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Floyd Bennett Field (Gateway National Recreation Area)
Brooklyn, NY

Link: www.nps.gov/gate/homepage/jb-bp.htm

Description:

Airports are inadvertently providing habitat for grassland birds and Floyd Bennett Field (FBF) in Brooklyn is no exception. The habitat for grassland birds diminished as the shrubs and trees advanced across open grassy fields between the runways. A grassland restoration project was initiated in 1985, which reversed the natural succession in 140 acres of the Field. This grassland is being managed by the National Park Service and the New York City Audubon Society. The woody vegetation is suppressed by annual mowing of the grasslands. From early spring up to the mid-August mowing, the grasslands are full of wild flowers and grasses in hues of green, red, blue and yellow that change almost every week. These wild flowers also attract numerous butterflies, including the coral hairstreak.

There are some Japanese black pine groves of various sizes and densities scattered about the Field; many of which are dying from disease. They are being replaced by planting native species of pine. These pine groves provide shelter (night roosts) for Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks, and occasional day roosts for Barn Owls and other occasional owl visitors. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to observe these owls because the trees are not tall or dense enough for the owls to feel secure. They most often flush from their roosts before they are even viewed by birders.

Bird Attractions:

Floyd Bennett Field (FBF) has been known for its grassland birds and wintering hawks and owls. During spring migration, when almost every birder is looking for warblers, there are Grasshopper Sparrows, Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Upland Sandpipers, Northern Harriers and American Kestrels moving through the FBF grasslands. In the fall migration as many as 14 kestrels have been sighted sitting along the Police Helicopter (formerly Coast Guard) runway fence. The decline in the population of grassland birds throughout the northeastern region of the country is reflected in the loss of their breeding populations at FBF. The Grasshopper Sparrow and the meadowlark no longer breed here, but the Savannah Sparrow still holds on. The Northern Harrier has also been an occasional breeder at the Field and is often seen hunting over grass and open shrubland throughout the year. Red-tailed Hawks, Coopers Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, American Kestrels, Merlin and Northern Harriers are often winter residents. Resident Peregrine Falcons from the Marine Parkway Bridge make occasional hunting forays into the Field. The Short-eared Owl has become a rare winter visitor along with Snowy Owls.

Northern Flickers, Woodcock, Ring-necked Pheasants, Brown Thrashers, Catbirds, Common Yellowthroats and White-eyed Vireos are among the 25 to 30 species of regular nesters. The many Tree Swallow nesting boxes throughout the Field are generally active and the Tree Swallows are always joined by Barn Swallows hawking insects over the grasslands. In early October, migrating Tree Swallows gather into swarming flocks of nearly 1,000 birds feeding on the numerous bayberry shrubs around the field.

How to Bird the Field:

The many runways and roads that crisscross FBF make walking easy but be prepared to cover more than a few miles if you hope to visit all of the areas mentioned. In winter be prepared for the cold wind that can buffet you in these wide open spaces. In summer there is very little shade from the sun but the on-shore breezes that often develop in the afternoon bring some relief. Driving a car around the field offers shelter from the cold in winter and the car acts as a good blind that allows you to get closer to birds than you might on foot. When the car is not in motion, harriers, kestrels and owls may fly within 20 feet of you. For this type of birding, a scope on a window clamp offers the advantage of remaining "hidden" in your car while getting a close-up view. Cooper's Hawks will be frightened off their perch at 100 yards as you get out of a car.

FBF is bounded by Jamaica Bay on its north, east and south shores. There are sand beaches and remnants of the marshes upon which this field was constructed after filling over them. From the entrance of FBF, drive straight down Floyd Bennett Drive to where it turns sharply to the left, proceed north and make the first right on a road that will take you to a parking area near the bay. At low tide there are exposed rocks, a rock jetty and a row of concrete pilings that are perches for cormorants, gulls, terns and shorebirds. This area is best for winter birding since fishermen in boats and on land will keep birds away in the warmer months. From the wood bulkheads at the northeast end of the "north runway," walking around to the right, look south to the beach and marsh for resting waterfowl and oystercatchers in spring. Although you are permitted to walk on this beach, it is recommended that you view the birds from the bulkhead area. Moving onto the beach will only flush all the birds. From this bulkhead area you have a good view of Canarsie Pol and Ruffle Bar, two large uninhabited islands (1 mile away) with large trees and shrubs that often host winter raptors.

The North Forty NatureTrail wends its way through open shrubland, dense shrubland, extensive stands of phragmites to a man-made 2 acre pond called the Return-a-Gift Pond. The beginning of the trail through shrubland is habitat for Rufous-sided Towhees, Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Robins, Northern Cardinals and Common Yellowthroats. The water level in the pond is the existing level of ground water in any particular season. Common avian visitors to the pond are Mallards, Black Ducks, Wood Ducks, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Hooded Mergansers, Pied-billed Grebes, Glossy Ibis, Spotted, Least and Solitary Sandpipers. If the road part of the trail has not been mowed recently, the grass can be heavily infested with dog ticks. Deer ticks carrying Lyme disease are a possible spring and summer hazard you should anticipate.

Directions:

Mass Transit: From Manhattan, take the No.2 Train (No.5 train only on weekday rush hours on the East Side) on the West Side downtown to Flatbush & Nostrand Avenue (last stop), from there transfer to the Q35 bus south on Flatbush Avenue. Ask the driver to let you off at Floyd Bennett Field. Check the bus map for the many buses that connect to the Q35 line. Take any trains from Manhattan that stop at Atlantic or Pacific Avenue stations in Brooklyn and transfer to the No.2 or No.5 trains to the Flatbush/Nostrand Station and take the Q35 bus. The Q35 bus stops on Flatbush Avenue across from the entrance at the Ryan Visitor Center and again at the entrance road just before the bridge toll plaza.

By Car: From the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn take exit 11-S which brings you onto Flatbush Avenue South. About 1 mile south the Belt Parkway, keep left and turn left at the traffic light just before the Marine Parkway Bridge toll plaza. From central Brooklyn, you may take Flatbush Avenue south all the way to the Field. From the Rockaways take the Marine Parkway Bridge and make the first right at the traffic light after the toll gate.

Contributed by Ron Bourque

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