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Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 4:43 pm

A sunny morning along Tonawanda Creek

The sun had barely cleared the horizon when I pulled out of the driveway Tuesday morning. And with the camera case on the seat beside me, I really wasn't sure where I was going. The last thing I expected on a rather chilly morning was a bald eagle perched in a dead tree overlooking Tonawanda Creek.

Nearly an hour earlier, while watching the news and having coffee, I mulled over where I would go. At first I contemplated going either to the swamps, Genesee County Park or dragging the canoe out back and paddling upstream on the Tonawanda. These have all been productive in the past but this morning, for some reason, I opted for something different. But still, I couldn't make up my mind on where to go....so I just got in the truck and drove. There was also a catch....I didn't have great deal of time to kill as I had an appointment at 11 a.m.

The sun was making its way up the eastern horizon when I eased down a grassy bank of the Tonawanda where it flows along Stegman Road north of the Bushville bridge. Despite the bright sun on this morning, far less light penetrates shoreline canopy in this stretch. That would change farther downstream. The rock-studded shoreline is a good indication this is smallmouth territory.

Steam rising off the surface -- a good indication the water was considerably warmer than the chilly 45 degree air.   

Farther downstream is where I came across the bald eagle -- in surroundings more suitable for surveying its domain, scanning the creek and the surrounding area for a meal. Fish, muskrats, rabbits -- when you have a bill and talons that big and sharp, the menu is limitless.

Turning its head nearly 180 degrees enables him to watch his backside and prevent potential prey from slinking past.

Further upstream, blended in among fallen limbs, a trio of wood ducks are oblivious to the threat from above. 

Taking leave of their temporary haven, the woodies wisely head upstream -- toward the cover of the canopy.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 10:53 am

Volunteers install storm drain markers to remind residents about water quality for the Tonawanda

post by Howard Owens in batavia, Tonawanda Creek

Information and photos provided by Elizabeth Bentley-Huber.

Boy Scouts Tristan Korzelius, Jake Houseknecht and Ryan Missel installed storm drain markers in the City of Batavia on Saturday as part of an ongoing effort by the Tonawanda Creek Watershed Committee to remind people that what goes down storm drains has a direct impact on the quality of water in the Tonawanda.

A dozen volunteers installed 253 medallions over storm drain inlets throughout the city.

Tonawanda Creek committee members and local volunteers have also installed these markers in the Village of Attica, hamlets of Varysburg, North Java and Johnsonburg. Last year members installed medallions in the City of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda.

If you are interested in joining this effort or have any questions, please contact Elizabeth Bentley-Huber at Genesee County Soil & Water Conservation District at 585-343-2362 or at Elizabeth.Bentley-Huber@ny.nacdnet.net.

Kirk Peryea and Lucy Pietrzykowski

Kirk Peryea, Lucy Pietrzykowski, Greg Houseknecht, Jake Houseknecht, Tristan Korzelius, Ryan Missel, Robert Cassatt, Molly Stetz. Absent: James Tuttle, Les Winters, David Winters, Addison Winters. These volunteers installed 253 medallions over storm drains in the City of Batavia on July 27, 2013.

Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 10:44 am

Man rescued from the Tonawanda Creek off Walnut Street

post by Howard Owens in batavia, Tonawanda Creek

A person was rescued from the Tonawanda Creek at 9:30 a.m. in the area of 63 Walnut St., Batavia.

City Fire Department responded to the call and located a semiconscious man in the water who was being held by a bystander.

The victim was removed from the water by firefighters and transported to UMMC by Mercy EMS.

His name or condition has not yet been released.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 8:40 am

Batavia resident using the Tonawanda to prepare for historic canoe trip from Albany to NYC

Rick Levins says the Tonawanda Creek is a spiritual place. He's been drawn to it most of his life, he said. For more than 30 years, he's lived on its bank in a home on Walnut Street.

This spring, he started paddling it every day, finding a few moments of peace, but also preparing for a historic canoe trip next month from Albany to New York City down the Hudson River.

The trip is known as the Two Row Wampum Renewal Epic Canoe Trip and is being organized by a group of Native Americans in the Syracuse area to commemorate the first treaty between Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) and Dutch traders in 1613.

"Basically, the treaty said, 'we're in our canoes, you're in your ships, we're going down the same river together, but we won't bother you, you don't bother us,'" Levins said. "That didn't always work quite so well, but the Iroquois and Haudenosaunee have honored that treaty. This is a 400-year renewal. It's the basically indigenous person saying we're losing the path here and we need to get back to some of these old ways."

Levins is half Native -- his mother was from the Six Nations in Canada -- and his cousin from Six Nations introduced him to the trip.

The journey starts July 27 and ends Aug. 9 on the United Nations Indigenous People's Day. 

Along the way, there will be seminars and lectures. The trip is intended to promote peace, friendship and environmental sustainability.

Levins has been paddling on the Tonawanda every day since the start of spring preparing for the trip. Every day, he says, he has the creek to himself. He sees geese, ducks, herons, beavers and deer and listens to the birds tweet and twitter.

"I've even seen deer swimming in the creek," Levins said. "I was going up the creek, coming around the bend, and I saw something in the water. At first, I thought it was a beaver. There's a lot of beaver in here. Well, the beaver started to get up out of the water and it turned into a deer. A nice young buck with velvet."

Because of the historic meaning of the Tonawanda to both Natives and white settlers, Levins said he's always felt a special connection to the waterway that was once an important transportation link.

"The creek holds a lot of meaning to me," Levins said. "There's so much history here."


Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 3:32 pm

The white stuff falling from the sky isn't sticking much

post by Howard Owens in batavia, Tonawanda Creek, weather

It's been snowing in Genesee County pretty much continually since last night, but as you can see from the banks of the Tonawanda along West Main Street, Batavia, that there hasn't been much accumulation.

What accumulation there has been is pretty much just slush.

The Weather Service says expect more of the same through tomorrow.

Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 2:56 am

Photo: Swan on the Tonawanda

post by Howard Owens in animals, batavia, swan, Tonawanda Creek

A reader alerted us Saturday that she had seen a swan on the Tonawanda Creek earlier behind Settler's. Sure enough, we found this big white bird hanging out with the geese.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Fuel storage tanks being removed, but no leakage into the Tonawanda suspected

post by Howard Owens in batavia, 7-Eleven, business, environment, Tonawanda Creek

Yesterday work crews started removing the fuel pumps and fuel tanks from the Wilson Farms location at 355 W. Main St., Batavia.

While people have told us the tanks needed to be removed because they were leaking fuel into the Tonawanda Creek, information obtained from the DEC indicates that's just not the case.

While there is some localized soil contamination, which the DEC is supervising for remedial clean up, the leak is contained to the property.

The property owner is listed as Sugar Creek Stores. Both Wilson Farms and Sugar Creek were sold to 7-Eleven early last year.

Earlier this year, 7-Eleven announced it was selling two Wilson Farms stores in Batavia. Industry reports at the time indicated 7-Eleven was not interested in locations that sell gas, but 7-Eleven recently rebranded the former Wilson Farms location in Oakfield.

While a source tells us the property owner plans to discontinue gas sales at the West Main Street location in the city, we've not yet been able to confirm that with a company representative.

The property is .35 acres and stretches from the shared property line with Settler's west toward Lambert's Design Jewelers, with a length of green space in between the buildings.

Fuel tank removal is expected to take another week or two.

UPDATE: A spokeswoman for 7-Eleven said the property is on the company's "divestiture list." It will be sold.

Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Volunteers placing 'no dumping' medallions on storm drains to help keep the Tonawanda clean

post by Howard Owens in batavia, Tonawanda Creek

The Tonawanda Creek is a tremendous natural resource, according to Elizabeth Bentley-Huber, and it should be kept clean.

Residents dumping pollutants into storm drains isn't as much of an issue as it once was, but Bentley-Huber, along with other members of the Tonawanda Creek Watershed Committee, want to promote the idea that our neighborhoods are linked to the creek.

"One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that the water is treated between that drain and the creek," said Bentley-Huber, who is a district technician for the Genesee County Soil & Water Conservation District. "Whatever pollutants and chemicals it picks up are directly washed right into the creek."

To help promote the idea that we shouldn't dump or wash chemicals into the drains, the committee has purchased through a soil and water conservation district grant, a thousand medallions to place on storm drains.

Committee members are going out each Saturday as volunteers, weather permitting, and affixing the medallions to storm drains.

Bentley-Huber said the creek could really become a bigger part of our community, an attraction for people looking for outdoor recreation.

One of the biggest problems is clearing out the 43-mile stretch (11 miles in a straight line) of creek between Attica and Batavia. Log jams on the long, flat stretch can be a big problem, especially for boaters.

"That’s a lot of nice creek," she said. "It could be open for boating, and with the economy the way it is, people are looking for more inexpensive recreation.  Boating, canoeing or kayaking on the Tonawanda would be very nice."

Friday, October 19, 2012 at 8:02 am

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.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 11:12 pm

DEC starts project to control flooding on a portion of the Tonawanda Creek

post by Howard Owens in batavia, Tonawanda Creek

A decades-old tree was removed from the banks of the Tonawanda Creek today and the property owner hopes people understand -- it wasn't by his choice.

The tree removal is part of the Department of Environmental Conservation's effort to control flooding along the Tonawanda.

The location is off South Main Street Road, just east of the intersection with Fairway Drive (see map below).

Nate Fix, who owns Rebel Liners on West Main Street Road, bought the nine-acre parcel in 2005. Most of the land can only be used for agriculture. He can never build on it because of a DEC easement.

The DEC contacted Fix and told him about the tree removal and plans to cut away and deepen the creek bank.

"It was a beautiful old tree, but I understand why they're doing it," Fix said.

A few years ago, Fix said, floodwaters rose to about 4 feet on his property.

Mark Malinoski, DEC director of operations, said today that the project will provide more capacity for the Tonawanda in that section of the creek, which makes an abrupt right turn there before turning again sharply toward the west.

The improvements were recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Besides removing several tons of soil, the DEC contractors will strategically place bolders along the creek in order to dissipate the energy of water flow to slow erosion in that section.

The creek bed has moved several feet north since the 1930s. In fact, Fix's property line actually extends into the creek, which is anomaly along the creek through Genesee County.

Throughout most of the county, the creek and a bit of bank on each side are public property.

"I pay taxes on that portion of the property, too," Fix said.

The tree came down, Malinoski said, because of its proximity to the creek bank.  Such trees actually speed up the erosion process because the water bores in at the roots and hollows out the bank around the roots.

Fix said the DEC offered him the wood from the tree as well as all the topsoil being removed. Fix gave the solid to his neighbor Bob Dickinson, owner of Dickinson Auto Service. Dickinson said he was thrilled to get the soil, which is filling in a large depression in the back of his lot.

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