Visiting NYS’s Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge & Other Stops

A few years ago I bicycled, solo and self-contained, from Minnesota to Indiana, then across New York State. After weeks cycling and a few days of absolute drenching rain, I stopped short of Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. I had hoped to enjoy some wildlife viewing with its diverse habitats, but it did not happen. When a friend and I could visit the refuge on this trip, I said, let’s go! We lucked out with an overcast, not rainy day; off we went! 

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is a huge property, located northeast of Seneca Falls, NY. There is a Welcome Center at the start of a 3 mile Wildlife Drive. At specific locations we could hop out of the car and walk to a blind. Certain times of year a hiking/bicycling trail is open for use too. One could spend hours here and the other parcels of land within the refuge. 

Warblers were arriving in NYS! Yellow warbler and yellow-dumped warblers were part of our 20 different bird specie sightings.

Yellow warbler singing
Yellow-rumped warbler

Our second stop was the Montezuma Audubon Center, north of Savannah, NY. There was an informational center and hiking trail network. Thanks to the director, since we were looking for specific birds, he sent us on our way to Guy’s Marsh. We were welcomed by tree swallows and Eastern bluebirds as we started the mile trail around the marsh. We eventually opted for a shorter walk and the observation tower. There we watched 2 muskrats fighting with each other. We guessed the third muskrat was a female as it swam away.  More birds seen and I was surprised to see a Caspian tern.

Not sure any of it was friendliness
Caspian tern

In CT? Have You Visited Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center?

Mystic Connecticut is known for its aquarium, seaport, and historic village, yet do not overlook a visit to a very informative nature center surrounded by various hiking trails at Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. I walked the Forest Loop, a meditative trail, around a couple of ponds, Meadow  and Ledge trails to enjoy the outdoors and observe wildlife.

The nature center was founded in 1946, and in 2013 it acquired the 45 acre Coogan Farm to protect the colonial (earliest 1646) farms including the Denison Homestead and Avalonia Land Conservancy. It was enjoyable walking the trails through diverse habitats which also link with the nearby neighborhoods, the nature school, other businesses and nature center. There was much more for me to check out if I had time to do so, but not on this visit. 

This center is located on the North Atlantic Migratory Flyway so a wonderful place to observe birds throughout the year. I did observe 10 different bird species during my visit. Also, squirrels were scurrying around and turtles were sunning themselves … everyone enjoying the day!

Here are some photos from this visit:

Common grackle
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Canada goose

Time to Connect or Not … 

Solo travelers, such as myself, can choose how connected we wish to be with others while we visit a place or observe some activity. There are times I want/need a quiet, meditative experience; other times, I enjoy newly discovered connections, shared moments, with individuals or people around me. 

With travel, one does not know the individuals one may interact with and/or if a possible connection, shared moment, or not will be made. This is a huge part of why I find solo travel so enjoyable. Conversations with people I had never known may spark new ideas in my brain as I listen to their point of view. This allows me think through what is said and to speak my mind to someone who cannot assume they know what I will say. Shared observations open my eyes to see and learn about something new or can be a reminder of things I should have known. It is the perfect time to be non-judgmental, in the moment, and with no expectation. When meeting new people it is time to break away from possible old habits, thinking you know what the person will say and not really listening. No assumptions can be made and thus I find myself more engaged and enjoying the moment. The level of connection, shared moment, varies upon the place and/or activity … and of course the individuals you’re with … and can be most fun!

I was at Southard’s Pond Park in Babylon, NY when I had an amazing shared moment while walking the trail and looking for birds. I met one woman and almost immediately we were sharing birding and photography info, talking about life, and the wonderful park with its wildlife. This woman patiently pointed out where a red morph Eastern screech owl was sitting, a new bird for my life list. Finally seeing it through many branches blowing in the wind and about 50 feet off trail, we continued walking, talking and observing birds for each other. When we bumped into another woman it was obvious she wanted her own space, so little was said to her and that was okay. Next we were talking with a man with his very young daughters. He was such an animated guy one could not help but be excited as he talked about the observations the 3 of them made, but he also wanted to know where the owl was… so we gave him the bird’s location. 

At one point I continued on and the woman I was walking with headed back to the parking lot. When I decided to return too, I got talking with another birder who was looking for the owl. I tried to help since I had seen the owl earlier, but which tree was that bird in? Before I knew it, the father with his daughters and the woman who initially pointed out the owl to me was returning to the spot. She pointed the owl out to all of us! There was such joy with help in locating the owl and seeing the young girls and father excited too. It was a magical moment; the power of connection, a shared moment, was perfect as we all saw the owl!

As I walked back to the parking lot I thought how wonderful a world would be if we could have more positive connections in the world. I struggle in understanding why there is so much negativity, conflict and disconnect among humans in the world. Why is there no desire to have a healthy, supportive, fair world for us all to live in for the decades we are only here? I simply do not understand the strife we put before ourselves when with the same energy we could do for the betterment of all. It seems this is one of those things I will never understand and can only do my part to to remain positive.

Thanks to the woman pointing out the red morph Eastern screech owl to me or I would never had seen it! It was a challenge taking this photo, the wind blowing tree branches in front of the bird, but I wanted it since few times do I see an owl.

I did see 15 different bird species on this walk. Photos of a mute swan and osprey are below. This is a nice park to visit if you are in the area. I’ll return someday as I did not walk all the trails and would like to do so.

Upstate NYS Friends & Birds

It was snowing as I drove across the southern tier of New York State and I truly was not surprised. I grew up in New York State and had come to expect snow till mid-May … so my van was experiencing snow once again since our Grand Canyon visit months ago. If I continued to be in snow country months at a time there would certainly be a need for snow tires, but not now.

It was wonderful meeting friends for lunch at Ithaca’s Purity Ice Cream shop, talking with some friends by phone, walking with others at Cornell’s Sapsucker Woods and Botanic Garden, and talking with colleagues at the school I last worked. I loved living in the Finger Lakes area when I did because there was tennis, hiking, road bicycling, cross-country skiing, cultural activities and opportunities, and ease in traveling to the Adirondack Mountains where I had a small shack to escape for my quiet, meditative time for more than 25 years. Despite being tremendously busy with my school administrative position, I made time to enjoy outdoor activities…yet I do not miss the snow … and thus I now live in Arizona!

Spending time and talking with my friends, and now additionally school friends, was interesting and just like old times: noticing and discussing what has changed and what has stayed the same, learning about their new adventures, hobbies and activities, commiserating and celebrating about various happenings, counting down time till summer vacation and/or retirement, and encouraging all to take time to enjoy life. I am concerned about the future of public education in America and consider myself fortunate to have retired when I did, but do miss all my friends! I am glad I caught up with those individuals I could and certainly appreciated them taking time to visit with me.

Here are a few photos from my visits at Cornell’s Sapsucker Woods:

White-throated sparrow
Tufted titmouse
Yellow-bellied sapsucker at Sapsucker Woods!
Red-bellied woodpecker, yet no red belly…

The Attraction: Seeing Sandhill Cranes

Bird watching is a hobby requiring great patience, especially when tiny birds flick quickly from place to place or when larger birds are flying overhead and I have no idea what bird it is! So when I have an opportunity to see tall birds on the ground I am taking time to visit them. 

What is particularly interesting about these birds, sandhill cranes, is their daily routine; so once you know the coming and going at Whitewater Draw, McNeal, Arizona, with these birds it is fun to spend a day with them. They migrate to this area and stay October through to March.

When I visit, I typically arrive at the draw around 10:30am and watch the sandhill cranes return from the miles away local dry corn stubble they spent time eating for a morning meal. They’ll continue to arrive for the next 2 hours and then settle down or spend time preening. I discovered their stained feathers result from their muddy bills being in water with ferrous solution so while they preen their neck and back feathers become stained.

Around 4:30pm these tall wading birds with more than 6 foot wingspan will take off for their dinner meal and return as the sun sets. I estimated more than five thousand cranes were here and at other times the number will be much higher. Besides seeing them return in their v-shaped flock and individually land so they can roost here by this shallow water for the night, I was delighted to see a beautiful sunset.

I heard the bugling sound the birds make till 10pm and then all seems quiet until maybe 5:45am when some of the birds start to fly off for a morning meal. By the time I am awake and check on the birds almost 3/4 of the birds are gone and that was just after 6:15am. The sun rose a half hour later and still some cranes were hanging around. Later in the morning I left the draw. Enjoyed all 24 hours I was there as I observed the cranes, along with snow goose, northern shovelers, northern pintails and American coots. In the trees near the water’s edge you’ll see vermilion flycatchers, marsh wrens, black phoebes and I caught sight of a Cooper’s hawk, northern harrier. None of us could miss the yellow-headed blackbirds which I will write about in the next blog post.

Adult with red crown and white cheek patch.
You’ll see cranes off in the distance too.
Watching them drink water is interesting too.
Flying or landing … fascinating to watch.

Eaten in A Bird-Minute & Five-Seconds!

A photographer can capture one very quick wildlife moment or remain for hours at a site and only have taken one photograph! Or a series of photos can result when watching wildlife for a minute and 5 seconds! Here is a white-breasted nuthatch I watched and photographed while it caught a bug of some sort to eat. Amazing beak work!

Looking, watching!
Fooled! It was right below me!
Squirmy little one!
My snack is not being dropped.
Got to angle this bug for a slide into my beak!
Got it; a snack and ready for more!

Birds eat quite a bit of food, contrary to people believing they do not. I know this white-breasted nuthatch will be off looking for more to eat.

Sparrows … Who Knew?

Sparrows are the most abundant bird flying around in the world … 1.6 billion of them! Recently I discovered there are 48 sparrow species in the United States, along with an interesting fact: juncos and towhees are sparrows! Most often I see white-crowned sparrows, but my walk at Saguaro National Park East, in Arizona, allowed me an opportunity to see rufous-winged and black-throated sparrows.

I heard a bird singing so I quietly moved into the area, then I saw a rufous-winged sparrow singing! This species of sparrows was discovered in 1872 in Tucson, common into the 1880’s and then disappeared. Since the 1930’s the species has gradually increased.

Rufous-winged sparrow singing – notice rufous on wing too.
Rufous-winged sparrow

My favorite sparrow is the handsome black-throated sparrow, also referred to as the “desert sparrow”. This bird population declines where there’s increasing development; it does not adapt well in suburbs. I love the look of this bird and hope it remains at our desert.

Black-throated sparrow
Black-throated sparrow

As the number of housing developments increase near Saguaro National Park, birds are in greater need of places to live. They may migrate further north at times or even south, but do have a need for this area too. Let’s be sure to continue to keep it available for them and also for us who enjoy hiking the trails.

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in CA

This was my first visit to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, the largest saltwater marsh along the California coast. A perfect place to separate myself from hours of car travel and California’s heavily-trafficked highways where no one drives the speed limit! Highway 1 is right next to this area, but I was soon walking the trail and observing the birds at the reserve. (I hope when I return to this area the oil spill caused by a pipeline leak a few days ago has not damaged any of this area or local wildlife. Cleanup efforts have begun, but we also need to rethink having such old pipelines from the offshore oil platforms.)

I walked to an inner bay passing a fenced-off nesting area. Later in discussion with a local birder, I learn the nesting area once had some birds, a year or so ago, but had been scared off when a drone crashed into the area. It scared adult birds away from their nest, resulting in no young. The hope now is the adults will return, breed, and stay with their young. Having the fenced-off nesting area is good and hopefully no drone incidents will happen again in the area.

There is a 3 mile trail around the inner bay which I will walk next visit, but for this day I see 5 new birds for me! I hope to return when more birds are migrating through or when they are with their colorful breeding plumages.

Here are some photos:

Marbled godwit
Ruddy turnstone
Long-billed curlew

Fish Dinner for Great Egret

The great egret was observed at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, the largest saltwater marsh along the California coast. Yes, I saw other birds but I watched for many minutes as this great egret caught a fish, swiped it through the water a couple of times … was it moistening it for an easy swallow or drowning the fish so it would stop wiggling … I do not know.

A snowy egret happened to walk right past all this action as though to say, right, you caught that fish, now eat it! The great egret continued to reposition the fish and then finally swallow. Here it is all in photos:

Caught the fish!
Need to reposition the fish.
This position would be better for swallowing!
Time to swallow this fish!
Fish went down and time to look for another.

Absolutely fascinating watching this great egret move the fish into position for it to be swallowed. I wondered at times when the great egret was repositioning the fish whether it was going to drop right out, but it did not. Watching wildlife is fascinating when we can slow down and spend minutes and not simply walk by.

Hummingbird to Pelican; Small to Large!

Some days we operate in extremes. On this day I was spending most of my time photographing hummingbirds feeding at a beautiful yellow flower and then walked a short distance to see numerous brown pelicans! I was at La Jolla Cove in California and enjoyed the seal activity down on the rocks while spending time with the birds. Gosh that hummingbird is so small….. and then to see the pelicans flying past me … amazing!

Hummingbird photos:

Brown pelican photos:

All is beautiful … small and large! Have you been outdoors lately to observe nature? Don’t wait, go!