Conference House Park

Conference House Park

A wintering female Common Goldeneye finds a tasty morsel off the coast of Conference House Park. Photo: Isaac Grant
At the southern tip of Staten Island, where the Arthur Kill joins Raritan Bay, lies Conference House Park, a 254-acre New York City park of dunes, beaches, a pond, freshwater wetlands, meadows, and wooded bluffs. Though birding can be good year-round, 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 where birds rest and refuel before making the flight across the cross water.

The park’s 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. (Conference House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and featuring a 17th-century furnishings and a working kitchen, is open for guided tours.) South of Conference House on the bluffs overlooking the Arthur Kill is an interesting landmarked Native American (the Algonquian Lenape) burial ground.

Conference House Park has amassed an impressive roster of species over the years; eBirders have documented 229 species here, including rarities such as Tundra Swan, American Golden Plover, Snowy Owl, Western Kingbird, both Scissor-tailed and Ash-throated Flycatchers, and LeConte’s Sparrow.
Raptors like the Sharp-shinned Hawk migrate through Conference House Park in good numbers. Photo: <a href="https://www.fotoportmann.com/" target="_blank">François Portmann</a>
Raptors like the Sharp-shinned Hawk migrate through Conference House Park in good numbers. Photo: François Portmann
A Northern Gannet dives for fish by Conference House Park. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/51819896@N04/" target="_blank">Lawrence Pugliares</a>
A Northern Gannet dives for fish by Conference House Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
During migration, Olive-sided Flycatchers are sometimes found perched a top snags in Conference House Park. <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/danstreiffert/45946112212/" target="_blank">Photo</a>: Dan Streiffert/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/" target="_blank" >CC BY-NC 2.0</a>
During migration, Olive-sided Flycatchers are sometimes found perched a top snags in Conference House Park. Photo: Dan Streiffert/CC BY-NC 2.0

Birding Highlights by the Season

(no star = birding is not very productive, = somewhat productive, ✸✸ = productive, ✸✸✸ = very productive)
 
Spring Migration ✸✸✸
Flycatchers, thrushes, warblers, tanagers, and other land birds; shorebirds and waders; Northern Gannet
 
Summer ✸✸
Foraging wading birds, gulls, and terns, American Oystercatcher; Osprey; migrating shorebirds; nesting Killdeer, Fish Crow, Barn, Tree, and Bank Swallows, Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Orchard and Baltimore Oriole, Boat-tailed Grackle 
 
Fall Migration ✸✸✸
Shorebirds; raptors; warblers, thrushes, sparrows, and other songbirds
 
Winter ✸✸
Wintering waterfowl including dabbling and diving ducks, grebes, and loons; gulls and possible alcids; Purple Sandpiper; Northern Gannet
 
Year-Round Highlights
Bald Eagle, gulls



Get Oriented

View a Google map to the Conference House Park Visitor Center, which is near the Conference House.
Eastern Bluebirds sometimes stop through during migration. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Eastern Bluebirds sometimes stop through during migration. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Start at the Visitor Center
Start at the Visitor 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 one can usually find Northern Flicker, American Robin, and, from time to time, Eastern Bluebird. From here, walk along the beach, scouting the forested edge and shoreline.
Canvasback find sustenance in the waters of Raritan Bay. Photo: Teri Franzen/Audubon Photography Awards
Canvasback find sustenance in the waters of Raritan Bay. Photo: Teri Franzen/Audubon Photography Awards
Beach, Bluff, and Bay
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. Northern Gannets are sometimes seen in good numbers. The beachfront also 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. A stand of American Hackberry grows on the bluff just south of the lawn; this berry-producing tree attracts early fall migrants (vireos, warblers, and orioles) and butterflies (American Snout, and Hackberry and Tawny Emperors). 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.

Northern Gannets off of Conference House Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Northern Gannets off of Conference House Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares


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 trail edges. Follow the trail until it comes out on Raritan Bay, and search for loons, grebes, and other waterfowl.
Red-winged Blackbirds nest in the wetlands of Conference House Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Red-winged Blackbirds nest in the wetlands of Conference House Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Wetlands and Return to Visitor Center
Continue to a Phragmite-dominated wetland, frequented by Red-winged (and occasionally during migration, 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 wetland created by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 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 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.

A Merlin and a Blue Jay encounter one another in Conference House Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A Merlin and a Blue Jay encounter one another in Conference House Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares

From mid-August through September, Eastern Kingbird gather in large numbers, along with a few Olive-sided Flycatchers. In October, impressive numbers of Northern Flicker, American Robin, and Purple Finch can be seen. In winter, Cedar Waxwing flock in the bittersweet. Wood Thrush, Carolina Wren, and Eastern Screech-Owl nest in the larger wooded stands.
Though the Snowy Owl is an unusual sighting anywhere in New York City, Conference House Park is a good spot to look for this iconic northern species in the wintertime. (This bird was photographed hunting there in December 2017.) Photo: Isaac Grant "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Though the Snowy Owl is an unusual sighting anywhere in New York City, Conference House Park is a good spot to look for this iconic northern species in the wintertime. (This bird was photographed hunting there in December 2017.) Photo: Isaac Grant

When to Go

See "Birding Highlights by the Season" above; the eBird links below also may be helpful. 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 park operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.

 eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Conference House Park to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, and more.

Personal Safety

Conference House Park is regularly visited by residents of the local community and is generally a safe place to bird. Poison ivy is dense in the Hackberry grove. Dog ticks are found in the brushy areas and mosquitoes can be a problem. 


Guided Bird Walks

NYC Audubon leads occasional trips that include Conference House Park. Visit NYC Audubon's Local Trips page for information on upcoming walks led by NYC Audubon.

The Staten Island Museum, founded in 1881 by a group of young Staten Island naturalists, offers bird and nature walks in Staten Island's parks throughout the year, along with many other programs and educational activities. 

Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, Staten Island's principal land conservation organization, offers bird and nature walks and other conservation-oriented events throughout the year. Protectors of Pine Oak Woods and its forerunner, SIGNAL, were involved in the preservation of much of Staten Island's parkland, and the organization continues to fight for the responsible stewardship and preservation of the island's wild habitats.

Directions and Visiting Information

View a Google map to the Visitor Center, which is near the Conference House


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.


Visit the NYC Parks page for Conference House Park for operating hours, directions, and additional background information.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to those who provided local birding expertise for this page: Howard Fischer (2020, 2012, 2001); Cliff Hagen (2020); Edward Johnson (2012, 2001); Bonnie Petite (2001)