Great Kills Park

Harbor with Crooke's Point (on the lower left)

© SI Borough President's office

Nesting**    Spring Migration***    Fall Migration***    Winter**

(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)

Great Kills Park, part of the Staten Island Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area, covers 1,200 acres of woods, marshlands, dunes, and beaches that run along the south shore for over two miles.

Recreation areas include a marina, public beaches, public boat launch, fishing areas, model airplane field, nature trails, and numerous ball fields. The Beach Center (with restrooms), and its food concessions, are open in the warm months and a Ranger Station, with visitor information, is open year round.
Great Kills Harbor was created in the 1870’s when Crooke’s Island was connected to the mainland using dredge material.

Great Kills Parkis an excellent place to bird and it is popular birding site with the local birders. The Blue Dot and Orange trails are clearly marked and easy to follow. If you are walking, the Blue Dot Trail, search for Common Snipe along the muddy stream edge to the west of the trail. The grassy area around (Parking Area A) includes trail access to the harbor edge and the waters of bay front. Particularly good viewing is at the mudflats (northern end), and offers excellent birding opportunities in season.

Palm Warbler

by D. Speiser

In mid-September into early October, investigate a grove of locust trees just north of the harbor (at the boat launch near the Nature Center) for migrants, including vireos, flycatchers, warblers, buntings, and sparrows. In the spring, American Woodcock perform courtship flights on the path through the model airplane field, east of the baseball fields.
Note: Presently the airplane field is off limits to visitors. The ball fields just off Hylan Boulevard are excellent in winter for raptors and other species; however this area is also temporarily closed to the public until further notice.

During the winter months, Purple Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstones, and “white winged” gulls visit the jetties at Crooke’s Point and the jetty north of the tidal flats closer to Oakwood Beach. Horned Larks, Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspur are more likely to be seen along the shoreline.

Horned Lark

by D. Speiser

Walking along the gravel road leading to Crooke’s Point you will go through some good habitat. The dunes on the bay side were once a reliable site for wintering Short-eared Owls and in the evening, local Barn Owls can occasionally be observed. If Great Kills has a wintering Snowy Owl, this would be the most likely location for the bird, for the reason that fewer people visit this more isolated section of the park. Snowy Owls have been seen here in past years. Along this road, from late August through October one can be rewarded with a good variety of migrants. There are vine covered trees, dense brush, Bayberry, and some open woods, where a birder might explore. If more birders were to frequent this area, undoubtedly more specialties would show up.

Field Sparrow

by D. Speiser

The Point has a few pairs of breeding Field Sparrows. Ruby throated Hummingbirds have been nesting here, and it is among the few sites on Staten Island where breeding has been again confirmed after many years.
The dunes can be good in winter for Tree Sparrows and Snow Buntings - waterfowl can be numerous and this is Staten Island’s more reliable site for scoters. Gulls move in from the bay and feed in the narrow channel, and rarities should be looked for.

Note: A Hooded Crow made a brief appearance in June, 2011; however its origin is in question.

© SI Borough President's Office

The edges of Parking Area A, with patches of grasses, can be ideal for large numbers of wintering Horned Larks. Raptors are more likely to be observed around the administration buildings opposite the parking area. Search the poplar and aspen trees behind these buildings for Red-shouldered Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper's Hawk and Northern Harrier. In recent years, raptor levels have fluctuated. The birds tend to remain if rodent numbers are high. Bald Eagle has made an appearance recently, showing a preference for the sheltered water of the marina boat basin in autumn and winter.

The large phragmites-covered section of park behind the Administration Buildings, can become a habitat of seasonal ponds at any time after heavy rains. In addition, flooding near the entrance to the model airplane field (for now, off limits), can also produce some short-lived wetland pools. Shorebirds, waterfowl, Glossy Ibis, herons, American Bittern (uncommon), Least Bittern (a few records), egrets, Virginia Rails and swallows can be observed in season. The first 2011 record for White Ibis here in Staten Island was recorded in these vernal ponds. The White Ibis frequented this site for weeks and was viewed by many birders.

tree swallowtree swallow

Tree Swallow

by D. Speiser

The Nature Interpretive Center west of the parking lot offers clean facilities as well as an interpretive pond which can be excellent in fall. Sit on benches and wait for migrants to come down to the water. Purple Martins are now showing an interest in the gourds here. And if the Purple Martins do in fact nest, this species will be a new addition to the diversity of breeding swallows. Four species of swallow nest in the park now - Tree, Bank, Barn and Northern Rough-winged.

The sandy cliffs just southeast of the parking lot, destroyed in hurricane Sandy,  provided suitable habitat for a stable and expanding population of Bank Swallows. This was the only breeding colony in the metropolitan region for this species. Observers should keep a lookout for Bank Swallows nesting at alternate locations nearby.

In winter, sparrows can be common here and a number of other hardy specialties can be present in autumn in the olive thickets around the nature center. Yellow-rumped Warblers are abundant in winter, feeding in Bayberry. Search for the occasional Orange-crowned Warbler in the flocks of these warblers. Fox Sparrows and Eastern Towhees winter here, and Ring-necked Pheasants are often heard and viewed.
Along the shore and on the mudflats (where Spartina grass is taking hold again), gulls, ducks, wading birds, and shorebirds can be seen any time of year. In spring, egrets, waterfowl, plovers, American Oystercatcher, smaller numbers of Red Knots, and gulls are regular visitors. A scope is helpful to observe the shorebirds, and time your visit to the mudflats during low tides.

Click herefor the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tide tables.

The beach and rock jetty at the tip of Crooke’s Point offer extraordinary views of the waters of Lower New York Bay as well as a sweeping vista that stretches from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Queens and south to New Jersey. Crooke’s Point is another fine area to observe autumn migrants. The dense thickets of Bittersweet and groves of trees provide feeding for a multitude of migrants that move through this park from late August into October. Warblers, vireos, orioles, flycatchers, and other migrants can be numerous. The Tree Swallow migration, like many other coastal sites, can be spectacular in early September. The flocks of Tree Swallows should be checked carefully for other swallow species.

Gray Catbird

by D. Speiser

In winter, the Great Kills Harbor is good for waterfowl viewing. This site has loons, grebes, Greater Scaup, scoters, and other species of waterfowl from November through March. In winter, numbers of Long-tailed Ducks bob around in the harbor’s inlet, and Snow Buntings can be found in the open areas along the beach. Yellow-rumped Warblers winter in the Crooke’s Point’s bayberry thickets, along with Field Sparrows and other hardy wintering species such as Gray Catbird and Brown Thrasher.

Long-tailed Duck

by D. Speiser

Two hundred and fifty acres of Great Kills Park are still owned by City of New York/Parks and Recreation. (In 1971 the City deeded the southern acreage to Gateway National Recreation Area.) You can enter the city parkland directly by turning east off Hylan Boulevard at Tysens Lane (several miles north of the Gateway entrance). Follow Tysens Lane to the end. Climb the sand dunes to reach the beachfront and mudflats that extend from the national park property. In September and October, investigate the city’s weedy parkland on the west side of Grove Avenue between Agda Street and Ebbitts Street for fall migrants. Continue north to Gateway’s former U. S. Army base Miller Field, which is another productive area during migration.

When to Go
If you are looking for migrating shorebirds, spring, particularly May, and again in mid-July through September are optimal times, especially at low tide. For waterfowl, winter is by far the best season. However, early spring (March and April), fall (November) and can be productive. Late November brings in a number of migrating loons, grebes, Northern Gannets, and of course waterfowl.
Fall and winter are also good for raptors. Seasonal ponds near the Administration buildings and model airplane field can be good if they are flooded after heavy rains.

Optimal Weather Conditions
Fair weather (no precipitation) is best for wintering raptors, waterfowl, and shorebirds.
For migrating songbirds, some of the most spectacular “waves” have occurred on sunny spring mornings after nights of southerly to southwesterly winds. Fog in the morning, particularly in May, also produces good birding days.

In autumn, clear, blue skies following the passage of a cool or cold front make for the best birding days. “Fallouts” can also occur the morning after a nighttime rainstorm.

Moon over Crooke's Point

© NYC Audubon

Personal Safety
Joggers, walkers, and cyclists use the park and give the illusion of safety. However some of the best birding areas are isolated, particularly along some portions of the beach, so it is best to bird with another person.
Beware of dog ticks, poison ivy, and mosquitoes.

Getting There
Click herefor directions to the Main Entrance. If you are traveling by car, then follow Park Drive for 1.5 miles to Parking Area “A” on the left (opposite the Ranger Station) where parking is free. Parking at Crooke’s Point is by permit only.

For Additional Information on Great Kills Park
Staten Island Museum, http://statenislandmuseum.org
718-727-1135

 

Resource Person: 

2012 and 2001- Howard Fischer

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