Where to Bird This Month

January

Harlequin Ducks, Pultneyville (© Dominic Sherony)

Harlequin Ducks, Pultneyville (© Dominic Sherony)

January is waterfowl month in upstate New York!  From rafts of Long-tailed Duck on Lake Ontario to platoons of Redhead on Conesus Lake, ducks are the star of the show.  In addition, it is the perfect time to scope out gulls and to drive farm fields looking for winter field birds.  On average, 126 species are tallied in January.

Braddock Bay and Irondequoit Bay are perhaps the two most popular places for waterfowl and gulls, but there are a number of other interesting and productive spots in the area as well, such as Hamlin Beach State Park, the overlook at the end of East Manitou Road, and Charlotte Pier.  Sodus Bay and Conesus Lake usually have good numbers of waterfowl as long as there is open water and not too many hunters.

In addition to many common winter ducks, Lake Ontario can also produce a King Eider or Harlequin Duck, and if you find some goldeneye, look closely for a Barrow’s Goldeneye.

Lake Ontario across from the Van Lare Treatment Plant in Irondequoit is a good spot to look for Little Gull.  Both Braddock Bay and Irondequoit Bay regularly feature Glaucous GullIceland Gull, and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Those who love eagles might try Irondequoit Bay once it has frozen over; as many as 60 Bald Eagles have been seen at one time sitting on the ice and in the surrounding trees.

Combing the fields outside of town can yield both Snowy Owl and Short-eared Owl, the occasional Northern Shrike, and flocks of Snow Bunting and Horned Lark.

February

Who knows what this month will bring weather-wise? On average 116 species are seen in February.

Long-tailed Duck. Non-breeding Male with Tail Erect. Irondequoit Bay (© Jay Greenberg)

Long-tailed Duck. Non-breeding Male with Tail Erect. Irondequoit Bay (© Jay Greenberg)

Winter waterfowl linger in open water, and they are joined at month’s end by early spring arrivals.  There usually is open water for waterfowl along Lake Ontario, the Genesee River, and the Irondequoit Bay outlet.  Long-tailed Duck, goldeneye, Bufflehead and Greater Scaup should be seen at these spots. Slater Creek now freezes but you may find mergansers there.

Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier are often seen in the fields near Nation’s Road and elsewhere.  Please use your best birding etiquette when you bird these spots – pull off to the side of the road as completely as you are able, and do not trespass onto the farm fields.  The first spring hawk flights may occur near the end of the month – stay tuned to happenings at Braddock Bay Park.

Snow Bunting may still be found along the edges of roads near fields where seeds may have gotten caught.

Virginia Rail, Mendon Ponds, NY. (© Richard Ashworth)

Virginia Rail, Mendon Ponds, NY. (© Richard Ashworth)

Mendon Ponds often produces a Virginia Rail, and careful birders can sometimes find a number of interesting half-hardy passerine species around the marshy Quaker Pond.

If you really need a bird fix, grab some sunflower seed and walk the Mendon Ponds Nature Center trails to feed the Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse and nuthatches.

Feeders could become the best spots for seeing birds this month. Harsh weather will make a food supply attractive and draw American Goldfinch, Common Redpoll and of course Black-capped Chickadee.  The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place mid-month, so be sure to sign up and report your sightings.

March

March can be cold and blustery, or mild and sunny – sometimes within the span of a few hours!  On average 140 species are seen this month.

Northern Shoveler 2 by Chuck Schleigh

Northern Shoveler by Chuck Schleigh

Waterfowl still fill the open water, as the slowly departing winter ducks are replaced by new arrivals.  March is the peak month for migrating ducks. Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall and Ruddy Duck should be seen this month. Keep an eye out for Eurasian Wigeon, perhaps at Braddock Bay or at Montezuma. Flocks of Canada Goose will fill the skies too and the fields along the lakeshore, and they are sometimes joined by Snow Goose, Cackling Goose, and Greater-white Fronted Goose.

The first spring hawk flights occur this month at Braddock Bay. Expect to see eagles, Rough-legged Hawk, and Cooper’s Hawk among the clouds.  Sandhill Crane are sometimes seen flying over, and pay close attention to any vultures overhead as you may spot a Black Vulture.

Warm fronts will bring the best birding along the lakeshore’s fields and woodlots. The first shorebirds, Pectoral Sandpiper and both Yellowlegs, will show up this month in flooded fields, along with Killdeer.

Fox Sparrow, Taiga Race. Mendon Ponds Park 13-04-14 (© Jay Greenberg)

Fox Sparrow, Taiga Race. Mendon Ponds Park 13-04-14 (© Jay Greenberg)

Spring migration will bring some new arrivals to your yard. Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow and Golden-crowned Kinglet could show up in your brush piles and shrubs.

Eastern Phoebe will arrive to catch the very first insects of the year, Red-winged Blackbird are a sure sign of spring, and early swallows may start to filter in.

 

April

Spring has arrived. On average 196 species are seen this month.  The hawk migration reaches its peak, songbirds begin to fill the woods, bitterns and herons arrive in the marshes. Yup, migration is in full swing!

Some of the best action is along the lake after the passage of a warm front. The Braddock Bay Hawkwatch platform is a favorite place of local birders, not just for hawks but for waterfowl and early passerines as well.  Careful observers will see dozens of ducks dropping into the bay, harriers hunting the cattails at water’s edge, and flocks of flyover songbirds.

The lake will hold Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead and other lingering waterfowl. Terns will begin to arrive, and bitterns, rails and herons will be seen in the marshes of Braddock Bay, Irondequoit Bay and Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Carncross Road and Van Dyne Spoor Road at Montezuma often yield good numbers of birds, and occasionally some surprises.

American Bittern © Chuck Schleigh

American Bittern © Chuck Schleigh

For many, the most tempting April birds are the tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl and the larger Long-eared Owl that frequent the Braddock Bay Owl Woods.  As with the wintering owls, we encourage all observers to be respectful of the owls, of the surrounding environment, and of other observers.

Hermit Thrush (© Jay Greenberg)

Hermit Thrush (© Jay Greenberg)

In the yard we can find White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow and perhaps some Chipping Sparrow. Near the middle of the month look for Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Hermit ThrushRuby-crowned Kinglet, and the first warblers (Yellow-rumped, Pine, Palm and Black-throated Green) could show up at Island Cottage Woods and other wooded sites.

May

It doesn’t get any better than this.  This is what Rochesterians live for! In fact, more species are reported in May than in any other month. On average 55 new species arrive, and 238 are seen overall this month. The spring migration reaches its peak by the second weekend in May, nearly 30 species of warblers arrive in the woods, Bobolink arrive in the fields, and shorebirds continue to stop at wet spots in the fields.

Bobolink (male), Burger Park. (© Jay Greenberg)

Bobolink (male), Burger Park. (© Jay Greenberg)

The crown jewels of the spring – warblers – arrive in force this month. Island Cottage Woods and Firehouse/Church Trail are probably the premier spots for their volume of migrating songbirds, but there are dozens of other excellent locations as well including Durand Eastman Park, Whiting Road, Cobb’s Hill Park, and the East and West spits.  There are nearly 30 regularly occurring warblers in our area, and a handful of occasional notables including Prothonotary Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, and Prairie Warbler although finding these four will take patience and luck. Three of these species breed within an hour or so of Rochester and it may be easier to find one when they are on territories in June, and finding a Connecticut Warbler may be largely serendipitous as some of our long-term birders have yet to see one.

With the warblers come vireos, thrushes, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow- and Black-billed Cuckoo, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and, later in the month empidonax flycatchers. The sheer volume of migrating songbirds means some are bound to spill over into your yard, especially if you have trees, shrubs and other natural cover. Put up your hummingbird feeders at the beginning of the month as these tiny gems usually arrive by Mother’s Day.

Vultures, Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Sharp-shinned Hawk continue to fly over in good numbers. Migrating Common Nighthawk will be visible at dusk, especially along the lakeshore. A great vantage point is the hawk watch platform at Braddock Bay, the marina parking lot off Manitou Beach Road, or other similar vantage points along the lakeshore.

Ruddy Turnstone 3 by Chuck Schleigh

Ruddy Turnstone by Chuck Schleigh

The lake will hold Black-bellied Plover on the beaches, and Ruddy Turnstone on the jetties at Charlotte Pier and Irondequoit Bay.  Other shorebirds may be seen on exposed mudflats or – perhaps more likely this month – in flooded fields outside of town.  May can be a good month for gulls as well. Later in the month, look for Franklin’s and Laughing Gull.

Least Bittern, Florida (© D. Sherony)

Least Bittern, Florida (© D. Sherony)

Least Bittern and Sora will be seen in the marshes of Braddock Bay, Salmon Creek, and Irondequoit Bay.

High Acres Nature Area is great for Rusty Blackbird, warblers, swallows, shorebirds, and bitterns – it’s tough to call! Go there expecting to find something cool and unusual and you usually will!

The possibilities are endless for some great birding this month!

June

American Redstart on nest © Chuck Schleigh

American Redstart on nest © Chuck Schleigh

June is the height of nesting season – but spring migrants can still be found early in the month. In some years, you can catch both ends of the shorebird migration as the last northbound birds pass by at the start of the month and the first southbound birds at the end. On average, 183 species are reported.

Louisiana Waterthrush by Chuck Schleigh

Louisiana Waterthrush by Chuck Schleigh

This is a good month to visit areas that feature unique habitats for nesting species that otherwise wouldn’t be found here. In the woods, Letchworth State Park is a must stop at this time of year. Nesting species include Hooded Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Golden-crowned Kinglet.   Acadian Flycatcher, Wild Turkey, and Ruffed Grouse are other specialties.  Swallow Hollow at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge is a great spot to find Cerulean Warbler, and the Onondaga Trail also has Acadian Flycatcher.  Nesting Prothonotary Warbler is a specialty at Iroquois.

Eastern Bluebird on nestbox (LMK)

Eastern Bluebird on nestbox (LMK)

Norway Road, just north of Route 104, is a great spot to observe nesting Blue-winged and Cerulean Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, cuckoos, Veery and other species. Keep to the road, however – the woods and fields are private property.

In the fields, the Nations Road area south of Avon has been consistently good for Grasshopper Sparrow and Orchard Oriole; Eastern Bluebird nest in the area, too.

On the lake, Franklin’s Gull are occasionally found in the first part of June. By the end of the month, Lesser Yellowlegs and Least and Semi-palmated Sandpiper are usually among the first to arrive. Since mudflats are usually in short supply this time of year for shorebirds, Ontario Beach and the piers at the mouth of the Genesee River are good places to watch. Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, however, has some of the best habitat for early shorebirds. Hemlock Lake Park and the roadsides around Canadice Lake are hopping with Cliff Swallow.

American Bittern by Chuck Schleigh

American Bittern by Chuck Schleigh

On the ponds, nesting rails and bitterns prove especially elusive this time of year, and are best seen by getting into the marshes by canoe.  Look at any of the ponds or borrow pits along the west lakeshore, Braddock Bay, marshes at the south end of Irondequoit Bay, and Montezuma and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuges.

In the air, migrating Turkey Vulture continue to pass through; early June is also a good time to spot Bald Eagle, usually immatures, moving along the lakeshore. A great vantage point is the hawk watch platform at Braddock Bay – or any vantage point near the west lakeshore. You can also look for Bald Eagle flying over southern ends of places like Irondequoit Bay and Conesus Lake.

July

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female on nest), Island Cottage Woods (© Jay Greenberg)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female on nest), Island Cottage Woods (© Jay Greenberg)

Summer is at its peak, but the start of “fall migration” is at hand. Southbound shorebirds are already moving through our area, as other species finish raising their young in the fields, woods, and marshes, and begin dispersing. On average, 174 species are seen.

Migrating shorebirds begin to pass in increasing numbers, pausing on beaches, piers and mudflats before heading south.  Semipalmated Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Least, Semipalmated, Western, Pectoral and Stilt Sandpiper are usually spotted in July.  Whimbrel and Wilson’s Phalarope are also possible.  Caspian Tern will be seen in increasing numbers, peaking in August.

Mudflats are usually still in short supply, so Ontario Beach and the Charlotte and Summerville piers become the best spots in our immediate area.  However, Goose Pond and other mudflats at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge usually attract the largest numbers of shorebirds this time of year.

On the ponds, with young birds fledged, herons, bitterns, rails and ducks become more noticeable now on bays, ponds, creeks and marshes.   Look in any of the lakefront ponds – Braddock and Irondequoit Bays and adjoining marshes.  Both Montezuma and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuges are outstanding areas for viewing pond and marsh birds, and both host small populations of Black Tern.

In the woods, take advantage of unique local habitats. Look at Letchworth State Park for warblers, Turkey Vulture, grouse and turkey, and Norway Road for more warblers, vireos and Veery.

The west lakeshore in Parma, Hamlin, and points farther west are great places to continue to search for Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper in suitable grassy fields.

Huge flocks of Bank Swallow gather near ponds and the lakeshore prior to departure; their numbers peak in late July or very early August.

In the yard, American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing do not begin nesting until this time of year.  You can still attract Ruby-throated Hummingbird to coral bells, petunias and other plants that bloom through the summer.  Keep the bird bath full; mid-to-late summer dry spells can drastically reduce drinking supplies in the wild.

August

Signs of fall migration accelerate this month.  Post-breeding dispersal is also evident, as young birds and their parents desert nesting grounds to feed and gather strength for the journey south.  On average, 196 species are seen.

Yellow Warbler, Pittsford, NY. (© Richard Ashworth)

Yellow Warbler, Pittsford, NY. (© Richard Ashworth)

In the air, an interesting dispersal of raptors occurs in August.  Hundreds, even thousands of Red-tailed Hawk and smaller numbers of Broad-winged Hawk and Northern Harrier fly over on west winds.  The hawk watch platform at Braddock Bay is a good place to look, or any vantage point along the parkway near the lakeshore.

On the lake, shorebird migration is in full swing.  White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpiper join the array of species.  A Whimbrel or two, or even a Willet, are often spotted each August along the lakeshore.  Look at the barrier island at Braddock Bay, Ontario Beach, and at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge for shorebirds.  If water levels have dropped enough, the mudflats off Empire Boulevard at the south end of Irondequoit Bay, and at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, become shorebird hotspots worth frequent checks.

Migrating Black-bellied Plover and American Golden-Plover will appear in freshly plowed fields.  Buff-breasted Sandpiper are possible the last weekend of the month in fields and grassy areas.  Look on the west lakeshore in Parma, Hamlin, and points farther west; they are traditionally good places this time of year.

Green Heron. (© Richard Ashworth)

Green Heron. (© Richard Ashworth)

On the ponds, bitterns, herons, and rails will be more evident now, especially as water levels drop, exposing mudflats where parents and young feed.  Watch for southern heron species that may turn up on ponds in post-breeding wandering.  Montezuma and Iroquois National Wildlife refuges are great places to observe marsh birds this time of year, but also check any of the lakefront ponds and borrow pits, Braddock and Irondequoit Bays, and Salmon Creek.

Songbird activity can be hit-or-miss this month as many of our locally breeding birds hunker down as they undergo their annual molt.  By mid-to late-month the first warblers will be migrating south through our area.  Bay-breasted, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Canada, Northern Waterthrush, Cape May, and Black-throated Blue Warbler are among the first to do so.  Many warblers in fall plumage are a mere shadow of their spring splendor or wear an entirely different plumage, which can be confusing.  However, with practice, most species can be readily identified.  Look in woodlots along the lakeshore.  Badgerow Park in Greece consistently attracts small numbers in August, particularly along sunlit wood edges in late afternoon and early evening.

September  

A bit like May in reverse, this is the height of fall migration.  The woods fill with songbirds, the ponds with ducks, the lake with waterfowl, and the mudflats with shorebirds – all headed south. On average, 218 species are seen this month.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male). © Richard Ashworth

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male). © Richard Ashworth

September is the peak time to observe fall warblers and vireos, and most of the thrushes.  Blackpoll and Yellow-rumped Warbler are among the last to arrive.  With luck, skulking Connecticut Warblers may be found around the Braddock Bay Owl Woods or the Manitou Beach Preserve.  This is a particularly good time to look for Gray-cheeked Thrush, which seem more common now than in the spring.  By the end of the month, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, creepers, kinglets, Winter Wren and Hermit Thrush will also build in numbers.  White-throated, White-crowned, and Lincoln’s Sparrow can be seen along the wood edges.  Look in any wooded areas; Island Cottage Woods, Durand Eastman Park and the Braddock Bay area can be particularly good.

Hamlin Beach State Park, with its lakeside bluffs, is the best spot to watch the lake for jaegers and other migrating waterfowl.  By now, the water level is low enough to expose mudflats at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, which becomes a prime spot to observe shorebirds.  Mudflats at the south and northeast ends of Irondequoit Bay, at the east spit of Braddock Bay, along Salmon Creek, and at Northrup Creek Sanctuary at the south end of Long Pond, can also be excellent shorebird spots.  Continue to check the beach at Charlotte, too.

Red-throated Loon, Charlotte (© Dominic Sherony)

Red-throated Loon, Charlotte (© Dominic Sherony)

On the lake, shorebirds continue to move through; Dunlin are among the last to arrive on the beaches.  Pomarine and Parasitic Jaeger are probable offshore, usually harassing gulls.  By the end of the month, Common and Red-throated Loon and White-winged Scoter may be moving offshore; Greater Scaup may also arrive.

On the ponds, the fall duck migrations begin to pick up, as Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and Lesser Scaup crowd the area ponds.  Nesting Wood Duck, moorhens, Sora and Virginia Rail appear more and more on or near water or mudflats with immature birds in tow.  Rusty Blackbird arrive and can often be found feeding on mudflats.  Huge flocks of Tree Swallow will gather along marsh edges to alternately perch, and then swoop low over the water in search of insects.  Watch for other swallow species mixed in.

Male Wood Duck, Llanelli, Wales (© Richard Ashworth)

Wood Duck, Llanelli, Wales (© Richard Ashworth)

Any of the ponds in Greece (Round, Buck, Long and Cranberry Ponds) can produce good views of ducks, moorhens and perhaps a rail or bittern.  Braddock Bay, Salmon Creek, the south end of Irondequoit Bay, and Montezuma and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuges are also excellent spots for herons, ducks and other waterfowl. Montezuma, in particular May’s Point Pool, is a reliable place for numbers of Great Egret.

Great Egret © Chuck Schleigh

Great Egret © Chuck Schleigh

In the fields, the first half of the month is the best time to try to find Buff-breasted Sandpiper, which migrate through our area in small numbers in the fall.  Short grassy fields are best.  American Pipit will also begin moving through the area; look for them in the same plowed fields where you will be looking for Black-bellied and American Golden-Plover.  Look on the west lakeshore in Parma, Hamlin, and farther west.

Watch for spillover from the migration in your own yard.  Warblers will work through the trees and bushes; the first White-throated and White-crowned Sparrow will forage in ground litter.  Migrating hummingbirds benefit by keeping feeders filled with fresh nectar. Early September is a good time to start-up your winter seed feeders, too.  You can attract small numbers of migrants.  A careful watch should yield some unusual records.

October    

This is the prime time for sparrows, for watching the lake, for picking up the first birds of winter.  It is also a good month for wandering rarities. On average, 205 species are seen this month.

Evening Grosbeak (male), Mendon (© Dominic Sherony)

Evening Grosbeak (male), Mendon (© Dominic Sherony)

Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Winter Wren, and Fox Sparrow replace warblers and vireos as the predominant woodland migrants.  However, this can be the best time of the year to find Orange-crowned Warbler; watch for them feeding in the tops of goldenrod and other tall weeds.

By the end of the month, the first Red and White-winged Crossbill and Evening and Pine Grosbeak may be spotted. Durand Eastman Park, with its abundance of cone-bearing trees, orchard and other food supplies, is a prime fall and winter birding spot.  Webster Park also has good stands of conifers and a good view of the lake.

There is no better time than October to see sparrows, which gather in large flocks in open areas, along hedgerows and at wood edgings.  White-throated, White-crowned, Song, Lincoln’s, Swamp and Field Sparrow will be most numerous, but other species may be mixed in. Beatty and Hogan points in Greece are outstanding areas to find sparrows; migrating Nelson’s Sparrow, a rarity here, have been found at both locations in early to mid October.  The west lakeshore in Parma, Hamlin and farther west is good for other newly arriving winter species.

Short-eared Owl © Chuck Schleigh

Short-eared Owl © Chuck Schleigh

The first Northern Shrike, Short-eared Owl, Rough-legged Hawk, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur and American Tree Sparrow – traditional winter residents here – usually arrive by month’s end.

October is also synonymous with waterfowl on the lake.  Common and Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, Brant, all three scoters, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and mergansers will be migrating through the area or arriving for winter. At least one or two Pomarine or Parasitic Jaeger are almost certain to be spotted this month; rare gulls are possible.

October signals the end of the major southbound migration, most observations are waterfowl on Lake Ontario.  This is a time to sharpen your skill in identifying ducks in flight on the lakeshore.  The bluffs overlooking the lake at Parking Lot 4 in Hamlin Beach State Park offer fine viewing of a protected cove where waterfowl gather.  Other good vantage points are the piers and jetties at Charlotte and Irondequoit Bay outlet, and the spits at Braddock Bay.

Canvasback, Montezuma National Refuge. © D. Sherony

Canvasback, Montezuma National Refuge. © D. Sherony

On the ponds, when hunters aren’t blasting away, migrating ducks can be observed.  Canvasback and Hooded Merganser are among the later arrivals.  Eurasian Wigeon, a rarity, could show up as well.  Glossy Ibis occasionally turn up this time of year, too; they have been seen in the marshes off Hincher Road.  Look in any of the lakeshore ponds and borrow pits, Braddock and Irondequoit Bays, and Montezuma and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuges.

In the yard, watch for migrating Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglet working through trees and bushes.  Winter Wren might also poke around in your brush piles.  Arriving winter species, such as Evening Grosbeak, may be seen at feeders.

November   

Will it be a finch winter?  A Snowy Owl winter?  November usually provides the clues.  The first wintry weather arrives, and with it the birds of the season.  Ducks, swans, late shorebirds and other migrants continue to move through the area, as 153 species are seen on average.

Common Redpoll, Pittsford, NY. (© Richard Ashworth)

Common Redpoll, Pittsford, NY. (© Richard Ashworth)

If it is a finch winter, Red and White-winged Crossbill, Pine and Evening Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, and redpolls will begin to appear.  Check cone-bearing conifers and the catkins of birch and alder – favorite food sources for winter finches.   Look over wandering flocks of Cedar Waxwing for the occasional Bohemian Waxwing, which has a rusty undertail.  Watch for late songbird migrants and lingering half-hardy species.  Warblers, Blue-headed Vireo, thrushes, sapsuckers, Carolina Wren, and Fox Sparrow are all possible.

Durand Eastman Park and Hamlin Beach State Park often have good cone crops that attract finches; the campground area at Webster Park and the Owl Woods near Braddock Bay may also host these species. The orchard at Durand Eastman often draws waxwings.

In the fields, Northern Shrike will be more numerous now, along with Short-eared Owl and Rough-legged Hawk.  Wintering kestrels will arrive to bolster the number of resident birds.  Hawk-watching in general becomes much easier now with the foliage gone.  Drive along the west lakeshore, and you will find raptors perched along treelines.

Snowy Owl by Chuck Schleigh

Snowy Owl by Chuck Schleigh

If it’s a Snowy Owl winter, they’ll be showing up in open fields, at the airport, along the lakeshore and on piers. In early morning, they may be perched on poles or rooftops, but as the sun rises they tend to move towards the ground. Watch for “a lump on a lump”, as they often hunker down on a piece of abandoned farm machinery or on a small hillock of raised dirt.

Flocks of Snow Bunting, with occasional Lapland Longspur mixed in, will join Horned Lark in the fields, and along roadsides.  Parking lot #4 in Hamlin Beach State Park is a good place to find Snow Bunting.  In addition, drive along North Hamlin, Chase, Moscow, Church and other roads near the west lakeshore in Parma and Hamlin.

On the lakeshore, this is the time to see migrating Purple Sandpiper.  A few usually show up each November into December on piers and rock jetties, especially after east or north winds.  November is also a prime time for gulls.  Bonaparte’s Gull will continue to congregate and move along the lakeshore.  The first Little Gull may arrive; Sabine’s, Franklin’s, and Black-legged Kittiwake are possible.  So are tardy Common and Forster’s Tern.

Jaeger – both Pomarine and Parasitic – are likely during the first part of the month.  Watch for birds harassing gulls, which is a jaeger trademark.  Migrating Common and Red-throated Loon and Horned Grebe will still be visible from shore; Eared Grebe are rare but possible.  Flocks of Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Black, White-winged, and Surf Scoter, and Common and Red-breasted Merganser will also be migrating or settling in for the winter.  Keep an eye out for King Eider and Harlequin Duck, which are rarities here.

Look at jetties and piers at the Irondequoit Bay Outlet, Charlotte, the East Spit of Braddock Bay, and at Hamlin Beach State Park.  The bluffs at Parking Lot #4 at Hamlin Beach provide an excellent observation point for passing jaegers, gulls, and waterfowl.  The Niagara River becomes a key staging area for thousands of gulls, including rarities, and is definitely worth a visit.

Canvasback © Chuck Schleigh

Canvasback © Chuck Schleigh

On the ponds, ducks will still be moving through in good numbers.  American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Mallard and American Black Duck will be most numerous.

Watch also for Hooded Merganser, Northern Pintail, and Ruddy Duck. Dunlin, Pectoral Sandpiper, and White-rumped Sandpiper are the most likely shorebirds. Look in Irondequoit Bay, Braddock Bay, and any of the lakeshore ponds in Greece for ducks and waterfowl in general; mudflats at the south end of Irondequoit Bay (off the north side of Empire Boulevard), in the Salmon Creek area, at the east spit of Braddock Bay, and at Northrup Creek Sanctuary for shorebirds. Be sure to take a trip to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Tundra Swan, Snow Goose, and a wide array of ducks and other waterfowl are sure to be seen.

In the yard, it’s time to stock the feeders once again for winter.  Remember, the greater variety of feed, the greater variety of visitors.  Black oil sunflower seed is the best all-purpose bird seed, but cracked corn, suet, peanuts and thistle seed will expand the number of species.  Have a supply of water, which can be important as food when creeks and ponds freeze over.  A heating element will keep the water from freezing.  It is also helpful to have plenty of bushes and trees in your yard to provide shelter and cover.  Be sure to leave your hummingbird feeders up, as vagrant species from the west coast, such as Rufous or Allen’s Hummingbird may show up.

December

Short-eared Owl on Posson Road, New York (Melissa Groo)

Short-eared Owl on Posson Road, New York (Melissa Groo)

The highlight of any December is participating in your local Christmas Bird Count, and there are several in our area.  Rochester, Letchworth-Silver Lakes, the “Little Lakes,” Montezuma, and Oak Orchard all host counts near the end of the month.  New participants can be paired with more experienced counters, and it’s a fun way to contribute to a collaborative project that is more than a century old.

On the lake, Little Gull should be here by now.  Watch for the sooty black underwings as they join flocks of Bonaparte’s Gull along the lake and adjacent ponds. Glaucous and Iceland Gull may also be found in congregations of Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gull, sitting at the edge of the ice and feeding on the water’s surface.

The usual lake vantage points at Irondequoit Bay, Charlotte, Braddock Bay, and Hamlin Beach can be productive.  The lake off Van Lare Treatment Plant near Durand Eastman Park is one of the best spots to find Little Gull; they also are found from time to time along any of the lakeshore ponds and bays where there is open water.  rondequoit Bay and Braddock Bay, which usually have at least some open water, are good for winter birding.  Round, Buck, Long, and Cranberry Ponds in Greece can also be good, and it is a good time of year to take an extended trip to Sodus Bay or Conesus Lake.

Bufflehead, Long-tailed Duck, scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, White-winged Scoter, and Common Goldeneye will be easy to spot on the lake, but also keep watch for such rare visitors as King Eider and Harlequin DuckCommon and Red-throated Loon and Horned Grebe can still be found.  And look closely at goldeneyes; Barrow’s Goldeneye have been found here from time to time.

Great Blue Heron. © Richard Ashworth

Great Blue Heron. © Richard Ashworth

Late Pectoral and White-rumped Sandpiper, Snipe, and Dunlin are possible on mudflats. Purple Sandpiper is possible through the end of the month on the rock jetties at Charlotte Pier  and the Irondequoit Bay Outlet.

On the ponds, open water is the crucial factor.  Several species of ducks will stay right through the winter if open spots remain.  So will Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and American Coot.

There are numerous Snowy Owl in the area.    Charlotte and Braddock Bay are good for them, as are snow-covered fields around town and local airports.

Snowy Owl in flight from Summerville Pier (Laurie Dirkx)

Snowy Owl in flight from Summerville Pier (Laurie Dirkx)

In the fields, watch for many of the same winter visitors – Northern Shrike, Short-eared Owl, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Snow Bunting, and Lapland Longspur – that began arriving earlier in the fall.  A trip to Nations Road south of Avon, and to the fields around Retsof salt mines west of Geneseo will be particularly productive now.  Chandler Road near the Retsof salt mine is a favorite wintering spot for Short-eared Owl; Nations Road is renowned for the owls, Rough-legged Hawk and Red-headed Woodpecker.

In the woods, half the fun of winter birding is searching for lingering half-hardy species – birds that we usually expect to move south for the winter.  A few will stay in the area.  Check out any area with open water and food, such as berry-laden bushes and trees, or in areas of weeds and tall grasses.  Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Carolina Wren, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Common Yellowthroat and Yellow-rumped Warbler are just some of the possibilities. Even if it’s not a “finch winter”, at least a few Red- or White-winged Crossbill and Pine or Evening Grosbeak can be found.  Keep checking flocks of Cedar Waxwing for Bohemian Waxwing.  Both Durand Eastman and Mendon Ponds parks have a variety of habitat.

In the yard, as snow cover begins to accumulate, natural food supplies are harder to find.  That makes your feeder all the more attractive this time of year.  Do not be distraught if a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk also shows up to prey on your favorite songbirds.  Take advantage of this opportunity to watch raptors fulfilling their natural role.  Save your Christmas tree, and those discarded by neighbors, and pile them up in a corner of the yard.  They can provide much-needed cover and shelter.