Welcome to the Dorothy McIlroy Bird Sanctuary
Following a trail through hemlock and yellow birch hummocks, you may begin to understand the qualities of this wetland preserve, which lure us into the heart of nature.
Dorothy McIlroy was renowned and beloved for her gentle manner and extraordinary knowledge of birds. She was instrumental in beginning the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell. Following her death in her 90s, her children donated funds to the Finger Lakes Land Trust to establish a preserve in her memory. This donation, plus money from an anonymous grant, enabled the Finger Lakes Land Trust to purchase the preserve.
The preserve, approximately 157 acres of swamp forest along the Lake Como outlet, is in the Town of Summerhill in Cayuga County. Located in a pocket of the high plateau that runs from Locke to Homer, the preserve is bisected by Fall Creek near its headwaters. A ridge to the west blocks prevailing winds; combined with the elevation, it makes the preserve a bit colder than the surrounding area. Hemlock and yellow birch, the dominant trees on the site, are typical of the Adirondacks, but are generally found only in the high steep valleys of the Finger Lakes.
The cool temperatures and northern plant species support breeding populations of northern birds such as Dark-eyed Junco, Hermit Thrush, Winter Wren, Canada Warbler, and Mourning Warbler. State forests and a state park nearby, in combination with the surrounding farmland, provide a large range of habitats and give this whole plateau some of the highest breeding bird diversity in the state.
But the most unusual aspect of this preserve is the flora. Rich shrub fen grades into peat swamp and forest on either side of the creek. While at least a dozen fens grace Fall Creek between Lake Como and McLean (the limestone bedrock of the creek favors fen development) the surrounding northern-type swamp forest makes this site exceptional even among the other Fall Creek fens. A number of plants that are uncommon or rare in our region are found at the preserve. Many species are on the State protected list. Collecting is forbidden.