The Hawthorn Orchard is a large cattle-induced growth of mature (20-30+ foot high) hawthorn trees, located in East Ithaca, New York. The total size of the Hawthorn Orchard is approximately 13 acres.
To the best of my knowledge, the Hawthorn "Orchard" grew over several decades of selection for this type of woody plant by grazing cattle. They apparently avoid eating Hawthorn (its spiny stems probably helped). The Hawthorns grow taller, the undergrowth keeps getting eaten by the cattle. Eventually, the Hawthorns close over the canopy, reducing the likelihood for succession by other species. The cattle move out and the deer move in. The population which utilizes this Hawthorn Orchard probably perpetuate what the cattle once did. The 10-20 deer keep the undergrowth in check.
Timing is critical for this location. Once the Hawthorns are in full bloom, springtime neotropical migrants will abound! I will stretch my neck out and say that this is the BEST place in the entire Cayuga Lake Basing for reliably seeing select species of migrants each spring. You can count on 6-8 Tennessee Warblers, 6-8 Bay-breasted Warblers, 4-6 Cape May Warblers, and 2-4 Wilson's Warblers on any given day during peak migration through this area for each of those species...just to name a few.
What's more, is that this place provides incredible views of these migrants...point blank views. Ditch the old "warbler-neck" problem some associate with these types of migrants. The tallest of the Hawthorns range somewhere between 20-30 feet.
-- Chris Tessaglia-Hymes
For a list of species that have been seen in and around the Hawthorn Orchard, take a look at Chris' list.
So, what's the best way to get there? There are three approaches:
1) Honness Lane
2) Mitchell Street
3) Pine Tree Road
For 1 and 2, simply park at either end of this section of the East Ithaca Recreation Way and walk about half way down the path. You will encounter a section of split-rail fencing with a stream flowing under the path at that point. Carefully walk down a very steep, short, grade and cross the wooden plank. This foot path is located on the east side of the path and on the Mitchell Street side of the split rail fence. Anyway, walk up a short (8 foot) section of slippery path and carefully step over some old fencing wire. The path will bring you into the southwest corner of a horse exercise field. Walk to the left along the west edge of this pasture/field. The trail will bring you right into the southwest corner of the Hawthorn Orchard. At this point, simply meander the horse and deer trails throughout and follow your ears to where the warblers are. Try spishing, E. Screech-Owl imitations, or simply walk quietly. Do not be surprised to encounter other birders, especially as the season progresses, or an occasional horse (with rider) or deer.
For those less adventurous or nimble, you may prefer to access the Hawthorn Orchard by taking choice 3, the access point from Pine Tree Road. Basically, at the intersection of Ellis Hollow Road, Mitchell Street, what used to be Judd Falls Road, and Pine Tree Road, go south on Pine Tree Road to the FIRST driveway on your RIGHT. This is the entrance to the Oxly Equestrian Center and the Reis Tennis Center (both are Cornell University facilities). Drive in a discretely park somewhere out of the way in one of those parking lots. Walk down a paved path along the south side of the Reis Tennis Center. There will be a more-or-less obvious path/road leading west away from the paved path. Follow this path/road due west keeping the Reis Tennis Center on your right and then behind you. After crossing a narrow strip of open land, you will encounter the Hawthorn Orchard. Walk left about 40-50 feet until you encounter an obvious opening in the hedgerow which will take you down (west) into the horse exercise field/pasture. The Hawthorn Orchard will now be on your RIGHT. Enter the first horse path on the right leading into the Orchard. You will now be entering the southeast corner of the Orchard. wander around as suggested in the previous directions (last paragraph).
In either case, you cannot get lost. You may get slightly disoriented, especially on an overcast day, but you cannot get lost. You've got the East Ithaca Recreation Way (Bike Path) to the west, the Horse Exercise Field/Pasture to the south, the Reis Tennis Center to the east, and eventually Mitchell Street to the north.
Text copyright © 2002 Chris Tessaglia-Hymes.