For all it's summertime bustle, Beaver Island State Park in Grand Island takes on a different persona in the winter. Picnic tables and shelters stand forlornly covered with a blanket of snow and the park is still and quiet. But that doesn't mean the park is devoid of life during the cold months. Beaver Island's location on the Niagara River makes it a magnet for bird life.
Andrew Hillman is Beaver Island's Park Manager. "We're located where the Atlantic Flyway and the Mississippi Flyway converge, so we get a wide variety of migratory birds here. Because the river is open and calm as compared to the lakes which get rough or freeze over. So the birds like it in this area, it's actually considered by the Audubon Society as an important birding area."
On any given day, one can spot a number of species here, but some stand out a little more than others. The Tundra Swan is a large and striking white swan that makes it's home in the Arctic, but migrates south in the winter as many birds do. Even to the novice observer the Tundras are easy to pick out in a crowd, says Hillman. "We see the Tundra Swans here frequently, oftentimes they're in flocks of ten to twenty, they're a very noisy bird so you can pick them out where they're at quite easily."
The Tundras' migration is a long one and they reach great heights to make their trip south. "They've been sighted at twenty seven thousand feet," Explains Hillman. "They fly in a V formation, they fly at high altitudes to avoid the turbulent weather down lower, they're a very interesting bird."
The swans seem to find the area to be a good winter home. They return annually to the river, and are fairly close to shore, making them easy to observe." You can get a good look at them here at Beaver Island State Park, in the road that goes around the end of the loop at the end of the park, they're in shallow water there feeding and sleeping and you can get a good view of them there."
And although this is a yearly event, it's also one that most other regions are not fortunate to have. Hillman says that despite the freezing temperatures, it's just another reason to get out and enjoy the rich natural wealth we have here in Western New York. "We've got something here in our backyard that is not available to many people throughout the country. It's a great reason to get out, the cold weather really brings the migratory birds into this area, so if you're able to stand the cold, get out there and enjoy it!"
Beaver Island offers a number of interesting programs throughout the winter,including a bird walk on February 23rd. For more information, visit the State Parks website at http://www.nysparks.com