Black Dirt Region

White-crowned Sparrow, from “Birds of eastern Canada” (1919), Cornell University Library

Pine Island, New York

The 22-square-mile Black Dirt Region, which is located in southern Orange County, gets its name from its deep layer of fertile black soil and is the largest such region in the United States outside of the Everglades. It’s home to hundreds of farms and is particularly known for its onion farms and sod/turf farms. The meeting spot for Black Dirt field trips is the parking lot of The Jolly Onion in Pine Island (orange marker on the map).

According to Orange County Tourism, more mastodons have been unearthed in the Black Dirt than anywhere else in the world, but the region is also home to a large variety of non-extinct wildlife, including resident and migrating birds. eBird lists numerous hotspots in the area, some of which are accessed by unpaved roads that meander around among the farms. If you could pick only one place to go with guidance from experienced Mearns Club birders, this should be it!

In the Black Dirt Region, you can find Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, sandpipers (Buff-breasted and Upland), plovers, Lapland Longspurs, American Pipits, sparrows (White-crowned, American Tree), geese (including Snow Geese and various uncommon geese in the winter), Short-Eared Owls, and even the occasional Snowy Owl.