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It's a Bird! No, It's a Plane! A Walk in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

For anyone interested in getting away from city streets for a bit, or anyone hooked on watching bird cams at home and then getting the itch to see a few birds in person, or for those who may enjoy uncommon views of the city skyline from a distance, a trip to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is in order. A major bird sanctuary in the Northeast, the wildlife refuge on Broad Channel in Jamaica Bay, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, supports a variety of bird habitats, including a salt marsh and fresh water ponds. The area is home to a variety of small animals, butterflies, and bugs. The latter include mosquitos and, according to a park ranger on a recent visit, a type of tick known as the Lone Star. So, when venturing out to Broad Channel to look at birds, please be sure to bring along a can of insect repellent, especially if you're concerned about Texas-size biting bugs.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
The Manhattan skyline from the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge

While spring and fall are better seasons in general to have a look at birds in migration, the summer months provide plenty to see at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I highly recommend traveling there by a combination of subway and bus, but especially the bus, because MTA bus routes have stops just outside the Visitor Contact Station. You'll need the energy for the trail. Once inside the pleasant LEED certified building, constructed in 2007, check out the exhibitions to get an overview of the refuge and also to ask the park rangers - the refuge is part of the National Park System - for suggestions about what to see. While visiting the refuge this week, the park rangers told me about their famous osprey nest, recent sightings of a beautiful dark-colored wading bird known as the glossy ibis, and, of course, cautions about the mosquitos and the ticks. Visitors are also required to sign a card that lists the park rules and regulations, such as no eating on the trail. I should mention than sunscreen, a hat, and extra water may come in handy on a hot and sunny day. I forgot two of these.


Osprey nest, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Osprey nest with fledglings, Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge. 


A trail behind the center leads around the West Pond and then circles through marshes, fields, woods, and sandy areas of the bay. In addition to the sights of many birds flying overhead or darting furtively through bushes, a walk in the summer affords an abundance of blooming plants and lush foliage. Sometimes, a plane taking off from nearby JFK Airport can cause a momentary confusion with a snowy egret. A stroll over to the East Pond, on the other side of the highway, is a bit more adventuresome, meaning that locating the trail involves a lot of guesswork and careful stepping. In the context of a wildlife refuge, though, the strangest visions in Jamaica Bay may involve the juxtaposition of birds in rare native habitats with the familiar shapes of the city in the distance. 

The walk in its entirely takes about an hour, but there are many rough-hewn benches for resting. 

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge; One World Trade Center
A lone swan, one among many here, with One World Trade Center, under construction, in the distance.


Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Swans at the wildlife refuge, with the control tower at JFK. East Pond.

See this set of pictures from a recent visit.



Resources: New York Harbor Parks page on Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Check for general information and special events. The trails are open daily, dawn to dusk. The Visitor Contact Station is open daily from 8:30am to 5pm.

Directions: Take the A train to Rockaway Blvd and transfer to a Q21 or Q53 bus south. After crossing the bridge to Broad Channel, ask the bus driver to alert you to the visitor center stop. The return stop is across the highway. 


View A Walk in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in a larger map 


Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from June 27, 2012 taken with a Canon Rebel T3. 

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