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Tour #3: The Long Meadow, Swanboat Pond, Center Drive and the Nethermead
This tour travels through a variety of habitats. It starts at The Lafayette Monument on 9th street and travels along The Long Meadow past Swanboat Pond. It continues along the edge of the Quaker Cemetery to Center Drive and the Nethermead. It finishes by passing through The Ravine, across the Long Meadow towards the Picnic House.
As you enter the park at the 9th Street entrance, follow the path straight towards the main park drive. Notice the dense shrubbery to your left. The shrubbery and a fence behind it enclose an area known for years by the regulars as "The Dump", due to the large compost piles deposited here. Although the area is no longer used for this purpose, it still may merit a quick look through the fence during the late fall and winter.
Continue walking along the path towards the main park drive while checking the underbrush on the left. The canopy on the right side of the path is primarily composed of oak and chestnut trees. At the next path intersection, which is about fifty feet before a crosswalk, turn left. There is a small cluster of conifers at this intersection. You'll soon come to a small depression on your left side. The trees surrounding this spot are beech, oak and linden. A fairly thick blanket of leaf litter covers the ground here. This has been a pretty reliable spot to find AMERICAN WOODCOCK during past Christmas Counts. Sparrows, wrens and pheasant can be found here. The rise on the far side of the depression should also be checked.
As you continue walking along this footpath you'll see a water fountain on your right side. The path you're on ends at a small service road that parallels the main park drive.
Follow the service road straight ahead. There is an ivy covered fence on your left, behind which is the Maintenance Garage. As you come to the end of this fence the road turns sharply to the left.
In front of you and to your left is the Litchfield Villa, which houses administrative offices for the park. Immediately to your left you'll notice a dirt path that more or less follows the edge of the Maintenance Garage. It is important to note that there is a small, rarely birded section of woods here. Bordered by Prospect Park West, the Maintenance Garage and the Litchfield Villa, this forest is almost exclusively mature oak trees. In the center is a small depression of thick underbrush. I have observed RED-TAILED HAWK, COOPER'S HAWK, RING-NECKED PHEASANT, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, SCARLET TANAGER, VEERY, WOOD THRUSH, CAPE MAY WARBLER and numerous other migrants here.
From the turn in the road continue straight and onto the sidewalk. Follow the sidewalk to the right and down a small flight of stairs to a crosswalk. The building across the road from you is called The Picnic House, where you'll find comfort stations located on the lower level.
As you walk towards The Picnic House you'll notice a small, grassy depression on your left. Sparrows, wrens and buntings have been observed here. Standing in front of the Picnic House, follow the path that goes to the right and parallels a small parking lot. There's a water fountain near the end of the parking lot. The large field on your left is called the Long Meadow.
As you reach the end of the parking lot the path starts to enter under a canopy composed mainly of oak trees. There is considerable leaf litter and underbrush on either side of the path here. As you come to an opening in the canopy on your left side, stop and face in the direction of the Long Meadow. You should see a very large elm tree on your right side and an oak tree on your left. The small bowl-like depression below and in front of you is known locally as the "Snow Bowl". This is an extremely productive area during migration. The oaks and elms above are a good location for finding warblers and grosbeaks while the grass, shrubs and saplings below have been notable for sparrows, thrushes, wrens and buntings. Be sure to walk down below the path to the edge of the bowl and look up the rise into the underbrush and treetops.
Continue walking this sidewalk until you come to a fork in the path. Take the path to the left. The habitat at the fork is composed of elm, oak, and maple saplings, as well as pokeweed and other low shrubs and wildflowers. The building on your right is the Tennis House and houses the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment. BCUE maintains a couple of feeding stations in the winter that you'll be able to see from the path. At the rear of the Tennis House, overlooking the Long Meadow, is a dense area of underbrush, which is always worth checking. REDHEADED WOODPECKER is a rare visitor to this area during migration.
As you continue walking down the path you'll see a small body of water ahead of you, called Swanboat Pond. Along this section of path there are a number of saplings with protective fencing around them. They should be checked for sparrows. EASTERN BLUEBIRDS have been seen on occasion here.
As of 1998 the Swanboat Pond and surrounding forest were undergoing a major restoration. Fencing was installed and the general public has been prohibited from this spot for at least two more years. Scanning the ponds and surrounding area through the fence, however, may yield many surprises. The pond is divided into two areas with a small peninsula in between. Scan the shoreline and the branches above. SNOWY EGRET, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, GREAT EGRET, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, BARN SWALLOW, TREE SWALLOW, CHIMNEY SWIFT, EASTERN KINGBIRD, BELTED KINGFISHER, COMMON NIGHTHAWK and RED-TAILED HAWK are just some of the species one might find here. During 1998 a VIRGINIA RAIL and a LITTLE BLUE HERON were spotted here. Both are extremely rare in Prospect Park.
Continue following the fencing to your right. Follow the sidewalk passed the baseball fields. Early mornings in the winter are a good time to scan the baseball fields as large flocks of gulls use this field for their nightly roost. KILLDEER can sometimes be found in these fields during migration. It's also a good idea to scan the treetops on the opposite side of the field for raptors, especially in the winter.
As you continue following the path you'll notice a ridge behind the fencing on your left side. This is call Quaker Ridge named for the Quaker Cemetery that sits on it's southern edge. In 1997 I had the rare opportunity to see a GREAT HORNED OWL in this location.
At the third baseball backstop you pass you'll notice that the fence on your left starts to move further away from the sidewalk. At this point the fence now encloses the Quaker Cemetery which is owned by The Society of Friends. Follow the path that parallels the cemetery fence.
Along the inside edge of the cemetery fence there is fairly dense underbrush, good sparrow and wren habitat. The trees above are oak and Chokecherry. The large oaks within the enclosure are common perching spots for raptors. RED-TAILED HAWKS nested within the cemetery for many years. As you come towards the end of this side of the fence you will see a bridle path in front of you that runs parallel to the main park drive. There is also a path above the bridle path that continues following the cemetery to the left. Follow this path. The canopy at this point is primarily mature oak. The understory is mainly maple and oak saplings. As the path descends, remain close to the cemetery fence.
Once the path levels out you will be standing in a small forested area of very tall oaks bordered by the main park drive, Center Drive and the Quaker Cemetery. During the spring migration for three years in a row this has been the first spot where the rare GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER has been observed. There is also a fairly large open section of sky here that permits inspection of some of the treetops within the cemetery. As the fence starts to curve to the left you'll see a roadway very close to the dirt path. This road is Center Drive. The rise on the opposite side of the road from the cemetery is the southwest side of Lookout Hill.
Follow Center Drive to your left. The trees along the left side of the road are oak, locust, cherry, beech and maple. On your left side you'll see a small opening and gate that is the entrance to the cemetery (which is not open to the public.) However, walk up to the gate and scan the habitats within. Continuing along Center Drive, on your right side, is a sidewalk that takes you up Lookout Hill. At the path intersection there is a small, grassy triangle with a large oak tree in the center of it. To the left of it is a lower canopy composed mainly of cherry and linden. Behind the large oak, at the base of Lookout Hill is thick underbrush composed mainly of maple saplings. This whole area can become extremely busy with flocks of migrating birds coming off the top of Lookout Hill.
At the end of the cemetery fence you'll notice that the bridle path moves closer to Quaker Ridge. Between the bridle path and Center Drive is a narrow strip of underbrush that follows the road for some distance. Don't overlook this habitat of saplings, shrubs, grass and wildflowers. Rare sightings of BLUE GROSBEAK have been in this section.
The large meadow on your right is The Nethermead. A large expanse of open sky here makes it an excellent spot to watch for hawks. A dead snag in a Pagoda tree just past the water fountain on your right is a common perching spot for kestrels and MERLINS. Other sightings along the perimeter of the field and in the fenced off saplings along the paths are EASTERN BLUEBIRD, EASTERN PHOEBE, OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER, MEADOWLARK and various swallows.
Where the bridle path emerges from behind the strip of saplings, shrubs, grass and wildflowers is a small opening in the ridge. Stop for a moment at this point. There is a small brushy area below and to the right where one might spot WINTER WREN and various sparrows.
Continue walking along Center Drive. The road comes to a bridge know as the Nethermead Arch. A few large Yew trees border the bridge. Do not walk across the Nethermead Arch, but rather, descend the stairs on your left into The Ravine. As of 1998 the Ravine was still undergoing major renovation work but the path towards the Ravine Bridge is still useable. At the bottom of the stairs make a left turn.
As the path curves to the right you'll see a locked gate on your left side. Stop at the gate. You will be standing at the back section of the lower Swanboat Pond, allowing another perspective of the habitat.
Continue walking along the path until you come to a small rustic bridge. This bridge was opened in 1998 and is called the Ravine Bridge. There are abundant Chokecherry Trees above the water at this spot. The waterway and its adjacent habitat here have all been recently restored. In 1998 I observed SNOWY EGRET, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH along the water's edge.
The path exits the woods onto the Long Meadow. Take the center path towards the building across the meadow. This is the Picnic House and the terminus for this tour.
contributed by Rob Jett
Closest subway station: Take the "F" train to the 7th Avenue station. If you are traveling from Manhattan, go to the front of the train and exit at the 8th Avenue end of the station. Walk up 9th street towards Prospect Park West.
Closest comfort station: From the Long Meadow or the Nethermead Arch - The Picnic House. From the Nethermead Arch: Take the only stairs that descent below the Nethermead Arch. Follow the path to your left. After you cross the Ravine Bridge follow the path that crosses the Long Meadow to a building on the opposite side; this is the Picnic House.
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