Dryden Lake is considered by many to be the finest place in the Cayuga Lake Basin to view migrating waterbirds, and it is also an outstanding spot for seeing a variety of songbirds. Because of the lake's small size and numerous vantage points, it is possible (with the aid of a spotting scope) to check the entire lake for birds, and often get outstanding looks at anything that is present. During the month of April, this is a great place to see Common Loon and Horned Grebe in breeding plumage, as well as an assortment of dapper duck species, including Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Common Merganser, and Hooded Merganser, among others. The lake also plays host, on an irregular basis, to migrant Red-necked Grebes, Long-tailed Ducks, and all three scoter species (with White-winged Scoter being seen most frequently, followed by Surf Scoter, and, most rarely, Black Scoter). These species find themselves on the lake as the result of the so-called "Dryden Lake Effect," in which waterbirds migrating under favorable conditions (south wind) are suddenly forced down to water by the arrival of a cold front during the night. These Dryden Lake Effect birds usually stay on the lake for only a day (or two, if you're lucky), and some even depart shortly after dawn on the day of their discovery.
Beginning in mid-April, with the arrival of early migrants like Yellow-rumped Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, the Dryden Lake area is also a great spot to look for migrant songbirds. Walks along the "linear park" (an old abandoned railroad bed) in late April and early May yield a nice variety of warblers species, along with vireos, gnatcatchers, orioles, wrens, and flycatchers mixed in. Brown Thrashers can often be heard singing from the hillsides behind the railroad bed, especially when they first arrive back in mid-April. As for non-passerines, the Basin's first Solitary Sandpiper of the year is sometimes detected along the pond near the east end of the lake, and Spotted Sandpipers are a common sight along the lake edge. Thanks to the efforts of the Cayuga Bird Club, there is now an Osprey nesting platform in the Dryden Lake marsh. Although no Ospreys have used the platform yet, this species is seen regularly at the lake during the spring. Back on the trail, Dryden Lake seems to be a good place (or at least a better place than most) for seeing or hearing a migrant cuckoo in early May. Bird activity at Dryden Lake drops off significantly by the end of May, and although it is not a migration hotspot in the fall like it is in the spring, it is a good spot to look for migrant sparrows during September and October.
To reach Dryden Lake from the Cornell campus:
Take Rt. 366 northeast approximately three miles, to the junction with Rt. 13. Turn right onto Rt. 13 and follow it east into the Village of Dryden (about five miles). At the four-way intersection in Dryden, turn right onto Rt. 38. Head south on Rt. 38 for a little more than a mile, looking for Chaffee Road on your left. Turn left onto Chaffee Road, and proceed a short distance to a stop sign. Turn left at the stop sign, and then take almost an immediate right into a parking area. Proceed to the end of the parking area, from which point you can scan the lake, and then continue on to the trail that runs along the lake.