Atlantic Flyway news, including Avian Influenza update, and waterfowl population status surveys; and,

-    Tentative NY 2015-16 duck and goose hunting seasons.


From the NYS Thruway, take Exit 48A (Pembroke) and travel north on Route 77 to Alabama Center. Continue north on Route 63 for approximately 1 mile, turn left on Casey Road. The office is about a mile down the road on the right.

Seasonal guests: Wood ducks on their autumn stopover


Each year about this time, like clockwork, wood ducks descend on a stretch of the Tonawanda Creek where it flows behind our home. The wood ducks feel right at home there, dabbling on the acorns which fall from the red oaks lining the bank.

No doubt they also are drawn to the calm, flat water and abundant shoreline vegetation. Overhanging bushes and vines provide ample cover.

Along the narrow corridor of Tonawanda Creek it's not difficult to see wood ducks during the month of October. In fact, I expect to see them whenver I walk to the creek bank, or at the very least, hear that unique call they make -- some might call it a squeal while others say it's more like a high-pitched whistle/whine.  

Taking pics of wood ducks on Tonawanda Creek is one thing, the wide open spaces of the Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area is another story. The sloughs and backwaters here are ideal for ducks, but the place is so vast, it's easy to be in one place while the ducks are in another.

Tailor-made as this place is, on this morning I had seen only a handful of ducks, all moving too fast and too far away for photos. When I saw the stick nest pictured above, I decided to zoom in. 

That's when I saw the ducks in the background, rapidly dropping in altitude and heading for the flooded timber.

Is it mere coincidence that one of the most colorful species of waterfowl is on hand during that part of the autumn season when foliage is tinted to the max?

While wood ducks are among the first waterfowl to arrive, they will also be among the first to depart for warmer climes. As I watched the wood ducks swim back and forth among floating leaves on the creek behind our home, I knew that all too soon they will be winging it southward for an extended period of time. 

Whatever the species, be it wood duck or mallard, canvasback or Canada goose, there is graceful symmetry in the flight of waterfowl, and something sublime in a creature that beats its wings an incredible number of times each minute at altitudes and for distances that boggle the mind.

Early spring in the wetlands


The wetlands in early spring have an allure all their own. Long before the first green buds or shoots begin to emerge, a cacophony of spring peepers permeates the air as nature begins her own seasonal celebration. In the above photo, a late afternoon sun casts a golden brown tint on last year's cattails. 

Here in the Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area it's a good time to watch migrating waterfowl and an opportunity to see the diving ducks that will later congregate on the bigger bodies of water. 

This pair of honeymooning honkers is all set for the mating season. An incredible number of geese wintered in the region, many of which began nesting weeks ago.  

Redwing blackbirds have a penchant for teetering on cattails. Another harbinger of spring, as soon as the spring peepers begin their serenade, the redwings won't be far behind.   

Flooded timber is a wood duck magnet.

What a difference a week makes. Last week's unseasonably warm weather may be the reason for the algae blooms that sprung up in several marshes on the refuge.

A trio of painted turtles catching some sun atop a muskrat den. 

A flock consisting mainly of widgeons makes a migratory respite while a lone swan hugs the shoreline in the background. We saw no puddle ducks such as mallards and woodies, but there were a number of ringneck ducks and scaup on the marsh.

Already new shoots and buds are beginning to appear across the wetland and scenes such as the one above will change drastically as last year's cattails will soon be lost in this spring's greenery. 

Great egrets at Oak Orchard WMA


Saturday afternoon we were on our way to East Shelby when we spotted upwards of two dozen egrets wading the Upper Stafford Marsh on the Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area. I regretted not having a camera along, but vowed to have one the next morning.

It was 9 a.m. today when we pulled into the overlook on Albion Road and, fortunately, the egrets were still there. There are 17 great egrets in the above photo, with several more outside of the lens angle.

I've not seen such a gathering of the large wading birds before, not even in South Florida. Whether they were stalking small fish, frogs or reptiles, I couldn't say but something to their liking must have been plentiful in the shallow marsh.  

Normally, great blue herons are the largest wading birds in the marsh. While the blue heron is nearly identical in size to the great egret, on this day it was certainly in the minority.

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