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Tour #1: Lookout Hill and The Peninsula
This tour starts at the Vanderbilt Playground and follows along Wellhouse Drive between Prospect Lake and Lookout Hill. It continues up Lookout Hill, back down to The Peninsula then loops back to the start at Vanderbilt Playground.
Enter the Park at the Vanderbilt Playground. The entrance is at the corner of Vanderbilt Ave. and Prospect Park Southwest. Follow the sidewalk straight ahead and towards Prospect Lake. There is a small shrub and wild flower area on the right side of the path just past the playground. This area is always a good spot to check for sparrows and warblers during appropriate seasons.
Cross the park drive at the traffic light and continue across to the lake. The road that branches off the main park drive and curves to the left is called Wellhouse Drive.
Stop at the edge of Prospect Lake. It's always a good idea to scan the lake first, especially during the winter months.
Follow Wellhouse Drive around the first curve and stop next to the first street lamp on the left side of the road. Facing toward Lookout Hillyou'll see a small grassy area, to the right of the grass is a small stand of Magnolia Trees. The low plants at the far edge of the grass are primarily Mugwort and rose bushes. Historically this has been a very productive area, particularly during the spring migration. This is the first high point in the park that a northward migrating bird would encounter.
Continue walking along Wellhouse Drive. The first opening in the phragmites at the edge of the lake affords another view of Prospect Lake. From here one can look southeast across the lake towards West Island or straight across towards Three Sisters Island.
The next landmark one encounters is a small building on the left side of the road. In front of the building are two large Chinkapin Oak trees. This is The Wellhouse. Walk beside The Wellhouse and check the dense shrubs next to and behind the building. A WHITE-EYED VIREO spent the winter in this spot in 1997-98; this is also a favorite habitat for HOODED WARBLER in the spring.
As you continue walking up Wellhouse Drive the field on your right is the beginning of The Peninsula. Continue walking past the field to a water fountain on the right side of the road. Besides being a good place to fill up this is a great spot to scan both above and below. Thick Mugwort dominates the plant life below and a Maple and Mulberry are above. Turn your attention to the opposite side of the road. Walk towards the small flight of stairs next to a large Mulberry Tree. At the top of these stairs the path goes either left along a flat path or right, up another small fight of stairs. You will be taking the left path, but it's worthwhile to stop in this spot for a few moments. Looking up the hill there are mainly Chokecherry Trees. To the left is a small grassy meadow, White-crowned Sparrows have been seen here during migration. There are two large Elm Trees above the meadow.
Continue walking along the path to the left. This path parallels Wellhouse Drive. The first opening on the left looks down towards the back of The Wellhouse. Don't overlook this spot during the spring migration! During the fall and winter the trees along the left side of the path are common perches for raptors scanning Prospect Lake and The Peninsula. The woods on the right have a considerable layer of leaf litter and are common for thrushes, sparrows, grackles and lower level warblers. This is usually the first area where KENTUCKY WARBLER is observed during the spring migration.
At the end of the path is a descending stairway. This path leads back down to the main park drive on your left. The stairway on your right leads up to the top of Lookout Hill. Walk up the stairs on your right. Oak, locust, cherry and a few maple trees dominate the high canopy above the stairway. Near the top of the stairway check the trees on your right side. The path at this point either goes straight ahead or you can make a hard left and climb another short set of stairs. Take the stairs on your left.
The area at the top of the stairs is known as Five Oak Corner. There is a loop trail that encloses a tiny meadow at the near end and a hill at the far end. Walk around the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. Part of the trail is deeply rutted below a Mulberry tree. During the spring it fills with water and attracts a wide selection of birds. Walk up the dirt path to the top of the small hill. Check the oaks, maples and locusts.
Continue around the rest of the loop. Between the two stairways at Five Oak Corner there is a dirt path. Walk down this path towards the Butterfly Meadow. Butterfly bushes, large oaks, maples, chokecherry and locust border the periphery of a meadow with a large section of open sky. Standing in the center of the meadow affords a good view of both the treetops and the open sky above. Either take the trail that loops the meadow or return directly to the intersection of the dirt path and paved paths. When standing at the end of the dirt path take the paved road that follows to the left.
Check the trees on the downhill side for raptors. The dominant trees on the left are Locusts. Just beyond the largest pine tree on your right is a Paper Mulberry tree overhanging the road. In early autumn many birds are attracted to it's large sticky fruits. Stop at the stairway that is on your right. Immediately to your left is a small triangular wooded area dominated by maple saplings, cherry saplings and shaded by four or five large pines. The boundaries are defined by the curve in the roadway on one side and a stairway on the other. Some of the regulars refer to this area as the "Black Forest". It is worth checking when in the area. Return to the stairs and follow them down to the Maryland Monument. The canopy above the stairs, as well as, the trees around the monument are historically very productive for birds. Vireos, warblers, cuckoos, woodpeckers, flycatchers and nuthatches are just some of the species seen here.
Continue along the sidewalk, curving to the left and on to Wellhouse Drive. Stop at the water fountain. You can either follow the road back down to beginning of the tour to end your day or take the descending dirt path just to the left of the water fountain.
When walking down the dirt path check the habitats on either side. At the bottom of the path is an intersection. The trail to the left follows along The Lullwater, the trail to the right takes you towards the end of The Peninsula. Take the trail to the right, which follows along the edge of a meadow. The meadow here has been host to numerous species. Bluebirds, Bobolinks, various sparrows, meadowlark and swallows are just a few species seen here regularly. It's interesting to note that this area also becomes a frequent hunting ground for raptors in the winter. It's not unusual to see the scattered remains of birds and small mammals in the snow or grass. PEREGRINE FALCON, NORTHERN GOSHAWK, COOPER'S HAWK, RED-TAILED HAWK, OSPREY, AMERICAN KESTREL and a rare GYRFALCON have all been observed here. For that reason someof the local birders have named this field "The Killing Field". Some of the trees here are Linden, Ginkgo, Chokecherry, Willow Oak and Weeping Willow.
Make your first left turn towards an opening at the waters edge. You will be looking out at the Upper Lullwater. The Terrace Bridge is across and to the left. Scan the opposite shore. Along the phragmites in this section birders have encountered herons, egrets, night-herons, Common Snipe, American Bittern, Sora and wrens. During the appropriate seasons any opening along the water can produce sandpipers. Backtrack about 12 feet to a narrow dirt footpath. Continue walking along this path towards a large split tree lying on its side. The dense shrubs and underbrush in this area are excellent birding habitats. Continue following this narrow path around the undergrowth that's on your left. Stay to your left. A number of small paths intersect with this path and go left towards the water. Make a left at the second dirt path. Walk out to the opening at the edge of the water. The locals call this spot "Wayne's World" in honor of a local fisherman. Across and to your right you'll see The Wollman Skating Rink. Scan the small cove to the left of the rink.
Turn around and follow the dirt footpath straight back until it intersects with a paved path. Turn left on the paved path. Follow the path straight back. It ends at a wooden shelter at the water's edge. Note that the woods and underbrush to the left of the main path has a few dirt footpaths running though it. As one becomes more familiar with the area it's worthwhile exploring these paths with a group, especially during spring migration.
The wooden shelter is at the end of The Peninsula at what some refer to as the "Point". When standing at the shelter Duck Island is directly across the water. The skating rink is to the left. Scan the trees on Duck Island for raptors, egrets or night-herons. In the winter check the gulls and ducks in this area. Some rare visitors to this spot in the past have been BLACK-HEADED GULL and GLAUCOUS GULL. There is a small cove around to your right which should be checked for various ducks and mergansers. The Ash trees above the cove are good spots for finches.
Turn around and work your way back along the paved path. At the first path intersection make a left turn. Following this path bring you to a second small point known locally as "The Thumb" due to the mitten-like shape of the peninsula. The first opening on your left gives you another perspective of the small cove. A RED-NECKED GREBE spent some time in this location during the winter of 1996. Continue following the path that parallels the edge of the water. The path opens onto a small grassy point that juts out into Prospect Lake. The view from the left side looks across to Duck Island. The view from the small opening on the right is a great overview of the main lake. Three Sisters Island is across and to the left. There is a small opening in the center of Three Sisters Island that is always worth checking. A large dead tree on the right side of the island is a common perch for OSPREY during migration.
Exit "The Thumb" by following the footpath on the opposite side of the point from where you came in. You'll pass under a number of large Chokecherry Trees. These trees are very productive in the early fall. Check the wooded area on your right. Keep following this path as it curves around to the left. You'll pass a tree on your left that's lying in the water. Continue walking towards the large meadow. The path you're walking on follows the lake on your left and the meadow on your right.
As you walk along the path you will see a large opening at the lake's edge on the left. Go to the edge of the lake. Standing at the lake you'll see Three Sister's Island directly across from you. Across and to your right is the cove next to West Island. There are a few very large Weeping Willow's, Willow Oaks and Linden trees above this part of the trail. It's not unusual to see PEREGRINE FALCON hunting around this area in the winter.
Continue following the path as it exits The Peninsula opposite The Wellhouse. Make a left on Wellhouse Drive and walk back towards the Vanderbilt Playground.
contributed by Rob Jett
Closest subway station: Take the "F" train to the 15th Street station. Walk down Prospect Park Southwest to the Vanderbilt Playground entrance. Approximately five blocks.
Closest comfort station: Wollman Skating Rink. From the water fountain on Wellhouse Drive follow the road up hill and across the Terrace Bridge. After crossing the bridge take the first footpath on your right. Keep following the path until you come to a large grove of Sycamore Trees. You'll see the rink on your right side. Walk around to the front of the building where you'll find the comfort stations.
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