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Tour #4: The Waterways
This is the longest of the four tours. It starts at the Wollman Center (skating rink) and follows along a majority of the park waterways. It travels along both sides of the Lullwater, continues on The Peninsula then runs along the entire perimeter of Prospect Lake.
Duck Island to Lobella Point
Enter the Park at the intersection of Parkside Avenue and Ocean Avenue.
Cross the park drive at the traffic light and follow the path towards the Wollman Center. The lake will be on your left. At the first opening along the edge of the lake you'll see a small island a few yards off the shore. This is Duck Island and it is a good spot to scan for GREAT EGRET, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, GREAT BLUE HERON and GREEN HERON. Check along the edge of the island for WOOD DUCK as well as other waterfowl.
Continue walking straight towards a wooden shelter at the edge of the water. When standing next to the shelter, you'll see another shelter at the end of the Peninsula, directly across the water. Prospect Lake is to your left and the Upper Lullwater is to your right.
Walk to your right along the water towards the Wollman Center. Between the skating rink and the Upper Lullwater is a small grassy area named Lobella Point. During the skating season it's usually closed off to foot traffic (and covered with ice) but at other times it is a good spot to check for birds. The grass attracts a few species of sparrows, while the Phragmites along the edge of the water is sometimes host to a MARSH WREN or two. There are also a few small conifers in this spot where an occasional sapsucker or nuthatch can be found. During migration it's also a good idea to check for birds at the puddles that collect in the rink.
Continue walking towards the far end of Lobella Point. Make a right at the end of the grass. The rink fence will be on your right and a thicket of Phragmites on your left. Before exiting this section, check the weedy patch at the end of the fence and below a stand of conifers. A small section of grass on the inside of the fence is also a good spot to check for sparrows.
As you exit the rink area you'll be standing beneath a stand of very tall, mature London Planetrees. This area is called the Concert Grove. In the underbrush at the rise on the far side of the grove is where the first confirmed nesting CAROLINA WRENS were located in 1999.
The Upper Lullwater
Make a left and follow the footpath that parallels the Phragmites. At the first split in the path, you'll see a large Bald Cypress tree at the intersection. The path to the right of the tree goes up hill, towards Breeze Hill and the top of the Terrace Bridge. The path to the left parallels the Upper Lullwater and travels under the Terrace Bridge. Take the path to the left.
A low, overgrown rise on the right side and a strip of grass, Phragmites and the water on the left side characterize this part of the path. Sections of the rise to your right have fairly dense underbrush of maple and oak saplings, viburnum, multiflora rose, honeysuckle and other shrubs. Above are Ironwood, Maple and Oak. It is surprising that this section is infrequently birded given the good number of birds that can usually be found here. It can be an excellent spot to find migrating or breeding birds as they travel back and forth across the water from the Peninsula. It's also not uncommon to find southbound warblers lingering in this area until very late in the season. At the only large opening at the edge of the Upper Lullwater check for waterfowl, swallows and herons. MOORHEN can be seen in this stretch of water periodically during migration, as well as rare glimpses of AMERICAN BITTERN. A rare record of breeding PIED-BILLED GREBE occurred along this section in 1997 and GREEN HERONS regularly nest in tree branches that overhang the water.
The path makes a sharp right turn at the edge of a narrow section of water just below the Terrace Bridge. Pigeons roost under the bridge, and in fall and winter it's not unusual to see a raptor perched in one of the trees near the opening to the bridge. After passing under the bridge the route then follows along a narrow, slow moving body of water called The Lullwater.
The Lullwater (Breeze Hill side)
Upon entering the first segment of The Lullwater, notice that the dominant tree species is locust. Winter birding at this spot is likely to produce HAIRY, DOWNY, and RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER, as well as, both nuthatches. Large numbers of BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE and TUFTED TITMOUSE can also be found here. Checking the ground along the left side of the path in cold weather is also likely to produce FOX SPARROW, WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, and DARK-EYED JUNCO. A winter suet and seed feeder is usually located here. The top of the Terrace Bridge is a good vantage point to check for warblers during migration, as it allows easy viewing of the tops of many trees growing up from The Lullwater.
The rise on the right side of the path travels up towards Breeze Hill. Once past the locust trees the canopy changes to include many Norway Maple, Chokecherry, Planetree Maple, and a few conifers. Check the leaf litter here in early spring and late autumn for AMERICAN WOODCOCK. Farther down the path a few large Sweetgum Trees dominate the air above the walkway. In late autumn and early winter, when the fruit are ripe, you'll find many finches attracted to these trees. You should also check for sparrows on the pavement and in the leaf litter below the trees.
Just passed the Sweetgum Trees is a large opening at the edge of the water. From the edge of the wall you'll see a small cove across the way. Check the cove and up and down the water for grebes, coots and waterfowl. From spring until early fall it's not unusual to hear the rattling call of BELTED KINGFISHER around this section. During the "dog days" of summer look for GREEN HERON along the edges of the wall or on logs in the water. This is also a good place to scan the tree tops on the other side of the water.
Continue walking along the Lullwater path until you arrive at the first major intersection. Stop at the intersection.
The bridge on your right is the Cleft Ridge Span. The path to the left will bring you over the Lullwater Bridge and to the opposite side of the Lullwater. A Camperdown Elm protected by a wrought iron fence and The Boathouse will be directly in front of you.
From this point the walking tour has three options:
You can end the tour early by turning right and heading back to the Wollman Center.
You can turn left, go over the bridge and directly to the opposite side of the Lullwater.
You can go straight ahead for a short loop to the Pagoda Swamp and then walk to the other side of the Lullwater.
The next section will cover the third option.
Boathouse to Pagoda Swamp
Walk straight ahead and follow the path behind the Boathouse.
Behind the Boathouse is a small strip of grass. At the far end, a low fence covered by various climbing plants borders the grass. There is also a fairly dense covering of shrubs. Above is mostly Maple trees. The area is well protected from the wind by the Boathouse and, during most years, many of the plants remain green well into the winter. It was at this spot that a group of RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER spent considerable time during the winter of 1999.
Walk to the edge of the water. Across the water to your left is the Lullwater Bridge. In late spring BARN SWALLOW can usually be found nesting under the bridge. EASTERN KINGBIRD and ORCHARD ORIOLE have nested in the Larch Tree above the bridge. Also check the Chokecherry trees in this area for nesting GREEN HERON in the spring.
Continue to follow the sidewalk to the left, past a water fountain and onto the rustic Binnen Bridge.
One side of the bridge looks over a waterfall while the other side of the bridge looks into what has become known locally as "The Pagoda Swamp". The swamp has a permanent flow of water and any species that prefers a damp, muddy habitat is likely be found here during the appropriate season. Both species of waterthrush, HOODED WARBLER, PROTHONOTARY WARBLER and an occasional AMERICAN WOODCOCK have been seen here. Continue straight ahead on the path. Just as you leave the bridge there are some birch trees on your left above the bridge. The catkins on the Birch trees attract COMMON REDPOLLS when they make their rare winter appearance. Step off the right side of the path and follow along the edge of the swamp. The swampy habitat eventually narrows to a small stream that follows behind a structure called The Music Pagoda. Once you have become more familiar with the area, you'll find that there is a small dirt path that follows around behind the swamp and back to the bridge. It's worth crossing over the water to check out at some point.
Walk back towards the bridge. This large stand of trees is called The Music Grove. The trees here are almost exclusively London Plane trees. You usually find BROWN CREEPER and YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER here in the winter. Continue following the edge of the water back in the direction of the Lullwater Bridge.
There is an intersection of two paths before you get to the bridge. Bear to your left if you want to explore the Lullwater Bridge. Make a right to continue the tour along the near side of The Lullwater.
The Lullwater (Nethermead Meadow side)
After you turn right and begin walking towards The Lullwater, you'll pass beneath some Sweetgum Trees. A large Linden Tree will be on your right. The field to your right is called the Nethermead Meadow. The wooded area on the left side of the trail is primarily young cherry trees. There are a few dirt paths that run through this area closer to the waters edge. It's worth the diversion during migration. It's not uncommon to find SHARP-SHINNED or COOPER'S HAWK here in the autumn and winter months.
As the path enters The Lullwater area you'll see a section of Hemlock Trees to your left. SAW-WHET OWLS are rare winter visitors to Prospect Park but this would be a good spot to check for them. Continue walking straight. The fenced off section on the right side of the path rises up to the Nethermead Meadow. The left side affords unobstructed views of the Lullwater. During spring migration look for SPOTTED or SOLITARY SANDPIPER walking along the wall at the edge of the water. The canopy above is a mix of maples, oaks, sweetgum, chokecherry, locust, linden, and some mature conifers. A few Mulberry Trees can be found close to the edge of the water. This is a very good spot to check for birds during migration as many are funneled into The Lullwater as they move north or south through the park. It's not unusual to spot low flying raptors using The Lullwater as their own highway.
Continue following the Lullwater towards the Terrace Bridge. Just before you pass under the bridge there is a small stand of conifers at the edge of the water and a wooded section to your right. The fencing around the wooded area has allowed a fairly thick carpet of leaf litter to accumulate, and I've spotted AMERICAN WOODCOCK here on a number of occasions.
Continue walking under the bridge remembering to check the trees at the opposite side for perched raptors.
As you walk out from under the Terrace Bridge the paved path bears to the right and travels up a short incline. At the point that the path goes uphill there is also a short dirt path on the left. Take the dirt path to the left. At this short path there is considerably dense shrubs and underbrush on both sides of the trail. CAROLINA WRENS are often found around this area throughout the year, as are WINTER WRENS during fall migration.
At the end of this short path is an intersection of another well worn dirt path. In front of you is the Peninsula Meadow. To your right is a path on a short incline to Wellhouse Drive and to your left the path follows out to the end of the Peninsula. If you need a water break there is a water fountain at the top of the dirt path to your right. This is also a good spot to scan both above and below. Mugwort dominates the low plant life and Maple and Mulberry Trees are above.
Continue your walk along the dirt trail that follows the edge of the meadow towards the end of the Peninsula.
The meadow here has been host to numerous species. Bluebirds, various sparrows, meadowlark and swallows are just a few species seen here fairly regularly. BOBOLINKS used to be seen here during spring migration but haven't been recorded since 1997. BALTIMORE ORIOLE, WARBLING VIREO and EASTERN KINGBIRD are some of the breeding birds that nest around this part of the park. It's interesting to note that this area also becomes a frequent hunting ground for various 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 some of the local birders have named this field "The Killing Field". Some of the trees here are Linden, Ginkgo, Chokecherry, Willow Oak, Corkscrew Willow 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, snipe, bittern, SORA and various wrens. During the appropriate seasons any opening along the water can produce SPOTTED or SOLITARY SANDPIPER. 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 Center. 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. Stop at the center of this wooden section and scan the trees. The high, dense canopy in this section is prime warbler habitat during migration. I've spent long stretches of time here following a mixed flock of feeding birds. 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 may be worthwhile exploring these paths during spring migration.
A 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, check here 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 will 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 far 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 is 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. Make a left onto Wellhouse Drive. The small building on the opposite side of the road is called The Wellhouse. In front of the building are two large Chinkapin Oak trees. Walk to 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 foraging habitat for HOODED WARBLER in the spring.
Continue to follow Wellhouse Drive until you are just beyond two large Magnolia Trees located on the right side of the road. Facing toward Lookout Hill, you'll see a small grassy area; for lack of a more creative name this spot has been designated as "Lamppost #249" by some of the local birders. 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.
Wellhouse Drive ends as it intersects with West Lake Drive. Take the sidewalk that parallels Prospect Lake. The first large opening next to the lake is a well worn section that some of the locals refer to as the "feeding station" due to the almost constant presence of people feeding the resident ducks. It's also a good spot to scan the entire lake.
Follow the sidewalk along the edge of the lake and past a wooden shelter. Just beyond the shelter the sidewalk passes very close to a short section of Phragmites. A flock of RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS can be found here throughout the winter. On the other side of the walkway are a Sweetgum Tree and a Winged Sweetgum Tree. Next to that is a very large Linden Tree. This cluster of trees seems to be a popular nesting spot for EASTERN KINGBIRD, BALTIMORE ORIOLE, ORCHARD ORIOLE and WARBLING VIREO.
At the next opening at the edge of the lake you'll see a small outcropping on your right that terminates with a dead tree lying in the water. This is West Island. As of this writing mud and Phragmites have filled in the space between the shore but it's still considered by some to be an island. Many resident ducks, MUTE SWAN and CANADA GEESE usually nest on the "island". As you continue walking around the edge of West Island you pass through an area of tall oaks and maples. This area becomes a loud roosting and nesting area for COMMON GRACKLES during the spring and summer. COOPER'S HAWK and RED-TAILED HAWK are also seen here periodically.
The path continues around the lake and makes a sharp left at the end of West Island. Walk under a group of small trees and shrubs to a narrow opening at the edge of the lake. Scan the small cove here closely. GREAT BLUE HERON are commonly seen here as are PIED-BILLED GREBE in the fall and winter, but an AMERICAN BITTERN was also flushed from this spot during the winter of 1999.
As you continue following the edge of the lake in a counter clockwise direction South Lake Drive will be on your right. The tall trees along this section of the park are a good place to check for warblers during the fall migration, as many birds become "bottled up" here before leaving the park environs.
At the next section of lake shoreline you'll be directly across from the Peninsula. If you walk to your right you'll come to a narrow point across from Three Sisters Island. Scan the island. As you continue your walk around the lake you'll pass a muddy cul-de-sac to your left. The flow of water has been slowed by Phragmite growth and the area is mostly mud and decomposing leaves. It is fairly common to spot RUSTY BLACKBIRDS flipping over leaves here in the early spring and the fall.
The next noteworthy place to stop along the edge of the lake is the back of Three Sisters Island. The small cluster of islands is only a few yards from the shore. Besides the expected egrets and herons, raptors are occasionally found perched here. Check between the islands for waterfowl and, during migration, the low branches for warblers.
Continue following the edge of the lake. Eventually you will come to an open, grassy area across from the back of Duck Island. This seems to be a preferred resting place for migrating BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS. From late-March until mid-April look for these birds roosting in the branches along the edge of the island. As of this writing the largest flock counted here was seventeen birds on March 29, 1997.
Return to the sidewalk and continue to the next intersection. At the next intersection you will see the traffic light and crosswalk near the Wollman Center. This is also the end of the "Waterways" tour. A left turn will bring you to the Wollman Center or you can make a right and cross the roadway to return to the subway.
contributed by Rob Jett
Closest subway station: Take the "D" train to the Parkside Avenue station. Walk into Prospect Park at the Parkside Avenue/Ocean Avenue entrance. If you travel by car there is a parking lot at the Wollman Center.
Closest comfort stations: Wollman Center, Lincoln Road Playground and the Boathouse "Nature Center" (summer 2001).
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