D. Randy Weidner

     March 19, 2023 –  Tomorrow is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring astronomically.  Ecologically, we are still pretty solidly in winter.  We moderns use calendars to mark our way through the year.  Primitive peoples, and those few humans still living indigenous lifestyles, undoubtedly relied on seasonal natural events as well as astronomical observations.  Migrating birds are a natural phenomenon which is readily noticeable, and reflects seasonal change.  With that in mind, I examined one group, the ubiquitous native sparrows, to see what they could tell me about the coming of spring.

     Emberizidae is the scientific term for the family of New World Sparrows, and does not include the introduced House Sparrow (Passer domesticus).  Emberizidae are those little brown birds that are the bane of amateur birders because they are small and blend into brushy backgrounds.  They occupy varied habitats, consuming mainly seeds and insects.  All have the interesting behavior of scratching and hopping backward as they search for food.  Each has a distinctive song.     

     Here in the Finger Lakes, if you just consider sparrows that come to feeders, there are eight common Emberizidae which are not too difficult to identify visually.  First look at the breast.  If it is streaked, the bird is either a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), or a Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca).  Much commoner Song Sparrows usually have a noticeable mid-breast dark spot; while Fox Sparrows are large, distinctly reddish, with gray around the face and head.  If the belly is white, and the rest of the bird gray to black, it is a Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hymenalis).  If the breast is not streaked, but does have a dark central spot, and the upper beak is dark but the lower beak is yellow, it is an American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea).  If the breast is totally without markings, turn your attention to the head.  If there is a reddish cap, below which is a prominent white streak, and below that a black streak going through the bird’s eye, it is a Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerine).  If the breast is plain, or even has a tinge of color but not streaked, the head has a reddish cap but the face is gray, and the bill all yellow, it is a Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla).  If the breast is plain, and there is a white patch beneath the beak, and a spot of yellow between the beak and eye, you have a White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis).  Finally, if the breast is plain, and the head has a thin white cap, bordered by a black streak, below which is a prominent white streak, it is the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys).

     Searching 13 years of my Project Feederwatch data, I found that certain native sparrows reliably reveal spring dates; but others were not helpful.  Dark-eyed Juncos are here all year, so not helpful.  American Tree Sparrows are only around in winter, mostly January and February.  White-throated Sparrows could be here all through feeder season (mid-November through April), and sadly, were more reliably so in the past, but their presence is spottier in the past 3 years.  And Fox Sparrows seem to stop only on migration, either in November or in March, with a rare sighting in January and February.

     However, some other sparrows can signal the month by their arrival.  Song Sparrows only show up at my feeder in March, as they did last week.  The average date was March 14, with the range March 4 to March 28.  Chipping Sparrows arrive in April, the average date being April 10.  That said, I had the very rare sighting of a Chipper in January.  The other April Sparrow is the Field Sparrow, the average arrival date being April 16.  And finally, the White-crowneds always arrive the first week of May; and when they move on, I take down the seed feeders.

     I wonder why these Emberizidae, closely related evolutionarily and in habits, vary in their appearance at my feeders.  Obviously, some have adapted better to winter.  As stated above, these birds eat either seeds or insects.  Regarding those migrators, it would be interesting to discover if the later arrivals are more dependent on insects, which should be more numerous when they arrive.  I would be interested to hear if other feeder watchers had similar observations concerning native sparrows.  Happy birding.   

Greenway RailTrail Hike or Bike, north from Avon

This is a change from the earlier published schedule. The Letchworth Park hike will be rescheduled for a Sunday in April. 

On Sunday the 26th, we will hike or bike on the Genesee Valley Greenway from Route 20 (a.k.a Telephone Road) north to the Erie-Attica Trail and beyond. The Greenway is a level and easy hike, about as well-drained a path as we will find at this time of year, and a new hike for many of us. The Greenway is a public multi-use trail following the route of the 19th century Genesee Valley Canal and the subsequent Pennsylvania Railroad’s Rochester Branch. It currently extends from Rochester to Cuba, NY, with plans for further extension to the south. It generally parallels the Genesee River on the west side. The Erie-Attica is a more recent rail trail including a trestle bridge across the Genesee.

Our meeting place is where the Greenway crosses Route 20, which splits away from Route 5 just west of the Village of Avon. There are Pedestrian Trail crossing signs, and parking is available on both sides of the road. All participants will head north, crossing Route 5 and going on to the intersection with the Erie-Attica Trail at 1 mile. Naturalists or anyone desiring a 2-mile hike can return to the start from this point. Tourists or those inclined to a medium length hike can head east on the Erie-Attica Trail for one mile to the Genesee River crossing on the old railroad bring, then return to the start for a total of 4 miles. Climbers may choose to take in the Erie-Attic and then continue north on the Greenway as far as you choose before returning to the start. Any Cyclists may wish to ride north as far as the bridge and intersection of the Greenway with the Lehigh Valley Trail at 5.6 miles (13.2 miles with return).

Showers are expected on and off for the later part of the week, so be prepared for cool temperatures and mushy footing in places.

Social – We will repair for restorative food and beverages at the 3-Legged Pig, 3415 Rochester Road, Lakeville, just north of the main intersection.

Directions –  From Springwater and points south, take Route 15 north through Livonia and Lakeville to Route 5&20. Go west 3 miles on 5&20 through Avon to the point where Route 20 splits off to the left. Take Route 20 another mile to the Greenway crossing and start of hike. Parking on both sides.

From points north and east, take Routes 5&20 heading west to Avon and beyond, forking left where Route 20 splits off from Route 5. In another mile you will come to the trailhead. Parking on both sides. If you are coming on Route 390 from Monroe County, get off at Exit 10 and go west toward Avon, then left at the Route 20 split.

To the Social – Head back east on Route 20 and then Route 5&20 through Avon. Take Route 15 south to Lakeville. the 3Legged Pig will be on your left just before the main intersection 2ith Route 20A at Lakeville.

A Hike Along the Hemlock Lakeshore and Rob’s Trail

This Sunday we will enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Hemlock Lake shore on the northwest section of Rob’s Trail. The Climbers will continue up Rob’s Trail to Route 15A, and from there they’ll be ferried back to the hike start point; Naturalists and Tourists will stay on the lake shore trail and turn back to the start point whenever it suits them.  The mild winter will continue this week so we’re not expecting much snow cover. If the lake level is  low we can walk on the beach, but the trail offers a good flat and mostly well-drained surface. Here and there we will encounter a minor stream to cross by either wading or jumping, so waterproof footwear and poles are advised. Just in case of lingering ice or slippery mud, spikes or Yaktrax are a good idea too.   

Meet at the north boat launch, at the end of the old east lake road, a sharp left after you first enter Rix Hill Road from Route 15A.  This will be an out and back hike for Naturalists and Tourists; may return at any point; while Climbers will walk all the way to Route 15A for a shuttle back to the start point. At about 1.75 miles we will encounter a more substantial stream across the trail, probably too large to leap over. Any Climber wishing to proceed on Rob’s Trail past this point is advised to bring wading boots. Turning around at this point will give you a hike of 3.5 miles and a little under 2 hours. 

Optional Social: Please join us at the Birdhouse Brewing Company in Honeoye – 8716 Main Street, just east of the traffic light, for craft beer and pub food.

Directions: From Springwater: proceed north on Route 15A 19 miles, then make a left on Rix Hill Road and an immediate left on Old East Lake Road, aka Boat Launch Road. 

From Honeoye and points east:  Take Route 20A west from the Bristol Valley and Honeoye. When 20A meets Route 15A, make a left and go about .6 miles to Rix Hill Road. Make a right and then an immediate left on the dead end road to the boat launch parking area in one mile. 

From Rochester and points west: Take Route 15 south from Henrietta or Route 15A south from Honeoye Falls, or Route 390 south to the Lakeville-Livonia exit, then go south on Route 15 and then east on Route 20A  through Hemlock. When Route 20A turns east toward Honeoye, go straight another .6 miles and make a right on Rix Hill Road. Then make an immediate left onto the boat launch road and go to the end, 1 mile. 

To the Social: From the Boat Launch parking area, return to Rix Hill Road, make a right and then a left on Route 15A. Go .6 miles and make a right on Route 20A. In about 4.75 miles you will reach the traffic light in Honeoye. A few buildings beyond the light is Birdhouse Brewing on the left at #8716.

Wesley Hill Preserve

This is a change from the scheduled hike at the Hemlock lakeshore, which is rescheduled to March 5th.  We’re making the calendar change to keep our distance from the Canada Goose hunting activity along the Hemlock Lake Trail, continuing through Jan. 15. 

On Sunday the 8th we’ll hike the familiar Wesley Hill Nature Preserve, a Finger Lakes Land Trust property at 6060 Gulick Road in South Bristol, with an after-hike social at the newly re-opened Valley Inn on Route 20A west of Honeoye.

Meet at the Gulick Road parking area at 1:45 for a 2pm start. The full group will start out following on the Red Trail clockwise. At the Wenrich Cabin, the Tourists and Naturalists will continue on the Red Trail back to the start for a 2.8 mile loop, while the Climbers will continue to the west edge of the preserve on the Blue and Yellow trails, returning on the other half of the Red Trail for at total of about 5 miles.  Trails have some ups and downs, though no sustained climbs. Wesley Hill is a Finger Lakes Land Trust property of 390 acres on the hill east of Honeoye Lake.  including stands of northern hardwoods, red and white pines, hemlocks, a woodland pond, and the northern edge of Briggs Gully, set in an old forest overlooking the gully, deep in the woods.  The preserve was established in 1999 by the generous donation of 90 acres by the children of three artists – John Wenrich, James Havens and Colburn Dugan – to the Finger Lakes Land Trust. Since that time, the Land Trust has expanded Wesley Hill through the purchase or donation of four additional parcels.

Directions to Trailhead: 

Note: This is a change to the directions previously posted. These are directions to the Gulick Rd Parking area

From Honeoye: take route 20A east through Honeoye to East Lake Road (CR 33). Turn right onto East Lake Road. (If coming from Bristol or points east, it’s a left onto East Lake Road).  Take the first left, staying on CR 33, then the first right onto Pinewood Hill which becomes Gulick Road. Travel about 3.3 miles. The parking lot is on your right.

From Springwater: Take your favorite route to Naples and proceed north on County Road 36 toward Honeoye. In 1.5 miles, make a right on Gulick Road, After about 7.9 miles (pass Camp Cutler and Cumming Nature Center), the parking lot will be on your left..

Directions to the Social from the trailhead:  Turn left out of the parking area onto Gulick Road. Proceed north on Gulick, Pinewood Hill Road, and County Road 33 to East Lake Road. Make a right and then a left on Main Street (Route 20A).  The Valley Inn is at 8970 Main Street, at the NE corner of the intersection of Route 20A and County Road 37, about 3/4 mile past the Honeoye traffic light.