You probably don’t think about the Chesapeake Bay much when you’re birding, hiking or kayaking in central or upstate New York. But if you take a look at the New York State Birding Trail—a network of popular birding sites launched in 2021—you’ll see that a number of them are nestled within the northern reaches of the Bay watershed, which means the rivers and streams located here eventually drain south to the Chesapeake Bay.
The trail was developed by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in partnership with the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. It was created largely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, when a record high number of people wanted to get outdoors but weren’t always sure where to go. The trail was a way of connecting beginning or experienced birders with the state’s best destinations.
“Birding is a wonderful activity because it’s accessible to so many people,” said Laura DiBetta, DEC’s director of outdoor recreation.
While the locations on the trail are hours from the Chesapeake Bay, the species you’ll find are often similar to what’s seen farther south. Many of New York’s waterfowl, songbirds and raptor species, like bald eagles and ospreys, can be found all across the Bay watershed.
Here are six standout sites along the New York State State Birding Trail where parts or all of the land is within the Bay watershed.
Susquehanna State Forest
The Susquehanna State Forest is most known for its incredible kayaking along the Susquehanna River, so it seems fitting to put it at the top of our list. The Susquehanna River is the largest provider of freshwater to the Bay and is one of the most beautiful tributaries in the watershed. The state forest includes 423 acres, much of which is covered by wetlands. Paddlers along the Susquehanna should be on the lookout for waterfowl, wading birds, bald eagles and ospreys who turn to the water’s edge for food.
Glimmerglass State Park
Glimmerglass State Park gets its name from the shimmering, glass-like Otsego Lake that the park overlooks. Otsego Lake also happens to be where the Susquehanna River begins. The park’s rolling, partially wooded terrain is host to a wide variety of wildlife, and an uphill trail grants you the outstanding view of Otsego Lake. Bird species noted by the DEC include solitary sandpipers, willow flycatchers, doves, gulls and blue jays.
Chenango Valley State Park
DEC lists River Road Tow Path as its birding site for the Chenango Valley State Park. The path is 3.2 miles round trip and flat, allowing you to take your time and focus on identifying birds. Much of the trail follows the Chenango River but also dips into the woods. You can find waterfowl, bald eagles and songbirds like warblers and kinglets.
Birdseye Hollow State Forest
Birdseye Hollow State Forest consists of nearly 3,500 acres, plus the gorgeous Sanford Lake, which has 1.2 miles of shoreline. There’s a total of 5.5 miles of trails within the park that weave through deep woodlands and past babbling brooks. According to DEC, birders have the opportunity to observe black-throated blue warblers, Northern harriers and the endangered Henslow’s sparrow.
Erwin Wildlife Management Area
The 2,500 acre Erwin Wildlife Management Area includes a wide range of forested habitats hosting an abundance of bird species. Active timber harvest management within the park has resulted in many young forest habitats which attract species like warblers and ruffed grouse. There are 20 miles of trails within the park and even nesting bald eagles.
Another site along the New York State Birding Trail that’s right at the edge of the Bay watershed is Labrador Hollow. This park’s biggest natural attraction, Tinker Falls, flows into Labrador Creek which is connected to the Susquehanna River. The park has 4.8 miles of hiking, a boardwalk and an accessible fishing pier. Bird species to be on the lookout for include the red-winged blackbird, American goldfinch, cedar waxwing, golden-crowned kinglet and European starling.
At least five other locations on the New York State Birding Trail are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including Pharsalia Wildlife Management Area, Two Rivers State Park, Rogers Environmental Education Center, Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park and Palmer’s Pond State Forest.
Have you been to any of these birding hotspots? Let us know in the comments!