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Friday, March 29, 2013

Walking Brooklyn's Coast

I recently discovered that it is possible to walk from Gerritsen Creek to Dead Horse Bay via a small tunnel that runs under the Belt Parkway. From there it's just a short walk to Floyd Bennett Field. I decided that it might be fun to do a long walk along this section of coastal Brooklyn that also includes Mill Basin and Four Sparrow Marsh.

It was just past first light when I met Heydi at the back of the Marine Park Saltmarsh Nature Center on Avenue U near E. 33rd Street. The plan was to walk the entire East side of Gerritsen Creek, heading South to the Belt Parkway. From there we'd follow the shore until we reached Flatbush Avenue, cross the avenue to Floyd Bennett Field. At Floyd Bennett we'd briefly stop at the Return-a-Gift Pond then continue through the North Forty to Mill Basin. Once at Mill Basin we'd cross back under the Belt Parkway and continue to Four Sparrow Marsh. We'd end the walk at Four Sparrow Marsh and catch the bus on Flatbush Avenue.

The numbers on the above map coincide with the panoramic photos, below, that I took along the route.

East side of Gerritsen Creek

Walking South on the East side of the creek a secondary channel splits off after about 1/2 mile and wraps around the back of White Island. This tributary runs for about 3/4 of a mile South then rejoins the main creek. The Army Corp of Engineers has been restoring habitat on the once phragmite-dominated island and I'm always hopeful that I'll spot an owl, Rough-legged Hawk or other winter species hunting over the improved habitat.

The birds we encountered along the way were mostly just the expected Winter species - Brant, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Northern Shoveler, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe and Double-crested Cormorant. A low flying Osprey was my first sighting of this huge raptor this Spring. Perhaps it was checking out the nest platform erected by the parks department a couple of years ago. At a bluff overlooking the back of White Island I heard my first Boat-tailed Grackle of the season. This large blackbird nests around the creek and has a distinctive vocalization that is about as appealing to my ears as nails on a blackboard.

The water body widens at the South end of White Island where it rejoins the main creek. Lots of waterfowl were feeding in this area. A Bufflehead with a long, narrow fish draped in his bill was being pursued by a thieving Herring Gull. The gull won this time.

Parkway Graffiti Tunnel

This hillside leading up to the tunnel under the parkway is littered with hundreds of rusting paint spray cans. It's an interesting contrast to the shell-strewn shoreline.

Dead Horse Bay

I've been searching Google Earth's satellite views for inspiration to new places to explore around Brooklyn. One spot that caught my eye was this stretch of beach that runs from Plum Beach Channel and along the Northern end of Dead Horse Bay. The satellite view shows a pond tucked into the phragmites between the bicycle path that parallels the parkway and the Flatbush Marina. I've been thinking that it could be a possible spot to find migrant waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and sparrows. I couldn't tell if it was just a tidal pond or if there was a source of fresh water filling it up, either way, the birds seemed to like it. There wasn't anything unusual there when I visited, just some Mallards, black ducks and scaup.

The Winter scaup flock has moved from the area South of the marina to a spot between the marina and the Northern shoreline. The birds were pretty close to shore and the flock is still fairly sizeable. I'm guessing that there were a couple of thousand birds in two rafts.

Mill Basin

After a food and bathroom break at Aviators Sports, we continued our walk towards Mill Basin and Four Sparrow Marsh.

The Return-a-Gift Pond held all of two ducks, so we left after about 30 seconds. The trail from the pond to Mill Basin is a little over a mile long. About 3/4 of the way there I heard the ringing chirps of Spring Peepers. The song of these tiny frogs is certainly a sign that Spring has arrived, but I was surprised where I was hearing them. Normally they would be at the Return-a-Gift Pond (which they weren't) and apparently there was also a body of water hidden away in a tangle of woods and phragmites between this section of hiking trail and the basin.

Scanning the water across Mill Basin yielded the same water birds we'd been observing all morning. Still, it was a nice day for a long walk and I wasn't disappointed...yet. We still had one more habitat to cover.

Four Sparrow Marsh

I had scheduled our walk to coincide with the low-tide by the time we got to Four Sparrow Marsh. When the tide is high, one would need hip waders and even then, the mud might suck you down like quicksand. Approaching from Mill Basin, there is a narrow access trail at the North-East side of the marsh. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy had changed the contours and redistributed massive amounts of wood, boats and other floatable trash. I wandered back and forth for a long time, unable to find the back entrance, so decided to walk all the way around to the North-Western boundary of the marsh. From there we were able to slog through the mud and into the tidal interior section.

Trying to pick a dry path along the edge of the marsh, we carefully and quietly scanned ahead for snipe. This is the time of year that they migrate and Four Sparrow Marsh is the most reliable place to find them in Brooklyn. There were hardly any birds present and I was getting ready to give up. Turning to Heydi I said, "We should have found one by now." An instant later we heard a raspy "scaipe" as a single Wilson's Snipe popped up from in front of us and flew to our left.

Having found what we came for, we decided to call it a day and head back to Flatbush Avenue. With mud splattered clothes and dirty water draining from our soggy boots we sat on the bus recounting what species we had added for the season and pondered the possibilities for the newly discovered pond near Dead Horse Bay. We had walked a little over 6 miles and were looking a little weary and wind blown. As is typical of New York City, nobody gave us a second look.


Date: 03/23/13
Locations: Dead Horse Bay, Four Sparrow Marsh, Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park
Species: 35

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Northern Shoveler
Greater Scaup
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Red-tailed Hawk
American Oystercatcher
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
European Starling
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Sparrow

1 comment:

Yojimbot said...

Always great to combine urban exploring with urban birding. Cheers!

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