By Josh Durso
he Climate Prediction Center calls it “abnormally dry.” If you look at the Drought Monitor map of New York a section of yellow or D0 cuts through the southern tip of Seneca County.
The dry weather has been the norm since last summer, but now spring is here. For Chris Lajewski and the rest of the team at the Montezuma Wetlands Complex that typically means over-saturation.
It is definitely not the case this year.
Lajewski, who serves as center director for the Montezuma Audubon Center — a connected property within the wetlands complex — said there is a portion along State Route 31 that includes several farm fields. He said that under normal circumstances those fields are soaked and flooded during the month of March and April.
“The habitats were a little bit different this year,” he explained. “Those fields didn’t flood, and that’s typically an incredibly rich area for bird life during the month of March. The lack of snow during the winter, then lack of rain so far this season kept them dry.” The diversity of birds in those areas was lacking, but that did not impact the overall trend.
“We’re right where we’d expect to be, and oftentimes it means the birds that would normally find a home in one area of the complex find it in another part,” Lajewski continued. “The mild conditions and southerly breeze is certainly going to continue the migration pattern, so we’ll see the song birds, and other wildlife that people expect at the Center and Complex.”
The outlook from the National Weather Service is that the region’s rain chances will not change or increase much over the next two weeks.
“This is prime season for migration, it’s really, really busy,” Lajewski said. “We’re seeing more visitors, and the weather is cooperating for them, but obviously migrating birds are experiencing something a little different this time.”
Waterfowl, lots of Eastern BlueBirds, and American Goldfinch have all made their appearances during the last 30 days, despite the dry spring conditions.
One question that Lajewski and others at the Audubon Center gets regularly has to do with the ecosystem: Will the forecast, if it stays dry, have a negative impact on what people see there?
Major climate changes aside, wet and dry fluctuations at the Center are expected. Moreover, they are dealt with by strong management.
“The Montezuma Wetlands Complex is a managed ecosystem,” Lajewski explained. “Nature isn’t given the opportunity to take its course, so to speak. There are a couple of reasons for that. First is that humans have been tinkering with waterways and the habitats at Montezuma for well over 200 years now. It started with European settlers coming and draining thousands of acres of wetlands to create agricultural fields and access the black rich muck soil that was wonderful for growing crops,” Lajewski added. “Second, the Erie Canal tinkered with water levels throughout the complex, and because of that there are berms or earthen mounds around each marsh habitat that is publicly managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife or the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.”
That is important. Without that management it would not be possible to maintain equilibrium so that wildlife could truly thrive at that location. “We can hold water in marshes if we need to, or we can allow it to drain out through water control structures if water levels become too high,” he continued. “So we’re not too concerned about the forecast and we do tinker with those things all the time.”
Even when the weather is normal, sometimes managers of that ecosystem make changes to discourage certain types of vegetation from growing, or even encouraging other types to grow.
The bottom line is that things will progress at the Audubon Center and Wetlands Complex in the northern part of Seneca County, which stretches out across tens-of-thousands of acres in Cayuga and Wayne counties as well. “This is an ideal time to get out and enjoy the weather, but all of the abundant wildlife at the complex, too,” Lajewski added. He said the Audubon Center is also looking for volunteers. Those interested in helping out this spring and summer should visit their website for more information.