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Birds of a feather flock together in waterfowl sanctuary in Cattaraugus County

At their home in the hills of Delevan, Rosemary Miner and her husband, Milt, provide sanctuary to 65 species of waterfowl, three of them endangered species.

What started with two ducks in 1983 has become the only nonprofit waterfowl park in the U.S. open to the general public, and home to one of the largest covered aviaries in the world. In addition to preservation, Rosemary strives to promote community recognition, education and awareness through tours Gooseneck Hill hosts from 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays in July and August.

For Miner, her work is a labor of love. From incubating eggs and hatching babies to knocking heavy snow from the aviary’s netting on the 5-acre property, she does what it takes to ensure the survival of the birds. Of her many awards, her most prized came in 2004 – the international Southwick Award for being the first to raise Pacific Eider ducks.

We toured during peak baby season. Miner gathers eggs from birds that won’t sit. She “candles” them to see if they are fertile for incubation, then rotates incubating eggs 180 degrees every hour until they hatch.

Our first stop was to see new ducklings – Long-tail, Falcated Teal, Mandarins and White Eye – all huddled under heat lamps. So fluffy!

From the “nursery” we headed outdoors to the covered aviary.

Extraordinary is the only way to describe Gooseneck Hill. Birds of different feathers do flock together. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see waterfowl from far-flung areas in a close, intimate setting.

Miner is a walking encyclopedia of waterfowl knowledge. Ask any question, she has the answer.

What is the difference between ducks and geese? Geese are land grazers while ducks stick to the water.

Do male and females always look different? No. Males and females from warm climates look almost identical. It’s the northern birds that are different.

Geese and swans mate for life, ducks want to have fun.

Ring Teals from Bolivia have pink feet and must be kept warm during winter otherwise their feet will freeze.

We saw a nesting Red-Breasted goose peek out at us from her straw enclosure. In the water, another mom called to her unruly chicks hopping all over the stones.

From the lower ponds we walked the “flyway” to an upper pond with a funny warning, “If a bird flies through, don’t move.”

The upper pond had even more waterfowl and 2,000 koi that help keep the things clean by eating bird waste. (Youngsters can watch fish follow the birds’ butts waiting for dinner to emerge. At least the nephew recognized it as “mutualism” he learned about in science.)

Miner told the sad story of her female Whistler Swan Marty that recently lost her 38-year-old mate. His sight was going. She led him around for 10 years. Now she’s lost without him. Whistlers are the second-largest swan in the world with a wing span of 8 feet that makes a whistling sound when they fly at speeds up to 100 mph.

We loved the Hawaiian Ne-Ne geese with gorgeous brown and black feathers. They are the only endangered goose in the U.S. They are unique too, with half-webbed feet and toenails to grip lava rock. The friendly pair we met escorted us around the pond, honking for a treat.

Miner can tell you why a certain species is in trouble, how many are left, etc. Sadly, she fully expects Ne-Nes (only 600-800) to become extinct. Today’s Ne-Nes come from six original birds that remained before the government put them on the endangered list. They were hunted because they ate sugarcane crops. Because of the inbreeding they are genetically weak. Today, many get hit by cars, too.

Each bird has a story Miner can tell. Of the many waterfowl, we saw gorgeous Red Breasted geese, hunted in Siberia and Bulgaria where they nest. We saw the world’s largest duck, the Pacific Eider that can dive up to 300 feet, and the world’s smallest, the Hottentot Teal Duck from Africa. We saw Bar-headed Geese that fly over the Himalayas reaching altitudes of about 30,000 feet. Their two air chambers warm the air before it reaches their lungs. Simply incredible.

Miner provided lettuce for us to feed the Ne-Nes, soon joined by others. Apparently, waterfowl are a discerning lot. They won’t eat iceburg lettuce, or as Miner noted, “They know there is no nutritional value in it.” Miner will tell you that her 500 waterfowl certainly do not “eat like birds,” consuming 29 tons per year.

Summer is short, but we encourage you to try and fit a trip to Gooseneck Hill into your mix. It may be the only time, and in some cases, the last time, some of these waterfowl will be around for us to enjoy. And if nothing else, to meet Miner who works every day to prevent such a fate from happening.

If you go

Gooseneck Hill Waterfowl Farm, 5067 Townline Road, Delevan, is open from 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays in July and August, for guided tours (rain or shine). $10 adults, $7 kids 12 and under; seniors. Under 1, free. Group tours (five or more) available upon request. Call for appointment and rates. Wheelchair accessible. 942-6835;

The Wild Wing Festival will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 24, with music, food and tours. Cost is $7 for adults, $5/person for seniors and children.

The drive will take you through Springville. We stopped at Rob Ray’s new hot dog joint “Rayzor’s Dawg House” located on Route 219. The menu is short and sweet. There’s plenty of seating, with room for youngsters to run outdoors. Indulge in M. Hibbard ice cream, cones, shakes and floats, too. Open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 9 Friday and Saturday;