10-18-13FALL-WILDLIFE-COVER-2013By Jann Wiswall

Everyone agrees that this is one of the most beautiful times of the year to visit the Southern Tier and take in the fall color. It’s also a great time of year to observe wildlife either passing through or preparing for winter, said Mark Kandel, regional wildlife manager for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Many migrating species of birds are especially prevalent this time of year, Kandel said. Migratory Canada geese, mallard, wood and black ducks and even swans are heading south from Ontario, and there’s a good chance of seeing them at almost any time of day. The large numbers of resident Canada geese also are active this time of year, spending lots of time moving between their nighttime roosting areas near water to their daytime feeding areas.

Turkeys are on the move in the fall and are busy “flocking up” for the winter. This is also a good time to listen for Barred, Screech and Saw-whet owls who make their presence known with their distinctive sounds.

Kandel said that dusk is the best time to see mammals, and some of the best places to see them (as well as many of the birds mentioned above) are near chopped corn or hay fields — favorite feeding spots for hundreds of critters. Deer, of course, are plentiful in the region and spend a lot of their time feeding in agricultural fields. Red and gray fox also frequent the field in search of mice and other small mammals, as do coyotes.

Many other mammals make their homes in the acres and acres of forests in the region. Black bears will be busy feeding until food becomes scarce. Kandel said that this year there has been a bumper crop of apples and acorns, so they’re likely to delay hibernation until late November or early December.

Bobcats and fishers (a weasel-like creature that is making a comeback in the region) can be seen on occasion, and beavers and mink — and their handiwork — can be seen along streams, also most often at dusk.

Kandel suggests that you’re more likely to see wildlife on a drive along country roads than on a hike — your presence will disturb them more in person than in a car — but in either case, he suggests bringing a camera, binoculars and some field guides and head out an hour or two before dark for the best viewing odds. And above all, bring patience. Most animals are reclusive and afraid of humans, so they’ll avoid you whenever possible. Sitting still in one place for a while increases your odds of spotting something interesting.

Kandel also advises caution while driving.

“Dusk may be the best time to see wildlife,” he said, “but it’s also the most hazardous time to be driving.”

The best way to avoid a collision with an animal is to slow down and stay in your lane. More accidents occur because cars have swerved into the animal or an oncoming car. Above all, he said, maintain control and attend to your personal safety.

Where to Go?

There are myriad places to go to observe and photograph wildlife in and around Ellicottville. Allegany State Park (ASP), the state’s largest park with 65,000 acres, is a great place to start if you’re interested in learning about the full range of mammals, birds, reptiles and insects that are native to the area on guided nature trails.

There are also some 97,000 acres of state forests in Cattaraugus County for exploring at your leisure. In Ellicottville and surrounding towns and villages, you can easily access Bryant Hill State Forest, Cattaraugus State Forest, Dobbins State Forest, East Otto State Forest, and Rock City and McCarty Hill State Forest. For information, visit www.dec.ny.gov/lands/40672.html.

The extensive hiking and biking trails at Holiday Valley and HoliMont are perfect for wildlife watching, too. And, you won’t want to miss Ellicottville’s Nannen Arboretum, where many species of wildlife flourish among the carefully maintained flora.