During the fall and early winter, and then again in the spring, Conesus Lake is a stopover in the annual migration of many birds. We live in a major flyway zone. During these migration waves we have the opportunity to observe and interact with flocks of hundreds and thousands of different types of water birds. Ducks, geese and even swans can be observed swimming, resting, and feeding, using Conesus Lake as their pit stop for a short time.
Sometimes it’s just a few birds at a time swooping down out of the sky, all in formation, then other times that the sky is darkened with the overhead passage of thousands of birds. They sit in the water in small groups and then, sometimes these groups form flotillas.
As the ice forms on the lake, and the open water is diminishing, it tends to concentrate the birds into large groups. To keep some open water the birds will intentionally agitate the water to keep it from freezing over.
When one bird decides to take off into the air, it can trigger all the birds. Watching hundreds of bird take flight all together is an amazing sight.
All this activity also brings out the hunters, human and non-human alike. Responsible hunting is a great outdoor activity with a rich tradition and history in our area.
This concentration of waterfowl also brings out other hunters. We have some resident Bald Eagles that nest in the wetlands at the south end of the lake. This is their breeding season and it is not uncommon to see an eagle dive on the ducks and grab one for dinner.
The migration also attracts many other raptors that shadow the migration, providing a rich environment for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts.
Conesus Lake is fairly densely populated making access for observation somewhat difficult. There are a few prime areas that are available to the general public. Vitalie Park in Lakeville will offer views of the north end of the lake. The north end is shallow and freezes over first. Before the freeze you can observe all manner of birds as they pass through in their migration waves.
On the west side of the lake, about half way down, is Long Point Park. This is the narrowest part of the lake. From here observations can be made both north and south, and in my opinion, is probably the best spot to see the varieties.
Moving to the south end, on the west side, is a DEC Wildlife Management Area that offers a small parking area. A short walk brings you to the Conesus Inlet stream where it enters the Lake. Directly across the stream is a platform built by the DEC. This is accessible from Sliker Hill road, which runs along the South end of the lake, connecting the east and west sides. There is parking for a couple of vehicles near the sign on the north side of the road. Getting to this platform is about a ten minute walk along a maintained trail. These area offer unimpeded view of the south end of the lake. This is also the deepest part of the lake and freezes slower than the north end, leaving pockets of open water that the birds will concentrate in.
Just as you turn onto Sliker Hill Road from West Lake Road, on the south side is the Conesus Inlet Wildlife Management Area. There is parking for a number of vehicles along the Conesus Inlet creek that feeds Conesus Lake from the wetlands at the South. This WMA contains over 1,120 acres. This is a rich and diverse area for birders of all types. There are well maintained trails and three observation platforms that extend out into the wetlands. The trails extend to a parking overlook on West Lake road. Our resident Bald Eagles can often be seen in this area. More information on this area is available from the DEC at http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24432.html.
On the east side of the lake there are few opportunities to make observations. The only real place open to the public is the state boat launch about half way down the lake. This is in a protective cove area and offers limited views to the west and south.
Of course there are open areas that enable observations all around the lake as you drive around. We need to respect the private property of the homeowners, but there are numerous places to slow down and even stop along the side of the road to take a quick look.
Conesus Lake during the migration is magical to observe. The lake is more than a summer playground. It is a critical part of our environment, providing opportunities to observe and interact with nature at its finest.