Excerpt from The Edge Walker's Guide to Lake Shore Birding Hot Spots a 24 page pamphlet available May 07 $4.50 order from www.chimneybluff.com or e mail me.
Lake Ontario impacts migrating birds in several ways. Its marshes, near shore shallows, and the open waters of its bays serve as habitat to migrating waterfowl during the late fall and early winter. Loons, grebes, and other fish eating birds and diving ducks feed here, while migrant and non migrant geese alike that gather in shoreline corn fields often use the lake as an overnight refuge in calm weather.
The lake also affects the routes that migrating birds use. Many migrating bird species tend to follow coast lines. In the spring large soaring birds like vultures, hawks and others follow the lake shore because the cool waters of the lake do not provide the thermals they need to move north. A number of smaller birds also often follow coasts moving eastward along the Wayne and Cayuga county shorelines. Even those birds that fly at night and go straight across the lake, usually pause and re-fuel along its south shore in the spring and along its north shore in fall before continuing. Studies suggest that owls that migrate also may follow the lake shore.
Traveling birds of all species must stop periodically to replenish their fat reserves. Staging areas, where migrating birds stop to rest and feed, are crucial to species survival and a number of studies have shown that Lake Ontario's south shore within a half mile of the lake is such an area for spring migrants. Under certain conditions, you may find forested and brushy areas here seem almost alive with small busy brightly colored birds. The first waves of spring migrants arrive just as the spring mass emergences of aquatic midges are beginning, benefiting many of the insect eaters like the various swallows and warblers and other small song birds.
The lake shore habitat is also important to a number of species of birds that reside here during the summer. Fish eaters like the osprey and bald eagle use shore line trees to rest and watch for food. They also need large old growth trees to build their nests in and often select a site near their food supply of either open lake or lake shore marsh. The wooded areas along the lake and along the creeks and wetlands of the lake shore have some of the characteristics of riparian (riverside) forests, namely the varied fringe of undergrowth at the sunlit edge of the woods and the abundance of aquatic insects, which also make them particularly attractive to nesting birds. And a few species of birds even make direct use of the clay bluffs for nesting, the kingfisher, the cliff swallow and bank swallows and sometimes the phoebe and barn swallow among them.
Most birds generally move eastward along the shoreline from Rochester to Mexico Bay where the lake coast begins to turn northward. West of Rochester they tend to move toward the Niagara Peninsula to cross the lake.
By late winter the calls of northbound Canada geese and the slightly higher pitched cackle of snow geese heralds the breakup of winter. You may also see an occasional flight of tundra swans or other oddities as March moves on. Red Tail hawks are among the earlier large hawks to begin flying east along the shore and start showing up in early March, about when those big flocks of mixed black bird species (starlings, grackles, redwings etc) also first appear overhead. I always figure spring is well and truly arrived when I see my first turkey vultures (TV's to the serious bird watcher set) heading eastward over my house.
As spring moves on and gets serious with peepers in full cry and the first spring beauties peeping from among last year's leaves on the forest floor, April's skies along the lake shore fill with hawks, eagles, and lots and lots of vultures. At the Derby Hill bird observatory daily hawk counts in the thousands are frequent. By the end of April bird migrations are hitting high gear along the shore of the lake. You may see numerous hawks and a wide variety of smaller birds such as blue jays robins, boblolinks, kinglets and flickers moving east along the coast. By May, nocturnal bird migrants such as the various “neotropical” birds ( that's a bird that winters in Mexico, the Caribbean, or South America) begin moving through. The small songbirds often are very active early in the day in forested and brushy areas by the lake as they hustle up breakfast after their night of travel.
For the less proficient bird watcher that brief few days when trees begin to leaf out is a good time to take the field guide in hand and go forth in search of brightly colored spring warblers and other far traveling birds such as the scarlet tanager, redstart, or the colorful northern oriole and rose breasted grosbeak. Because Lake Ontario's cold water and its associated onshore breezes on sunny days hold back spring, the trees break bud up to a week later than inland. May is a good time to see a passing eagle or osprey. Last May while gardening I was treated to several courtship flight displays of ospreys overhead.
Most of the song bird migration is over by early June. There are still plenty of resident birds to be seen, though, both ashore and in the marshes. A number of birds moult late in the summer. They are then less active and vocal as nature prepares them for their journeys south with a new suit of feathers.
Fall migrant birds are less conspicuous along the lake's south shore. The hawks use a different route around the lake, and much of the concentration of song bird migrants now takes place along the north shore. But by mid to late fall a number of ducks and other waterfowl begin to appear on the near shore waters of the lake and the various large bays and marshes.
A Dozen Good Places to see birds along the shore ...