Trip Reports
Derby Hill on Lake Ontario, Oswego County — April 27, 2014
posted 6/6/14 

Note: This field trip was sponsored by the Onondaga Audubon Society, a NYSYBC Partner Club. Many thanks to OAS and especially to Gerry Smith and Steve Kolbe for their warm hospitality and expert leadership as they taught us about Derby Hill as well as hawk identification and behavior.

Derby Hill kiosk, photo by Sue Freiburger
All bundled up on a chilly day!
photo by Sue Freiburger

On a cold and windy morning, a few of the birders from NYSYBC drove out to go hawk watching at Derby Hill Bird Sanctuary in the Town of Mexico, right by Lake Ontario. The day before, some of us had gone to see the Willow Ptarmigan at Point Peninsula, about fifty miles north of our actual destination, Derby Hill. Everyone was very excited, as all who went to see it were able to take photos and mark it as a lifer.

We started our birding on the Fritz Scheider trail, where there were Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Once we reached the North Lookout, we met up with our trip leader, Gerry Smith, who talked with us for a little bit about hawk watching at Derby Hill and the best places in New York to hawk watch. Derby Hill is considered one of the top hawk watching locations in the east. Raptors (and other species of birds, too) travel on thermals to save energy. But thermals don't occur over water, so they usually veer off to the east side of Lake Ontario, and fly right over where the hill is located. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing in the wrong direction so we did not have the best conditions for hawk watching. During our conversation, a Sharp- shinned Hawk swooped in right above us, as well as an immature Bald Eagle, a Northern Harrier, a Double-crested Cormorant, and a few Caspian Terns. We hung out on the bluff for a while taking pictures and admiring Lake Ontario, which you might think is the ocean it is so huge.

On the way back to the parking lot, we noticed a pair of Ring-necked pheasants. Gerry told us that they had been living around the North Lookout, and were dubbed "Seymore and Seyless" by a birder in the area. They sauntered around near the trail and let us capture photos of them in the hedgerow, the male with his bright colored feathers and the drab female.

Scoping Lake Ontario, photo by Eamon Freiburger
Lake Ontario - it's big!
photo by Eamon Freiburger

After leaving the North Lookout, we drove back along Sage Creek Drive to park at the South Lookout, where we met Steve Kolbe, a graduate student who has been hawk counting at Derby Hill since March 1st, dawn to dusk, and will continue until May 31st. He showed us his hawk "clicker", which has a button for each species, including vultures. He taps the button for each species he sees, and it keeps track of the numbers.

The whole time, Steve was constantly scanning the skies with his binoculars, and would occasionally point out what he was seeing to us. We saw a couple of Broad-winged Hawks, a Double- crested Cormorant, a Turkey Vulture, and three Great Blue Herons. At one point, in the distance, we could see an Osprey and a Sharp-shinned Hawk being tossed in the wind near each other. The parking lot was surrounded by fields and woods, where a Barred Owl's call echoed to us, and a Purple Finch was singing its heart out. There was also a pond below us in one of the fields, in which there were geese and two Green-winged Teal. A ditch ran from the pond, with a few trees along the side where a Belted Kingfisher and an Eastern Meadowlark were perching.

After about an hour with Steve, we were all pretty windblown, so we decided to leave. Ironically, just a half hour after we departed, kettles of Broad-winged Hawks started pouring in at the South Lookout. Too bad!  Well, as Sue said, "That's birding for sure!"

All of the information Steve collects is recorded on As a note, if you check the counts for April 27th you will see the large number of Broad-winged Hawks recorded (3769!).

                                                                                                                  — Claire Holloway, Age 12

             View photo gallery 

List of Birds Seen on this Trip
by Mark Magistro

Canada Goose
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Pheasant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Caspian Tern
Rock Pigeon
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch

Species Total: 31