Southern Tier Woodlands


(This 1002nd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on June 6, 2010.)


Mud Creek


When Dan Kashuba invited me to visit his Southern Tier summer home to help him census his birds, I jumped at the chance and last week beat the heat on an early morning trip.


The drive down was as refreshing as usual. As soon as I drove beyond Hamburg, I found myself in the open country that characterizes our region. Here were broad grain fields; cows grazing contentedly; pink, purple and white dame's rockets at roadside; farmers busy around barns or already out on tractors working their crops; villages still quiet, their only activity traffic signals that stop me briefly; even two women seated on an open porch gossiping, surprising me at six in the morning.


Kashuba had suggested a route that avoided the traffic on Route 62. It really wasn't necessary at that time in the morning but I followed his directions: right off 62 on Eden Evans Center Road and then left on Versailles Plank Road. I understand that this road is pronounced locally, unlike the original French, with sail accented and I wonder how language teachers react. I find this kind of thing a reminder of our recognition of but independence from our sources: the village of Chili outside Rochester pronounced with the first syllable rhyming with shy; Beethoven Street in Binghamton sounding like Beth-oven.


My host greeted me and we set out to explore his hundred acres. Kashuba purchased the property back in the 1970s for a few thousand dollars. When he borrowed money from his father to do so, he told me, his dad felt he was paying far too much: "Why pay more than a dollar an acre?" he had asked. So much for changing values.


This land was thoroughly timbered before Kashuba took over. He responded by planting over 3000 trees and the results were evident on this bright morning. Most of the plantings are conifers: Norway spruce, white spruce in wet areas, larch and red pine. Many of these trees are flourishing now. There are deciduous trees as well: maples among them. Recently Kashuba had many of his ashes removed to beat the predicted devastation by emerald ash beetles.



Our walk first took us along Mud Creek to a marshy pond created by a beaver dam. When we approached, a great blue heron rose and flew downstream. Kashuba has had green herons and wood ducks here as well, but they weren't evident on this morning. Red-winged blackbirds called from the pond edge and a song sparrow sang from the nearby bushes.


From there we headed up through the spruce glade on a well-cleared path, immediately coming upon a yellow-rumped warbler, a clear indication that we were in country much higher than Buffalo for most yellow-rumps fly far to our north to breed. Kashuba's house is at 1600 feet, already a thousand feet higher than mine in Amherst, and his property rises to over 1900 feet from there. Also singing there were several redstarts and a magnolia warbler. These attractive warblers replace the yellow and chetnut-sided warblers of our lower country.


When we left the spruce and hiked up into the mixed hardwood-softwood forest, we entered the land of the red-eyed vireo. Some believe that this cheerful species, with its monotonous robin-like song repeated over and over all day long, is the commonest bird in North America. I find that hard to believe - my candidate the ubiquitous starling - but the vireo is widely distributed through our northern forests where few other birds are found.


We didn't see many birds but we could hear rose-breasted grosbeaks and orioles and hooded warblers singing and I was able to point out the robin-with-a-burr-in-its-throat song of a scarlet tanager as we made our way uphill.


We came upon a few tent caterpillar web nests and sure enough a black-billed cuckoo sang in the distance. That species is one of the few known to feed on those nasty caterpillars.


Our species list wasn't very long - we had missed the dawn chorus that would have added many - but it was a delight simply to visit this well-maintained property.


Returning, I visited Gowanda and am pleased to report how well the village has come back from last year's devastating flood.-- Gerry Rising