c. Steve Nanz

Birdwatching in Prospect Park

October 12, 2021

A key focus of the non-profit Prospect Park Alliance’s mission is to sustain and restore the park’s natural areas, including Brooklyn’s last remaining forest and only Lake, which suffered from significant erosion and neglect prior to the Alliance’s founding. Keeping the park green and vibrant is important to both humans and birds alike. During the fall migration, one of the peak birdwatching times of year, we sat down to talk to Alliance EcoZone Gardener and avid birder Peter Dorosh, recognizing the park’s important role as a haven for more than 200 species of birds.

“The most exciting season for birdwatching is now and in the spring, the biannual migrations when birds travel to and from their breeding grounds throughout North America,” Dorosh said. When asked why Brooklyn’s Backyard is a great place for birdwatching, he said: “Because it’s a contained green space surrounded by urban dwellings, birds migrating see a dark spot during their migratory travels at night (recognizing it as a green space), and come down from flight for shelter and food.”

The Alliance’s landscape management team, which includes gardeners, a forester and also a forest ecologist, focuses on sustaining our natural areas with native plantings that are specifically geared to providing food and shelter for birds and other wildlife.

Prospect Park takes on even more importance for birds in light of a recent study that found steep, long-term losses across virtually all groups of birds in the U.S. and Canada. How to nurture birds in Brooklyn’s Backyard? Please sustain our woodlands by staying on path, and not climbing or hanging structures on our trees. Have a dog?  Please keep your pet on leash, and on path, in woodland areas. Dorosh explained that birds, whether they are nesting, breeding or migrating, see dogs as a threat. “Most particularly during nesting season, the parent birds get unnecessarily stressed and hyper-vigilant in trying to protect their young even if the nest is high above.” Even if birds are not directly attacked by dogs, just the sight of dogs can send birds into a panic, causing unnecessary stress during this critical time in their survival.

To learn more about birdwatching, connect with our partners at the Brooklyn Bird Club. They offer free, year-round programming to novices and avid birdwatchers alike. Find out more about bird watching in Prospect Park on our website.

Help spread the word about good park stewardship: Dogs are allowed off leash in the park from 6 am to 9 am and 9 pm to 1 am on the Long Meadow (not ballfields), Nethermead, and the Peninsula Meadow. At all other times and locations, dogs should be on their leashes. Birds and park wildlife will thank you!

c. Rob Hanson

Virtual Program: Winter Birding

February 16, 2021

While winter might seem like a slow time for birdwatching, many migratory species can be seen in New York only at this time of year, along with an exciting host of year-round birds.

Watch this recorded virtual program from our partners at Turnstile Tours for a discussion with experts from the Brooklyn Bird Club, where they share some of the notable species currently found in the city, how to identify them, and tips for where to to find them. A birder joins live from the field, showing some of these spots in Prospect Park.

This is an excellent program for new and novice bird watchers in our area! Check out more resources on our Birdwatching page.  and stay up-to-date on upcoming in-park and virtual programs from Turnstile Tours. 

c. Rob Hanson

Tips for Birdwatching in Prospect Park

March 9, 2020

People are often surprised to learn that Prospect Park is one of the best birding locations in the United States. Located along the Atlantic Flyway, the 585-acre park is ideal for birding, with more than 250 species spotted each year, including migrating songbirds in spring and fall, and a large diversity of waterfowl and resident birds throughout the year. In fact, Prospect Park has been designated one of New York’s 130 Important Bird Areas (IBA), which are critical for bird conservation. 

Since its founding, Prospect Park Alliance has cared for the natural areas of the park, making sure that wildlife and ecosystems can thrive in the borough with the least amount of green space per resident. In recent years, the Alliance’s team—which includes a Natural Resources Crew, a Woodlands Youth Crew and a dedicated corps of volunteers—has enriched the park with native trees and plants that support our avian residents, ensuring that Prospect Park is a bird haven for generations to come.

During the spring and fall migration season, many birds visit Prospect Park as a stopover to rest and refuel on their journeys between wintering grounds and summer breeding sites. Here are some tips from Prospect Park Alliance naturalists in order to make the most of this time of year:  

Where to See Birds:
Prospect Park is home to Brooklyn’s last remaining forest, a destination for birds. Some of the best birding locations can be found along the higher-elevation ridges, such as Lookout Hill and areas in the park’s northeast corner, including the Vale. Peter Dorosh, Field Technician with the Prospect Park Alliance Natural Resources Crew, attributes this to the presence of oak trees in these areas, and the bugs that live there. “Oaks host a great diversity of insects,” Dorosh says, “it’s like going to a cafeteria for a warbler or other birds that feed on insects.” Prospect Park is also home to an extensive watercourse, which leads to Brooklyn’s only lake. From the Upper Pool (home to Dog Beach), down to the Lake, look for ducks, herons and a variety of shorebirds that are attracted to the abundant food in the park’s thriving waterways. Learn more about three migratory bird hotspots in the park.  

When to See Birds:
Early morning is an ideal time to catch lots of bird activity. As birds awake, they are likely to seek out food, and this flurry of movement makes them easier to spot. Dusk is a similarly good time to spot feeding birds, filling up their bellies before bed.

What Birds You’ll See:
With over 250 species of birds frequenting Prospect Park during migration season, you’re sure to see a lot! From early arrivals to birds of prey, spirited warblers to brightly-colored fan-favorites, check out our Spring Migration Checklist to learn all about the birds on their way to Brooklyn’s Backyard. 

With those tips, you’re ready to find feathered friends in the Park! Check out upcoming bird walks and learn more about Birdwatching in Prospect Park. and support the Alliance’s work to care for Brooklyn’s Backyard. 

c. Mary Keehbauch

Beautiful Rustic Trail Caps Woodland Restoration

January 16, 2020

On a windy Saturday morning in November, Mary Keehbauch, Prospect Park Alliance Deputy Director of Landscape Management, took a break from installing cedar rails to talk about her work in the Vale of Cashmere, one of two sites that Prospect Park Alliance received funding to restore following severe damage from Hurricane Sandy and other storms.

“It’s bittersweet,” Keehbauch said of the project as the formal restoration work comes to a conclusion, “but it’s been a really exciting transformation and I hope we’ve engaged enough people in this project, that they’ll work hand in hand with the Alliance to help take care of this area.” Keehbauch and a crew of Alliance staff, volunteers and even goats have worked over the past four years to revive the woodlands in this quiet northeast corner of the park, beloved by birdwatchers and in-the-know park visitors.

On this morning, Keehbauch was joined by her Alliance colleagues A.J. Logan, Natural Resources Crew Forestry Technician, and Kate Abrams, Woodland Youth Crew Supervisor, with the dozen-or-so high school students in her charge. The teens, participants in this Alliance program that hires local high school students to become stewards of Brooklyn’s last remaining forest, chatted happily as they dug holes, sawed logs and mulched paths for the park’s newest feature—a rustic trail which is the capstone of the massive restoration effort undertaken by the Alliance.  

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AJ Logan and Mary Keehbauch c. Lucy Gardner

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy brought widespread destruction to New York City, felling over 500 trees throughout Prospect Park, including 50 in the Vale of Cashmere alone. With $1.2 million in grants from the National Park Service and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to repair storm damage in the Vale as well as Lookout Hill, Prospect Park Alliance began work to restore these woodlands.

See a slideshow of the Woodland Restoration in the Vale of Cashmere

First came storm cleanup and a survey of the surrounding woodlands, which showed that relatively few species of trees and shrubs were thriving in the Vale, and many of these were considered invasive in New York State. Then came the demolition team—a group of goats hired to scale the steep hills and eat the dangerous and non-native plant species such as English ivy and poison ivy. This popular crew spent two summers in the park, eating the Vale clean, and prepping the space for the massive replanting that was about to take place. 

“We planted the area heavily, with a focus on creating a multidimensional, ecologically diverse woodland,” said Keehbauch, pointing out examples while standing in the landscape. “Throughout the changing seasons, people will be able to see a variety of native plants, understory trees and shrubs, with great flowers that will create food for insects and birds, feeding the park ecosystem.” 

In recent years, Keehbauch and her crew have worked to replant and maintain this area with essential support from fellow Alliance staff, the Woodlands Youth Crew, and many dedicated volunteers—notably a corps whose work has focused on the east side of the park, and who have dedicated countless hours to this often-overlooked area of the park. During the last two years, they’ve succeeded in planting over 20,000 trees, plants and shrubs in the Vale alone. 

In replanting, Keehbauch and her team have “stayed true to the native plant palette of the region,” bringing in more than 25 native species of plants including ferns, wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs, including elderberry and chokeberry, “plants that are going to hopefully help our butterfly and native bee population and draw in birds.” 

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Members of the Prospect Park Alliance Woodlands Youth Crew, c. Lucy Gardner

And the plants aren’t the only addition to the landscape. As the restoration project came to an end this winter, Keehbauch and her team installed a new rustic rail trail, which leads visitors to two sites of future restoration: the Rose Garden to the Children’s Pool. Following in the footsteps of park creators Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, this Adirondack-inspired feature takes a meandering route through the woods, inviting visitors to enjoy another view of Brooklyn’s Backyard. 

“We hope the trail will keep people from creating their own paths, which are destructive to this newly replanted landscape,” said Keehbauch. “It should also be an interesting experience—for birders, children—they’ll get to experience the interior of the woods right in the middle of Brooklyn.” 

Ready to try out the new trail? Visit the Vale of Cashmere—the trail is located on the eastern slope, and climb the hill to the Rose Garden. Learn more about Prospect Park Alliance’s work to Sustain the Environment. 

This project was undertaken by numerous contributors over the years. Special thanks are given to the Volunteer Corps, the Woodlands Youth Crew and their Alliance supervisors, and the members of the Prospect Park Alliance Hurricane Sandy Restoration team throughout the project: Christopher Guicciardo, Mary Keehbauch, Alexandra Kerr, A.J. Logan, Martha Maciasz, Michael Marino, and Victor Rendon.

c. Steve Nanz

3 Bird Migration Hotspots

September 20, 2019

Bird migration season is in full swing here in Brooklyn, and there’s no better place to see the hundreds of species passing through than Prospect Park. In recent years, Prospect Park Alliance has made an effort to reduce invasive plant species and encourage the growth of native trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses—and our feathered friends could not be happier about it. Native plants produce seeds and berries, and host a variety of local insects, all of which our local and migratory birds love to snack on. Head into the park during this migration season for a chance to see a few of the more than 200 bird species that use Prospect Park as a rest stop. We suggest these park birding hotspots:

Lookout Hill
Lookout Hill is the highest peak in Prospect Park, part of the Terminal Moraine left by glaciers in the last ice age that extends through Brooklyn. Prospect Park Alliance’s horticulturalists and Natural Resources Crew have been hard at work maintaining Lookout Hill’s natural spaces, including the Butterfly Meadow. The geography of Lookout Hill, combined with the abundance of native food sources, make this a top-notch destination for birds (and fellow birdwatchers) during migration season. Find a variety of songbirds including many species of warblers, as well as raptors enjoying the vista. 

Prospect Park Lake
Whether you’re walking the shores of the Peninsula, or staring through binoculars at Music Island, Prospect Park Lake—Brooklyn’s only lake—is a fabulous destination for birdwatching. Since the opening of the LeFrak Center at Lakeside in 2013, this area of the park has enjoyed a dedicated crew of Alliance gardeners who maintain the plantings and the facility’s green roof. The 55-acre lake is a year-round destination for waterfowl and shorebirds, and migration season means you’re sure to see something spectacular no matter which way you look.

Vale of Cashmere
In 2012, Prospect Park lost over 500 throughout the park due to Hurricane Sandy, with 50 alone in the Vale of Cashmere. Thanks to grants from the National Parks Service through the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Assistance Grant Program for Historic Properties, the Alliance was able to hire a dedicated crew to restore this area of the park. Over the course of years, the crew removed damage, used a popular goat team to clear invasive species, and in 2017 planted over 20,000 native plants and shrubs. The result? A bird haven in a quiet corner of the park. Head here to watch songbirds enjoying the landscape, and discover a part of Prospect Park you may never have seen before.

Check out the birdwatching page on our website for more information on birdwatching in Prospect Park, and visit the Brooklyn Bird Club website for the latest bird sightings. 

c. Virginia Freire

Spring Migration Bird Checklist

March 15, 2019

We hope you rested up during the quiet winter season, because spring is here and the migratory birds are on their way to Prospect Park! With over 150 migratory species set to make an appearance in Brooklyn’s Backyard, Prospect Park Alliance has pulled  together a spring migration checklist to help you make the most of this spectacular season. 

Prospect Park lies on one of the great flight paths of the natural world, the Atlantic Flyway. In fall, many species migrate south along the Atlantic coast to reach wintering grounds with abundant food. In spring, they head north to return to their breeding territories. During these months, birds of all kinds stop briefly in the park, and for some species, the park is their destination.

Spring Migration Checklist:

  • Early Migrants: Starting as early as February or March, early-migrating species of birds are making their way through Prospect Park. These species include the easily identified Red-winged Blackbird, as well as the Common Grackle, Eastern Phoebe and the well-camouflaged American Woodcock.

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Red-winged Blackbird, c. Steve Nanz

  • Birds of Prey: Many raptors begin their trip north early in the season. In addition to our year-round Red-tailed Hawk residents, look for Merlins, Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and more soaring above the park, perched on high vantage-points and snacking on small mammals.
  • Warblers: The rock stars of spring migration, 36 species of warblers can be spotted over the course of spring migration in Prospect Park. Known for their bright colors in spring, warblers are a group of energetic songbirds that migrate at night and rest and re-fuel by day. When warblers journey over Brooklyn, they are likely to stop in Prospect Park, where they feed on insects and berries. Rested and refueled, they continue on their way after a day or two. Keep an eye out for vibrant yellows of the Common Yellowthroat and Palm Warbler, blue on the Black-throated Blue Warbler and Cerulean Warbler, and fiery orange on the handsome Blackburnian Warbler.

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Blackburnian Warbler, c. Steve Nanz

  • Brightly-colored Migrants: When peering through foliage, some of the easiest birds to spot are the brightly-colored species. Bright red might mean a Scarlet Tanager, vibrant orange could be a Baltimore Oriole, blues show up on Eastern Bluebirds and Indigo Buntings, and even our year-round American Goldfinches wear their brightest spring yellow.

Ready to grab a pair of binoculars and get out into the park? Check out our birdwatching page, with birding tips, locations and upcoming bird walks in Prospect Park. And, download the Prospect Park App to see how many birds you can spot in our Backyard Birds Challenge!

 

c. Martin Seck

Fall Things to Do in Prospect Park

October 17, 2018

Prospect Park’s most colorful season has arrived, and  Prospect Park Alliance has plenty of ideas of how visitors of all ages can enjoy this time of year in Brooklyn’s Backyard. Here is our checklist for autumnal fun in Prospect Park, get out and experience it all!

  1. Take a fall foliage walk! Check out some of our favorite routes through the park to see  the stunning colors of autumn, from the Peninsula to Lookout Hill, the Nethermead, the Lullwater and beyond.
  2. Bid adieu to the birds. Fall is migration season in Prospect Park, with hundreds of species of birds stopping through these 585 acres on their way to their winter homes. Read our tips for birdwatching in Prospect Park, and check out upcoming bird walks you can join!
  3. Strap on your skates because starting October 26, the LeFrak Center at Lakeside is open for ice skating, hockey, broomball and curling. Enjoy these wintertime activities surrounded by the picturesque autumn colors, and before the arctic weather sets in!
  4. Learn more about nature at the Prospect Park Audubon Center. Prospect Park Alliance presented free nature activities Thursday through Sunday in October, and Saturday and Sunday in November and December. Take a birdwatching walk, introduce your  child to the creatures that creep, crawl and fly in the park. Plus, pick up ready-to-go Discovery Packs filled with nature activities for families!
  5. Go for a run. Ready to break a sweat? Fall is the perfect time to go for a run in Prospect Park and admire the colorful foliage from the park’s 3.36-mile loop, not to mention the paths that run through the natural areas of the park. Prefer an indoor activity? The indoor tennis season kicks off October 22 at the Prospect Park Tennis Center. Sign up for a seasonal court or lessons today.

Enjoy Fall Migration in Prospect Park

September 19, 2016

With more than 250 species of birds spotted in Prospect Park each year, bird watching is one of the more tranquil ways to enjoy the Park, and this month is the start of the peak season for fall migration. The Park’s location along the Atlantic Flyway led to its destination as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, and the creation of the Prospect Park Audubon Center, where the Prospect Park Alliance offers bird watching activities throughout the year, including walks led by the Brooklyn Bird Club.

With a pair of binoculars, a bird guide and an adventurous spirit, take a stroll through Prospect Park and try to spot the wide variety of southbound birds, such as the aptly named Yellow-Rumped Warbler (pictured above), which begins to migrate through Prospect Park in mid-September. Download the new Prospect Park App to take our bird watching challenge and see how many birds you can spot throughout the Park.

Alliance Supervising Educator Steven Wong, who organizes activities at the Audubon Center, recommends some of the top spots in the Park for bird watching, including Lookout Hill, the Peninsula, the Ravine and the Lake, and the Alliance visits many of these areas during its free bird watching walks.

“We offer nature walks on Thursdays and Fridays at the Audubon Center until the end of December,” said Wong. “We also offer an introduction to bird watching through out Pop-Up Audubon program, which runs on the weekends until the end of October, and one of themes this month is Radical Raptors. All of our programs are free and we provide binoculars and bird guides.”

Visit the Prospect Park Alliance bird watching page for the latest events, and also a map with top birding locations.

c. Tom Stephenson

The Painted Bunting: Flocking to the Park

December 15, 2015

This month, you may have noticed the influx of binocular-wielding, camera-toting bird lovers in the vicinity of the LeFrak Center at Lakeside searching for a rare and magnificent bird called the painted bunting, otherwise known as the bird that broke the Internet. This migratory member of the cardinal family is the first of his kind to be seen in Brooklyn in years, and has generated a significant amount of buzz thanks to his polychromatic plumage.

But the beloved painted bunting is hardly the first exciting species to temporarily call Prospect Park’s abundant lush woodlands, home. John Jordan, Director of Landscape Management for the Prospect Park Alliance, rattles off a list of impressive avian visitors, most recently some nesting great horned owls. “We regularly have red-tailed hawks and each year we get a great number of migrating – and sometimes nesting – songbirds coming through the Park,” he adds.

The Park’s woodland habitats do not exist by happenstance, but are the result of years of hard work by the Prospect Park Alliance’s Landscape Management and Design and Construction teams. In the late 1980s, when the Alliance was first founded, the Park’s natural areas were in a dire state. Decades of erosion and neglect had left the Park’s woodlands and waterways a poor habitat for wildlife. Over the past two decades, the Alliance has invested millions of dollars to revitalize the Park, planting hundreds of thousands of trees, plants and shrubs.

The LeFrak Center at Lakeside is an ideal example of this work. The project reclaimed three acres of wildlife habitat, including the site where the painted bunting was spotted – formerly a 300-space parking lot. Much of this restoration work is led by the Alliance’s Natural Resources Crew, which gives careful consideration to habitat value when deciding on plants to introduce to the landscape. “In addition to the aesthetic benefit, we think about how it adds to the health of the landscape and what creatures might utilize a plant for food, shelter or nesting,” said Jordan.

Prospect Park is designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. Thanks in part to its prime location along the Atlantic flyway, Prospect Park’s acres of forest attract migrating birds every year, drawn in by an abundance of food, and a variety of habitats. “Each of these bird species is drawn to different things,” explains Jordan. “The owls come for winter roosts in the tall evergreens; the woodland songbirds each occupy a different niche.” The woodlands provide especially varied and rich habitats for birds. “Some species hunt in the tree tops for insects, some scour the understory for berries, fruit, and seeds, and others forage along the forest floor.”

Love the painted bunting? Join Alliance naturalists at the Prospect Park Audubon Center for bird watching and other nature programs on weekends and during the Winter Recess. The Brooklyn Bird Club also leads early morning bird walks and monthly explorations of the Park. Learn about upcoming bird watching events, and check out our Visit the Park section for more information about birding in Prospect Park.

c. Daisy Lane Paul

Painted Bunting Spotted in Prospect Park

December 2, 2015

Winter may be on the horizon, but that’s not stopping one particularly colorful character from making a stopover in Prospect Park, a National Audubon-designated Important Bird Area. The now-famous male painted bunting was spotted near the LeFrak Center at Lakeside this week, and local media outlets and bird-lovers alike have converged to catch a glimpse. And with good reason: while less-colorful female painted buntings have been spotted in the area as recently as 2011, this is the first recorded sighting of a male painted bunting in Brooklyn in recent memory.

The multi-colored member of the cardinal family is likely bound for Florida or Central America for the winter, but was drawn to this area of the Park due to an abundance of shelter and seeds to forage and eat. As part of the creation of Lakeside, one of the Park’s newest attractions and the most ambitious restoration project in the history of the Park, the Prospect Park Alliance transformed a 300-spot parking lot into an additional three acres of green space and wildlife habitat – a perfect respite for migrating bird species like the painted bunting. Learn more about the Alliance’s  environmental preservation work and about birdwatching activities in the Park.