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Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (Gateway National Recreation Area)
Brooklyn/Queens, NY



The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, a unit of Gateway National Recreation Area, is one of the most important urban wildlife refuges in the United States. Encompassing 9,155 acres, it is comprised of diverse habitats, including salt marsh, upland field and woods, several fresh and brackish water ponds and an open expanse of bay and islands- all located within the limits of New York City. The Wildlife refuge is nationally and internationally renowned as a prime birding spot where thousands of water, land and shorebirds stop during migration. More than 325 species have been recorded here during the last 25 years.

Each season has different possibilities for natural phenomena. The Spring brings warbler and songbird migrants. A special treat is the peculiar courting display of the breeding American Woodcocks during the evening in late March. Starting mid-August is the migration of southerly bound shorebirds. The Fall is noted for migrating hawks and raptors, songbirds and warblers and great numbers of waterfowl. Also to be noted are the migrating Monarch Butterflies and dragonflies.

Quite a number of birds breed either within the area of the trails or on the islands that are in the bay. Some of those species on the upland and salt marsh areas are Canada Geese, Yellow, Common Yellowthroat and Redstart warblers, Osprey, Oystercatchers, Willets, and Tree Sparrow. Less visible breeding areas hold nest sites for Black Crowned and Yellow Crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Heron, Great and Snowy Egret, Glossy Ibis and Barn Owl. This has been abetted by an active nest box placement program and the protection of prime nesting areas during breeding season.

The refuge is also productive for the now rare native flora and fauna of the coastal areas. Due to introduction of native species and creation of conducive habitat, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is the home to breeding reptiles and amphibians, small mammals and butterflies.

There are a number of sections of the refuge that are particularly good for birders and naturalists. You will find in this description specific information about two of the best: the East and West Ponds.

West Pond: [MAP]

The west pond is a gravel loop trail, (see map), starting at the Visitor Center. It is approximately 1-1/2 miles in total and takes about 1 and 1/2 hours to complete. (A side spur between benches 9 and 10 is the Terrapin Nesting Area which is closed during breeding season. In the Fall it provides good viewpoints for shorebirds, terns and gulls.) The pond itself is 45 acres. There are benches throughout the course of the trail placed in good position for viewing. As noted, the West pond is excellent habitat for coastal shorebirds and waterfowl, but the trees and shrubs around the trails add to its productivity. In the winter, large flocks of Snow Geese can be found on the west pond, along with other ducks such as Lesser and Greater Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Ring-Necked Duck, Green-Winged Teal, Northern Pintail, American Widgeon, and Gadwall. Nearly every winter brings rarities such as Eurasian Widgeon and Tufted Duck. Watch the Bay side for Horned Grebes. From spring through fall, the west pond often has flocks of Black Skimmers. Least and Common Terns are usually seen, along with the occasional Gull-Billed Tern. The North and South Gardens are quite good during songbird and warbler migration, and quite a few of these species breed in this part of the refuge. (Note: It can get a little mucky along some sections of the Garden area.)

East Pond: [MAP]

Created in 1951, The East Pond is located across from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge visitor center on the east side of Cross Bay Boulevard. (See map.) Consisting of about 100 acres of fresh water and its accompanying marshes and wetlands, the pond supports a substantial variety of plant and animal life. Though natural in appearance, the water level is lowered in June and September to provide mud flats for migrating shorebirds. Thousands of birds stop here on their summer migrations along the Atlantic Flyway. Lowering the water level also allows visitors access to the pond. At other times of the year access is limited to the trail head.

Be sure to prepare for a visit to the East Pond. Wear waterproof walking shoes, waders or shoes you won’t mind getting wet and dirty, since a good part of the trail takes you along the edge of the pond. When the pond shore is wet it can be very mucky and one tends to sink into it if not exercising care. It is recommended that you bring insect spray and sun screen in late Spring, Summer and early Fall. You may also want to bring a small container of water.

Hours of Operation:

Refuge trails are open daily from sunrise to sunset. The visitor center and parking lots are open every day (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s) from 8:30 - 5PM. The visitor center is staffed and has a small selection of field guides and related materials for sale. Maps and checklists are available. Outside the center, at the beginning of the West Pond trail, is a log of recent siting records.

Directions to Refuge:

BY CAR: From Brooklyn - Belt Parkway (east) to exit 17 (Crossbay Boulevard) go over North Channel Bridge and continue 1 1/2 miles to the Traffic light at the entrance to the Refuge on the right.

From Rockaway - Take Crossbay Bridge (94 St.) and go through Broad Channel Community. Refuge visitor center is about 1/2 mile on the left.

BY TRAIN: Take the "A" train going to Rockaways. Exit at Broad Channel Station. Walk west to Crossbay Boulevard then north, (right), about 1/2 mile to the refuge.

BY BUS: Take the Q53 bus from Roosevelt Ave./ Jackson Heights. Exit at refuge stop. You can also take the Q21 from the intersection of Woodhaven and Liberty Ave. Exit at refuge entrance.

For information about activities, (walks, workshops, etc.), either write: Gateway NRA, Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11234 or call the refuge at (718) 318-4340.

Other Notes: In the Spring through late Summer, checks for ticks after leaving the trails. Poison Ivy is a common refuge plant. (Learn to identify it.) Dress for the season. In the summer it can get rather warm in the open, unshaded areas and in late Fall through Winter the refuge is generally cooler and windier than points inland.

Binoculars will get you good views of most of the birds, but a spotting scope is helpful for observing birds on the distant shorelines, sandbars and islands.

—adapted with permission from materials created by Dave Taft and Don Riepe

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