Montezuma Delivers

Two of Seventy (!) Sandhill Cranes fly over Montezuma NWR, Seneca Falls NY,  11/28/14.

Going to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge on Black Friday has pretty much become a holiday tradition for me. And having an amazing birding experience has grown to be expected; I haven’t had a bad day out there yet. This year had a slow start, it was very cold and windy at the main pool, which made it very difficult to see the waterfowl which were located WAY out in the distance. I made the full circuit of the spots I usually hit, and it was on the quiet side. I was beginning to think that my “slump” was continuing. On my way back to hit Wildlife Drive for a second time, I made a quick stop at Tschache Pool. I picked up 4 Common Mergansers there, but more importantly, I met another birder named Mary Beth, who was out for the day with her sister-in-law (who, though enjoying herself, was not a birder and therefore spent a good amount of time in the car keeping warm). Mary Beth mentioned that there had been Sandhill Cranes reported out on East Road. Now, I had just come from East Road, but I was certainly willing to give it another shot. I followed them over, and moments after arriving, Mary Beth pulled over pointing to the west of the road. I got out of the car and started smiling ear to ear – it was a BIG flock of cranes – I initially counted 58 birds but later got better photos where I could count all the the birds and there were actually 75 Sandhill Cranes there! I high-fived Mary Beth, who was just as excited about it as I was. I was actually a little bit embarrassed because I had missed the birds – I spent all my time looking east of the road down towards Knox Marsellus and Puddler Marsh, where I have had birds in the past.

I was happy to get a shot with all 75 of the birds in it. Sandhill Cranes at Montezuma NWR, Seneca Falls NY, 11/28/14.

Mary Beth showed me one more spot that I had not birded in the past, I believe she called the the Potato Barn. It is basically just a vast stretch of farm land and we stopped and looked for Snowy Owls with no luck. Mary Beth mentioned that they sometimes got Short-eared Owls there; I went back just before sunset and had a single SEOW tangling with a Northern Harrier on the west side of the road.

I eventually made it back to Wildlife Drive, where the highlight was a single Snow Bunting, my first of the season. There was a photographer that was pulled over, and I could not see what she was shooting. I eventually, slowly pulled up along side her vehicle and asked her. She pointed down at the single Snow Bunting, not 20 feet from the side of the road. I took a bunch of photos, and I guess this is a good time to mention that I shot all my photos for the day on the wrong setting; a very small file size. I had changed my settings for a project at work on Wednesday and somehow I forgot to change this back. I did not realize until later in the evening when I was looking at the pics and noticed that something wasn’t quite right. I was totally deflated but, live and learn I guess. And, ultimately, I felt like although photos were not like I would want them, they were good enough for a post. It really helped that this bunting was so close.

A single Snow Bunting forages in the snow. Montezuma NWR in Seneca Falls NY, 11/28/14.
Snow Bunting at Montezuma NWR, 11/28/14. While this bird was accommodating, the light was unfortunately terrible.
Snow Bunting flicking snow. Montezuma NWR, 11/28/14.

I went back for another look at the Sandhill Cranes. When I arrived at East Road, all the cranes except 7 were located to the east of the road in Knox Marsellus. Shortly after my arrival, all of the cranes flew over the road and I took a bunch of photos. It was truly very exciting to watch these beautiful birds fly over, calling as they went. What fabulous birds!

The Sandhill Cranes flew from the east side of the road to the west in groups of varying numbers. Here eight birds are practically on top of one another as they cross the road. Montezuma NWR in Seneca Falls NY, 11/28/14. 
This group of seven was much more orderly about it. Sandhill Cranes at Montezuma NWR, Seneca Falls NY, 11/28/14. 
…and a group of nine come in for a landing on the west side of East Road, Montezuma NWR, Seneca Falls NY, 11/28/14. 
Seven Sandhill Cranes in the field on the west side of East Road. Montezuma NWR, 11/28/14. 
Coyote! This shot is from Saturday morning when I went back to Montezuma for a brief visit. Montezuma NWR 11/29/14. 

Here’s my list for the day (28 species):

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
American Black Duck
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Pied-billed Grebe
Northern Harrier
Cooper’s Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Mourning Dove
Short-eared Owl
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
American Robin
European Starling
Snow Bunting
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
House Sparrow

10 thoughts on “Montezuma Delivers”

  1. Great pictures again, Matt. I think I’ve only seen the Sandhill Cranes in flight. For an upstate girl, you’d think I’d get to Montezuma. I’ve got to put that on my bucket list, and soon!

  2. Great post Matt,

    I’m hoping I’ll get a close image of a bunting this year. I saw some horned larks on Skinner the other day but they stayed out of really good image range.

    I posted one of my birder friend Donna’s snowy shots on FB.

    Have a successful day tomorrow!!!

    1. Thank you Wilma, I love the Snow Buntings and I hope you can get a good shot this year. I saw and liked your friend Donna’s snowy. Matt

  3. Nice post Matt, love that Montezuma myself, didn’t make it there this year. It is so great that we can regularly count on good numbers of Sandhills! One of my favorites. I go back to the day when you could be lucky to get one. A great change in our population!

    1. Thanks John. You know, I’ve only ever seen 2 together at one time before this, but I think I’ve had them every year since I moved back to NYS. Matt

  4. Nice bunting shots; looks like it’s eating the snow…Love the shot of the 8 crowded cranes; has a very artistic feel to it, kind of abstract in the v formation. Computer’s been whacky for over a month (& still problematic) so haven’t been able to look at your shots in a while; glad to be able to tonight! Nice to see you had longspurs; the flocks on MIssion Land were fairly uncooperative & distant last week, so I had no luck with them. Keep a wishful eye out for other spurs or returning snowies!

    1. I’m glad you’ve gotten your computer (sort of) fixed. I’ve yet to have longspurs on Mission Land and you know I’ve been looking for those other guys! Hope to see you out there one day soon. Matt

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