This spring at Braddock Bay Raptor Research’s Bird of Prey Days I gave a talk that covered, among many other things, my love of the region and how lucky Rochester area birders in general are. To follow up on that I wanted to jot a few thoughts down on that very issue.
Although it might seem like I would be preaching to the converted, I think that unless you are lucky enough to travel, it’s hard to totally appreciate the birding that you have on your own doorstep. I have been lucky in that my birding adventures have taken me across the United States from birding meccas like The Rio Grande Valley to the Biggest Week in American Birding in Ohio and beyond our borders to everywhere from the Middle East to the Galapagos.
Of all the places that I’ve visited across the globe, one that would rank right up there in among my favorite sites to spend time birding is the West Spit of Braddock Bay. From that spot I have witnessed incredible movements of diurnal songbird migration, remarkable morning flights of neotropical migrants, and spectacular clouds of passing raptors. For me the fun of birding is the enjoyment of spectacle and the excitement of the unknown, both of which can be found right there at Braddock Bay.
The migration spectacle along Lake Ontario is surely world class. I have personally, in a single day, witnessed more raptors there than are often seen during a whole season at the renowned Cape May Hawk Watch. Equally, in a single hour I have witnessed more raptors at Braddock Bay than are seen at most seasons at Hawk Mountain, perhaps the most well-known hawk watching site on the planet!
It’s not just raptors though; likewise, songbird migration at Braddock can be truly spectacular too, with sky-blackening flights of birds traversing the lake that look like something out of a Hitchcock movie or recall one of Audubon’s descriptions of waves of migratory Passenger Pigeons. There’s a good reason that BBBO and BBRR exist right there along the lake. Of a spring morning one can (within about a square mile) take in the morning flight of accipiters, falcons and songbirds at West Spit, stop off at Owl Woods and search for its namesake, and then stop in to see bejeweled neotropical songbirds in the hand. As if that wasn’t enough one can drop by the only raptor banding station that you can visit on a whim and head to probably the best spring hawk watch site in the U.S. and Canada to enjoy one of the more incredible exhibitions of visual migration on the planet (hawk migration).
When I first came to Braddock, all those in the know told me that the area is one of the region’s real hidden gems, and they were not wrong. Personally though I want this wonderful place to come out of hiding. As a tour guide, one of the things I love most is sharing the special places that I love with other people, and I have brought people from across the globe to this little corner of Western New York and enjoyed watching them fall in love too.
For me, it was exciting this spring to go to Bird of Prey Days and see local birding and conservation organizations coming together and working to promote this incredible area. When you’ve witnessed the joy that birds and birding can bring to people, you find yourself wanting to share it as widely as possible. For those involved in conserving and protecting our wild areas, engaging the local community and ensuring their support is essential when it comes to winning important conservation battles. My hope is that more people, both locally and beyond, can be encouraged to witness the magic of migration at this wonderful slice of Monroe County lakeshore and become stakeholders in its future.
Editor’s note: Luke Tiller is a former hawk counter for Braddock Bay Raptor Research. Originally from England, he is now a birding tour guide and operates the blog, Under Clear Skies.