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Ft. Tilden/Riis Park  

Ft.Tilden Park/Jacob Riis Park (Gateway National Recreation Area)
Rockaway, Queens

This National Park offers two types of habitat for the birder. The environs surrounding the Visitor's center is open field habitat dotted with sporadic shrubs and trees. Inner gardens and perimeter fences provide cover for foraging birds. The habitats behind the Little League ballfields complex offers excellent fall birding. Deeper into the park, the scenery changes dramatically. Bramble forest laced with pine conifers, dense poplar tree forest plus food-bearing Russian, Autumn Olive, Bittersweet shrubs and bayberry attract many species. The open pocket fields along Marshall Road make excellent habitat for ground species. The pines serve as excellent cover for Saw-whet Owls. When northwest winds prevail, this park becomes spectacular for autumn hawk, passerine and waterfowl migrations. Check the rich habitats behind the battery bunkers during autumn northwest winds.

(Caution: Poison Ivy grows abundantly in Ft. Tilden )

Jacob Riis Park, adjoining Ft. Tilden, is a varied man-made habitat consisting of bathing beach and golf course facilities. Nevertheless, it can be an exceptional site for autumn passerines, especially sparrows. The golf course perimeter, playgrounds and beach edges provide excellent foraging grounds for prime sparrow species from mid-September through October. During winter, the various locations can harbor interesting species such as Red-breasted Nuthatches, White-crowned Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, and Merlin. The pine conifers attract finches eager for their seeds. The beach should be scanned for interesting gulls and the ocean surf for rarities. The Avalon Nursing home area is a good site for surf species. Best time: Autumn and Winter

Suggested tour:

#1. Start at Fort Tilden's parking lot number T4 (the very large one). Head toward the bridge to check the Community garden for feeding bird species. From the garden, walk straight and leftwards to the grassy/weedy area behind baseball Field #4, where during Late March into April and September through December ground species, sparrows, and possible vagrants may hide out. Backtrack toward the open field and walk along the right brush margin that borders the playing field (or Drill grounds). The edges attract ground species. Eventually, you'll come to the fence. Follow along the fence toward the buildings, to the basketball courts. Murray Road lies ahead of you. Cross straight ahead, leaving the park, to beach 169th St. To the right of the firehouse, look into the golf course for geese species. Proceed up Beach 169th St. toward the ocean. Check along the golf course fence margins and the street for more ground species. As you approach the street end, to your left is a small meadow bordered by a small grass hummocks. This is an exceptional fall spot that requires thorough scanning. Proceed along the fence eastward till you come upon two abandoned handball courts that acts as prime cover. Continue up to the boardwalk and turn left past the golf course entrance.

At the Riis Park main building facility, go left through the main entrance. The mall area behind provides good fall and winter birding. During the '97-'98 winter, Red and White-winged Crossbills frequented the pines bordering the mall and parking lot. Scour the territory between the lot and boardwalk, checking the brushy edges. The large Riis parking lot on your left can be potentially good for hawk-watching and spectacular songbird flight, particularly the Icterid species. Continue on through the playgrounds as an option. On your return, go right of the handball courts but along the parking lot sidewalk to the north end (or bay side) of the golf course. Turn left along the fence through a tree-lined path. At the end, you will come back to 169th street and back into Ft. Tilden. Scan the areas along the fields and road edges as you make your way to your car.

#2. Start at the fisherman's parking lot at the west end of now closed Dune road, accessible from Rockaway Point Boulevard into Beach 193 rd street. The entrance is at the chain link fence near the end before the beach community enclave. From the lot, before proceeding into the wooded area at your left, head for the beach for surf species. After this, do an about-face and aim for a bar gate past the parking lot. Behind the bar, the road forks three ways. Take the right-most road. This long stretch is quite productive from late summer into autumn. Down this path is Battery Bunker West, a former gun emplacement site. Overgrowth has converted it into a man-made hill. A passable sand trail exist behind this bunker. It is quite dense, but nevertheless a worthy walk. Follow the sand trail to your right which will intersect the main road. Beware of the abundant poison ivy. If you opt to go straight on the wide concrete road, you will come upon the second hill -Battery Bunker East. The Battery East bunker has stairs that leads to the summit and some exceptional views.

After descending, go through the fence on the ocean side of the battery and up the dune ridge to the bench. Check out the little pond below for bird life. This area is good for autumn flycatchers and warblers. You can re-trace your steps to the Battery East and go left. Proceed a short distance and take to first road right. Halfway down, pine trees begin. Take the sand trail on the right. In winter, check for owls. Retrace your steps and you have an option to continue on the trail or the paved road. The paved road called Marshall Road has dense habitat. The sand trail is a better option which leads back to the original path to the Dune road. Continue right at this road to your car. Beyond the bar gate is an open field area on the left which yields good habitat for sparrows, wrens and flycatchers. This road bends sharply left leading out into 193rd Street. Across 193rd St., a very large field disturbed by large mounds creates the air currents preferred by autumn hawks. Northern Harriers fly close by and low. The fences provide perches for Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, American Kestrel and Merlin. On northwest winds, exceptional sparrow numbers and passerines prevail. Beware of street traffic. Retrace your steps to the parking lot for your car.

Note: Dune Road is no longer open due to destruction by Hurricane Sandy.

Past scarce/rare species: Razorbill, Black Brant, King Eider (imm.), Black, Surf, and White-winged Scoters, Common Eider, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Long-eared Owl, Cave Swallow, Red-headed Woodpecker, Western Kingbird, Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Meadowlark, Philadelphia Vireo, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Henslow's Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Common Redpolls.

Directions: Exit 11s on the Belt parkway to the Marine Park bridge. Pay $4.00 toll. Exit for Breezy Point. Stay left and turn left at the first light. Enter the Fort Tilden Unit and park in the T4 section for Tour #1 or the Fisherman's parking for tour #2. (Please see note below). The park is also accessible by the Q35 bus from Nostrand and Flatbush Avenues (IRT subway terminus.); first Q35 stop is in front of the Target store.

(Note: Between April 15th and Sept 15th, call Gateway for parking permission and information. Before and after these dates, parking is unrestricted.)

Beach Channel drive/South Jamaica bay: This walk concentrates on bay waterfowl. In winter, walk this path for offshore bay species. Scaup, grebes, Common and Red-throated Loons and many sea ducks prevail here. A good location during windy, gusty days.

Best time: Autumn and Winter

Suggested tour: Park in the Jacob Riis parking lot. In off-season, there is no fee. Otherwise, it is $10.00 in summer. Or, if you don't mind the walk, park in the Ft.Tilden T4 lot (Obtain permission from the Floyd Bennett Visitor Center during summer months). Head for the entrance near the Post Office building and Beach 169th Street. The path to the left of the firehouse will lead to a grassy mall. Cross here for the waterfront path.

—Contributed by Peter Dorosh

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