Sunday, August 1, 2021

Sapsucker Woods - Ithaca, NY

During Covid I've turned into somewhat of a birder. Travel has been a big part of my life and when that was restricted lots of local wandering took its place, from walks in Live Oak Canyon, near our home, to visits to areas near Joshua Tree NP, Corn Springs and the Salton Sea. My camera usually accompanies me. Encouraged by my son, Andrew, I signed up for iNaturalist, where I could submit my photos, and another friend encouraged me to sign up for eBird. In identifying birds, when confronted with difficult questions, I've looked to the website All About Birds as my source for photos and descriptions showing differences between species and within species among males, females, juveniles and breeding and non-breeding birds. During that process I became more and more aware of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, associated with Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. During our recent visit to the Finger Lakes region of New York we had an opportunity to visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, currently closed to the public because of Covid, but the Sapsucker Woods which surround it were open and we had the pleasure to walk the Wilson Trail within it. 

Cornell Lab of Ornithology:  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is part of Cornell University. Cornell started the first graduate program in ornithology in 1915. The current facility, opened in 2003, is housed in the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity which is surrounded by an area dubbed the "Sapsucker Woods" after the first breeding pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers in the Cayuga Lake Basin was discovered there. The yellow-bellied sapsucker is used on the logo for the program. 

Cornell does not offer an undergraduate or graduate degree in ornithology, but bird related studies can be pursued in graduate work in anatomy, ecology and systematics, natural resources, neurobiology and behavior, psychology, and veterinary medicine. The Lab of Ornithology does offer students bird related employment such as working for eBird, All About Birds, Project FeederWatch, the Macauley Library of Natural Sounds and field research. 

All About Birds:   All About Birds is a website that began in 2003 to present detailed information on about 600 North American birds from resources of the Lab of Ornithology. 

Macauley Library:  The Macauley Library catalogues the sounds of more than 900 North American and Canadian bird species as well as photos, videos and sounds of birds, amphibians, fish and mammals. Sounds from the Macauley Library are incorporated into All About Birds. 

eBird:  eBird was started in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. As of 2020, it had collected more than 860 million global bird observations from over 597,000 registered eBirders of which I am now one. 

Sapsucker Woods:  In 1909 the area that is now Sapsucker Woods was "a small, isolated woodlot along a country road several miles from Cornell University. The road divided two rural townships, Ithaca and Dryden, and the landscape had been farmland since the beginning of the 19th century. With soil too wet to plow, the woodlot remained a forested wetland and became a favorite place for professors and naturalists to visit in search of native plants and migratory birds." Arthur Allen and Louis Agassiz Fuertes found a nesting pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers in that area. It was a "prized find, because this migratory woodpecker bred mainly in the aspen and birch forests of Canada." 

I ran out of time and interest in trying to find out how the wetlands were purchased and developed into what they are today, but there are currently about 220 acres of the most beautiful wetlands or forest of any kind I've ever seen. We visited in mid-afternoon in late July, about the worst time to look for birds, but I was blown away by the beauty of what is there and the care taken to maintain it. It is a place I could go back to again and again to see what natural jewels might be offered up on a daily basis. I share some photos from our visit. 
This is a map of the Sapsucker Woods. We walked the Wilson Trail around Sapsucker Woods Pond. 

This and the next few photos are of lily covered Sapsucker Woods Pond. I can only imagine what kind of fish, frog, toad, turtle and salamander life exists there but it must be prodigious. 

The Ornithology building is visible at the back. What a beautiful place to have to work. 

This midland painted turtle was spotted by Michaela near the pond edge, resting on a log. Its head is poking out to the left. 

Even much of the area not covered by the pond was quite wet. 

This green swampy area looked like it could be in Florida or Louisiana. 

This lily covered pond was east of the ornithology building. 

Mushrooms (violet-toothed polypore) cover a log. 

Violet coral fungus

Wild teasel

Black trumpet or black chanterelle mushrooms.

Old-man-of-the-woods mushroom, one of the coolest mushrooms I've ever seen. 


  1. 1. SOMEWHAT of a birder?
    2. I never really thought the yellow-belly sapsucker as a real bird--or a real anything, for that matter. It is such an awesome name. I thought someone had made it up.
    3. Could it be that you identify with the Old-Man-of-the-Woods mushroom?

  2. I do identify with the old-man-of-the-woods and that is part of the reason I like it. Plus, it just looks cool. Someone did make up the name of the yellow-bellied sapsucker, but for a real bird.