The Big Apple has nearly as many good birding spots as good pizzerias, but most are as dead as a doornail in June and July. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, the ninth “Hotspot Near You” within the city limits, is the exception. At 9,155 acres, it’s more than 10 times the size of Central Park — large enough to support sizeable breeding populations of waterfowl, wading birds, songbirds, and Osprey. It’s also exceptionally productive in winter when its waterways aren’t frozen.
The refuge’s West Pond was breached by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and still hasn’t been fixed. Unfortunately, far fewer birds occur at the pond now that saltwater flows in unabated. The East Pond, however, is a mecca for migrating shorebirds. On the short hike to East Pond, I always stop first at a blind overlooking tiny Big John’s Pond. Amazing close-ups of foraging birds are practically a given here, and I once caught a peek of a Barn Owl at a nest box. In summer, the pond is a great spot for Glossy Ibis and both night-herons.
Even on rare slow days, it’s a pleasure listening to the raucous roar of cicadas, sitting under the trees of the so-called South Garden, and simply enjoying one of the Northeast’s premier urban oases. — Jesse Greenspan
Jesse Greenspan is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist. He wrote about nearby Floyd Bennett Field in our August 2012 issue.
Salt marshes, freshwater and brackish ponds, shrublands, woods, open estuary.
Flat. Small to moderate amount of walking required.
More than 330 species. Breeding: Yellow Warbler, Osprey, Barn Owl, Boat-tailed Grackle, Willet, Great Blue Heron, Great and Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Yellow- and Black-crowned Night-Herons. Early fall migrants: Northern Waterthrush, Forster’s Tern, Semipalmated, Least, and Stilt Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitcher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover. Uncommon but regular: American Avocet, Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits, Wilson’s Phalarope. Late fall and winter: Horned Grebe, Brant, Snow Goose, Greater Scaup, Green-winged Teal, Yellow-rumped Warbler. Spring: American Woodcock.
When to go
Walking trails, visitor center with bookstore and exhibits, restrooms, bird blinds. Birding trips led by New York City Audubon, Brooklyn Bird Club, and Linnaean Society of New York, plus an annual shorebird festival in August.
National recreation area. Open from dawn to dusk. No fees. To reach by mass transit, take Rockaway-bound A train to Broad Channel stop, then walk 0.5 miles north along Cross Bay Blvd. Or take Q53 or Q52 bus to visitor center.
Guard against ticks and poison ivy in season. Be prepared to slosh through muck during shorebird season. Not much shade on hot summer days; bring sunscreen.
Jesse Greenspan is a Berkeley-based freelance journalist who writes about history and the environment. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, Audubon, the History Channel, and other outlets.
Jesse Greenspan on social media
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