The natural assets of Livingston County-the Genesee River, the Finger Lakes, lush forests and huge tracts of rolling, pastoral grasslands-make it a great place to watch birds in any season. So whether you want to find nesting sparrows along Nations Road, short-eared owls in Lima, or warblers in the forests along Letchworth gorge, there are many places (listed below) to relax and watch birds.
The Audubon Society recognizes three sites in Livingston County as Important Bird Areas, which means the site provides essential habitat for one or more species of birds. These sites are listed with an asterisk.
Ask long-time bird watchers which birds are most likely to attract out-of-towners to Livingston County and they'll probably say "The grassland birds on Nations Road."
Grasslands are a disappearing feature of America's landscape and the species adapted to them face widespread declines. The infrequently mowed agricultural fields along Nation's Road from Avon to Geneseo are unique assets because they protect the survival of grassland birds, such as meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, bobolinks, and many sparrows.
In summer on Nations Road, where many species of sparrows can be seen and heard in one field, birders are easily motivated to identify them using their distinctive, buzzy songs and subtle field markings. Savannah, grasshopper, field, and vesper sparrows are regular in summer, and the state-threatened Henslow's sparrow is a rare and thrilling find.
In winter, Nations Road is an excellent spot to find horned larks, snow buntings, northern harrier hawks, and the state-endangered short-eared owl. Visit an hour before sunset to see these two raptors circling above the fields hunting for prey.
River Road holds much of the same pastoral beauty and habitat as Nations Road. A Sunday drive on River Road is likely to turn up wintering raptors including hawks, kestrels, shrikes and short-eared owls. Ring-necked pheasants, horned larks, snow buntings, and Lapland longspurs are common in winter. During summer, look for grassland birds such as bobolinks and savannah and grasshopper sparrows.
Letchworth State Park:*
Letchworth is an obvious choice for bird watchers. With 14,000 acres and 225 bird species, bird watching in the park can be a lifetime pursuit. Turkey vultures, chimney swifts, and other swallows are regularly seen in the gorge during the warm months. Dishmill Creek basin and the parade grounds, near the south end of the park, are great spots to find nesting warblers (up to 25 species!) and other songbirds. The Genesee River acts as a funnel for migrants, so any location in the park has the potential to show good birds during spring and fall.
Hemlock and Canadice Lakes:*
These are the only Finger Lakes with undeveloped shorelines and mostly intact habitat. Hemlock Lake was famous in the 1970s for hosting the last "wild" bald eagle nest in the state and descendants of that pair continue to nest here today. The trails around both lakes are great for seeing bluebirds, flycatchers, chickadees, and other songbirds. If planning a visit, obtain a free visitor permit from the City of Rochester (which owns 7,100 acres of shoreline as a public water supply) at the north end of Hemlock Lake.
Conesus Lake Inlet:
Though the shoreline of Conesus Lake is mostly developed, the swampy areas surrounding its southern inlet (south of Sliker Hill Road and north of Guiltner Road) attract many good birds. In summer, birders enjoy a breeding colony of great blue herons (called a rookery) and a nesting pair of bald eagles. Red-headed woodpeckers, which are losing ground in the state, also breed here. The inlet is a fantastic place to see migrating ducks, geese, and shorebirds.
Doran Road in Lima:
Located east of downtown Lima, Doran Road is a favorite place to watch short-eared owls and northern harrier hawks hunt for prey over open fields.
Genesee Valley Greenway:
Nearly half of the 90-mile long Genesee Valley Greenway, which follows the old canal, runs through Livingston County. The Genesee River also runs parallel to the trail and provides a natural migration route that attracts songbirds, raptors, waterfowl, and other birds. Though the Greenway hosts many species year-round, the trail is most alive with birds in spring and early summer and again during fall. Several ponds and wet areas along the Greenway are good for finding geese, ducks, and shorebirds, including the next site, Cuylerville Pond.
You'll see an impressive variety of waterfowl and shorebirds in this pond/cattail marsh, which is located one mile north of Rt. 20A (at Greenway mile marker 29). Notable species have included wood duck, blue-winged teal, least bittern, Virginia rail, sora, common moorhen, cuckoos, great horned owl, and willow flycatcher.
Directly east of the pond, on the opposite bank of the Genesee River, is the privately owned Geneseo Airfield and Big Tree Farm areas which are good bird-watching sites. The landowners usually don't mind bird watchers gazing from the perimeter of their land.
Local Birding Resources:
- Rochester Birding Association
- Genesee Valley Audubon Society
- Birding Checklists For New York
- The Birds of Livingston County, New York (Written by Kurt Fox, published by the Rochester Academy of Science)
- Written by Laura M. Kammermeier
Author bio: Laura M. Kammermeier is a freelance writer who has lived and birded in the Finger Lakes region of New York for six of the last nine years. She is the former project leader for Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch, former web consultant for Bird Watcher's Digest, and a co-founder the Ohio Ornithological Society and has contributed to the Genesee Sun newspaper. She writes from her home in Honeoye Falls, NY.