Tips for Local Birding

How can I see a map of all the birding hotspots in Rochester?

As many long-time members know, the RBA has sold a Birding Hotspots booklet for years. We are proud to announce that the hotspots booklet was update this year and send many thanks to all the volunteers involved in making that happen, especially Norma Platt who took charge and made it all come together.

We took these updated files and turned it into a brand new online feature called Birding Hotspots.

Birding Hotspots cover

RBA has documented roughly 35 birding hotspots in western New York.

You can view a map of Birding Hotspots here. In total, we have mapped 35 hotspots in the region and each of these can be viewed by RBA members after logging in to our member area. A total of eight of Rochester’s most popular spots are shown to non-members.

Join RBA if you’d like to support our efforts and find directions and details on every site.

I will be visiting the area and would like to bird during my visit. Can someone guide me? Or are there certain locations that are best?

Go online to Birding Pals www.birdingpal.org (both free and professional for a fee bird guides can be found there).

One of our members, Kim Sucy is an excellent local Birding Pal who loves to show visitors our local birds.  She is also the RBA Committee Field Trip Chair.  You can contact her directly at [email protected].

You may also contact long-time Rochester birder Brett Ewald at [email protected] for a custom day tour.  Visit his website at http://www.lakeshorenaturetours.com.

You can also post a request at our Facebook page RBABIRDS or subscribe to (it is free) and post to our local birding listserve.

As for getting information on the best locations to bird on your own check out our interactive Birding Hotspots map at this website for some of the top sites.

Where are the best places to bird in January?

Lake Ontario across from the Van Lare Treatment Plant in Irondequoit is a good spot to look for Little Gull.

Charlotte Beach and the Genesee River outlet at Charlotte are good places for gulls, ducks, and mergansers and possibly a Snowy Owl.

Sodus Bay and Conesus Lake usually have good numbers of waterfowl as long as there is open water and not too many hunters.

Lake Ontario can also produce a King Eider or Harlequin Duck.  If you find some Goldeneye, look closely for a Barrow’s Goldeneye.

Where are the best spots for seeing birds in February?

Who knows what this month will bring weather-wise? On average 90 species are seen in February.

There usually is open water for waterfowl along Lake Ontario.The Genesee River is usually open somewhat as is the Irondequoit Bay outlet. Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead and Greater Scaup should be seen at these spots. Slater Creek now freezes but you may find mergansers near there.

Feeders could become the best spots for seeing birds this month. Harsh weather will make a food supply attractive and draw American GoldfinchCommon Redpoll and, of course, Black-capped Chickadee.

Snow Bunting may still be found along the edges of roads near fields where seeds may have gotten caught. Nations Road near Avon is a good place to look.

Mendon Ponds has produced Virginia Rail the past couple of years. If you really need a bird fix, grab some sunflower seed and walk the Nature Center trails to feed the Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse and nuthatches.

The first spring hawk flights may occur near the end of the month. Stay tuned to happenings at Braddock Bay Park.

With the arrival of spring, what birds might I see in March?

Who knows what the weather will bring? We’ll see what March is like soon.  On average 120 species are seen this month.

Warm fronts will bring the best birding along the lakeshore’s fields and woodlots. The first shorebirds, Pectoral Sandpiper and both Yellowlegs, will show up this month in flooded fields. Killdeer will be seen too.

Spring migration will bring some new arrivals to your yard. Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow and Golden-crowned Kinglet could show up in your brush piles and shrubs.

Phoebes will arrive to catch the very first insects of the year. Red-winged Blackbird are a sure sign of spring.

The first spring hawk flights occur this month at Braddock Bay. Expect to see eagles, Rough-legged Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk among the clouds. Flocks of Canada Goose will fill the skies too and the fields along the lakeshore.

March is the peak month for migrating ducks. Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall and Ruddy Duck should be seen this month.

With migration in full swing, what birds can I expect to see in April?

Spring has arrived. On average 170 species are seen this month.

The hawk migration reaches its peak, songbirds begin to fill the woods, bitterns and herons arrive in the marshes. Yup, migration is in full swing! Some of the best action is along the lake after the passage of a warm front.

In the yard we can find White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow and perhaps some Chipping Sparrow as well. Near the middle of the month look for Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Hermit Thrush and Ruby-crowned Kinglet will arrive in the woods in places like Island Cottage Woods.

The first warblers (Yellow-rumped, Pine, Palm and Black-throated Green) could show up there too.  A Sandhill Crane might be seen flying overhead.

The lake will hold Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead and other lingering waterfowl. Terns will show up too.

Bitterns, rails and herons will be seen in the marshes of Braddock Bay, Irondequoit Bay and Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

Where are the best places to bird in May?

It doesn’t get any better than this.  This is what Rochesterians live for!

In fact, more species are reported in May than any other month. On average 68 new species arrive, and 230 are seen overall this month.

The spring migration reaches its peak by the second weekend in May, nearly 30 species of warblers arrive in the woods, Bobolink arrive in the fields, and shorebirds continue to stop at wet spots in the fields.

The sheer volume of migrating songbirds means some are bound to spill over into your yard, especially if you have trees, shrubs and other natural cover. Watch for warblers, vireos, and thrushes—perhaps even a Lincoln’s Sparrow might be spotted picking through last year’s fallen leaves and litter.

The crown jewels of the spring—warblers—arrive in force. With them come vireos, thrushes, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow- and Black-billed Cuckoo, Lincoln’s Sparrow and, later in the month, empidonax flycatchers. Island Cottage Woods, Firehouse Woods and Church Trail are probably the premier spots for their volume of migrating songbirds. But both Durand Eastman Park and Cobb’s Hill/Washington Grove are also excellent.

Vultures, Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Sharp-shinned Hawk continue to fly over in good numbers. Migrating Common Nighthawk will be visible at dusk, especially along the lakeshore. A great vantage point is the hawk watch platform at Braddock Bay, or any other vantage point along the lakeshore.

The lake will hold Black-bellied Plover on the beaches, and Ruddy Turnstone on the piers. May can be a good month for gulls as well. Later in the month, look for Franklin’s and Laughing Gull. Jetties and piers at Charlotte and Irondequoit Bay, and also beaches are great places to look.

Least Bittern and Sora Rail will be seen in the marshes of Braddock Bay and Salmon Creek and Irondequoit Bay.

High Acres Nature Area (HANA) in Perinton is great for Rusty Blackbird, warblers, swallows, shorebirds, and bitterns —it’s tough to call! Go there expecting to find something cool and unusual and you usually will!

The possibilities are endless for some great birding this month! Why not join us on one of the many RBA field trips?

Where’s the best place to bird in June?

June is the height of nesting season–but spring migrants can still be found early in the month. In some years, you can catch both ends of the shorebird migration: the last northbound birds at the start of the month, the first southbound birds at the end. On average, 169 species are reported.

This is a good month to visit areas that feature unique habitats for nesting species that otherwise wouldn’t be found here. In the woods, Letchworth State Park is a must stop at this time of year. Nesting species include Hooded Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Golden-crowned Kinglet. Acadian Flycatcher, Wild Turkey, and Ruffed Grouse are other specialties. Norway Road, just north of Route 104, is a great spot to observe nesting Blue-winged and Cerulean Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Cuckoos, Veery and other species. Keep to the road, however–the woods and fields are private property. Swallow Hollow at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge is also a great spot to find Cerulean Warbler, and the Onondaga Trail also has Acadian Flycatcher.

In the fields, the Nations Road area south of Avon has been consistently good for Grasshopper Sparrow and Orchard Oriole; Eastern Bluebird nest in the area, too.

On the lake, Franklin’s Gull are occasionally found in the first part of June. By the end of the month, Lesser Yellowlegs and Least and Semi-palmated Sandpiper are usually among the first to arrive. Since mudflats are usually in short supply this time of year for shorebirds, Ontario Beach and the piers at the mouth of the Genesee River are good places to watch. Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, however, has some of the best habitat for early shorebirds. Roadsides around Canadice Lake are hopping with Cliff Swallow, and Hemlock Lake Park has Cliff Swallow, too.

On the ponds, nesting rails and bitterns prove especially elusive this time of year, and are best seen by getting into the marshes by canoe. Look at any of the ponds or borrow pits along the west lakeshore, Braddock Bay, marshes at the south end of Irondequoit Bay, and Montezuma and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuges (nesting Prothonotary Warbler is a specialty at Iroquois).

In the air, migrating Turkey Vulture continue to pass through; early June is also a good time to spot Bald Eagle, usually immatures, moving along the lakeshore. A great vantage point is the hawk watch platform at Braddock Bay–or any vantage point near the west lakeshore. You can also look for Bald Eagle flying over southern ends of places like Irondequoit Bay and Conesus Lake.

Where’s the best place to bird in July?

Summer is at its peak, but the start of “fall migration” is at hand.  Southbound shorebirds are already moving through our area, as other species finish raising their young in the fields, woods, and marshes, and begin dispersing.  On average, 154 species are seen.

In the yard, American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing do not begin nesting until this time of year.  You can still attract Ruby-throated Hummingbird to coral bells, petunias and other plants that bloom through the summer.  Keep the bird bath full; mid-to-late summer dry spells can drastically reduce drinking supplies in the wild.

In the woods, take advantage of unique local habitats. Look at Letchworth State Park for warblers, Turkey Vulture, grouse and turkey, and Norway Road for more warblers, vireos and Veery.

The west lakeshore in Parma, Hamlin, and points farther west are great places to continue to search for Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper in suitable grassy fields.

Migrating shorebirds begin to pass in increasing numbers, pausing on beaches, piers and mudflats before heading south.  Semipalmated Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Least, Semipalmated, Western, Pectoral and Stilt Sandpiper are usually spotted in July.  Whimbrel and Wilson’s Phalarope are also possible.  Caspian Tern will be seen in increasing numbers, peaking in August.

Mudflats are usually still in short supply, so Ontario Beach and the Charlotte and Summerville piers become the best spots in our immediate area.  However, Goose Pond and other mudflats at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge usually attract the largest numbers of shorebirds this time of year.

On the ponds, with young birds fledged, herons, bitterns, rails and ducks become more noticeable now on bays, ponds, creeks and marshes.  Huge flocks of Bank Swallow gather near ponds and the lakeshore prior to departure; their numbers peak in late July or very early August.  Look in any of the lakefront ponds – Braddock and Irondequoit Bays and adjoining marshes.  Both Montezuma and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuges are outstanding areas for viewing pond and marsh birds.

Where might I find birds during fall migration in August?

Signs of fall migration accelerate.  Post-breeding dispersal is also evident, as young birds and their parents desert nesting grounds to feed and gather strength for the journey south.  On average, 167 species are seen.

By mid-to late-month the first warblers will be migrating south through our area.  Bay-breasted, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Canada, Northern Waterthrush, Cape May, and Black-throated Blue Warbler are among the first to do so.  Many warblers in fall plumage are a mere shadow of their spring splendor or wear an entirely different plumage, which can be confusing.  However, with practice, most species can be readily identified.  Look in woodlots along the lakeshore.  Badgerow Park in Greece consistently attracts small numbers in August, particularly along sunlit wood edges in late afternoon and early evening.

Migrating Black-bellied Plover and American Golden-Plover will appear in freshly plowed fields.  Buff-breasted Sandpiper are possible the last weekend of the month in fields and grassy areas.  Look on the west lakeshore in Parma, Hamlin, and points farther west; they are traditionally good places this time of year.

On the lake, shorebird migration is in full swing.  White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpiper join the array of species.  A Whimbrel or two, or even a Willet, are often spotted each August along the lakeshore.  Look on Ontario Beach and at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge for shorebirds.  If water levels have dropped enough, the mudflats off Empire Boulevard at the south end of Irondequoit Bay, and at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, become shorebird hotspots worth frequent checks.

On the ponds, bitterns, herons, and rails will be more evident now, especially as water levels drop, exposing mudflats where parents and young feed.  Watch for southern heron species that may turn up on ponds in post-breeding wandering.  Look at any of the lakefront ponds and borrow pits; Braddock and Irondequoit Bays; Salmon Creek.  Montezuma and Iroquois National Wildlife refuges are great places to observe marsh birds this time of year.

In the air, an interesting dispersal of raptors occurs in August.  Hundreds, even thousands of Red-tailed Hawk and smaller numbers of Broad-winged Hawk and Northern Harrier fly over on west winds.  The hawk watch platform at Braddock Bay is again a good place to look, or any vantage point along the parkway near the lakeshore.

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