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Birding Railroad Mills part of Auburn Trail

Access and Parking

The Railroad Mills Special Environmental Area (RRMSEA) of the Auburn Trail is best reached at the intersection of Probst and Railroad Mills Road.  There is a small parking area that can accommodate 2 cars. In case of overflow, people sometimes park along the sides of Railroad Mills Road, north of the intersection.  Members of Burroughs Audubon may also park in their parking area, down the hill a 1/2 mile east on Railroad Mills Road.  See Google Map on Geology page.


Habitat

The trail offers flat and easy walking on an historic, raised railroad bed in the valley of Irondequoit Creek.  The trail passes through a variety of habitat types, including several types of wetlands, woodlands, shrub thickets and meadow. The slopes of the broad floodplain are cloaked in a mature, deciduous forest. 

For much of the length, the narrow trail threads above wetlands on both sides.  This often has the effect of  concentrating songbirds in the trees and shrubs that line the path, and in the linear meadow itself.   A special habitat feature is the abundance and diversity of fruiting shrubs and vines in the fall.  This attracts a great variety of songbirds in the fall, which often linger for a period of time,  as they feed on the abundant fruit supply.

There are some features of this trail that make it a particularly desirable birding place. Views are often downslope, easing the dreaded condition of “warbler neck.”  Also, because birds are often concentrated along the corridor, visitors are often treated to close-up views, and excellent photo opportunities.


Suggested Birding Route

Walk south from the parking area – the first 3500’ to the damaged culvert is flat and easy walking.  The trail becomes somewhat rough at the point where it drops down to cross Irondequoit Creek.  At this place you can turn back, or continue over the bridge (a repair is planned) another 1/4 mile to Fishers Road, before retracing your steps.  Some people combine a visit to nearby the Burroughs Audubon Nature Club (open to members and guests).

 

Specialties and Birding Opportunities

The trail is good for birding any time of year – each season has its specialties.  Spring and fall migration can be excellent for migratory birds – 26 species of warblers have been recorded. Orange-crowned warblers are regular, though uncommon, fall migrants. Fall in particular can provide an extended period (late August into November) of migratory songbird viewing.  It can be an excellent place to study variation in fall warbler plumages.

Over 130 species, mainly landbirds,  have been recorded along the trail, and 46 were recorded for the Breeding Bird Atlas as possible, probable, or confirmed nesters along, or close to the trail corridor. 

Carolina wren are often found year round, while house wren is a summer resident, and winter wren may spend the winter. Mourning and blue-winged (including a Brewster’s) warbler are regular nesters; and chestnut-sided have recently nested. Flycatchers include alder and willow as regular nesting species,
  (along with phoebe and great crested flycatcher) , and can sometimes be heard calling from the same spot along the trail.   All five species of vireos, including Philadelphia,  regularly pass through, particularly in the fall.
Yellow-throated vireo is a regular breeder in the stream valley. In fall it is not uncommon to spot 10 types of warbler, and even more warbler species can be found on a good day in spring. Showy birds like rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, Baltimore oriole, and scarlet tanager can be readily found in season.
  All the thrushes pass through; wood thrush and veery nest in the area. Bluebirds also nest nearby and can be seen anytime of year.  Watching bluebirds in a snowy, frigid, February landscape, is a special sight. 


The linear meadow of grasses and wildflowers can be a attractive for sparrows and other seed eating birds in fall. We have seen 8 sparrow species in a single outing (five in one scope view) feeding on grass seeds in the meadow, and getting grit in the footpath. Fox sparrow are regular passage migrants in spring and fall, often lingering for weeks in the fall.


The creek and wetlands add another dimension.  Rusty blackbirds pass through in spring and fall, sometimes lingering for several weeks. Wood ducks are regular along the creek and nearby ponds. Virginia rail is a regular breeder. Swamp sparrows, common yellowthroat, and yellow warbler are all common nesters in the wetland areas. Kingfishers are regular along the creek.  Osprey have lingered during fall, when the trout and salmon are moving upstream.


It is not uncommon to see all five resident woodpeckers at anytime– pileated are seen regularly.  Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, uncommon breeding birds in our region, have nested near the trail entrance the past few years. 

 

In summary, the Railroad Mills Special Environmental Area section of the Auburn Trail can offer easy, rewarding birding, nature observation,  and photography opportunities.