A Forest in the City: Forest Park, Queens, NY
If you are a person who reads this blog regularly you know that I recently moved to Queens and spend quite a bit of my spare time in Forest Park. It is near my apartment, it is beautiful, and it is a great place to see birds. Beyond that though, it is as near to a complete forest ecosystem as may be possible in the midst of such a massive urban area. Sure, top predators like bears don’t roam the woods but wild bears in New York City probably wouldn’t be such a good idea anyway. Jory, who has contributed a couple Welcome Wednesdays to 10,000 Birds, mentioned to me that as much time as I spend in the park I haven’t ever really shown what it looks like. So, for Jory and everyone else who might be interested, I present, without further ado, Forest Park (well, the eastern undeveloped part anyway).
The picture above is actually of Union Turnpike, the road I walk along to get to Forest Park. It is very busy, and between it and other nearby streets and parkways one never gets to enjoy just the sounds of the forest, but one listens to the sounds of the forest with cars buzzing in the background. Nonetheless, the first part of the park I see is quite a sight, especially in spring.
The summit is a hill barely deserving of the name out of the left side of the frame of the picture, and behind the summit is the park headquarters, a small building that houses administrative offices and whatnot. My walk across the field there is often productive for birds early in the morning but any other time of day the activity of people and their dogs usually means that all I see are pigeons, starlings, robins, and sparrows. Once I traverse the open field I take a path through a narrow strip of forest that is hemmed in on one side by a complex of big apartment buildings and on the other by Forest Park Drive. Though there is not much to this section it is often productive for at least one bird that I want to get a second look at through my bins.
Once I’ve walked through this tiny chunk of the park I cross Metropolitan Boulevard, a rather busy street, and enter the park on Forest Park Drive, a paved road that is closed to motor vehicles. I quickly take a right onto a small trail lined by rough-hewn guardrails intended to keep people from wandering off the trail and crushing the vegetation (this seems to work rather well: note the thriving understory in the shot below).
Shortly after the trail takes a turn to the left the waterhole, the best birding spot in the park, comes up on the left-hand side. The waterhole is a kettle, that is, Forest Park’s topography, like much of Queens’, was created by glaciers, and the knobs and kettles that have been largely destroyed as Queens was developed are still present in Forest Park (and other parks in Queens) so people can see what the heck knob-and-kettle topography looks like. I apparently chose a poor year to move to Queens and make Forest Park my home away from home as the waterhole has been greatly diminished this year due to lack of rain, though recent showers have reinvigorated it somewhat.
Apparently, in years with more rain the spot I took the above picture from would have been underwater! Despite the minimal amount water in the waterhole this year the birds still come to drink and bathe, as this is the only spot with water in the whole eastern half of the park. I have spent many an hour sitting with my back against a big tree watching the birds come and go and have loved every minute of it.
From the waterhole I had been making my way to the feeder array but now that spring is really here feeding has been discontinued until next winter. So I tend to wander on trails until I eventually get to the equestrian trail (apparently you can rent horses and ride them through the park) and then I wander in whatever direction the most bird song seems to be coming from.
If you look carefully in the picture above you can see a dogwood tree in bloom in the middle of the shot. Dogwoods are a big part of the understory in Forest Park and I had never seen so many until I moved here.
The day I took all of the pictures above I had left my trusty SLR at home and borrowed Daisy’s point-and-shoot camera both because my right shoulder, on which I always carry my camera, hurt and because I wanted to play around with a camera that I haven’t really familiarized myself with yet. So, of course, on the day when I was woefully unprepared for bird photography I got my best looks ever at a gorgeous male Hooded Warbler (what, you thought I would go the whole post without mentioning a bird sighting?). The result of my best efforts (which hardly even deserves the title “record shot” is below…can you even see the warbler?
I’ll eventually do another post like this about some other features of the park, but I’ll leave you with this shot, which conveys, I think, some of the majesty of the towering oaks above (and those aren’t even the big trees!).