Rare Birds of Summer 2012

- By Dave Nutter. Photos Copyright Melissa Groo.

Below are a few of the exciting finds in the Cayuga Lake Basin from late May and until late August. Note: Exact locations of sites mentioned below can be found in the CBC publication: Birding the Cayuga Lake Basin.

This spring Montezuma NWR had some excellent habitat for migrating shorebirds at Puddler Marsh. Among the many shorebird species, Brad Carlson found a BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER on 18 May, and, only on the evening of 21 May, he reported a BAIRD’S SANDPIPER and an increasingly rare RED KNOT. At Puddler Marsh on 19 May, as well as on the Montezuma NWR Wildlife Drive, were a RUDDY TURNSTONE (also at Myers Point in Lansing) and a WILSON’S PHALAROPE. Chris Wood reported the first WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER from Towpath Road on 23 May. A HUDSONIAN GODWIT was found by Jay McGowan and Livia Santana at Puddler starting on 26 May. This area was still good on 24 June when Wade & Melissa Rowley discovered a transition plumage male RUFF, a spectacular European bird, which was seen by many people the next day.

The first SANDERLING report on 12 May was from Montezuma NWR’s Mays Point Pool by Richard Cohen. SHORTBILLED DOWITCHERS were first reported there on 16 May by Marty Borko. That same day there was an unconfirmed eBird report by Rexanne Bruno from Virginia of two possible WILSON’S PLOVERS at Benning Marsh. There have also been several shorebird finds in less expected places: On 27 May, Chris Wood saw a WHIMBREL fly up from a field by the corner of Lake Road and Powers Road in Genoa.


My writing of this article on the afternoon of 23 August has been interrupted by news of a WHIMBREL in the fields opposite the SPCA on Hanshaw Road, near the Lab of O. 

On 23 May a RED-NECKED PHALAROPE was discovered by Steve Fast on a small, shallow, new pond next to a development on Boiceville Road in the Town of Caroline. Generally we see a few of this species on fall migration in the expansive mudflats and shallow water of Montezuma NWR or sometimes feeding on mats of aquatic vegetation at Ithaca’s Stewart Park. When spitting gray weather and low cloud cover delayed this bird’s northward migration for a day, it was a treat for many birders, affording close views of the bird in breeding plumage.

On 13 July Tim Lenz discovered an AMERICAN AVOCET resting among the gulls on Ithaca’s red lighthouse breakwater, and it was then seen by many birders. On 19 July Tom Johnson briefly saw a (WESTERN) WILLET on the spit at Myers Point. On 5 August I found an unprecedented 7 juvenile (WESTERN) WILLETS on Ithaca’s white lighthouse jetty.


The first STILT SANDPIPER report was from Puddler Marsh on 2 July by David Wheeler and
Jim Tarolli.


A breeding plumage male CURLEW SANDPIPER, another wanderer from Europe, found
by Tom Johnson and Chris Wood on 24 July was last seen on the 27th. On 22 August a juvenile CURLEW SANDPIPER was also reported there by Doug Robinson. The season’s first LONGBILLED
DOWITCHER report was from there on 25 July, seen by several observers. The first AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER was found there by Tim Lenz on 7 August, and up to of 6 of them were observed there by many on the 18th, the same day a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER was found there by Bob
McGuire and seen by several others. This area is excellent for non-shorebirds as well. On 25 July Mark Miller discovered a juvenile YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, which has been seen several times since. On 27 July Mike & Joann Tetlow briefly saw a juvenile LITTLE BLUE HERON. And on the morning of 19 August Mickey Scilingo heard an EASTERN WHIPPOOR-WILL in the adjacent woods on Towpath Road.

Other unusual birds for the Basin include a MISSISSIPPI KITE observed flying past Mays Point Pool on 26 May by Andrea Burke. RED-HEADED WOODPECKER was first reported by Chris Wood on Ford Hill Road in Lansing on 27 May, and again, this time with Glenn Seeholzer, Mike Harvey, and Tom Schulenberg, on King Road in Seneca Falls on 3 June. On 1 July Tom Johnson, Ben Clock, Chris Wood, and Jessie Barry went to Seneca Meadows Wetlands Preserve, on Black Brook Road
between NYS-318 and Seneca Falls and successfully sought DICKCISSELS displaced from drought in the mid-west; two males and a female with nest material were seen by several additional observers in the following days. Another group to find a surprising bird was Brad Walker, Jay McGowan, Livia
Santana, and Shawn Billerman who discovered a singing WHITE-EYED VIREO at the Park Preserve on Irish Settlement Road in the Town of Dryden. Jay McGowan, ever vigilant, heard a BARN OWL at night on 27 July at his home in north-east Ithaca, and Chris Tessaglia-Hymes even recorded one in Etna at night on 1 August.

Finally, there was an unusual and unfortunately anonymous eBird report of an AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN without details somewhere at Montezuma registered on the Trail Tracker at the Montezuma Audubon Center on 2 August. The next day Loreta Rumsey glimpsed a huge white bird with black edges to its wings - larger but shorter than a nearby Great Egret - fly down behind tall vegetation at Tschache Pool, but there’s been no corroboration since.

Editors note: Many of the above birds were first reported and quickly seen by additional observers using a rare bird alert system. If you are interested in a free, automatic, text message, rare bird alert (RBA) system for the Cayuga Lake Basin, go to the CBC website: Rare Bird Alert.