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Nesting** Spring Migration*** Fall Migration*** Winter**
(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)
Inwood Hill Park, owned by the City of New York/Parks and Recreation is perched on the northernmost tip of Manhattan. The central portion of the Park rises steeply into a rocky ridge named Inwood Hill, approximately 230 feet above sea level. The western border is the Hudson River, offering magnificent views of the Palisades in New Jersey. Much of its 196 acres are lush woodlands that include a magnificent understory of witch-hazel, spice bush, and dogwood. The canopy is red oak and tulip trees. Some of the tallest trees in Manhattan are found in the Clove, a small, forested valley that extends along the eastern base of the ridge.
by D. Speiser
In a single year, 150 bird species have been spotted in Inwood Hill Park. Hairy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee and White-breasted Nuthatch nest in the wooded uplands. Eastern Kingbird and Brown Thrasher, which also nest in the park, are seen in the clearings.
At the northeast corner of Inwood Hill Park, where it meets Spuyten Duyvil Creek, two small bays indicate the salt marsh system that once surrounded Manhattan Island.
©NYC Parks Avila
You can start your birdwalk at Inwood Hill Park by entering at 218th Street and Indian Road. During spring migration, check along the bays and shoreline, particularly the mudflats at low tide, for shorebirds (Solitary and Least sandpipers) and gulls. In spring and early summer, Belted Kingfisher and Northern Rough-winged Swallow are regular visitors. Warbling Vireo and Orchard Oriole regularly nest in this area. In the summer, Great Egret are found, and, from time to time, Black-crowned Night-Heron roost in the trees along Baker Bay, the smaller bay.
by B. McCally
To explore the ridge, follow the paved paths that go into the woods from the southwest corner of the soccer field. The northern (on the right) path winds its way around and onto the north side of the ridge (under the Henry Hudson Bridge take the switchback upward). The southern route (on the left) goes into the Clove before climbing the ridge. Either way is good.
©NYC Parks Avila
At the top of the Clove path there is an intersection; bear hard right on a paved path that goes northward along the east side of the ridge, listening for Indigo Bunting (nesting) that are often on the west side of this path. Eastern Screech-Owl also nest in the vicinity. Approximately 400 yards after the intersection, a side road comes in on the left (west). Stay on the main road, beyond the point where the side road splits off, to a junction with a small side trail leading to a lookout over a stone wall. Here you are level with the tops of tall trees growing in the valley, a good vantage to view treetop warblers, particularly in the morning when the east side of the ridge catches the sun. These tiny wonders actively forage for insects in the treetops and rapidly dart from tree to tree looking for places to rest and feed.
by D. Speiser
Back on the main path going south (retracing your steps) take the road to the west that leads to a small overgrown field. Here you can find woodland edge birds. Eastern Bluebird are regular visitors in March and November. From the west side of the field is a view -- not to be missed -- of the Hudson River and across to the Palisades. In the fall you can watch hawks and waterfowl migrating south along the river. As you gaze across the river to the Palisades, Turkey Vulture may be seen soaring in the updrafts.
After exploring the ridge, you can return the way you came or take the north path, which goes past the Henry Hudson Bridge toll booths before swinging under the bridge and switching back down to the east side of the ridge. The north path leads to the soccer field where you started.
by D. Speiser
When you are under the bridge, you may choose to take a path that leads westward to the Hudson River and the ball fields. This path crosses the Amtrak railroad tracks via an overpass. For a more direct route to this portion of the river’s edge, start at Dyckman Street, at the southern end of the park, and walk westward. From a pier where Dyckman Street meets the river, savor the view across the Hudson and watch for migrating cormorants, ducks, and gulls. Bring a scope and perhaps a chair and search the river for ducks and, if you are lucky, Bald Eagles in winter.
Although the path system is not extensive, it is easy to get confused. For the sake of orientation, remember while you are on the ridge, the Hudson River is always to the west.
Inwood Hill Park has a number of very interesting geological and historical features. Inwood Hill’s stony promontories contain all three types of New York City bedrock – gneiss, marble, and schist. A large outcropping of marble is visible on the northeast side of the intersection of Seaman Avenue and Isham Street. Glacial potholes are exposed on the west side of the rock wall near the upper end of the Clove path.
Inwood was the site of a Native American village (Shorakapkok) and was at one time believed to be the place where, in 1626, according to legend, Peter Minuit “purchased” Manhattan Island from the Manhattan Indians in exchange for objects then valued at 60 guilders (now believed to be worth $600). A rock tablet at the far end of the soccer field commemorates this transaction. In the 1890s, Native American artifacts were unearthed from caves in the ridge on the west side of the Clove. Some caves, actually rock overhangs, are still visible.
During the Revolutionary War, the north end of the ridge (then called Cock Hill) was the site of an earthen fort and the surrounding areas the site of a Hessian encampment. Dyckman House, a colonial era farmhouse at Broadway and 204th Street (2 blocks from the park) houses a small museum with artifacts from the period.
Inwood Hill Park has many wildflowers not found in the more heavily used city parks, among them Dutchman’s-breeches, trillium, May apple, and jack-in-the-pulpit. The overgrown meadow on the ridge is particularly attractive to butterflies.
by D. Speiser
When To Go
For spring migrants, the best times are the third week in April through mid-May. Many migrants persist into late-May. June is good time to look for nesters. The morning hours from sunrise to midday are best, although on a “wave” or “flight” day the park is productive all day long. Because Inwood Hill Park has considerable woodlands, it holds migrants longer than Central Park or Riverside Park.
September and October are peak times to look for fall migrants. Look for hawk flights along the Hudson River from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.
Optimal Weather Conditions
During spring migration, the best birding days are those following nights of light southwest and, to a lesser extent, westerly winds. The best fall flights, including hawk migration, follow nights of west to north winds.
Most people in Inwood Hill Park are using the ball fields and playgrounds, so, with the exception of a few joggers and dog walkers, the birding areas are a bit desolate. We recommend that birders go out in groups of two or more.
At the river overlook on the top of the ridge, a hole has been made in the fence that leads to an open rock ledge. Because the ledge slopes down to a dangerous drop-off to the parkway below, do not go beyond the fence.
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The paths and stairways are steep and not very well maintained. In the winter they can be slippery. In spring, summer and fall, beware of poison ivy along their edges.
Google Map to Inwood Hill Park
For Additional Information on Inwood Hill Park
Inwood Hill Nature Center
218th and Indian Road
Phone: (212) 304-2365
Hours: Open Wednesday -Sunday from 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Resource Persons for Inwood Hill Park Birding:
2012 - Joseph DiCostanzo, past- President, Linnaean Society of New York, and Research Assistant, Great Gull Island Project, American Museum of Natural History
2001 - Joseph DiCostanzo, Adele Gotlib, and George Karsch