Monday, November 5, 2012

Sleeting, and Snow Geese, and Sandhills...oh my!

Photo credit: The Wildlife Society
When I was at FLCC, I was very involved with their chapter of The Wildlife Society. I was elected to be the president in the fall of 2010, and then was lucky enough to keep that title through 'til I graduated in May 2012. My current college, SUNY Cobleskill, has a very active chapter. I think it's a bit easier for a 4-year school to keep members, there's less turnover and more momentum between school years. And because FLCC is still very near and dear to my heart, I had wanted to do a joint event between the chapters. FLCC and Cobleskill have a good articulation agreement, so many students transfer here from there, as I did, and I thought it would be cool to get the 2 groups to mingle!

Students here already had a field trip planned to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in Seneca Falls, NY for this past Saturday, 11/3. For FLCC, this is a quick 35/40 minute drive. For us, it was more like two and a half hours. BUT it's worth it. This past spring I planned this same trip for FLCC's chapter, and we had a great time. Check that out at: Wildlife Wednesday: April 18th, 2012.

Photo credit: Google Maps
A= FLCC, B= Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, C= SUNY Cobleskill
Montezuma is located at a prime location for migrating waterfowl. As you can see at letter B, the Refuge is located between NY's Great Lake Ontario, and at the northern end of NY's largest Finger Lake, Cayuga. Montezuma is a complex of wetlands. There's a lot of emergement vegetation as well as open water for birds to rest at. In the spring and fall, it's an AWESOME place to bird at. Upstate NYers are lucky to have this great spot to visit.

I've been many, many times with my family, friends, classmates, and fellow club members, and I can add to my "bird list" everytime I visit. What made this visit unique is that not only are waterfowl migrating, but we just experienced Hurricane Sandy here in the northeastern United States. While Upstate New York really didn't suffer from Sandy, the birds may or may not have been blown about, and they're using this Refuge even more than normal.

The day we went was cold, rainy, snowy, windy...not ideal for us, but the birds didn't seem to care. My only complaint about the weather was that I couldn't keep my binocs and camera clear of water droplets. I did the best I could with pictures, but the lighting wasn't the best. There were some cool birds there this time. The following is what I could best capture!

Oh, and by the way: our day was led by John Van Niel, a past professor of mine, current prof at FLCC. He has volunteered for years at MNWR, and know his birds. I selfishly wanted him to lead so that I could visit with him and the other FLCC students, and I think Cobleskill students enjoyed him too. Thank you JVN! (John's the one who got me into blogging, please visit his blog: Backyard Beasts)

We caravan'ed around the Refuge. There is a several mile "wildlife drive" that you can take, and there are several spots to get out and observe (from the road). This was one of them!
Cobleskill TWS Treasurer Kristi is using one of Cobleskill's PREMIER spotting scopes: a 85mm Zeiss Diascopes, 20-75x. I've heard that apparently we have around $45K worth of this gear, which is pretty awesome!
Canada Geese
The next place we travelled to was the Tow Path Road. John said that this was open to the public, but I'd like to think it's a secret spot. Because we saw this:
Sandhill Cranes!

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Soldotna, AK
May 28, 2012
Sandhill Cranes are special to me, as I'm sure they are to many people. I first learned about these birds in the Conservation 100 class I took almost 3 years ago. John was the instructor of that class, and drilled Aldo Leopold's collection of essays, "A Sand County Almanac" into my brain. I'm a reader. I love it- BUT this was and is a hard read for me. I've since picked it up 4-5 times and tried to read it cover to cover, and I can't. So instead, every now and then I pick a story and read just that. Aldo purchased his "shack" in Wisconsin because he heard that Sandhill Cranes had been seen nearby. So he purchased this land with hopes of seeing them one day. This was back at the turn of the century, when populations of animals were low due to overhunting and slaughter. Aldo is the Father of Conservation, as he's known, and established the beginnings of managing wildlife in the United States. John also has a few great Crane stories himself, and told me before I went to Alaska this summer, to watch for them. He told me that even though I may have never heard them before, I'd know it when they were near.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge
Seneca Falls, NY
November 3rd, 2012

My first night in AK, I was sitting on my porch (at 11:30 pm reading in the daylight) and heard this bizarre trumpeting. I ran down the steps out into the open of the parking lot and stood staring, open mouthed at a pair of Sandhills flying over.
It was magical.
So now, I associate that sound with Alaska. You know how sometimes a particular smell or sound can bring you back to an earlier time and place? That's what these Cranes on Saturday did for me. Brought me back to my cabin in the black spruce and poplar forest I lived in for 3 months.

Ok, anyway...

Snow Geese

Assorted ducks and swans and geese...not sure of species. This was REALLY far away...

AnotherSandhill Crane...and for more information on birding at MNWR, visit: Montezuma Birding.
It was a great time for all, and I hope we can do a joint event again in the future!


  1. looks like fun.

    Leopold is obviously well-loved here in WI.....and everywhere...

  2. Being a craniac when it comes to whooping cranes and sandhills, I loved your entry and am happy to see that Sandhills like MNWF. I don't know how anyone could not love them or Aldo Leopold.

    1. Thanks Lakota :) The SHCs are just so majestic. I love their call!

  3. Are you following the ultra light whooping crane migration at all? Endangered whooping cranes were inprinted to fly with an ultra light and they are on their way to Florida. Then they'll fly back on their own in the Spring. When weather permits and they fly, there is a live cam on the ultra light and it's like flying with them. If you'd like to check them our or watch, their website has a live cam. operationmigration (dot)org I can't get enough of whoopers and sandies. Like you said, they are just so majestic and ohhhhh their vocals. :) Love them both.

    1. I am aware that that has been done in the past with migrating birds, but wasn't aware it was currently going on with the Cranes. Thanks for sharing, I'll have to check it out! Have you been to MNWR?

  4. Yes, I have been to MNWR but it's been a few years. Now that I know sandhills are there at times, it'll be a treat to visit. Perhaps someday MNWR will have its own population of nesting sandhills.

    I just got an earlybird notice from Operation Migration. Weather looks good today so crossing fingers that it's good enough for the whoopers and ultralight to fly this AM after the sun rises. ustream(dot)tv/migratingcranes

    1. There have indeed been accounts of chicks with pairs at the refuge. The professor, John, who accompanied us on this trip was actually the one to discover it!

    2. That's exciting. I hope we hear more about them being at MNWF. :)

      Thanks for the update!


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