Marine Park Preserve

Marine Park Preserve

Interesting species can often be found in Marine Park Preserve, such as these Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (during an unexpected visit in 2016). Photo: Karen Fung

Birding Highlights by the Season

(no star = birding is not very productive, = somewhat productive, ✸✸ = productive, ✸✸✸ = very productive)
 
Spring Migration ✸✸✸
Flycatchers, cuckoos, warblers, tanagers, orioles, grosbeaks, and other songbirds; shorebirds, wading birds
 
Summer ✸✸✸    
Nesting Killdeer, Willet, Clapper Rail, Osprey, Willow Flycatcher, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Boat-tailed Grackle, possible Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows; foraging wading birds, terns, skimmers, and shorebirds
 
Fall Migration ✸✸
Shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, flycatchers, songbirds
 
Winter ✸✸
Wintering waterfowl including dabbling and diving ducks, loons, and grebes; accipiters and Northern Harrier; mixed songbird feeding flocks
 
Year-Round Highlights
Peregrine Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel; gulls



Get Oriented

Saltmarsh Sparrows may nest in small numbers in Marine Park Preserve. Photo: Frank Lehman/Audubon Photography Awards
Saltmarsh Sparrows may nest in small numbers in Marine Park Preserve. Photo: Frank Lehman/Audubon Photography Awards
This male Blue-winged Teal (right) stopped by Marine Park during migration, joining a female Gadwall. 
Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/144871758@N05/" target="_blank">Ryan F. Mandelbaum</a>
This male Blue-winged Teal (right) stopped by Marine Park during migration, joining a female Gadwall. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
A Snowy Egret hunts for fish in Marine Park Preserve's shallow water. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/144871758@N05/" target="_blank">Ryan F. Mandelbaum</a>
A Snowy Egret hunts for fish in Marine Park Preserve's shallow water. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
Though Prospect Park gets a lot of attention from Brooklynites, the borough’s largest park, Marine Park, is actually found a ways down south, on the western edge of Jamaica Bay. Marine Park Preserve, the natural area of the park, is a Forever Wild Preserve—and stems originally from a donation of 150 acres of pristine marshland to the City in 1917. The Preserve now includes 530 acres of conserved grassland and salt marsh surrounding Gerritsen Creek. This freshwater stream, while reduced from its historical length, still supplies the marshes—creating a particularly diverse brackish ecosystem that attracts up to 257 bird species (according to eBird records), as well as 50 species of butterfly and 100 types of fish. 
 
Birdlife here includes Forster’s, Common, and Least Terns; nesting Osprey; and secretive marsh birds coveted by birders such as Clapper Rail and Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows (all of which have nested here). The park’s upland areas and groves of trees also provide good stop-over habitat for migrating songbirds.

A good variety of migrant songbirds stop by Marine Park Preserve during migration, such as this Prothonotary Warbler. Photo: César A. Castillo "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A good variety of migrant songbirds stop by Marine Park Preserve during migration, such as this Prothonotary Warbler. Photo: César A. Castillo


Rarities recorded in Marine Park Preserve have included Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Mew Gull, Black-headed Gull, Thick-billed Murre, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Northern Shrike, and Painted Bunting. Other areas of Marine Park host many recreational amenities including sports fields, a golf course, model airplane field, playgrounds, and a launch site for canoes and kayaks on Gerritsen Inlet. 
A map of Marine Park. Graphic: Courtesy of the Salt Marsh Alliance
A map of Marine Park. Graphic: Courtesy of the Salt Marsh Alliance
The Salt Marsh Nature Center
Founded in 2000 and operated by the Urban Park Rangers in partnership with the Salt Marsh Alliance, the Salt Marsh Nature Center is a good place to begin your visit to Marine Park Preserve. (Free parking is available in the park lot directly across Avenue U.) Marine Park’s grasslands and wetlands are accessible via main hiking and birding trails, one on each side of Gerritsen Creek. (See map [at left]; or see a larger version.) The Nature Center itself includes natural history displays and offers educational programming run by the Urban Park Rangers. A groomed grassy area in the Center’s back courtyard is a nice spot to look out over the park, or have lunch. 
 
Directly behind the Nature Center you’ll find the entrance to the trail that leads along the eastern edge of Gerritsen creek. At the trail’s start, there are several trees that attract migrating warblers, tanagers, and other songbirds, while a bridge overlooking Gerritsen Creek provides a great vantage for viewing feeding waterfowl, waders, and shorebirds. The trail continues to form a couple of loops that provide access to several vantage points (including a viewing platform) that look out over the salt marsh and creek, a good view of an Osprey nesting platform, and paths through upland grassy areas and along a line of tall Cottonwood trees.
A family of Osprey on the Salt Marsh Nature Center nesting platform. Photo: Avi Lewis "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A family of Osprey on the Salt Marsh Nature Center nesting platform. Photo: Avi Lewis

In spring and summer, breeding waterbird species such as Willet, Killdeer, and more secretive Clapper Rail maybe be seen along the trail, as well as hard-to-spot marsh-nesting songbirds such as Marsh Wren, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and even Seaside Sparrow. You may also hear the songs and calls of nesting passerines such as Willow Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Boat-tailed Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, and Cedar Waxwing. 
 
The salt marsh and shallow-water areas attract foraging American Oystercatchers, as well as wading birds including both Night-Heron species and Snowy and Great Egrets, which nest on nearby islands in Jamaica Bay. Gulls, Black Skimmers, and Common, Forster’s and Least Terns, as well as Barn Swallows are often seen swooping over the water or resting on pilons. In addition to Osprey, which stay just for the breeding season, other raptors that nest nearby include Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Peregrine Falcon—all of which are seen year-round.

A pair of Marine Park Preserve Clapper Rails do what comes naturally. Photo: Avi Lewis "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A pair of Marine Park Preserve Clapper Rails do what comes naturally. Photo: Avi Lewis


During migration, shorebirds such as Greater Yellowlegs and Spotted and Least Sandpipers are frequently observed in the marshes, while the upland grassy habitat has recently attracted grassland species such as American Pipit, Eastern Meadowlark, and Bobolink. Like any site along the Long Island coast, Marine Park is a good spot to see migrating raptors in the fall, such as Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, which also stay during the colder months. In the winter, the upland and marsh areas are good spots for hunting Northern Harrier. 
 
The sheltered but substantial waters of Gerritsen and Mill Creeks (which surround White Island, a preserved grassy island smack dab in the middle of the park) host wintering waterfowl including dabblers like Northern Shoveler and American Wigeon (joined on occasion by a visiting Eurasian Wigeon), and diving birds including both Scaup species, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Pie-billed Grebe, and Bufflehead. 
This Thick-billed Murre, a rare visitor to New York City, was found in the waters of Marine Park. Photo: <a href="https://bvandoren.com/" target="_blank">Benjamin Van Doren</a>
This Thick-billed Murre, a rare visitor to New York City, was found in the waters of Marine Park. Photo: Benjamin Van Doren
Marine Park Southwest
A second, considerably longer hiking trail is accessible at the western side of Gerritsen Creek, departing just south of Avenue U and following along the western creek edge before splitting into several trails, some of which go down to the water and are marked with NYC Parks signage. It’s best to explore this area at low tide. Also, beware of ATV and motorbike users on this side of the park, particularly in the warmer months. 
 
This large southeastern area of Marine Park offers many of the same species mentioned in the section above. The main trail offers good opportunities to find birds, and the park’s ballfields, when not in use, are good areas to look for sparrows, and in winter, occasionally Horned Larks and American Pipits. During winter, the waterside trails can provide opportunities to see grebes, loons, mergansers, and assorted waterfowl on the water and along the edge of White Island, across the way. If you’re lucky, you may even find a Snowy Owl. 
 
Another option is to walk along the “street side” or outside edge of the park, along Gerritsen Avenue, and bird along the edges of the vegetation. These areas are popular with sparrows, particularly in the winter, and warblers are often found in the trees during migration.

A Northern Harrier carries some sort of long-tailed prey over the grasslands of the Marine Park Preserve. Photo: Will Pollard/CC BY-ND 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A Northern Harrier carries some sort of long-tailed prey over the grasslands of the Marine Park Preserve. Photo: Will Pollard/CC BY-ND 2.0

Special Birding Notes

Though birding in the early a.m. is good birding practice in general, it is particularly helpful if you aim to see secretive marsh birds such as Clapper Rails and Salt Marsh Sparrows. Also, if you are looking for waterbirds and shorebirds, it is generally best to go at low tide at any time of year. View online tide information. (Under the bold heading “Long Island South Shore, Shinnecock Inlet to Mill Basin,” select “Plumb Beach Channel,” choose the month and day you are birding, and click “Get Tides.”)

When to Go 

To see birding highlights at Pelham Bay Park by the season, see the top of this page. 


To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page.


For Marine Park and Salt Marsh Nature Center operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.
 

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for the Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, and more.
 

Personal Safety

It is best to bird with at least one other person in Marine Park, as some areas are quite remote. After leaving the trails, check yourself and your clothing for dog ticks.


Guided Bird Walks

NYC Audubon occasinally leads trips to Marine Park Preserve; visit our Local Trips page for information on upcoming walks led by NYC Audubon.


The Brooklyn Bird Club, a private nonprofit organization founded in 1909, offers frequent bird walks in Brooklyn and beyond. The club provides a number of other resources for birders as well, including a checklist and map for birdwatchers of Prospect Park, The Clapper Rail newsletter, and an active blog with the latest news and bird reports.

Directions and Visiting Information

 
See NYC Parks directions and facilities information for both Marine Park and the Salt Marsh Nature Center. Free parking is available in Marine park, directly across Avenue U from the Salt Marsh Nature Center.
 
The Salt Marsh Alliance, formed in 2002 to support the Salt Marsh Nature Center, provides information on educational programming, events, and more.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to those who provided local birding expertise for this page: Heydi Lopes (2020)