May was a very birdful month and I’m still catching up on my postings. Our big trip was to Montezuma NWR, the wetlands at the north end of Cayuga Lake. Since we had to be at the Ithaca end of the lake anyway, I really wanted to spend some time exploring this amazing habitat. I have a habit of road-birding which (I am told) can be unnerving for my passengers, so I was delighted to see Montezuma was perfect for me. No foot traffic is allowed. Cars must stay on the loop road with plenty of pull-offs for wildlife viewing. Given the unpromising weather, ours was the only car for a while, making it possible to drive while looking through binocs. Not that I would ever do that.
We arrived on a drizzly grey morning, so right off we weren’t going to bother with warblering. MNWR has a nesting population of Cerulean Warblers, sky-blue birds that frequent the very tree-tops, and staring straight up into the rain will only get you a stiff neck and wet binoculars. Maybe they’ll still be there in August. A young fox trotted along the road’s edge, stopping to sniff, crunch something up, and leave some messages along the way. As we climbed an observation tower, a robin flew off calling angrily. We had scared her off her nest on the steps. Doesn’t she know the real estate mantra, ‘Location, location, location’?
If you’ve never seen your fill of Great Blue Herons, this is the place to come. We saw at least 50 in one marsh. I tried very hard to turn some into Sandhill Cranes, but they wouldn’t cooperate. Other waders included Green Heron, Great Egret, and Glossy Ibis, looking exotic and Egyptian. Lots of assorted ducks and grebes and a pair of Trumpeter Swans, and we had some good long looks at the weird Common Moorhen. They swim like a duck, have a head like a chicken with a wad of gum stuck to the forehead, and long-toed heron feet. They shared the flooded-field habitat with elegant Black Terns. This particular remote wetland was supposed to be our best chance of seeing the cranes. We did see Bank, Barn, and Tree Swallows, and an active Purple Martin colony.
Raptors included Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, Ospreys, Turkey Vultures, and several Harriers including one pale grey male. I prefer the old name, Marsh Hawk, or Owl-faced Hawk would be a good name. Oh, did I forget to mention Bald Eagles? Yeah. Soaring overhead, fishing, perched five at a time in trees — yup, we saw a few eagles.
Shorebirds — oy. Little peeps, long-legged waders, busy-footed sandpipers, and most of them too far off to comfortably identify. Is it lazy birding to say I enjoyed just observing their lives for a while, their swift foraging, sudden flight, dash and stillness. “In Boston yesterday an ornithologist said significantly, ‘If you held the bird in your hand –;’ but I would rather hold it in my affections.” — H. D. Thoreau.
It was getting late in the afternoon; we were tired and as wet-footed as herons. We stopped at one last pull-off which offered a slightly elevated view down into the marshlands, giving us a better idea of the lay of the land. I was kind of discouraged — I really hoped to see a Sandhill Crane. Then suddenly a huge gray bird, bigger than a heron, flying with its neck extended, trumpeting its wild cry. I grabbed Bill’s arm, shouting, “There it is! There it is!” How exciting for my target bird to be the very last bird of the day!
We spent the night at the Hotel Clarence, and if you’re visiting the Seneca Falls/Montezuma area, I highly recommend it. It has vastly more character than the chain motels, for much the same price. And their cable included BBCAmerica, so we got to watch Doctor Who!
It poured overnight and was still raining lightly in the morning, and we did have a deadline for arriving at Cornell, so we did one more quick loop around, stopping to watch carp struggling to sneak from the barge canal into the waters of the refuge. Baffles on the sluices letting water flow from the Refuge to the canal stop most of the fish, though a few get through and are the source of startling leaps and splashes in the marsh. I filmed the carp-et of fish (thanks Caleb!).
And then we drove down the east coast of the lake through rain and dense fog, picked up our young man and his belongings, and headed home. Hmmm, it’ll be late August when we have to bring him back… migration time!