Great Blue Heronry




Whether it’s Mexico, Chile, northern Africa, the Mideast, India, Australia, etc.  there’s constant news of water shortages.

Meanwhile, around the Great Lakes, collectively a fifth of the fresh water for the entire planet, people complain of damage to shoreline properties, from high water levels. Most of the shoreline trail at Sterling has been closed, due to erosion and falling trees.



The Great Lakes Charter & the Great Lakes Compact (agreements between U.S./Canadian states/provinces bordering the lakes) basically prevent the exportation of water outside the drainage basin.  Every once in a while, I see an article mentioning the possibility of pipelines to California or the Southwest.  These have always remained, well, pipe dreams for now.  Ocean-going tanker ships can access the lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway, and there have already been attempts to set up sales of fresh water to foreign countries.   I think such ideas will inevitably arise again with increasing urgency.






In the ’70’s, a local utility company purchased thousands of acres on Lake Ontario, for a nuclear power plant.  About sixty miles east of Rochester, and twelve miles west of Oswego.  There are already nuclear plants on the lake, near both those cities.   When the plans for this plant fell through, part of the land became the Sterling Nature Center, which preserves two miles of Lake Ontario shoreline. It includes woods, a beaver pond, and other wetlands; about nine miles of trails, and is a great place for bird-watchers.





A young beaver paddled around in circles, apparently curious about us.








Clean Waters, Great Lakes, hiking, Nature, NY, Ontario, Upstate New York

Walks Around Upstate New York. Sterling Nature Center. June, early evening.


36 thoughts on “Walks Around Upstate New York. Sterling Nature Center. June, early evening.

  1. Absolutely fantastic pictures.
    It’s really a pity that water is not more evely contributed aorund the world. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to “export” water from the Great Lakes. I don’t think it woul dreach the people who really need it. It would only end in even more waste of that precious resource in affluent areas, where they already have no idea of the need for water conservation.

  2. I think this is the first time I’ve come across the word heronry. I hope it’s not heresy to call it a kind of avian heraldry. In any case, even without nests I’d have enjoyed the first picture for all its dead tree trunks reflected in dark water.

    Last summer in preparation for our trip through upstate New York I listed things of interest I’d discovered online. I just checked that list and found the Sterling Nature Center was not on it. If we ever make it back up there, I’ll have one more place to visit.

    • The Great Blue Herons add to the prehistoric vibe, with their wingspan and croaking calls, they remind me of (how I imagine) pterosaurs. Pretty good odds you’ll see ospreys, bald eagles, and lots of songbirds. Once an owl.

    • Thanks, Neil. Yeah, I’m sure there’s a million considerations and unintended consequences, but when the lake levels are high, and you know millions of gallons are going to flow down the St. Lawrence into the ocean, it seems like it might be possible to share some with places having droughts.

  3. Darts and Letters says:

    That first picture is really cool. Have you read The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan? Gawd, I think this might be the tenth time I’ve asked you that. Can’t remember anymore, sorry. It’s a really good book, though. One of those reads that I studied off from, found other things that I learned a lot about. Are you still in NY or did you head back to Milwaukee?

    • Hey Jason – you have mentioned that book, and I got a copy! Just haven’t read it yet. I was thinking about your post-before-last and also haven’t read Dostoevsky. Seems like all my reading time is taken by news, for the last couple years, and fewer books. But working on that. I’m headed back to WI on Wed. morning, even though I’m still working remote for now.

      • Darts and Letters says:

        Another book about the Great Lakes that I think you might really enjoy (if you haven’t already read it) is The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas by author Jerry Dennis. It’s a bit dated (2003) if you’re most interested in a present-day picture of the Great Lakes but I read it just a year or two ago and I probably still enjoyed it better than Egan’s book. It even won the “Best Book of 2003” by the Outdoor Writers Association of America. And it even has a cool illustration of the Great Lakes in the front of the book which includes the Finger Lakes 🙂

  4. Wonderful photos! Water is the gold currency of the future IMHO. 30 years ago we spent 6 months driving around the Australian Outback in a campervan with our two small kids. Australia is a continent with little water and many of the campsites we stayed in you would be turfed out if they saw you running water to wash your car and people never ran water from tap while brushing their teeth! We stayed for a few days at a 3 million acre sheep station. There was no surface water. NONE! they had 10,000 sheep and the water had to be pumped up from bore wells. Those people knew the value of water. I often worry about the Great Lakes just being siphoned off for the dry States. Or taken by Nestle and bottled. Good post Robert it got me thinking!

    • Thank you, Anne, I agree completely, water is a more precious commodity every minute on this planet, and especially when you consider there’s another 250 thirsty people born every minute.
      Wow, that sound like a blast, what an experience, driving around the outback. A 3 million acre farm!!! I remember hearing about the legendary King Ranch in Texas, I just checked and that’s .8 million. I know they raise sheep “Down Under,” for years the lamb in the market was almost always from Australia or NZ. But I always think of sheep as living in green hilly areas, like Ireland or England, not semi-arid places with no ponds or streams.
      Sometimes I see articles predicting future “water wars,” I guess the standard gloom & doom, but it does seem inescapable, that water is a bigger issue every day.

  5. I am glad to hear that the project to build more nuclear power plants had been scrapped and the huge area originally destined for the project has been turned into a park. Your photos show what a wonderful recreational place and a wildlife sanctuary would have been lost, Robert.

    • Thank you, Peter, I feel the same way. It was a stroke of luck – – before abandoning their plans for a plant, or nuclear storage facility, the utility company held onto the land for over twenty years, which prevented it from being sold to developers and covered with summer houses.

  6. George says:

    Wonderful photos. The last three, especially are like Monet’s.

    Fantastic to hear the land bought for a nuclear power plant has become a nature reserve and not just sold on to property developers.

    • Thank you, George, it wasn’t intentional, but I thought the same thing about the pictures. That county has just a narrow toehold in the lakeshore, but most of that is either a state park/public beach or this preserve.
      The 3 nuclear plants next to the lake were going to be closed by the utility company, but the governor persuaded them to stay open, with $billions in subsidies, because it would’ve left hundreds of people unemployed. I appreciate an effort to avoid further economic decline/popularity loss in this area, but it must be one of the most extravagantly expensive, questionable, myopic tactics imaginable.

  7. melissabluefineart says:

    This is such a hot topic to me~I’m fiercely protective of our lakes. Around here surrounding counties are forever trying to stick their straw into Lake Michigan even though they fall outside the drainage. The thing is, cities like LA insist on growing beyond their region’s carrying capacity, and all the water in Lake Michigan wouldn’t be enough to slake their thirst. They’d simply build more swimming pools. There are exciting new technologies for collecting water from clouds with structures that mimic trees, and of course recycling of water has come a long way. Population control is always a good option as well but good luck trying to sell that!

  8. Great to know some of that is a nature reserve, and it sounds an enviable count of birds.

    We’re going to have to get smart with water. While more and more of the world is experiencing shortages and drought, other parts continue to pour millions of gallons onto golf courses and into fountains (as you say above). It’s not going to end well.

    • I absolutely agree, we’re going to have to get smarter about water usage. At the same time, people worry about a big Nestle water-bottling plant in this basin, when the amount it uses in a year, might represent two minutes’ flow out of Ontario and down the St. Lawrence. I read an article recently, where someone in California argued that they should be “reimbursed,” for the water used to raise vegetables & fruits that are then shipped out-of-state. I guess there’s some logic to that, if someone in Wisconsin enjoys eating California almonds, grapes, avocados, etc.
      Yesterday I walked around the gardens/arboretums at Cornell University, there was a very attractive “rain garden” or “bioswale,” to catch runoff from the parking area, and a green roof on the visitor center, mostly sedums, I think. I think they’ve invented their own permeable paving system, too, and it’s nice to see good, practical ideas being put into use.

      • The main charge (amongst many) against Nestle is that in many places it depletes the water reserves of an area or community while making huge profits from bottling and selling that water. ( This runs side by side with the argument over whether water is a natural resource to which we all should enjoy rights or whether it can be privatised and become the property of corporations to make a profit from.

        I don’t know about reimbursement – presumably the farmers are making good money from selling these crops out of state anyway, which seems to be much the same thing.

        But other than that the main theme seems to be not wasting water, and your description of the project at Cornell sounds a great example. Not allowing swimming pools to be filled or golf courses to be doused in water during a shortage would be a great move, too.

      • Nestle was trying to make inroads around here too, along the Columbia River. Ultimately, they were not successful…

        Your park looks like a good place for bird watching.

  9. The grossly exploitative extraction of resources from public lands by corporations is a terribly familiar story – – whether it’s mining, lumber, grazing, or water. However, I think perhaps there’s a significant difference between drying up creeks in a state like California, with serious water shortages, and sharing water with drought-stricken areas, from lakes that have been experiencing flooding and erosion issues from historically-high water levels. (And of course, this would require both the U.S. and Canada to agree and to supervise.) Part of Wisconsin, Michigan, and NY may be areas that’ll experience increased precipitation due to climate change. And when the Great Lakes are 2 or 3 feet above normal, like the past couple of years, that’s a pretty staggering amount of fresh water. It also strikes me, that I’ve read one of the oceans’ woes at this time, is desalinization. I don’t pretend to know, but it seems reasonable to ask if reducing the St. Lawrence’s unusually high volume, even if by one or two percent, might conceivably have some benefits for the ocean fisheries on the Grand Banks.
    I’ve also thought, that by allowing pools and golf courses to be filled from municipal water pipes (perhaps paying a surcharge), it forces communities to obtain & protect watersheds & aquifers. So gov’ts that aren’t terribly interested in protecting public lands and the environment, or in regulating development, are forced to do so, in order to have safe drinking water. NYC is famous for the quality of its drinking water, and they’ve invested many billions of dollars to protect the upstate sources in the Catskills. True, areas like Long Island, facing increasing issues with contaminated wells, may simply try to buy water from upstate, rather than mend their ways in their own backyards, but nonetheless it does increase the likelihood of more green spaces being protected.
    That doesn’t mean of course, that businesses or richer communities, should ever be allowed to reach out and drain the water resources of less-populated and poorer areas – – but it might, for example, provide the cash to compensate farmers for adopting less water-polluting methods, like “methane digesters” for livestock manure, etc.
    Yes, the green roof seems to be great idea, Chicago has some, apparently it doesn’t just reduce storm water runoff, but really reduces the air-conditioning bills, too, and sometimes can be like a pocket park.

  10. What a good outcome it was for that piece of land…let’s hope that’s a trend. There’s a preserve near here that was slated to be a nuclear power plant as well, and now it’s the first preserve that is co-managed by a tribe and the state government. Wouldn’t it be good if people could adapt to the environments where they live better instead of thinking they need to import water from so far away? But it’s a bit too late for that in many places, I fear!

    • Cayuga County has just eight miles of lakeshore – – but five of those are public land (Sterling, and Fair Haven State Park). I agree that it seems pretty foolish to build houses in the desert, then truck in topsoil and lay down sod, and then water it twice a day for most of the year. But since it looks like climate change may be sending the Great Lakes basin increased precipitation, it does seem like allowing tankers to bring drinking water to Jordan, Syria, Iraq, etc. might be ok – – a drop in the bucket to us, and life-saving to them. Until the scientists invent a simpler, cheaper method of desalinization than reverse osmosis, etc.

  11. Throughout history water has been the subject of many fights and a few wars. Here in Massachusetts, you have heard my tories about the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir so Boston would have water beyond what they can supply for themselves. At one time the conduits taking the water across state was a wooden structure with many leaks, thus wasting a precious resource. For the most part that has been rectified. A few years ago the reservoir level dropped into the 70% area which is pretty low but, of course, Boston instituted no restrictions on its usage. Fortunately the water level exceeded the holding capacity for a while and is not too bad currently but we are in the midst of a drought.
    Heaven, or wherever, help the Great Lakes if one of those nukes goes kablooey.

  12. While golf courses and lawns are often referenced when water discussions come up, one of the biggest issues around here is how to supply water to cities like Corpus Christi. Go into any midcoast café at noon, and you’re likely to find at least a few rice farmers talking about irrigation, and the plans to divert water from their fields to the cities via pipelines. Every time I head south, I see the construction going on, and wonder: how do we balance the needs of agriculture and urban residents (and industries, of course). It’s not just Texas, of course: California comes to mind as a particularly obvious example.

    It’s easy to side immediately with the farmers, especially if you’re sitting across the table from one. But it’s also true that pipelines and such aren’t constructed willy-nilly. There’s a copy of a study of Corpus Christi’s water needs that’s posted online. The abstract is short and readable, but the entire piece is fascinating, containing as it does the history of actions already taken, and a clear description of rationales for future action.

    Not only that, it was fun for me to get an overview of all those pipelines I encounter. Lake Texana, Garwood, and other places named in the study are places I know, and it’s great to see how they fit into the larger scheme of things.

    As for your Sterling Nature Center: it’s beautiful. That first photo looks like a very skilled woodworker (with a lot of cherry pickers and cranes) re-created a Chihuly glass project in wood. And Monet would have loved that next-to-last photo!

  13. It seems like, whether or not Texans have negotiated the issue publicly, there’s been a de facto decision to direct water to cities and industries, rather than agriculture. I guess when you’re growing by four or five million people/decade, the choice is kind of made for you. Finding enough water for 8.5 billion people (by the end of the decade) is clearly going to be a huge and contentious issue. Even in the Finger Lakes, with precipitation approaching forty inches/year, drinking water is an issue. Seneca Lake is over 600′ deep in places, but it seems like every summer there’s more toxic algae blooms in the shallower stretches.
    Well, I’m so glad you liked the photos, we’ve walked there many times, but that day, it just seem particularly pretty.

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