Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Visiting Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Tuesday July 26, 2016                                                                         Most Recent Posts:
Cayuga Lake State Park                                                                        Moving on in the Finger Lakes – Cayuga Lake
Seneca Falls, New York                                                                        Native American Music and Dance Festival



There are many things to do in and around Seneca Falls.  The very first thing for me is to visit the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge which is only 5 miles away from the campground.  We are there before the visitor center opens but the refuge trails are open dawn to dusk.




The VC has a nice deck on the back which overlooks what would be a beautiful wetland if it were not nearly dry.




Also overlooking the wetlands are two  purple martin colonies.








The sunroom door to the VC is open and there is a lovely viewing area as well as maps of the trails.  The refuge contains 9809 acres.  We are surprised to find out that the Refuge is just one part of a much larger preserved area known as the Montezuma Wetlands Complex which is a 50,000 acre landscape of wetlands and uplands. It is described as “as globally significant, important bird staging and breeding area within the Atlantic Flyway.”   How fantasic!





After picking up the map we set out to drive the wildlife drive and then go to another point in the refuge for  hiking.


The swamp rose are in bloom all around.







Most of the waterfowl are at some distance from the shore requiring a good pair of binoculars or a good camera zoom lens to see them.


The Blue Winged Teals are showing their blue.



Today’s big picture includes blue skies and puffy white clouds.



Today’s close up  picture includes grasses, wildflowers and cat tails.



Here’s looking at you!


The one unfortunate part about the refuge is that the New York State Thruway, I-90, runs right through it.  The birds don’t seem to mind but it seems an incongruous sight and the noise too seems very out of place in such a lovely spot.


One lone snow goose is walking toward the water.


Further on along we see another Great Blue Heron.  I like his halo of swamp roses.



He’s quite stately close up.



Several Great Egrets are in the marsh.



Nearby is another great egret stalking his prey or is he scratching his neck?



He moves almost in slow motion, one foot slowly at a time.





After the wildlife drive we take a gravel road to South Spring Pool to hike the Esker Brook Trails from the far end.   Both sides of the road are lined with wildflowers.





We stop to help this red bellied slider get across the road at a bit quicker pace.





We spot a group of Caspian Terns.  I was surprised to see them until I looked up their range map and found they nest further north and the refuge is on their migration route.  Maybe this group is heading south early or perhaps they hang out here in the summer.  







We stop at all the overlooks and signs along the road.  This one is dry.  Nothing for the  water marker to measure.




There is parking at the South Spring Pool trailhead and water in the South Pool. But David’s binoculars don’t spot any waterfowl.  Of course, with all of our stops, by now it’s nearly 11:30 in the morning.




We are starting our hike at the South Spring Pool in the lower section of the map.  You can see the trail goes off from there toward the west and then turns left to become the “ridge trail” which circles a small pond.


The path west from the pond is mowed through a field and along the edges are these cluster thistles as well as the regular bull thistle.  I know thistles are considered weeds by most people but the birds really love them.  I think their varied hues are lovely.










The habitats on these trails are quite varied.  We come out of the woods onto a mowed berm.  The little lake looks totally different depending on which side you are on as you walk around it.




Staghorn sumac gives color to the path.






From this vantage point I can see the turtles on the log below but no birds.











Around the far side of the pond as we approach the other trails, there is a nice viewing point where we find both damselflies and dragonflies zooming around and barely landing on the railings long enough to get these pictures of their beauty.




So which is which?





Here’s what I know about their differences.

Dragonflies have much larger eyes than damselflies, with the eyes taking up most of the head as they wrap around from the side to the front of the face. The eyes of a damselfly are large, but there is always a gap of space between them.  I find this pretty hard to use as an id marker given they seldom are together or still enough to look them in the eyes.

Dragonflies have bulkier bodies than damselflies, with a shorter, thicker appearance. Damselflies have a body made like the narrowest of twigs, whereas dragonflies have a bit of heft.

Both dragonflies and damselflies have two sets of wings, however they have different shapes. Dragonflies have hind wings that broaden at the base, and which makes them larger than the front set of wings. Damselflies have wings that are the same size and shape for both sets, and they also taper down as they join the body, becoming quite narrow as they connect.  This too is difficult for me until I see my pictures.

Finally, you can spot the difference when the insect is at rest. Dragonflies hold their wings out perpendicular to their bodies when resting, like an airplane. Damselflies fold their wings up and hold them together across the top of their backs.   This I think is the dead give away.


Isn’t he amazing with his lace wings and blue body?



But looking more closely he looks like some sort of monster and I’m not even looking in his eyes.



There are a number of big trees on the wooded sections of the trail where we find ourselves after the pond.



At this point it’s time to switch trails.  Turn left to take the Brook Trail to the Esker Brook trails head . On the map above you can see that the 3 parallel trails all start from there to go to the pond.  You can take one up and one back but what do you do about the third??  




David pauses for a bite of lunch before heading back to the car.  I’m continuing on down the Brook Trial



Crossing Esker Brook 




Not much water, but pretty cardinal flower on the bank.


I reach the trail heads where there is a much larger parking lot and in addition to this small sign a much larger kiosk with lots of information.  Clearly this is the most popular way to hike these trails and the shortest as well.




Back I go into the woods on a different trial where the late afternoon has brought out the gnats.  Can’t do much stopping.



  Back across a different Esker Brook bridge.  With 3 trails, I guess there are 3 bridges.






I’m coming up the hill and out of the woods when David gets the only picture of me in the entire day.  At least I can prove I was actually here.


  The return to South Spring Pool is as lovely as the walk up was although it’s a bit hotter now.








Back at the pool there are some visitors this time.  One of them is a sanderling and one very large and beneath the water.  None of my pictures were really worth anything but I’ve included one here since we couldn’t figure out what it was.  A giant snapping turtle?  Creature fromt the brown lagoon?   The water is so shallow, he looks like he’s walking on the bottom.








We head back to the Visitor Center where we don’t have much time to look around but I love the map where you can light up all the National Wild Life Refuges in the country and see the various flyways colored in tans, brown and blue.


Teddy is watching over it all because by Executive Order March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican island National Wildlife Refuge along Florida’s central Atlantic Coast as the first unit of the Present National Wildlife Refuge System.

Thanks Teddy!



  1. Teddy was definitely long sighted where places like this were concerned. A beautiful place to explore!

    The heron shots really speak to me- I was watching a couple of them fishing in one of our rivers yesterday.

  2. I love this place what a great post pictures are beautiful

  3. I love Thistles!!! Can't imagine what the last critter is...wish you could id it!! The shot of the "monster" is amazing:o)) Great way to spend the day.

  4. When we visited there a nearby winery was sort of "partner"ing with the refuge and we bought wine with the refuge label... along with a t-shirt an some other stuff. So it was fun seeing the place again. You are so right... Teddy was the start of it all and we are all so fortunate in his foresight!

  5. Okay, so I'm guessing the dragons do not mate with the damsels or these differences would get muddled up. So I suppose we just have to guess on the gender since there are males & females of each. Who knew entomology could be so interesting? Mr. Ruskin did in the only entomology course I ever took - he was great because he was so incredibly excited all the time and he shared his enthusiasm with his students. Lucky me! I caught the bug too.

  6. Looks like a lovely refuge. It does seem odd that the interstate runs right through such a peaceful place.

  7. Wonderful to see that many birds with the limited water. The Great Blue Heron looks so wise and majestic - love his halo! Thank you for the turtles and the grasses :-) I think we would like this little hike in the morning, before the gnats!!

  8. The thistles look pretty but I sure hated them in my yard in NC. I may have missed it in your blog (can't read much on the screen any more) but I would never think of Montezuma and upstate New York together. Is there a story here?

  9. Sherry, you have just given me my waterfowl fix! Lovely photos of my fave birds, the Heron and Egrett.
    Ill keep in mind what I just learned about damselflies and dragonflies. All along I was wrong, now I can determine which one is which.

  10. What a gorgeous day with all those pretty clouds to top off the beautiful scenery! I especially love the last turtle shot with his colorful neck stretching!

  11. Thanks so much for sharing these lovely places with us! Love the thistles and dragonflies too! What a lovely hike, or nice walk through the preserve.

  12. Hope Montezuma didn't inflict any "Revenge" on you from your visit! ;c)

  13. The Thruway disrupts a lot of views:( At least there are no alligators there:)

  14. What a beautiful refuge—and your wildlife photos are gorgeous! I especially love the Great Blue Heron with the halo of swamp roses. It's unfortunate that the highway runs right through the refuge—but at least it provides a protected place for wildlife in the midst of civilization. I'm always trying to ID dragonflies and damselflies, and mostly resort to body size (which seems to be pretty accurate). Thanks for the refresher course in the finer details. :-)

  15. What beautiful, beautiful pictures!!! AND turtles!!!

  16. I really enjoyed your post about the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. I grew up traveling on the NY State Thruway that goes right through the refuge. You are right about the traffic sounds being out of place, but it's wonderful to ride through that section of the thruway and to be able to see some of the wildlife. For many people that's probably the only time they ever went through a refuge like that and hopefully it's encouraged people to visit the Montezuma National Wildlife refuge. All of your posts about locations in NY state have been very interesting for a person who grew up in that area. You have even posted about a few locations I never went to. I didn't know there were any free campsites in the Fingerlakes area of NY state. Thank you for sharing pictures of all the places I love in NY State!

  17. The swamp rose is gorgeous. Does it have a wild rose smell. I almost expect to see alligators in these wetlands because I'm used to your FL photos. Sad that the interstate runs through the refuge but seems you were able to hike away from it. Good lesson on dragon vs damsel flies.

  18. You don't need photo proof to know you were there! Beautiful blog and pictures :) I like the sumac and the red turtle markings. Very interesting about the dragon/damsel flies. Yes, thank you Teddy!!


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