Lots of folks have been out to visit Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and the two adjacent state Wildlife Management areas since this virus thing started. This has been good for the most part, as it is getting people educated about nature and the wonderful areas of the Alabama swamp.
One of the hot spots is always the Cayuga Pool area where a large parking lot allows grand views of the pool and all its wildlife. The big attraction has always been the eagle nest in the back of the pool. At one time there was a video camera up on this eagle nest (we were among the first to do so) but the present manager was against getting the camera fixed when it failed. Don't ask me why, because it used to draw thousands of visitors to refuge headquarters to watch the nest up close and live on the monitors.
Cayuga Pool is teaming with wildlife in the spring: ducks of all kinds, geese, even swans, a host of shore birds, ospreys, muskrats, turtles, great egrets, great blue herons, bitterns, black-crowned night herons, black terns and, recently, sandhill cranes.
In May this year we had some rare species show up at the pool too. First there was the snowy egret, a much smaller version of the great egret. Along with him was a gull-billed tern, which is extremely rare. A cattle egret was another rarity. The refuge's first pair of trumpeter swans have been nesting on this pool for the past few years also. There is a lot more to see but you will have to come out and explore for yourself!
Right now Cayuga Pool doesn't look like much and most of the wildlife has departed. The reason is because of the water draw-down that has been going on since last month. At first it was great. There was much more wildlife there than normal, as the water receded and exposed all kinds of food (especially fish). At times there would be literally hundreds of great blue herons and great egrets wading in the remaining water to hunt the fish. Sandhills were probing the exposed flats for goodies and an eagle would swoop over periodically to see if there was any “available” food for him. But now the pool has basically dried up and the food is gone, along with most of the wildlife.
So why have the folks who run the refuge drained the water off this pool? Well, it is called rejuvenation. After many years of build-up of unwanted vegetation and loss of good aquatic vegetation (food) the marsh has turned for the worse. By drawing down the water for the summer, new vegetation will start growing and much of the “bad” stuff will disappear. In fact you can see new vegetation beginning to grow already and it will only get better.
This fall the water will be brought back in with rain and the use of water control constructions on the complex. So right now the place is not too impressive, but come this fall and next spring, watch out as migrating waterfowl discover this rejuvenated marsh's new food supplies.
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Another subject I would like to touch on today is the problem with double-crested cormorants. These are the big black birds whose population explosion is seriously injuring our fisheries now (they only eat fish) and so far has been left pretty much uncontrolled.
This bird is native but was almost destroyed because of DDT as were eagles and many other species. In the past, commercial fishermen helped control cormorants, which take fish up to 12 inches. However, the bird was given government protection to help it recover and now it has turned into a monster as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drags its heels in getting a solution.
We have changed the fishery of the Great Lakes, which has given cormorants a greater food source than in the past, and that is one of the reasons for their population increase. They have invaded all area water bodies and are even predominant in the Alabama swamp now. Cormorants are causing a lot of problems and will continue to do so until the government does something serious like change their protection status.
USFWS has drawn up some proposed regulations for these birds and there is a comment period running until July 20. I suggest you get involved by logging on to https://www.fws.gov/regulations/cormorant/.
Be forewarned, it's a lengthy proposal and it really doesn't seem to me that it is going to address this problem, due to the many loop holes (lots of ifs and maybes), but we need to let USFWS know that we are very concerned about this “black devil” that is ruining our larger fisheries and our ponds and marshes.
Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or firstname.lastname@example.org .