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Birding in the Finger Lakes


Thousand Acre Swamp

Coordinates: 42.172°N 77.458°W


Submitted by: Jay Greenberg


Habitat: Thousand Acre Swamp is a 500-acre Nature Conservancy sanctuary located in the Town of Penfield.


There are a variety of habitats, including moist deciduous woods, swamp/marsh, grassland, and two ponds--Duck Pond and Way Pond.


Wildlife: The sanctuary is known for a variety of breeding woodland and wetland bird species plus many migrants. The official bird checklist included more than 130 species as of 1990. Nesting woodland species include woodpeckers, thrushes and mimic thrushes, flycatchers, scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, vireos, great horned and screech owls. American redstart, yellow, and common yellowthroats are the most abundant nesting warblers. Nesting wetland species include herons and rails, as well as red-winged blackbirds and other common species. Although wild turkeys are not on the 1990 checklist, they have occasionally been seen or heard at the Meadows since the early 1990s, sometimes with several youngsters. Flocks of migrating rusty blackbirds are sometimes seen in spring. It is one of several locations within 10 mi./16 km. of downtown Rochester where bluebirds and grassland birds may be seen. For additional species, see the checklist.


In addition to the many birds on the property, some 450 plant species have been documented. Reptiles and amphibians are also abundant and varied.


Guided Walks: There are annual public hikes led by knowledgeable volunteers, including a number of birding walks in spring and early summer, the best seasons for birding at the Swamp.


Self-Guided Walk: This route is 2.6 mi./4.1 km. round trip. From the parking lot, follow the entrance trail and Deer Run west about 0.4 mi./.6 km. to the boardwalk. You may wish to take a short side trip to Duck Pond, which is accessed via an inconspicuous unmarked trail to the right from the entrance trail. Wood ducks breed here, and pileated woodpeckers have been seen on the snags. You may encounter any of the woodland birds along Deer Run. The 0.1 mi./.16 km. boardwalk passes through a wetland area, which has characteristics of both marsh and swamp. There are cattails and grasses with trees and dead snags emerging from the water. Red-winged blackbirds, swamp sparrows, marsh wrens, common yellowthroats, and rails may be seen from the Boardwalk. Great blue herons flying overhead are a common sight as they have a small rookery at the swamp. Any species of woodpecker found in western New York may be seen on the snags. In April, the display flights and winnowing sounds of common snipe may be observed. From the boardwalk, follow the trail to the left via Warbler Fen and Hermit Walk to the Meadows (about 0.7 mi./1.1 km.). (If you don’t want to go further after the boardwalk, go right at the first intersection to get back to Deer Run via Weasel Way. Turn left at Deer Run to return to the parking lot.) Along this route, be on the alert for rusty blackbirds (late April-early May), numerous warbler, flycatcher, and thrush species, and tanagers. At the Meadows, inspect the nest boxes for eastern bluebirds and tree swallows. Bobolink, eastern meadowlark, and savannah and field sparrows have been seen here. On spring evenings, male American woodcocks do their courtship flights. On the evening of May 4, 1999 a whip-poor-will was heard calling loudly and clearly. Turn right and continue along the edge of the Meadows to Way Pond. Wood ducks and Canada geese breed here, although the youngsters often fall victim to snapping turtles. To return to the parking lot via the shortest route, retrace your steps along Hermit Walk, then bear left at the first intersection onto Trillium Trail and follow it to Deer Run.


Admission: Thousand Acres Swamp is open year around. Admission is free, but donations to the Nature Conservancy Central and Western NY Chapter, 339 East Ave., Suite 300, Rochester, NY 14604 are appreciated. A hike list, a trail guide, and a bird checklist may be obtained at a kiosk near the entrance.


Access: The unpaved entrance road to the swamp is at 1591 Jackson Road opposite Penfield Center Road. Follow the entrance road to the parking lot, bearing left at the intersection. Please note that the parking lot and trails are not plowed in winter.



1. Hikers must stay on the trails.

2. From late May through the first frost of fall, mosquitoes are abundant. Protective clothing and repellent are strongly recommended.

3. Trails may be very muddy in spring.

4. Poison ivy is abundant.

5. Drinking water and restroom facilities are not available.

6. Pets, camping, fires, and collecting without a permit are not allowed.


Jay Greenberg's photo gallery of Thousand Acre Swamp.








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