Montezuma Birding (and Nature) Trail

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Birding in the Montezuma Wetlands Complex of Central New York

                 The Savannah Loops

In the Town of Savannah, there are a number of good birding locations that fit into several loops.  Many of these are eBird hotspots and you can get species lists and annual frequency distributions called bar charts.  Select "New York," then "Hotspots..." and "Continue," then the specific location (out of 2100+ hotspots in New York).  There is  list of Montezuma hotspots on the main Locations page. [note that infrequent eBird updates might change some of the names]

If you don't have a Gazetteer or atlas, you can download free topo maps of Breeding Bird Atlas blocks from the D.E.C. website.  The first block you will need is 3577C.

For birding notes and photos of some of the Savannah locations, visit The Philosopher's Stone blog for May 5, 2010.

 The Main Savannah Loop

Starting at the Montezuma Audubon Center (MAC), eBird GPS coordinates 43.0921176, -76.7641162, you can walk any of several trails leading either south to Crusoe Creek, west to the ponds, or northwest to an observation platform and then continuing to the hemlock-hardwood forest.  The MAC is located on state land that is part of the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area (NMWMA).  You can get a sense of the MAC in early spring and again in early summer by visiting The Philosopher's Stone blog.  After walking the trails, you can enter your bird sightings inside the MAC building using the eBird kiosk to the left, just past the Sandhill Crane exhibit.  [Doug's photos of MAC's April wildflowers are linked here.]

From the MAC, you can travel south a short distance on Rt. 89 to the Crusoe Creek canoe launch and Colvin Marsh (another eBird hotspot at 43.0890119, -76.7614746).  There are pull-offs on both sides of the road just south of the bridge.  There is second parking area off Rt. 89 at the south end of Colvin Marsh.  A short trail leads N/NE to the Tim Noga memorial blind, or you can walk due east past the gate on a maintenance lane to Crusoe Creek.  Photos of the blind are posted on The Philosopher's Stone May blog (scroll down) and a photo of the north marsh shows the some of the emergent vegetation.

Continuing south on Rt. 89 to the first intersection, turn left (east) onto Savannah Spring Lake Road at 1.5 miles from the MAC parking lot [distance may vary depending on odometer calibration].  At 0.7 mile east of Rt. 89, watch for Malone Unit #1, another part of the NMWMA at 43.0739037, -76.7472267, on the left (north) side of the road opposite Van Dyne Spoor Road.  A counter-clockwise loop trail from the parking area circles a wetland while passing Crusoe Creek and then returns through successional stages. 

Van Dyne Spoor Road to the south leads to several excellent birding locations, including Railroad Road at 43.056723, -76.728408, and the open-area wetlands at the end of Van Dyne Spoor (43.0460129, -76.7267561).  There are a number of eBird hotspot locations on these roads.  Be cautioned that both of these roads turn into dirt and become difficult in bad weather.  There is both state and federal land in this area.  During the summer, the biting insects are a problem, especially through the forested stretch of Van Dyne Spoor.

You will need to turn around at the ends and return to Savannah Spring Lake Road, then turn right and drive 0.4 mile east [crossing Crusoe Creek] to Muckrace Flats (named after the Montezuma Muckrace which raised funds to create the shallow wetlands for shorebirds and dabblers).  On eBird, look for "Montezuma Muckrace Flats (NMWMA)" at 43.0739037, -76.7395878.  There is a gravel parking area on the south side of the road.

Continue east for 0.2 mile.  As Savannah Spring Lake Road begins to curve left, a right turn on Morgan Road (about a mile long) leads to the D.E.C. Wetlands Complex office and maintenance buildings which are surrounded by wetlands, fields, woods and a small pond.  You can park at the railing near the end of the office building.  The total distance from the MAC is 3.8 miles.

After leaving the D.E.C. buildings, return to Savannah Spring Lake Road and turn right again and drive northeast to Carncross Road.  For this and several more destinations, you can use the map for BBA block 3577D.  Carncross Road passes The Nature Conservancy's Carncross Salt Marsh Preserve and continues east across the Seneca River on a new bridge to a parking area and gate.  This is the area where Sandhill Cranes first nested in New York State and again in 2010.  You can launch a canoe at the river or walk/bike  Howland Island which has more trails than you could probably cover in a week.  Technically, Howland Island is in Cayuga County.  Location and topo maps are available on the Friend's website.

From Carncross Road, continue north on Savannah Spring Lake Road.  The woods lining both sides of the road is another eBird hotspot.  At the end of the woods on the right, watch for an opening and then a dirt road and a sign announcing Martens Tract.  There is a parking area and walking trail at the end of the dirt drive.  A raised dirt ramp with railing overlooks the main pond here and gives views of grebes, moorhens, Wood Ducks and herons in the summer as well as Willow Flycatchers, Common Yellowthroats, and Swamp Sparrows. Since this is state land, there is hunting in the fall.

There is no short route from Martens Tract to the Northern Montezuma W.M.A., South Butler Unit.  Probably the simplest way is to go back to Carncross Rd., turn right (northwest), follow that to the "end" and bear right (north) on Mead Rd. which then curves left (west).  At the T-intersection, turn right (north) and proceed to Rt. 89 north.  Take the next left, Cotten Rd., and watch on the right (northside) for a dirt parking area and the beginning of Turtle Pond Trail.

 The Southwest Spurs

On Rt. 31 west of the Village of Savannah, just west of the Messner Road junction, there is a bridge over Black Creek as it leaves the Montezuma Marshes to the south.  The wetlands are controlled by the Black Creek Marsh Club and posted accordingly.  (You may notice local fishermen using a pulloff just southwest of the bridge, but this too is posted.)  Rt. 31 has been improved and repaved here and there is a wide, smooth shoulder allowing you to pull over and scan the creek and wetlands from the side of the road.  Continue slowly to the west, watching for breaks in the shrubs for more views of the marsh to the south.  (This area is in the lower right corner of BBA block 3477D.)

Continuing west on Rt. 31, you again cross Black Creek as it flows south under the road near the Galen-Savannah townline.  A long, flat, straight-away provides more roadside birding.  Be sure to turn your 4-way flashers on.  There is a wooded swamp at the far west end of the Montezuma Marshes.  (This wetland area is on the top-center of the BBA 3476B map.)

(To be continued...)

             Sandhill Cranes in the Town of Savannah

Two photos of Sandhill Cranes in a field off Rt. 89 south of the Montezuma Audubon Center...  © Dave Spier