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From the December 2012 Conservationist

A large flock of birds in flight

Photo: Thomas Janik

Dunkirk Harbor

Where to watch wildlife in New York

Waterfowl take flight from the foggy lake surface
A number of waterfowl species use the
warmer waters in Dunkirk Harbor in
the winter. (Photo: Thomas Janik)

Surrounded by businesses, residences, urban parks and a power plant, Dunkirk Harbor may not appear to be a winter birdwatcher's paradise, but don't let the setting fool you-people drive hundreds of miles to see the incredible array of waterfowl found here in the winter months. A breakwall shelters the harbor from prevailing winds and waves, and heated discharge water from the nearby power plant keeps it ice-free, attracting large rafts of diving ducks. The heated water also attracts fish, and anglers come to the harbor to take advantage of concentrations of steelhead and brown trout found here in the winter. Many visitors use the long, paved pier to access the harbor.

Wildlife to Watch

A lesser scaup in the water
Lesser scaup (Photo: Jeff Nadler)

Dunkirk Harbor is a designated Important Bird Area and wintertime visitors can observe migratory birds, including waterfowl, loons, grebes and gulls as they rest and feed here. When Lake Erie freezes to its maximum extent, impressive flocks of common goldeneyes, common mergansers, buffleheads and diving ducks such as canvasback and greater and lesser scaup can be found here in the open water.

In spring, huge numbers of migrating red-breasted mergansers occur in the harbor, along with common and Caspian terns. Late summer brings Forster's terns, and a few shorebirds like willets and Baird's sandpipers have been seen. During fall migration, a few red-throated loons and red-necked grebes and good flights of common loons may be observed. A brief flight of brant (a small goose) occurs in late October or early November.