Photo: Bill Hecht

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 lures us into the heart of nature.

Natural History

The preserve, located along the Lake Como outlet, is in the Town of Summerhill in Cayuga County.  Situated in a pocket of the high plateau that runs from Locke to Homer, the serene 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 peat 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.

Plant collecting is forbidden.

Recent History

Dorothy McIlroy was renowned and beloved for her gentle manner and extraordinary knowledge of birds.  She played a significant role in the early days of the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell.  Following her death in 1999, at age 91, 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 initial three parcels of the preserve in 2002, and two more parcels, including a gift of land from Dr. James Bugh, were acquired in 2003.  The most recent additions to the preserve were acquired in November 2013 and January 2019. All of the tracts now comprise 260 contiguous acres in the heart of the Summerhill wetland complex.

Land Acknowledgment

The Finger Lakes Land Trust recognizes that our nature preserves exist on the homeland of the Haudenosaunee. We hope to honor indigenous peoples’ ongoing relationship with the land by conserving wild places forever.

Public Use

Please see our public use policies for recreational activities on nature preserves.

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From Cortland, follow Rt. 281 north to the intersection with Rt. 90. Turn left (west) on Rt. 90 and follow for 5 miles to Lake Como Rd. Turn right on Lake Como Rd. and continue for about 2 miles until you come to Fire Lane A. Make a right onto lane to find the parking area on the right. NOTE: Fire Lane A may be inaccessible during the winter.