Our Fowl Fall Lake

Chautauqua Lake, identified as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, is a refuge for tundra swans on their migration route. Photo by Jeff Tome

All professionals love their pet acronyms. The world is full of IEPs, IEDs, IBMs and more (Individualized Education Plan, Improvised Explosive Device, and International Business Machines). Birders have IBAs. I love to think of all the things those letters could stand for. Improvised Birding Antenna. Individualized Bird Adaptations. International Birding Aficionado. Improved Bird Awareness. I could go on, but you would probably stop reading this and maybe already have.

IBA stands for Important Bird Area. The National Audubon Society has been identifying sites around the world that are important for birds, and Chautauqua Lake is one of those sites. Over 3,000 tundra swans have been seen on the lake at once. These huge white birds, often mistaken for the much smaller snow goose, fly in V’s with gentle coos. They stop and rest in the lake on their long journey south each fall.

Other smaller birds pass through too. I know people who have seen rafts of hundreds of common loons, known for their haunting echoed call that shows up in every outdoor movie that takes place in the north. There can also be over a hundred pied bill grebes, thousands of coots and mixtures of mergansers, bufflehead, goldeneyes and other waterfowl that most people have never heard of.

Chautauqua Lake is special. Everyone knows that, and many of us have special memories of the lake. The lake is a refuge for our memories. Many of us have had daring adventures along the shore or in the water, shared first dates or first kisses on the water, or have joyful memories of family and friends along the lake and summer fun.

We don’t think like birds though. To the birds, Chautauqua Lake is a refuge as well. It’s a place to rest after flying all night or through several nights on a long journey from the Arctic tundra to the warm coasts off North Carolina. It’s a place to sleep in safety and peace, where the shore is so far away that animals cannot easily get out to them. It is a place to eat, feeding up to get energy before the next long leg of the journey.

Every fall and every spring, the lake fills up with birds that often go unnoticed. They stay a few hours or a day or two. Many fall asleep as soon as they land in the water, their heads tucked under their wings. Mayville has huge rafts of coots floating offshore, and Stow and Bemus Point are often the temporary home to loons.

We know the lake is an important place. The National Audubon Society recognizes that it is an important place. Even the state recognizes how important the lake is. Now all we have to do is take care of it in a way that helps the birds, helps the people and makes everyone love the lake a little bit more.

Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist for Programs and Exhibits at the Jamestown Audubon Society and a longtime CWC volunteer and former board director. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit chautauquawatershed.org or facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.