Eyes on the Sky: Birding at the Finger Lakes Museum

Bald eagle at the Finger Lakes Museum by Helen Heizyk

Imagine yourself submerged in the beauty of the trees in the Finger Lakes. You close your eyes, feel the warmth of the sun on your face and your breath falls into the rhythm of the nature that surrounds you. You can hear the leaves on the trees rustle and the birds chirp from the bright blue of the sky. You can smell the blooms of the flowers and feel the softness of the dirt underneath your feet with each step you take. It’s a true experience signifying that spring has sprung and the world around us is rejoicing in the beauty of everyone’s favorite season, a literal blossoming of trees, flowers and the human spirit.

If you’re wondering where you can partake in such a magical moment, look no further than the Finger Lakes Museum’s Townsend Grady Wildlife Preserve and the Izaak Walton League’s Verdi Burtch Wildlife Sanctuary, located across from one another on Sugar Creek in Branchport, New York. Located on the north fork of the west side of Keuka Lake, these wild and bountiful areas are the perfect spot to relax and get up close and personal with the winged creatures that either live here or pass through on their migration journey.

Visitors to the Verdi Burtch Wildlife Sanctuary – named for one of the greatest ornithological minds of our time, who catalogued many of his amazing finds here – can enjoy the Purple Martin house, an elevated bird “condominium” that provides a nesting place for these migratory birds. A joint effort by the Finger Lakes Museum, Yates County and the Izaak Walton League, the purple martin house is a new addition, along with the updated walking trails and usable visitor space. The house encourages these beautiful birds to spend their warm weather months here and to return to this space for generations to come after their annual migration. Here you can watch these gorgeous, amethyst-colored birds swoop and dive for insects and water along the shore of Sugar Creek and Keuka Lake in the height of summer and gathering in large groups in late summer to prepare for their return to the warmer climate of the southern states and the Gulf of Mexico.

If you’re lucky, you just might see the iconic bald eagle, which nests not too far from the Finger Lakes Museum’s wetland property. Many have spotted the six-foot wingspan of this majestic bird flying high in the air, a true sight to see. Perching high in the tree tops, eagles are most active in the early morning hours (7am-9am) or later in the afternoon (4pm-5pm), so plan your day accordingly for this amazing possibility.

While it may seem like you have to keep your eyes to the sky to see birds, the marsh and wetlands at your feet are also great spots for birds to rest and play. The northern pintail is an elegant duck with a beautiful long, pointed tail that looks like it was picked directly from an oil painting. The unique profile of this duck is often seen in Sugar Creek during migration, spending its time in shallow wetlands, which makes Townsend Grady Wildlife Preserve the perfect resting spot on the journey.

  Experience the Finger Lakes through the sight and sound of the birds of the region. Identify the creatures that cohabitate with us in this space we all so proudly call home. Take time to rest and relax, appreciating the nature that is available to us right outside our doorsteps.

Visit fingerlakesmuseum.org for more information.

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