Join the Migration

By Sue Freeman

Honk, Honk, Honk ... you hear it first and look up into the sky to see a V of Canada geese flying overhead. The annual migration has begun. Spring is coming after all!

Each spring migrating birds head north—some to the northern reaches of Canada. In fall they reverse directions and head south to overwinter along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to the northern part of Florida. Most congregate in the Chesapeake Bay region. We’re located mid-way between these summer and winter nesting grounds on part of the Atlantic Flyway.

That’s why in early April, we hear the honking and watch places like Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, Beaver Lake Nature Center and Braddock Bay Park fill with thousands of birds. Waterfowl such as the Canada geese rest on the ponds, lakes, and swamps, and feed during the day on nearby grasslands and winter wheat sprouts in spring fields.

Canada geese are our noisiest migrators, but they aren’t the only ones. At Braddock Bay Raptor Research Center volunteers set up nets and traps to catch, tag, and release hawks and owls as they stop along the shore of Lake Ontario for a rest before the long flight over the lake. The Braddock Bay Raptor Research Trail off Manitou Beach Road is a 0.9-mile loop that leads through a pine forest where migrating owls rest. At the farthest point is the blind where you can watch bird banding in operation.

One spring Rich and I got up especially early to walk this trail. In the pine forest we found a tiny saw whet owl asleep on a pine tree branch at eye level. The little guy was so tired from migrating that he opened one eye to watch us warily, but didn’t stir from his spot. We could have reached out and touched him – but we knew not to disturb a wild animal. Then we walked on to the bird blind and watched a male kestrel (or sparrow hawk) get caught, banded and released. Its blue, gold, brown, white and black feathers gleamed up close in the morning light. The banding helps to track birds’ flight patterns and to monitor their populations.

Take advantage of our position on the Atlantic Flyway and head out to hike a trail in any of the areas listed above. Maps and directions are available in the “Take A Hike” and “Birding in Central and Western New York” guidebooks (available at or call 1-800-431-1579). You’ll be rewarded with a natural spectacle unsurpassed elsewhere and get some exercise too. Just remember to take your binoculars.

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