Sandhill Cranes periodically visit the Montezuma Audubon Center (April 3rd photo by Carol Stokes-Cawley).
The Montezuma Birding (and Nature) Trail is a driving route connecting birding locations around the Montezuma NWR and Wetlands Complex north of Cayuga Lake midway between Rochester and Syracuse, NY. Because of its significance as a refueling stop and breeding habitat, the National Audubon Society has designated the Complex as an Important Bird Area.
The Montezuma Audubon Center (MAC) -- with its eBird "Trail Tracker" kiosk -- serves as one of two main hubs for the Birding Trail. The MAC is located on the west side of Route 89 about 1.7 miles north of the village of Savannah, NY (in the southeastern corner of Wayne County). The MAC's two miles of walking trails are open year-round, but the building is closed Mondays, holidays, Christmas-New Year's break, and most Sundays with the exception of special programs. [The Bar Charts option on the "View and Explore Data" page of eBird is an excellent reference for lists of species and seasonal frequency at the MAC eBird hotspot and other hotspots around the Complex. A list of relevant eBird hotspots is found at the bottom of the Locations page.]
The Birding Trail has two key components: the state's Northern Montezuma Wildlife Mangement Area (NMWMA) and the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR), which has long been a premier birding destination in the northeastern U.S. The entrance road to the refuge visitor's center (the 2nd hub for the Birding Trail) is located on the north side of Routes 5 & 20 east of Seneca Falls, NY (before you cross the Seneca River if you are travelling east, after the bridge if going west). Add to these two areas The Nature Conservancy’s Carncross Saltmarsh Preserve northeast of Savannah and you have a birding destination of national stature. Aquatic birds -- mainly waterfowl, grebes, waders, rails and shorebirds -- are usually the main attraction, but Ospreys, eagles and unusual birds like Cerulean Warbler add to the appeal. Short-eared Owls are a winter highlight. (SEOW photo below © Dave Spier)
There is a map of the core Wetlands Complex with the locations of Muckrace birding hotspots on a drop-down page under "Locations" on this website. A map of the Northern Montezuma W.M.A. can be found on the D.E.C. website. It covers the adjacent portions of Wayne, Cayuga and Seneca Counties. A more-detailed topo map of Howland's Island, the largest unit in the NMWMA, is available on the Friend's website. Access to Howland's Island is mostly limited to hiking, biking or horseback. Additional emergent wetlands are being restored on the NMWMA with the help of . DU also oversaw recent upgrades at May's Point Pool on the MNWR to better control water levels during shorebird migrations.
A new Wetlands Complex Map and User's Guide developed by the D.E.C. is available for sale at the MAC and MNWR. The revised guide book, Birding the Cayuga Lake Basin, published by the Cayuga Bird Club and edited by Bob McGuire, contains descriptions of 16 hotspots in the Montezuma Wetlands Complex. It's beautifully illustrated in full color, covers a total of 76 birding locations, and it's available for sale at the MAC. [retail price is $24]
(below is a photo of competitive Muckracers at the May's Point Pool platform, MNWR - © Dave Spier)
The Friends of the Montezuma Wetlands Complex has been an invaluable support group for the federal/state/private partnership. They sponsor two annual birding events: the Montezuma Muckrace fund-raising competition in September and the Montezuma Christmas Bird Count in mid to late December. Compilations for each event are held at the Montezuma Audubon Center (MAC).
The Eaton Birding Society has a facebook group that often features species photos and birding news from the Complex. A separate site and forum for the Trail is the free Montezuma Birding Yahoo group which allows an exchange of current birding tips. There are also more maps, member photo albums, a draft trail guide, and web links on that site. (A free Yahoo ID is required to view most files.) A foldable checklist of birds can be e-mailed to you by contacting The Northeast Naturalist. (Please specify .xls or PDF.) There's also a Word-version of a checklist for the Montezuma NWR.
A general Wayne County Birding guide is available as a downloadable PDF from the county tourism office. Of particular interest are locations 8, 9 and 10 on pages 8-12. These include the Montezuma Audubon Center, the Federal refuge and Howland's Island. (Also note the other great birding locations around Wayne County.)
The Montezuma Birding Trail began as an Americorps service project in cooperation with the Montezuma Audubon Center. The part-time Americorps position, a portion of which was devoted to the Trail, was funded through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act 2009 administered by the Wayne County Action Program (WayneCAP), Inc.
For more information, or to get an e-mailed copy of the bird checklist (.xls or PDF), contact The Northeast Naturalist.
Inquiries related to the Montezuma Audubon Center may be sent to their e-mail. The MAC is located at 2295 Rt. 89 (1.7 miles north of Savannah), mailing address: P.O. Box 187, Savannah, NY 13146. Phone number: (315) 365-3588. Ask about their upcoming programs, including occasional birding trips. They also have a facebook page.