The Cornell Community Garden is the prime destination near Ithaca for watching sparrows and other field birds in fall. Attracted by remnants of the season’s produce as well as copious grasses and weeds in untended areas, seed-eating birds converge here in locally-unparalleled diversity and abundance. Furthermore, the quality of viewing here is outstanding, as birds flushed from the ground tend often to fly short distances and perch up on garden fences, weeds, and sunflowers.
Throughout September and October, birders can expect to find dozens of Song Sparrows in every imaginable plumage, plus smaller numbers of Savannah and Field sparrows, as well as brown Indigo Buntings. The last week of September and the first week of October are peak time at the site, offering the best opportunities in the whole area to find Lincoln’s Sparrow. White-crowned, White-throated, and Chipping sparrows are common here in the first and second weeks of October. Fox Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow are also often present, but rather hard to find, peaking in the second half of October.
Frequent visits and close attention create notably strong possibilities for finding rare birds in fall. Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissel, and Orange-crowned Warbler have both occurred here in multiple years since 2005. It also seems only a matter of time before someone finds a Clay-colored Sparrow among the Chipping Sparrows. The garden also offers the possibility of fine views of Bobolinks in their striking golden fall plumage.
Birding the site mostly involves simply walking on weedy but well-established lanes that run between plots. The site also offers easy access to the Cayuga Trail, which extends north high above Fall Creek to Monkey Run North, and west across the road to the Equine Research Park area. The line of trees above the ravine and the hedgerow along the south edge often hold many sparrows, warblers, and other songbirds.
The Cornell Community Garden is located along Freese Road south of Hanshaw Road, between the Dyce Lab and the Liddell Lab. From the Lab of Ornithology, head south on Sapsucker Woods Road to Hanshaw. Take a left on Hanshaw, then an immediate right onto Freese. An unpaved parking area is located on the left (west) side of the road, about half a mile from Hanshaw.
- Mark Chao, January 2012