At the southern tip of Staten Island, where the Arthur Kill joins Raritan Bay, lies Conference House Park, a 254-acre parkland of dunes, beaches, a pond, freshwater wetlands, meadows, and wooded bluffs. The site is owned by the City of New York/Parks and Recreation. Its name is derived from a Revolutionary War peace conference held September 11, 1776, after the Battle of Long Island, in a stone manor house on the property. The conference did not bring about peace. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge refused to accept “clemency and full pardon” from the British without gaining independence for the colonies. The Conference House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features 17th century furnishings and a working kitchen. It is open to the public for a small admission charge from April through September from Tuesday to Saturday. South of Conference House on the bluffs overlooking the Arthur Kill is an interesting landmarked Native American (the Algonquian Lenape) burial ground.
by D. Speiser
Start at the Visitor’s Center at Hylan Boulevard and Satterlee Street, where information about the park can be obtained, as well as access to restrooms. Begin birding on the rolling lawns of Conference House (also known as Billopp House) where there are usually Northern Flicker, American Robin, and, from time to time, Eastern Bluebird. From here, walk along the beach, scouting the forested edge and shoreline.
In spring, the beach is a major mating site for horseshoe crabs. In late fall, from anywhere along the 1.5-mile beachfront, you may spot Red-throated and Common loons, Canvasback, Redhead, and Common Goldeneye in the waters of the Arthur Kill and Raritan Bay. In winter, you will see Horned Grebe, Brant (in large numbers), Greater Scaup (formerly in large rafts, now somewhat diminished), Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, and Common Goldeneye. The beachfront offers scenic views across the bay to the New Jersey’s Atlantic Highlands. Have your scope handy.
Dune grasses along the shore are extremely fragile, so walk on the sand at the water’s edge. In the fall, observe the grasses for dragonflies and butterflies, which may be perching there.
A stand of American hackberry, a berry-producing tree, which attracts early fall migrants (vireos, warblers, and orioles) and butterflies (American snout, hackberry and tawny emperors), grows on the bluff just south of the lawn. Also inviting to migrants is a remnant coastal oak forest. This area is best investigated from a series of hiking/biking trails that wind throughout the park. Starting at Hylan Boulevard and Satterlee Street, follow the path toward the water and take a left on the trail that goes into the woodland. Watch for assorted sparrows, wrens, and other brush-loving birds along the trailsides. Follow the trail until it comes out on Raritan Bay, and search for loons, grebes, and other waterfowl.
by D. Speiser
Continue to a bird blind on the left, which affords views of a Phragmite-dominated wetland, frequented by Red-winged and Rusty Blackbirds, Green Heron, and Great Egret, among others. A muskrat lodge is a conspicuous feature of this little wetland.
Turn left on the next trail and proceed through a woodland (very good for songbirds in spring) until you reach Billopp Avenue, and a NYSDEC-created wetland.
© SI Borough President's Office
Be on the lookout for Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Solitary Sandpiper, Belted Kingfisher, and many others. Continue left on Billopp, then right on Satterlee to get back to the Visitor’s Center. This entire route is also very good in fall, producing a good variety of raptors, thrushes, vireos and warblers, including Connecticut and Mourning warblers.
From mid-August through September, Eastern Kingbird form massive flocks along with a few Olive-sided Flycatcher. In October, impressive numbers of Northern Flicker, American Robin, and Purple Finch can be seen.
by D. Speiser
In winter, Cedar Waxwing flock in the bittersweet. Wood Thrush, Carolina Wren, and Eastern Screech-Owl nest in the larger wooded stands.
"Little Cape May"
Conference House Park is a particularly productive birding area in fall. Some refer to it as “Little Cape May” because it is the last bit of land, one that juts out into the water, for birds flying south. The effect is a bottleneck for those reluctant to cross water.
When to Go
Birding for migrants is best early in the morning, particularly April to mid May and again in September and October. Sometimes birding can also be a rewarding from 4pm to dusk.
Winter waterfowl can be seen December through January.
Optimal Weather Conditions
For fall migrants, wait for cold fronts followed by northwesterly flows. Almost any weather is good for wintering waterfowl.
It is wise to bird this quiet, isolated park with others. From time to time numerous teenagers congregate here, which is a bit intimidating. Poison ivy is dense in the hackberry grove. Dog ticks are found in the brushy areas. Mosquitoes can be a problem.
Click here for google map to the Visitor's Center which is near the Conference House. Type in your starting point and click on your mode of transport.
Another good access point is to park at the south end of Brighton Avenue, parallel to Satterlee Road about 10 blocks east. Bird your way along the trail to Ward’s Point. In August and September this is a wonderful place to look for migrating butterflies.
2012- Howard Fischer and Edward Johnson, Director of Science, Staten Island Museum
2001- Howard Fischer and Bonnie Petite, naturalist and President, Conference House Park-Raritan Bay Conservancy