My First Visit To The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York

My First Visit To The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York

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Unlike the Erie Canal, which I was aware of  since elementary school, I never heard of the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge  until a few days ago. Months ago I had made reservations at a hotel in Oswego, New York  for Sunday and Monday night to observe the total solar eclipse on Monday.  However, last week I decided to head up a few days earlier to avoid the traffic and to explore the area since I was making the  200 mile trip from  my home in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The only hotel available at this late date was in Weedsport. Researching the area,  learned I would be near the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

So I left my hotel in Weedsport in Cayuga County  early Saturday morning and drove 13 miles on rural roads to the Montezuma National Wildlife Visitor Center. The refuge is  located in the large Montezuma Marsh that was  partially created at the northern end of Cayuga Lake by the damming of glacial drift during the Ice Age. In addition to the marshes it includes wetlands, grasslands , shrublands and forest which provides  habitats for a variety of wildlife including  migratory waterfowl.  Followers of my blog would know it was a place I had to visit.

The rising sun was obscured by clouds when I arrived at the Visitor Center.   I   immediately saw a large flock of seagulls flying overhead, as I walked past a heron sculpture,

through a grove of large  hardwoods trees where I came to an observation tower, which I climbed,

and got my first view of  expansive marshes. I  saw a few red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows singing in the reeds but wasn’t able to get any good photos because of the poor early morning light. A few wood ducks also flew over the marsh.

I walked the short distance to the Seneca Trail where I planned to hike. It was recommended as the best birding and wildlife center in the refuge. I was disappointed when I saw the trail was closed.

I had no “Plan B” so I walked to the  Visitor Center, which was open, and looked for maps and other trails. While there I saw a lot of information about Monday’s total solar eclipse.

I walked out to the observation deck and saw a lot of bird activity on the far side of the marsh, too far to get any photos, but did see a few green-winged teals

and this American robin near the shore.  I was just beginning to look at the maps when I met a gentlemen who advised me that the nearby Esker Brooks and  Spring Brook Trails would be good hiking trails where I could see wildlife.

First he strongly recommended I take the  one way three mile Wildlife Drive through the marshes and pools in the refuge.  I followed his advice and was driving on a gravel road along the Main Pool pool of water, reeds and wetlands.

There were a few other cars ahead of me, stopping to look for waterfowl in the marshes.

It was a beautiful drive. However, you had to remain in your vehicle and I had no binoculars so, although there  were many ducks and other waterfowl in the marshes, because of the traffic they were not close to the road. I had a hard time identifying or photographing them.

 I  was able to photograph and  identify this common merganser,

this double crested cormorant,

and this, I believe is a gadwall.

A few ring billed gulls flew over the marshes,

and there were dozens of male red-winged blackbirds singing  familiar trilling conk-la-ree songs.

It wasn’t a quiet drive. The Main Pool was near  the busy Interstate 90 highway. In, fact the Wildlife Drive followed it for almost a mile. The  sound of the traffic could be heard all along the drive. Near the  interstate highway there were some small pools and  here I saw a small flock of northern shoveler ducks

and this large bird, well a bird sculpture of a bald eagle. This large statue  was dedicated to commemorate  the 40th  anniversary of the New York State bald eagle restoration program which  began in 1975. It was a success as will  be seen later in this blog. 

I finished my tour on the Wildlife Drive and left the the  Main Pool Marsh. . I  t drove a few miles to the Esker Brook Trail. In addition too the marshes and wetlands the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge has acquired forest lands since it was established in 1938.  The Esker Brook Trail follows a stream through one of these forest.

I began my hike on the Brook  Trail. The trail  passed through a woodland of mainly black walnut trees with a few white ash trees.  These were second growth trees and I wasn’t sure what this area was before it was part of the refuge, but I am guessing farmland.

The  native spice bush and invasive  honeysuckle shrubs, shown here, had their first buds providing  the first green tint to the otherwise leafless woodland.


On the ground I saw these log ferns, according to my iPhone app, It’s a species I never  have never seen before.

Large old willow trees were growing near the Brook. There wasn’t much wildlife or bird activity in the woodlands on this cool, cloudy morning.I crossed a bridge with over the brook

and came to a small.  pond,

Here I saw some wood ducks that flew off as  I approached as did a small flock of green winged teal. This one stayed on the pond  for a few moments letting me get a photo.

There were a lot of skunk cabbages sprouting in the wetlands around the pond.

I left the pond and took a the Ridge Trail up,  of course, a ridge, with views of the marshes below.

There were only a few  birds active here too,  a few northern cardinals,

and brown headed cowbird.

I followed trail back down the ridge through  a wetland, where there was a large pond.

It looked like a perfect habitat for ducks and other water fowl. However I only saw a few Canada geese on the pond

The trail ended here so I began my hike back. The sun broke through the clouds as I hiked back brightening the woodlands. I hoped the sunshine would have  brought out  some  bird and wildlife activity but it didn’t.

I finished my three mile hike and decided to  hike at the  Montezuma Audubon Center in nearby Savannah.  It is a state-owned facility operated through a cooperative agreement between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the National Audubon Society.

I first  stopped in at the informative visitor center and

then hiked out to the woodlands near the  Center.

Once again I saw little wildlife or bird activity, just a few eastern blue birds and

black-capped chickadees in the woodlands.

However when I got to the marshes,

I did see a lot of water fowl activity. Unfortunately most of the water fowl saw me first.   A lot of wood ducks flew off as I  approached the first pond, I knew them from there distinctive whistle like call as they flew. I also knew the mallards that flew off before I could photograph them, I was able to capture these American wigeons and

northern shovelers as they flew off.  I saw many more ducks fly off as I approached but I wasn’t able to identify them.  Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos of the birds I saw on my morning hikes. New York: Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. birds April 6 2024.

I walked around the two marshes  with ducks flying off as i approached.

So I walked back through the woodlands, again seeing no birds and was ready to leave.

I had already hiked over 7 miles and was tired and hungry but I decided to take on last walk through the marshes. I was glad I did, I saw this garter snake in the reeds,

and heard the beautiful songs of the spring peeper frogs. As I was  taking a video of the marshes and the spring peepers a bald eagle flew over head and dived into the marsh to catch a fish.  I was able to capture it on video. Here is a link to the video I uploaded to my YouTube channel.

The bald eagle circled overhead,

and made repeated dives.

I was almost like it was putting on a show for me.

I thought it was missing on each dive but when I edited the photos later I saw it was catching small fish on some of the dives.

It finally caught a bigger one and flew off into the distance, probably to eat the fish. I waited for 15 minutes hoping it would return. It didn’t but I was delighted to have experienced the show it put on for me.  Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos of the bald eagle and the show if put on   I saw  at the Audubon Visitor Center. New York. Montezuma Audubon Center bald eagle. April 6 2024.

It was now early afternoon and I drove back to Weedsport where I stopped for a delicious and wholesome breakfast at the Cook Village Dinner. The folks were wonderful and a woman overhearing I was from Pennsylvania paid for my meal. I paid it forward by paying for an elderly woman’s lunch. It was a great way to end my morning adventure  at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and Weedsport New York. Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos from  my morning hikes. New York: Montezuma national Wildlife Refuge. April 6 2024.

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plan to protect man.” – Stewart Udall

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