Freshkills Park and Northwest Corridor

Freshkills Park and Northwest Corridor

Sedge Wrens, a rare species for New York City, nested in the grassland habitat of Freshkills Park in 2020. Photo: Shannon Curley
The 12 square miles of Staten Island’s northwest corridor are historically known as “Northfield,” and more recently as the “Northwest Corridor.” Residences are few. Human activity has been limited almost entirely to industry including, until closure in 2001, the world’s largest active waste disposal area, 3,000-acre Fresh Kills Landfill. Nevertheless, an astounding assemblage of wildlife exists in the northwest corridor’s natural areas, particularly in the marshlands. 

The name “Fresh Kills,” from the Dutch “kille” meaning “riverbed” or “water channel,” refers to the network of freshwater and estuarial creeks that drain much of western Staten Island, emptying into the Arthur Kill. This 1,000-acre tidal wetland system includes wetland areas that remain in relatively natural condition today, such as the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge (part of the Staten Island Greenbelt) and Isle of Meadows marsh, one of the first Harbor Heron Islands colonized in the late 1970s.
Several pairs of Osprey nest in Freshkills Park. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/51819896@N04/" target="_blank">Lawrence Pugliares</a>
Several pairs of Osprey nest in Freshkills Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Grasshopper Sparrows are going gangbusters in Freshkills Park: in 2020, over 50 pairs nested. Photo: <a href="https://www.pbase.com/btblue" target="_blank">Lloyd Spitalnik</a>
Grasshopper Sparrows are going gangbusters in Freshkills Park: in 2020, over 50 pairs nested. Photo: Lloyd Spitalnik
Forster's Terns have recently been found breeding in Freshkills Park. Photo: Ben Knoot/Audubon Photography Awards
Forster's Terns have recently been found breeding in Freshkills Park. Photo: Ben Knoot/Audubon Photography Awards
The gradual opening of Freshkills Park has provided new public access to this rich ecosystem, while the innovative park’s capped landfills represent a new grassland habitat that is already attracting breeding grassland birds that have been long absent from New York City, such as Grasshopper Sparrow, Bobolink, and Sedge Wren. Goethals Pond Complex is another preserved wetland in this area that is accessible for birding. The remainder of Northwest Corridor, including Mariner’s Marsh Park, is mostly inaccessible at present.freshkillshs
Bobolinks, a grassland species long absent as a breeding species in the City, have begun nesting in Freshkills Park. Photo: Ruhikanta Meetei/Audubon Photography Awards
Bobolinks, a grassland species long absent as a breeding species in the City, have begun nesting in Freshkills Park. Photo: Ruhikanta Meetei/Audubon Photography Awards
Freshkills Park

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, grassland songbirds; shorebirds, wading birds
 
Summer ✸✸
Possible nesting Ring-necked Pheasant, Killdeer, Willow Flycatcher, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrow, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark; foraging Osprey, wading birds, terns, skimmers, and shorebirds
 
Fall Migration ✸✸
Shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, flycatchers, grassland and other songbirds
 
Winter ✸✸
Wintering waterfowl including dabbling and diving ducks, loons, and grebes; accipiters, Northern Harrier, possible Short-eared Owl; mixed songbird feeding flocks, Snow Buntings, Horned Larks
 
Year-Round Highlights
Peregrine Falcon, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel; gulls


Get Oriented

View an interactive park map of Freshkills Park from the Freshills Park Alliance.


Freshkills Park attracts over 200 bird species through the year. Photo: Freshkills Park Alliance "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Freshkills Park attracts over 200 bird species through the year. Photo: Freshkills Park Alliance


Fresh Kills Landfill’s transformation to the new grassland and restored wetland habitat of Freshkills Park began in 2008 and will continue through 2036. It is a renewal long-coming: dumping on the original tidal marsh ecosystem began way back in 1948. Initially intended to last for just three years to create upland for development, the trash kept coming for 50 more years, ultimately creating the largest landfill in the world. A state law mandating closure of the landfill was passed in 1996 following intense public pressure, and it ceased regular operations in 2001. 

The park is divided into four capped “mounds,” each of which include a system that collects methane and other emissions from decomposing materials underneath. A variety of public spaces and facilities are planned for the park, including playgrounds, athletic fields, kayak launches, horseback riding trails, and large-scale art installations.

Blue Grosbeaks nest in Freshkills Park. Photo: Jorja Feldman/Audubon Photography Awards "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Blue Grosbeaks nest in Freshkills Park. Photo: Jorja Feldman/Audubon Photography Awards


But for birders, the new habitat has already reaped great benefits: the mounds have been planted with native grasses, and the habitat has attracted nesting grasslands birds including Ring-necked Pheasant, Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, and in the first nesting in New York City since 1948, Sedge Wren. (Read more on our Grasslands and Capped Landfills page.) Blue Grosbeak also nests in the habitat of scrub and meadow.

All the bird, mammal and insect life in the grasslands draws raptors including American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, and accipters; Bald Eagles are also seen soaring here. In the winter, Rough-legged Hawk has been seen, and the grasslands are visited by Snow Buntings and Horned Larks as well.

The wetlands of the tidal creeks that sorround the mounds also offer excellent habitat for waterbirds: Osprey, Marsh Wren, and Forster's Tern nest here. In the wintertime, waterfowl can be found including Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail.

The elegant Northern Pintail regulary winters in the Freshkill waterways. Photo: Isaac Grant "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> The elegant Northern Pintail regulary winters in the Freshkill waterways. 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.


Most of Freshkills Park is only accessible via scheduled park programs. See the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.

 eBird

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

Personal Safety

As Freshkills Park is only accessible via organized tours, it is a perfectly safe place to bird.  If you visit on a tour, make sure to bring bug repellent, as ticks are found in the brushy areas and mosquitoes can be plentiful. 

Guided Bird Walks

Most of Freshkills Park is only accessible via scheduled park programs. NYC Audubon co-leads several trips each years in partnership with the Freshkills Park Alliance. Visit NYC Audubon's Local Trips page for information on upcoming walks led by NYC Audubon. Visit the Freskills Park alliance website to learn about other upcoming tours and events.

Directions and Visiting Information

Most of Freshkills Park is only accessible via scheduled park programs. Visit the Freskills Park alliance website to see an interactive map and read additional background information.

Visit the NYC Parks page for Freshkills Park for additional informationgoethalspondhs
If you search carefully at Goethal's Pond, you just may spy the elusive Wilson's Snipe. Photo: Dorian Anderson/Audubon Photography Awards
If you search carefully at Goethal's Pond, you just may spy the elusive Wilson's Snipe. Photo: Dorian Anderson/Audubon Photography Awards
Goethals Pond Complex

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, grassland songbirds; shorebirds, wading birds
 
Summer ✸✸
Possible nesting Ring-necked Pheasant, Killdeer, Willow Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Savannah Sparrow; foraging Osprey, wading birds, terns, skimmers, and shorebirds
 
Fall Migration ✸✸
Shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, flycatchers, grassland and other songbirds
 
Winter ✸✸
Wintering waterfowl including dabbling and diving ducks, loons, and grebes; accipiters, Northern Harrier, possible Short-eared Owl; mixed songbird feeding flocks, Snow Buntings, Horned Larks
 
Year-Round Highlights
Peregrine Falcon, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel; gulls


Get Oriented

View a Google map of Goethals Pond Complex and a map of Goethals Pond from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Snowy Egrets and othe waders come to forage at Goethals Bridge Pond. Photo: Isaac Grant "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Snowy Egrets and othe waders come to forage at Goethals Bridge Pond. Photo: Isaac Grant

Goethals Pond is a relatively recent “natural” feature. The story begins well before the 1935 construction of Goethals Bridge, for which the preserve is named. In the 1880s, the Travis Rail Line split an unnamed creek, later known as Bridge Creek, and its associated meadows and marshes into an upper and lower system. Instead of railroad trestles an enormous earthen berm was constructed across the marshland. Two five-foot diameter, concrete culvert pipes were installed to allow the ebb and flow of the creek. 

In 1892, Staten Island’s famed naturalist, William T. Davis, made note in Days Afield that the rail line with trestle bridges reshaped Staten Island’s marshes, and not always to their detriment. The Bridge Creek culverts either collapsed, became choked with silt, or both, although they never entirely closed up, and as a result, the upper system overflowed its banks, creating a shallow body of water, Goethals Pond.

Map courtesy of New York State Department of Environmental Protection "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Map courtesy of New York State Department of Environmental Protection


When Goethals Pond is full, it is no more than three feet deep. Saltwater intrusion is apparent by the brackish quality of the water and the occurrence of small patches of salt meadow hay. Although the pond level rises and falls, it is not related to the diurnal tides. Rainwater and runoff from nearby paved surfaces contribute to the inflow. Less is known about outflow through the restricted culverts. It is believed that most water escapes through evaporation. Between periods of rainfall, the pond becomes increasingly shallow. During extended dry periods there are broad, open flats. Phragmites surround the perimeter edge.

From 1992 through 1996, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) took possession of 67 acres, including all of the pond and some surrounding forest land in order to create the "Goethals Pond Complex.". Click here for the NYSDEC website on Goethals Pond.

Birders were shocked to find a Roseate Spoonbill in Goethals Pond in 1992. Photo: Isaac Grant "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Birders were shocked to find a Roseate Spoonbill in Goethals Pond in 1992. Photo: Isaac Grant


It was not until the 1970s that birders began to take note of the Pond’s unique shorebird habitat and to make regular birding trips here. In the mid 1980s, migrating Black-necked Stilt were discovered. Goethals Pond made headlines in August 1992 when a single Roseate Spoonbill made the pond its temporary haven, the northernmost site ever recorded for this species. By the time Roger Tory Peterson made the trek down from his Connecticut home, the bird had left for good. But Peterson was not disappointed; a Hudsonian Godwit and a Red Phalarope were among the day’s sightings.

Today a trip to the pond in late summer (August-September autumn migration), or to a lesser extent spring, is sure to reveal Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, both Short-billed and Long-billed dowitchers. Wilson's Snipe, and even Wilson’s and Red-necked phalaropes have been seen. Among shorebirds, only Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper are known to breed here.

This first Avocet to be documented on Staten Island was seen at Goethals Pond in August 2017. Photo: Isaac Grant "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> This first Avocet to be documented on Staten Island was seen at Goethals Pond in August 2017. Photo: Isaac Grant

 
Other warm season sightings include all of the heron species that nest on nearby islands; breeding waterfowl such as Gadwall and American Black Duck; breeding Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, Willow Flycatcher, Marsh Wren, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, Baltimore Oriole, and American Goldfinch.

Recent winters have not been productive. However, some species are dependable when the pond is not frozen. Among them are Canada Goose, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, numerous gulls, Great Horned Owl, and roosting Cooper’s Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk.

Gadwall, easily identifed in flight by the white patch on their secondary feathers, are year-round residents at Goethals Pond. Photo: David Speiser "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Gadwall, easily identifed in flight by the white patch on their secondary feathers, are year-round residents at Goethals Pond. Photo: David Speiser

Bridge Creek

Bridge Creek, part of the Goethals Pond Complex, is on the other side of the railroad from Goethals Pond. It is located off Western Avenue between Goethals Road North and Arlington Yards and is a restored 22 acre wetland. Restoration was completed in April 2006 by National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

Wilson’s Snipe can be found on the mudflats during migration. Clapper Rail was documented breeding here in 2010. During mild winters, Black-crowned Night-Herons can be seen nestled down in the Phragmites along the creek. Most of the species seen at Goethals Pond are also present here.
 
Parking is available in a small pull off next to the Goethals Bridge. Locals crab here.

Black-crowned Night-Heronsare the most abundant breeding wading bird in New York harbor. Photo: Bill Benish/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Black-crowned Night-Heronsare the most abundant breeding wading bird in New York harbor. Photo: Bill Benish/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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 Goethels Bridge Pond to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, and more. (Click on “Hotspot Map” at left to see nearby hotspots.)
 

Personal Safety

It is recommended to only use the viewing platform to observe Goethals Pond (see below). Mosquitoes may be plentiful in the warmer months. 

 Directions and Visiting Information

The only safe spot to view the Goethals Pond is an elevated viewing platform created by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). The platform has good views overlooking the east end of the Pond. The fenced and gated parking area is sometimes closed, but parking is available on the street.

Visit the NYSDEC Goethals Pond Complex website for operating hours, comprehensive directions, maps, and additional background information.goethalspondhs
A view of Mariners Marsh from the water; though the property is a New York City Park, it is not open to the public. <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/themikebot/4829517096/" target="_blank">Photo</a>: Mike/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/" target="_blank" >CC BY-NC-ND 2.0</a>
A view of Mariners Marsh from the water; though the property is a New York City Park, it is not open to the public. Photo: Mike/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Northwest Corridor (Inaccessible Habitats)
By the early 1990s, the Northwest Corridor’s 5,000 acres of open land was recognized as one of New York City’s ecological treasures, containing some of the City’s rarest botanical species and significant bird habitats. Over the next decade, nearly 1,000 acres were put under protective covenants by of City of New York/Parks and Recreation and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Historic ecotypes, such as tidal marsh, mature swamp forest, and oak barren/sandy hummock, are well represented.

Unfortunately, this area is difficult to bird. Mariner's Marsh, Arlington Marsh, Saw Mill Creek Marsh, and Prall's Island are either not accessible or may be viewed by the sides of busy roads. It is hoped that in the future further restoration efforts coupled with great public access will allow greater knowledge and public investment in these natural habitats.