Mount Loretto Unique Area

Mount Loretto Unique Area

A Great Egret in Mount Loretto Unique Area's freshwater pond. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Mount Loretto Unique Area is a preserved natural area near the southwest corner of Staten Island, overlooking the waters of Raritan Bay. It is just north of Conference House Park and one can combine these two birding sites very easily for a good birding day. The Mount Loretto property was formerly owned by the Archdiocese of New York and served as an orphanage. In 1999, after years of persistent lobbying by the Protectors of Pine Oak Woods and the Trust for Public Land, New York State purchased the property of 194 acres on the Raritan Bay side of Hylan Boulevard. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) manages the property as a nature preserve.


Mount Loretto Unique Area contains some of the finest remaining tracts of grassland habitat in the metropolitan region. Ecologically, it is a superb natural site with a wealth of botanical diversity and excellent birding in any season. In the winter, this is an excellent spot to look for diving ducks such as Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye, as well as winter visitors like Snowy Buntings and Snowy Owl. Local eBirders have documented 227 species here, including rarities such as Upland Sandpiper, Mississippi Kite (just across the street), Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Cave Swallow, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Western Tanager.
An immature Peregrine Falcon surveys Mount Loretto Unique Area. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/51819896@N04/" target="_blank">Lawrence Pugliares</a>
An immature Peregrine Falcon surveys Mount Loretto Unique Area. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
The sweet, repeating descent of the Indigo Bunting's song may be heard at Mount Loretto Unique Area in the spring and summer. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/92057307@N05/" target="_blank">Keith Michael</a>
The sweet, repeating descent of the Indigo Bunting's song may be heard at Mount Loretto Unique Area in the spring and summer. Photo: Keith Michael
Little Blue Herons, which nest on Hoffman Island, south of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, sometimes come to forage at Mount Loretto Unique Area. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/92057307@N05/" target="_blank">Keith Michael</a>
Little Blue Herons, which nest on Hoffman Island, south of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, sometimes come to forage at Mount Loretto Unique Area. Photo: Keith Michael

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, common dabbling waterfowl, gulls



Get Oriented

Tree Swallows negotiate territory boundaries in Mount Loretto Unique Area. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/51819896@N04/" target="_blank">Lawrence Pugliares</a>
Tree Swallows negotiate territory boundaries in Mount Loretto Unique Area. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Grasslands and Ponds
In spring this remnant of former pasture is excellent for finding Indigo Bunting, migrating swallows, White-crowned Sparrow, Bobolink, and open country specialties such as the breeding population of Orchard Orioles. As many as 10 pairs are believed to be nesting residents from May through early September. Blue Grosbeaks have been found in summer and it is hoped they may breed.
 
The Orchard Orioles arrive in early May and can be easily located in the fields throughout the park. Willow Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, Brown Thrashers, Indigo Buntings, and Yellow Warblers are also common breeding species. Grassland specialties such as Eastern Meadowlark can be a regular migrant in April and October. Upland Sandpipers have made an appearance in late April on a number of occasions. American Woodcock are resident and can be heard courting beginning in late February depending on the weather conditions. 


The NYSDEC management program now mows the meadows in late October, long after nestlings fledge. This practice will guarantee the preservation of open fields for many species.

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Both Black-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-billed Cuckoo have nested and are likely to be found during migration. White-eyed Vireo (now rare) and Warbling Vireo (very common) and Willow Flycatcher nest in the second growth vegetation on the southern edge of the property near the ponds. Cedar Waxwings are now common in summer and autumn, and also nest here. American Goldfinches are abundant in summer.
 
During early autumn migration (August), shorebirds, Eastern Kingbirds and swallows are found in and near the ponds in good numbers. Male Wood Ducks are present during the eclipse molting period (late August to late September) in Brown’s Pond, and some may continue to nest regularly in the vicinity of the smaller, “nameless” pond also to the west of Brown’s Pond.

A female Belted Kingfisher takes off in Mount Loretto. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A female Belted Kingfisher takes off in Mount Loretto. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares


Belted Kingfisher andTree Swallow nest nearby. Purple Martins, which nest nearby in Lemon Creek can be observed in late summer among flocks of other swallows. Ring-necked Pheasant is now rarely seen here, but Wild Turkeys have become a common sighting, as they have across Staten Island.


Eastern Screech-Owl continues to nest in some older hardwood trees along the roads that form the periphery of the park. Eastern Screech-Owls are surviving as a resident species, and this preserved habitat will guarantee their survival. Great Horned Owls are also permanent residents and with diligent searching and luck, the rare Short-eared and Long-eared Owls can been found in winter.
Ash-throated Flycatcher, a western species, has been documented at Mount Loretto. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/120553232@N02/" target="_blank">Isaac Grant</a>
Ash-throated Flycatcher, a western species, has been documented at Mount Loretto. Photo: Isaac Grant
Bluffs and Beach
In the fall, the wooded, sandy bluff overlooking Raritan Bay is excellent for migrants. From late August through September, migrant diversity can be impressive. Sparrow diversity is a park highlight, with peak numbers during the cooler days of early and mid-October. Large numbers of White-crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows and Lincoln’s Sparrow are likely to be seen. Raptors can be spotted in good numbers, particularly falcons and accipiters in October as they move along the shoreline.

Western Kingbird and Ash-throated Flycatcher have been observed in fall and there is one June record for Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Any autumn vagrant is possible here given the proximity to the bay and the extensive fields and brushy edge. The only October record for Yellow Rail in Staten Island was recorded here, and the bird was found in the wet areas in taller grasses.

A flock of Red-breasted Mergansers fish together off the beach of Mount Loretto Unique Area. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A flock of Red-breasted Mergansers fish together off the beach of Mount Loretto Unique Area. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares

 
From the bluff area in winter, scan the bay for Great Cormorant (on rocks), Razorbills, loons, grebes (two recent, past records for Western Grebe), Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Ducks and notable numbers of wintering Common Goldeneye and other waterfowl.
 
The geologically unique bluffs offer the visitor panoramic views of distant Sandy Hook and Raritan Bay. Northern Harriers and Red-shouldered Hawks are likely to be encountered during the winter in mowed fields in search of voles and other rodents. Harbor Seals are also found here basking on rocks in winter.
A young Bald Eagle in Mount Loretto. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A young Bald Eagle in Mount Loretto. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares

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 Mount Loretto Unique Area to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, and more.

Personal Safety

Mount Loretto Unique Area is a popular, well frequented park and is generally safe to bird. One should remain on trails; the main road offers good viewing. Poison Ivy can be a problem if one ventures off the trails. Insect repellent is recommended during the summer. Dog ticks can also be numerous and mosquitoes are a nuisance. Recently increasing deer population, has made deer ticks a possibility as well—use caution.


Guided Bird Walks

NYC Audubon leads occasional trips that include Mount Loretto Unique Area. 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 of Mount Loretto Unique Area. The parking lot for the Nature Preserve is located off of Hylan Boulevard and facilities are available.

View a  trail map from the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

See the NYSDEC site for Mount Loretto Unique Area for operating hours, directions, and additional background information.
 
Note: From Sharrott Avenue, just west of the Hylan Boulevard turn,” you can enter a trail with dense brambles and second growth forest. The trail is opposite the cemetery entrance facing south. Just be aware of dog feces and dog walkers here, otherwise it's a beautiful, birdy area.

Acknowledgments

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