We took a three day weekend and turned an overnight trip to central New York into a mini tour. You can fit an amazing amount into a couple of days if you have the right guide.
Our first stop was the visitor center at the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge. This is a 50,000 acre wetlands complex and I think a model of the kinds of conservation efforts that can be achieved with the right cooperation. It’s managed in concert by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Audubon New York and other conservation groups, and private landowners and corporations. Wetlands are simultaneously very fragile and very important ecosystems, and this cooperation has allowed a large area to be carved out, protecting many threatened species including the Bald Eagle. We were lucky enough to not only catch sight of an adult baldy (it’s okay to call them that, they’re comfortable with their hair loss), but also a juvenile preening in a tree along the self-guided driving tour. I wasn’t able to get any photos, or more specifically not any good ones, but I did get these Tree Swallows popping in and out of the nest boxes near the center.
There were some Purple Martins roosting near the center too, and we saw (what we’re pretty sure was) an Osprey carrying a fish away to a safe place for a sushi picnic. Plenty of other birds were on the driving tour, some herons, song sparrows, and ever-present Red Winged Blackbirds. If you want to view or especially photograph some birds in their wetland habitat a car makes an excellent blind, I highly recommend driving the short loop, just don’t try to get out of your car. The center is located in Seneca Falls on Routes 5/20E, and is open April – November; no normal hours are held in the winter but you can still visit and may be able to schedule some with a volunteer or two if you call ahead. More information at the Friends of Montezuma website.
We took a drive along Cayuga Lake, one of the easternmost and largest of the Finger Lakes, and stopped at Goose Watch Winery for a tasting. I don’t have anything to compare them to but we had a blast, I definitely recommend giving them a shot. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly, able to give you some hints on what to try if you already know what you like, and $2 gives you a sample of 8 wines of your choice. The whites and a rosé we tried were all excellent, the reds I was not as impressed with but it was my fault for getting two very sweet examples, we were thinking of getting some gifts. Halfway through, a bus pulled up with what looked like cast of Jersey Shore times twenty, thankfully Goose Watch has a separate upstairs room for groups, seems like they’re very accommodating.
A drive south along the lake brought us to Taughannock Falls, no I’m not sure how to pronounce that really. There are multiple parking lots on Route 89 if you want to hike the falls, I suggest skipping the paid one that includes a beach and parking in the free lot just down the road, the walk to the trail is not much further. It’s a great easy walk, well-maintained and no grade to speak of, or you can take a risk and walk along and in the stream itself. Geologically there’s a lot going on, glacial action and more modern erosion is clearly evident along the gorge and stream, and the large amounts of shale on the slopes, combined with seasonal hydrological action, leaves very clear, wide swaths of rock slides. The falls themselves plunge 215 total feet in multiple stages, below is the 15 foot Lower Falls that greets you at the start of the trail.
For being heavily visited (multiple school bus loads of kids crossed our path, not to mention families and older teenagers who could have used better chaperoning cooling off in the water), there’s a surprising amount of wildlife to see if you look closely enough. The wildflowers were in bloom when we were there, bringing with them tiny pollinators. Unfortunately I’m terrible at identifying flowers. I was fortunate enough to get a shot of this Little Wood Satyr butterfly, the thunk of the shutter scaring it off again:
and a brilliantly metallic Six Spotted Tiger Beetle.
Heavily wooded streams like this hold a great diversity of life, turn over almost any rock and you might find some salamanders or, particularly in spring, stonefly larvae among other insects, which attract fisher spiders (don’t click if you’re arachnophobic at all), who use vibrations in the water to locate prey. Cliff swallows prey on all of the above, swooping down toward the water to catch insects in midair. That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
There’s an overlook of the main falls that’s not to be missed, easy to drive and park to, great spot for a quick lunch. We took our picnic back near the main parking area, where looking south there’s an excellent view of the coal-fired AES Cayuga Power Station.
Lovely scenery, no? I can’t get too indignant, of course I understand that many of the things I enjoy (like that wine) are going to require some electricity and it has to come from somewhere. It’s just disheartening to see a coal plant, one of the major harmful environmental contributors, right from the picnic area of a park where the immediate effects of that pollution (hello acid rain) is clearly evident. Anyway, this photo is really just an excuse to show an example from a 600-1000mm lens I recently picked up, which is absolutely ridiculous. The tree swallow photo way up there was taken with it too.
That was the end of our adventure, which is good because this post is long enough already. We had a wonderful dinner at Laura’s parents that was made largely from food from their garden and I used the late afternoon sun as a chance to do some more closeup work in said garden.