The Importance of Being Observant When You Are in the Right Place At the Right Time (or, Why You Should Live Near the Dryden Rail Trail)

Snowy Owls, the largest owl in North America, are predominantly white owls that spend most of their lives in the open tundra and into the Arctic Circle. They occur all over the northern part of the earth, but during the winter, they migrate south irruptively to find food (mostly voles and lemmings). This is why—if you are out walking in a harvested cornfield or open meadow in late fall or winter, and you see what you think is a white plastic bag in the distance—you should take a second look. Snowy Owls spend a lot of their time sitting, so if you are in the right place at the right time, and you are observant, you just might find one. According to “Snowy Owls do a lot of sitting. They sit still in the same spot for hours, occasionally swiveling their head or leaning forward and blinking their big, yellow eyes to get a closer look at something. When they hunt, they use extraordinary vision and hearing to draw a bead on their prey—maybe a vole scurrying beneath the snow—and then fly, or even run, over to pounce on it.”

On November 20, 2021, local birders Matt Fendya (Buildings and Grounds Supervisor at Lime Hollow Nature Center) and his friend Kyle Nauseef found a Snowy Owl near the George Road entrance to the Dryden Rail Trail. They called their friend, Holly Grant (who lives just down the road), to come see it. She, her husband, and sister were some of the first on the scene and took one of the photos below. Word quickly spread through, an archive of bird sightings, and dozens of local birders (including Jay McGowan, who got the glamour shot of the bird) had a chance to see this infrequent visitor from a safe and respectable distance.

We are happy that such a remarkable bird was found next to the trail, and we encourage you to learn more about the Snowy Owl by visiting the links on this page. Snowy Owls are listed on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds Watch List and the 2020 IUCN* Red List, which means that this species is at risk of extinction without conservation action. Fortunately, as with all raptors, it is illegal to shoot or trap a Snowy Owl—this Federal law protects them in the winter when they are sitting in open fields looking like white plastic bags. Several organizations are working on projects to learn more about Snowy Owls and how to ensure they are with us for years to come. An important one is Project SNOWstorm, which has been tracking individual owls since 2013 to learn more about their biology and life history.

So, walk the Trail, keep your eyes open, and let us know about your interesting nature sightings.

NOTE: Snowy Owls are often “one-day wonder” birds, rarely sticking around more than a day. The one on George Road has already disappeared from the area.

Post by Diane and Chris T-H

  • Snowy Owl copyright Jay McGowan
  • Snowy Owl photographed from car copyright Matt Fendya.
  • Snowy Owl in field copyright Holly Grant.

Support for Dryden Rail Trail

Dryden Rail Trail Task Force members Bob Beck and Todd Bittner met with Tompkins County Parks and Trails Network partners on October 29, 2021. Bob and Todd received enthusiastic support for the progress that the Town of Dryden has made to date on the Dryden Rail Trail, including the recent opening of the trail section in the Reynolds Game Farm, and the planned Route 13 pedestrian bridge. Tompkins County Parks and Trails Network partners meet twice a year to discuss progress developing, extending and connecting priority trails across the county.

Group of people cluster around "Build the Bridge" sign on Dryden Rail Trail.
Dryden Rail Trail Task Force leader Bob Beck and Task Force member Todd Bittner Member meet with the Tompkins County Parks and Trails Network

Visit the Dryden Story Walk!

The Dryden Story Walk, in partnership with the Family Reading Partnership, is a series of panels along the Jim Schug section of the Dryden Rail Trail. Children can read a page from the book, then run along the trail to the next panel to read the next page. It can be viewed by accessing the Jim Schug section of the Dryden Rail Trail, next to the Dryden Agway on Main Street.

The Story Walk first appeared last year, and has just been updated for the Fall! The featured book this season is Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler. Each summer, Miss Maple gathers lost seeds that haven’t yet found a place to sprout. She takes care of them, keeping them safe and warm until it’s time for them to find roots of their own, and grow into the magnificent plants they’re destined to become. This is a beautifully written and illustrated book, perfect for an autumn walk with the family!

The Fall featured book on the Dryden Rail Trail’s Story Walk for Fall, 2021 is Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler.

Work on the trestles near Game Farm Road.

The Town of Dryden is excited to show more images of a section of nearly-completed trestle and trail renovations. These two ~150 year-old former Lehigh Valley (later Elmira, Cortland, and Northern) Railroad trestles, are each located between Game Farm and Stevenson Roads, at the westernmost side of the Town of Dryden, Tompkins County, New York.The Dryden Highway Department has worked tirelessly to make these two trestles safe for pedestrian use by replacing damaged and rotten timbers, applying new decking, and installing these newly affixed railings (pictured). This section of the Town of Dryden Rail Trail is also in the process of being leveled and covered with a fine stone dust surface, making it easier to walk on.This section of the Town of Dryden Rail Trail joins the easternmost terminus of the East Ithaca Recreation Way, which is a direct conduit for recreational and commuter trail users to access East Ithaca and Cornell University.We hope to have this trail section open in a more official capacity later this fall, once the Game Farm Road crossing has been made safer with appropriate signage and markings, following approval from the Tompkins County Highway Department Engineers.Additional trailhead modifications may be made to help slow trail users at the roadway intersection, to reduce the risk of pedestrian-vehicle collisions. We are also recommending that the speed limit along the full length of Game Farm Road be posted with a safer speed of 45mph–down from the un-posted State Speed Limit of 55mph. Both adjoining sections of roadways to the north and south (Route 366 and Ellis Hollow Road) already have a posted speed limit of 45mph; it makes sense to reduce and post the Game Farm Road speed limit to match.This section of trail is not yet officially open, as indicated by the signage posted at the two trailheads, by order of Highway Superintendent Rick Young.