Montezuma NWR (Wayne County, NY) – #12

Canvasbacks in flight - Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge © D. Sherony

Canvasbacks in flight – Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge © Dominic Sherony


Shallow pools and cattail marshes maintained for waterfowl. Pools are often drawn down for shorebirds in the fall. Upland and bottomland hardwood forests attract nesting birds and passerine migrants.


From Rochester take I-90 east to Exit 41. Turn right onto Rt. 414 and immediately left on Rt. 318 to US 20. The main entrance to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR) is 2 miles east on the left hand side.

To reach the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area (NMWMA), turn north from Rt. 20 onto Rt. 89 and follow it until it merges with Rt. 31 at the mucklands and refer to Map 2 for locations of specific locations of interest. Beside those maps provided, see the NYS Atlas and Gazetteer on the lower left corner of page 74 for the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area.

Montezuma NWR Wildlife Drive 1 map

Click to see larger map and open in new window.


Going to and typing in ‘Montezuma’ will bring you to any number of locations and recent sightings.

Note that parts of this area fall in three different Kingbird reporting regions. The area north of Armitage Road and its extrapolation east to the Seneca River on the east side of Howland Island (that is all of Wayne County) is in Region 2. Near the Potato building on Rt. 31 the line is about 100 yards or so north of Rt. 31. At the Seneca River it is about ¼ mile north. East of the Seneca River, all the area north of Rt. 31, including Howland Island, is in Region 5, while the area to the south is in Region 3.

Map 1

Wildlife Drive (Main Loop): Enter the wildlife drive from the Refuge Headquarters building. Check the headquarters for recent sightings. The 26-acre area around the headquarters and tower has been converted to ponds. The main pool can be viewed from the nearby observation tower. Walk from the tower to the 5-acre Shorebird Unit and view with a scope from the southwest corner. Take the auto loop around the Wildlife Drive stopping along the way. Ducks and waterbirds are plentiful spring, summer and fall. Ruddy Duck breed in these marshes. Finally, stop at Benning Marsh, which is usually drawn down in fall for shorebirds. Best viewing conditions at Benning Marsh are mid-morning to early afternoon.

Tschache Pool: From the end of the wildlife drive turn right on Rt. 89 and go north over I-90 to the first parking lot of the left; view Tschache Pool from the observation tower. Black and, rarely, Common Tern breed and Bald Eagle are usually readily visible here from early spring to late fall as well as many other marsh species.

May’s Point Pool: It is the intent of the refuge to maintain May’s Point Pool as a shorebird feeding location in fall. The pool is currently under study and will not be drawn down again until the fall of 2009. Access is the first right off Rt. 89 past I-90. Best viewing conditions are later afternoon to dusk. Yellow-throated Vireo and Cerulean Warbler can typically be found along this short stretch of road from late spring through summer.

Montezuma NWR - © Dick Horsey - Aug 22, 2015

Montezuma NWR – © Dick Horsey – Aug 22, 2015

Knox-Marsellus and Puddler’s Marshes: Continue north on Rt. 89 over the NYS Barge Canal and turn right on North May’s Point Rd. Take your first left onto East Rd. and proceed north to the overlook on the right. This is an elevated view of Knox-Marsellus Marsh. Black Tern breed here as well as other marsh birds. To reach Puddler’s Marsh, backtrack to North May’s Point Rd, turn left and follow it to Towpath Rd, a lane on the left near the end of North May’s Point Rd. Follow Towpath Rd. east along the south edge of Knox-Marcellus Marsh. About a mile down, a dike separates the two marshes. Puddler’s Marsh is usually drawn down in the fall for shorebirds and Towpath Rd. is a good place to walk to find fall migrant passerines, especially sparrows. Park anywhere along Towpath Rd. but pull far enough off to let other vehicles pass. Do not drive beyond the eastern end of Puddler’s Marsh, as the roads are not suitable for automobiles. Best viewing is late morning and afternoon. Almost all eastern shorebirds are found here annually and both Merlin and Peregrine Falcon are annual fall visitors.

Esker Brook and South Spring Pool Trail: Esker Brook trail is accessed from the parking lot on East Tyer Rd (see map 1). This trail can also be accessed from the South Spring Pool trail, off Rt. 89 south of I-90. It is a one-mile walk from South Spring Pool to the Esker Brook area. Esker Brook Trail is a two-mile loop around a glacial esker. This trail complex is good for spring and fall migrants. In summer, Willow and Least Flycatcher, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, Warbling, Red-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Baltimore Oriole are expected nesting species.

Armitage Road: The bottomland forest north and south of Armitage Road, around the Clyde River and the NYS Barge Canal (see Map 1) is nesting territory for Pileated Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher, Yellow and Black-billed Cuckoo, Veery, Yellow-throated Vireo, Cerulean Warbler, American Redstart and many more species. Barred Owl, Acadian Flycatcher, and Prothonotary Warbler have all nested in this bottomland area on rare occasions. The forest is closed to entry in this area and the land north of Armitage Rd. is private property, but the area can be birded from the road.

Montezuma NWR Northern WMA map

Map 2

The Visitor’s Center for the NMWMA is on Rt. 89 approximately 1.5 miles north of the town of Savannah. There are ponds that may be drawn down for shorebirds in the fall within walking distance just west of the visitor’s center. There are several nature trails along Rt. 89 for family enjoyment but these have not been birded regularly. See Map 2 for Malone’s Creekside Trail and Turtle Pond Trail.

Rt. 31 Mucklands: From the junction of Rt. 89 and Rt. 31 in Savannah, follow Rt. 31/89 south 3 miles to where Rt. 31 turns east cutting through the mucklands in the Seneca River lowland. (To reach this location from Montezuma NWR, go north on Rt. 89 and follow Rt. 31 east where the two roads meet.) This is an excellent area in fall and winter for migrant geese. Cackling, Greater White-fronted, and Ross’s Goose are sometimes found in the flocks of Snow and Canada Goose that frequent these mucklands. Also, Snowy Owl are rarely reported in fall and winter. Off-road parking is available at an cinder block building on the north side of the road. Some of the land in this area is still private property and this building is still in use. Also, use extreme caution due to fast moving traffic on Rt. 31.

Most birding locations described below are reached from Savannah Spring Lake Rd. Savannah Spring Lake Rd. is accessed from Rt. 89. Proceed four-tenths of a mile north of the town of Savannah and make a right (east) onto Savannah Spring Lake Rd.

VanDyne Spoor Rd.: VanDyne Spoor Rd is a right turn approximately 0.6 miles east of Rt. 89 off of Savannah Spring Lake Rd. Follow VanDyne Spoor Rd. past the railroad tracks. Just before the railroad tracks is an optional left turn onto Railroad Road that goes east. The wet fields and ponds along this road are good for ducks in early spring. Continuing along VanDyne Spoor Rd. to northern boundary of the mucklands and scan the area for ducks and geese in spring, fall, and winter. The woods along the west to east part of Van Dyne Spoor can be very good for wet woodland nesting species and for migrants. Barred Owl is resident in these woods. The road dead-ends at the Malone-Foster Tract of the MNWR.

Morgan Rd.: Continuing east on Savannah Spring Lake Rd, the next right turn after Van Dyne Spoors Rd. is Morgan Rd. Follow it to its end at the Montezuma Wetlands Complex Office. Look for shorebirds, ducks, and Sandhill Crane in the flooded fields in spring.

Carncross Rd.: The next road north east of Morgan Rd. is Carncross Rd. Turn right off Savannah Spring Lake Rd. and view the field to the south. Sandhill Crane were frequently seen feeding with their offspring here in 2005 and 2006 and are frequently found in spring and late summer. One can now drive to a parking lot on Howland Island using a bridge at the end of Carncross Rd. but the road is blocked thereafter (see below).

Marten’s Tract Trail: Continue north east on Savannah Spring Lake Rd. to a parking lot on the right know as Martin’s Tract. View the savanna and pond from the mound. Sedge Wren have been found in this savannah in spring and Nelson’s Sharp-tail Sparrow have been found in fall along the dike heading east.

Montezuma NWR Howland Island map

Map 3

Howland Island (see Map 3): Howland Island is the largest area within the Wildlife Management Area and is an extremely good place to find migrant and nesting owls, woodpeckers, flycatchers, and passerines. The island has several thousand acres of woods and ponds and fifteen miles of trails. It is an important nesting location for Cerulean Warbler. It is accessible by foot from Carncross Rd, as described above. Howland Island can also be accessed on foot from the east side by way of Howland Island Rd., which intersects Rt. 38. The trails on Howland Island are shown in Map 3.


Montezuma NWR - © Dick Horsey - Oct 19, 2016

Montezuma NWR – © Dick Horsey – Oct 19, 2016

Rt. 31 roughly divides the birding areas into two parts. The NYS Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area is approximately 7,000 acres in several segments and is accessible from Rt. 89 north of Savannah, NY and from Savannah Spring Lake Rd. Almost all of the 7,000 acre MNWR is located south of Rt. 31 and is accessible from Rt. 89 and the main entrance on Rt. 20. The refuge is open daily through the year from dawn to dusk. Most viewing areas can be approached fairly closely by car. There are numerous hiking trails through both of these areas and parking is available throughout the complex.


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