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Brooklyn's Coastal Habitats

Although many people do not consider an urban area to be a rich ecosystem for birds, this is certainly true of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn coastal region rivals its neighbors for bird diversity, particularly during migration and winter birding. Most of Brooklyn's coast and shoreline faces southward towards the expansive New York City harbor. This immense barrier forces exhausted migrating birds to land for refueling, rest and protection. The many coves, inlets and inner bays afford waterfowl a safe haven.

Note: A scope is essential for these walks.

Marine Park Region

Gerritsen Creek: A large elongated inlet, excellent for waterfowl and saltwater and brackish species. Buffleheads, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Greater Scaup are numerous here in autumn and winter. The abundant reeds and phragmites offer the possibility of rails and other marsh dwellers such as Marsh Wrens, Sharp-tailed Sparrows, and wading species. During the annual Christmas count, this area usually accumulates the highest species diversity total in Brooklyn. In winter, the inlet harbors large populations of Brant and Canada Geese. Duck concentrations are quite heavy during the appropriate seasons, usually attaining 20 species annually. The newly opened Salt Marsh Visitors Center offers amenities and interpretive information about salt marsh ecology.

Best time: Late Autumn, Winter.

Suggested tour: Start at the Marine Park parking lot, at Avenue U south of East 33rd St. Cross Avenue U at the parking lot's entrance to the estuary. There is a single trail behind the barricade. This trail goes in both directions. Along the right barricade near Avenue V and Burnett Street is a new flower garden created for butterfly aficionados, called "Harvey's Meadow," which may be a good spot for migrants.

Past scarce/rare species: Tricolored Heron, White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Common Goldeneye, Canvasback, Eurasian Widgeon, Clapper Rail, Short-eared Owl, Bank Swallow, American Pipit, Northern Shrike, Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, Sharp-tailed Sparrows (breeding.)

Directions: From the Belt parkway, exit 11 north to Flatbush Avenue, staying left as you approach the Kings Plaza Shopping complex. Turn left onto Avenue U. Proceed till you see Marine park ball fields on your right. Park in the lot here. Across the street is the Salt Marsh Visitors Center, where your tour starts. By public transportation, D or Q train to Avenue U and then take the B3 bus; or transfer to the B3 from the Flatbush Avenue B41 Bus at Kings Plaza (at Avenue U) .

Dead Horse Bay: A prime winter site for ducks. It is not unusual to see large rafts of Greater Scaup mixed with less common species such as scoters, loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Arctic Duck (formerly Oldsquaw ). Dead Horse bay feeds the Gerritsen Creek inlet. Primarily, the water species are the same. However, it is more open water that supports larger rafts of waterfowl.

Best time: Autumn and Winter

Suggested tour: Park in the Floyd Bennett parking lot at the main entrance. Backtrack toward Flatbush Ave. Cross at the light to the west side of Flatbush Ave. You'll see a trail leading into the phragmites. Eventually, the trail veers left toward the shore, under the shadow of the Marine Park Bridge. At the small beach, sweep your binoculars from the bridge left to right for loons, grebes, scaup, and other bay ducks. Check for the Peregrine Falcon which nests on the bridge's south tower. Walk to your right along the shore for approximately a half mile till you see the boat marina. Stop here and scan the docks and surrounding waters for additional species. Behind you there is a trail going back toward the parking lot. Numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers winter here. Past scarce/rare species: White-winged and Surf Scoters, Red-necked Grebe, Eurasian Widgeon.

Directions: From the Belt parkway, take Exit 11S and follow south on Flatbush Avenue. Make a left turn BEFORE the bridge for signs indicating Floyd Bennett Field entrance. Park in the first lot on the right.

By bus: Q35 Green Lines to Floyd Bennett Field. Q35 is accessible from the IRT subway to Nostrand/Flatbush Avenue (last stop.)

Four Sparrow Marsh: This obscure city-owned preserve is what the name implies: four breeding sparrows nest within its' confines. The presence of Song, Swamp, Sharp-tailed and Savannah make the salt grasses come alive during the late spring into summer seasons. The main channel with its' tentacle tributaries is ideal for breeding Clapper Rails. If you arrive early enough, you may be lucky enough to see one feeding along the brackish waters that is at the whim of the high/low tides. During winter, although less active, Common Snipe are prominent during migrations. Mill Basin, a good source for winter ducks, is the feeding source for this marsh.

Suggested walk: As you pass the bent bar gate from the Toys R' Us parking lot, follow the road toward a line of Ailanthus trees-this is the only tree line here. Within these trees, turn right and proceed into the wet marsh. Aim for the far side and walk along here to avoid the dense wet spots. It is recommended that you wear waterproof boots. Continue along the phragmite edge till you pass a water pipe and beyond. Check the various edges, potholes and grass humps for bird species. If birded more, Four Sparrow Marsh would definitely become a known hotspot.

Special note: It is best to do birding here during LOW TIDE!

Directions: Follow directions for Gerritsen Creek. From the Avenue U and Flatbush intersection, proceed south about 2000 feet. Turn into the Toys R' Us parking lot. Park near the clothes donation metal bin. From here, head for the main car entrance, and turn left till you see the bar gate 50 feet ahead. There is a high green sign with the NYC Parks leaf symbol saying Four Sparrow marsh. You can also take the B41 Flatbush Avenue Bus to Ave U and Flatbush Avenue at Kings Plaza. See the second sentence for directions.

Best times: Breeding season, late winter-early spring

Past recent rarities: Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Bobolink, Common Snipe, Little Blue Heron

Sheepshead Bay region

Plumb Beach: A miniature peninsula jutting eastward into Dead Horse Bay. A prominent dune splits Plumb Beach lengthwise. The dune separates a salt lagoon marsh from the beach mudflat. At the trail's start from the parking lot, shrubbery and lowland trees can become small migrant traps. Beyond this, good shorebird habitat beckons. Plumb Beach is one of the few sites in New York City where horseshoe crabs lay their spring eggs. Compared to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, shorebird quantity is not high. Nevertheless, you do get close views of the species variety which can reach 16 on good shorebird migration days. Spotted Sandpiper, dowitchers and "peeps" are some of the species seen. Large numbers of winter gulls congregate on the beach. The extensive beach mudflat has American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer and Least Terns. Unexpected sightings do happen. Plumb Beach is an underrated location despite undergoing drastic erosion changes in recent years.

Best time: Early Spring, mid-summer into winter.

Suggested tour: For migrant shorebirds, this spot is best at low tides. Other times scan the bay. From the parking lot, travel eastward through the inner trail along the single dune to the edges of the small salt marsh. (In summer, please arrive early! Parking is limited.)

Past scarce/rare species: Whimbrel, Black Tern, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Ruff, Northern Wheatear, Franklin's Gull.

Directions: On eastbound Belt parkway only, go past exit #9, look for a pullover on your right 1000 feet ahead. Heading west on the Belt parkway is a little trickier. Exit on Knapp St., go left on Knapp to Emmons Avenue. Turn left and get back on the highway. Go to the first right exit to the Plumb Beach parking lot (approximately 1000 ft.) The nearest train line is BMT D or Q line which stops at the Sheepshead Bay Station. From here, walk south several blocks down Sheepshead Bay Rd to the bay. If you walk 10 blocks west along the marina bay, you'll come to Plumb Beach's bike/pedestrian path.

The Riding Academy/Bergen Beach: A heavily brushy and forested habitat best during passerine migration, particularly in autumn. Horse trails lead into the small beach and marsh areas. The beach offers good grebe totals, especially Horned Grebe. Duck species include American Widgeon, Greater Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, and Bufflehead. In autumn through winter, a good variety of hawks can be seen. However, it is the woodlands here which create the prime fallout during migrations.

(Caution: Beware of horseback riders who always have right of way.)

Best times: Spring, Autumn, and Winter

Past scarce/rare species: Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Hooded Merganser, Barn Owl, White-crowned Sparrow, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Red-necked Grebe.

Directions: Accessible on the eastbound Belt parkway only. Look for Riding Academy about one mile past exit 11s (Flatbush Avenue exit.) Riding Academy is after the Plumb Beach exit. Please obtain permission and information concerning access, parking policy and trails at the equestrian office (718-531-8949.)

Canarsie Pier: An excellent vantage gives birders extensive views of northern Jamaica Bay. Horned Grebe, bay duck species, and other waterfowl grace the bay. In the distance to your left is a major landfill mound where in winter Rough-legged Hawk prey. The distant island directly ahead of the pier accommodates resting waterfowl and perching raptors. There are year-round restrooms at the ranger station, and a snack bar and restaurant occupy the pier. Behind the ranger station is the Shore Parkway bicycle/pedestrian path which ends at Plumb Beach. This path is a good birding walk overlooking brushy areas and marsh habitat, if you can tolerate the highway drone.

Best times: Autumn and Winter

Directions: From the Belt Parkway, get off Exit 13, Rockaway Parkway, and follow southward to the pier. Ample parking is available.

Spring Creek: A prime sea duck waterfowl estuary with marshy mudflats. The birder looking south can see Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge across the bay. This spot is best at low tide. Spring Creek is a large shallow slough of fresh/brackish water with a prominent landfill mound overshadowing it. Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal and Ruddy Duck are usually the norm here. Marsh dwellers such as Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Little Blue Heron, and Willet frequent this interesting area. Winter raptors and gulls visit the landfill. Canvasbacks and Hooded Merganser are reliably seen here during the early winter months.

Best time: All times but notably late autumn into winter.

Suggested tour: From the 161st Avenue and 78th Street corner, step over the barricade and you'll see a wide trail. Go straight and bear left till you see a single large tree (approximately 400 feet from the street corner). Turn right at this tree and a smaller dirt trail follows through the small brush. Eventually, you'll reach the shoreline. Scan the cove and mudflats from here. The landfill to your right should not be overlooked, especially in wintertime. Walk along the shoreline in either direction. Toward the left is an extensive algae-covered mudflat that in early fall migration yields a variety of shorebirds. This cove is best in the winter for rafts of bay and sea ducks. Retrace your steps to your car. Otherwise, you have an option to take the left trail that loops to 158th Avenue. American Woodcock can be found on these enclosed trails. At the trail's end, simply go right along the gravel road to your car.

Past scarce/rare species: Lesser Scaup, Canvasback, Hooded Merganser, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, American Bittern, Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl.

Directions: From the Belt Parkway, Exit 17s. Go south on Cross Bay Boulevard to 160th Avenue (at McDonalds).Go right and continue to the end to 78th St.; go left and park anywhere on the park side.

Bay Ridge

Shore Road/Owls' Head Park: Primarily, this is a waterfront path tour. Birding is done looking into the bay. Owls' Head park, a sliver of forest, is accessible by pedestrian bridges over the Belt parkway.

Suggested tour: Park at 94th street or off the Belt parkway. Start at the Verranzano Bridge walkway leading into the pedestrian walkway. In winter, look for Bonaparte's Gull, both cormorant species, Horned Grebes and waterfowl. Purple Sandpipers are usually seen along the seawall. Great Cormorant are plentiful in winter months. The Verranzano bridge anchorage is a good perch for resting waterfowl. The strait here constricts flying waterfowl enabling a birder to get closer looks. The bridge is another Peregrine Falcon nesting structure. Inland, near 86th St. and 14th Ave., are the Dyker Beach Golf course and playing fields. The sports field fence bordering the golf course is the best spot. Some birders have ventured onto the course; however it is not recommended, since the golf course is not birding-friendly. Nearby, Monk Parakeets nest at the Veterans Administration Hospital Building. This area is great overall during migration, since it is the first and last landfall in Brooklyn.

Best times: Spring, Autumn, Winter (waterfront).

Past scarce/rare species: Red-necked Grebe, Common Goldeneye, Redhead Duck, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Shrike, Clay-colored Sparrow, Purple Finch.

Directions: From NYC on the Belt parkway, exit into a pullover parking lot just PRIOR to the Verranzano bridge for the waterfront walk. Otherwise, Exit #2 is the street exit if you wish to park along Shore Road or 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge. For Dyker Beach locations, continue to 86th Street. Go right and continue to 14th Ave. Park anywhere along 14th Avenue.

By subway: "R" line to last stop, 94th street. Proceed down 4th Avenue to the Verranzano bridge.

Mill Basin

Paerdegat Basin Park: A small canal usually best during low-tide. This 169- acre wetland area attracts good duck numbers in winter time. Clapper Rails are heard here in warmer months. Both night-herons species reside here. On one occasion, a sand bar staged 100 Black Skimmers. This canal adjoins the Canarsie Beach park preserve.

Best time: Spring, early Summer, Autumn

Directions: From the Belt parkway, exit 11N. Go north on Flatbush Avenue, turning right on Flatlands Ave. Go straight to east 76th St. Turn right and go one block. The park begins 300 yards from Flatlands Ave. The southern marsh location is accessed from Avenue T. From the Belt Parkway, turn right on Ave. T, continuing to Bergen Avenue. Go right to Ave. V, next to McGuire Park. Park along here. The marsh lies northwest of the ball fields. Viewing is done from the walkway. Thickets here between the horse path and the ball fields provide good morning birding, especially for warblers.

(Caution: The horse path is active.)

—Contributed by Peter Dorosh


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