Around the Lake, January 7th, 2012

by Bob McGuire

They must have known that the weather would be perfect because thirteen folks joined me for an all day, around-the-lake trip to find out what birds the new year had to offer. The waterfowl hunting season was still on, so we did not find great numbers of anything, but we did find a great variety of species, 55 for the day.

We started out just after sunrise at Stewart Park, and with eight scopes among us, we quickly picked out Common and Red-throated loons, Double-crested Cormorant, Ruddy Duck, Hooded Merganser, Ring-necked Duck, Snow Goose, and Common Goldeneye.

Myers (the spit and marina) was also relatively empty, with only coots, a Horned Grebe, and large numbers of Mallards well offshore. One car detoured down Portland Point Road looking for the recently seen shrike and found a Northern Mockingbird instead.

Along Route 90 in the vicinity of Rafferty Road, we passed two American Kestrels on wires and pulled over briefly to watch a pair of Ring-necked Pheasants disappear in the corn stubble. Aurora Bay (viewed from the boathouse) was sheltered from the south breeze, and the temperature hit 50 degrees. We all had good, close looks at any of seven Horned Grebes. There were several distant Common Loons, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, and American Black Ducks, as well as numerous Mallards. The Eared Grebe that Steve Fast reported that morning remained submerged the entire time we were there, and regrettably, we missed it.

The Mill Pond in Union Springs held small numbers of a variety of ducks, including American Wigeon, Gadwall, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and Bufflehead. We never did find the large flock of Aythyas that had been loafing at the south end of the lake in recent days, and we found no Canvasbacks.

We stopped at the north end of the village of Cayuga to scan for swans and found that they had moved out into the lake. We were rewarded, however, by a flyover Merlin that perched briefly on one of the power poles before continuing west. Mud Lock gave us a Belted Kingfisher and a Bald Eagle.

From the Potato Building on the Mucklands, we found a pair of Northern Pintails among the hundreds of Canada Geese. We scanned for cranes and listened for Horned Larks but had no luck with either. We then drove down Van Dyne Spoor Road in hopes of a shrike but found a mockingbird instead, and we had great looks at a hovering Rough-legged Hawk.

From there we headed south, with stops along Upper Lake Road to scan the ice edge. There were hundreds of swans, most of them asleep, but we did get a few good looks at some faces, enough to decide that they were Tundra Swans. We stopped at Dean’s Cove but were unable to find the resident Lesser Black-backed Gull. Several large flocks of migrating Snow Geese passed in the distance, and a couple of people were able to pick out a Ross’s Goose (by finding a really small bird with a shorter neck).

Our last stop was the Sheldrake area where we picked up a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers along Wyers Point Road and a Common Loon off the park. Surprisingly, the water south of the point was empty of geese, with only an occasional group of Mallards and American Black Ducks.

We encountered no snow anywhere, and with temps in the low 50s, it felt more like an early spring jaunt. Thanks to all who came along and helped each other with bird identification questions and birding app recommendations.