Queens, New York, May 2010

At one time there was an airport in northern Queens called Flushing Airport.  It was shut down in 1984 due to frequent flooding, a fatal plane crash in 1977, and the growth of LaGuardia Airport.  The land has since started to return to something approaching a wild state.  Unfortunately, developers are hungrily eying the 70-acre parcel despite some local opposition and the fact that it is a wetland that provides excellent habitat to a variety of birds (to say nothing of mammals, insects, etc).  The old runway in particular is excellent shorebird habitat, and the open wet woodlands growing up from, for lack of a better word, fields, elsewhere on the property shelter nesting Warbling Vireos, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Tree Swallows, Song Sparrows, and other species.

I was only recently introduced to the airport by a fellow Queens birder who will remain anonymous here mostly because the property is owned by New York City and one technically shouldn’t be there.  The fact that there are dirt-bike trails, a homeless encampment, and dog-walkers makes it seem unlikely that anyone cares that a couple of birders entered the property but one can’t be too careful (says the guy blogging about the visit).  Anyway, from where we entered (and I have since reentered with another Queens birder), on the north edge of the old airport, one walks south along the marsh/runway that lines the western edge of the property.  The early successional woodland and marsh both have Tree, Barn, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Chimney Swifts hunting for bugs over them and the aforementioned breeding birds are in evidence everywhere.

Eventually, near the south end of the old runway one reaches the a gap in the phragmites and can enter a relatively dry (but very muddy) area where the shorebirds can be found.  And what shorebirds there are!  In my two visits I have totaled eleven species, which is very impressive for May in Queens, and even more so for land that was an active runway twenty-six short years ago.

Above is the old runway and below (in order) is a Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius, a Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria, a Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmitus, and a Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca.

Perhaps even cooler than the shorebirds, though, are the amazingly tolerant Forster’s Terns Sterna forsteri that were loafing around on large chunks of trash on both visits.

If all of the birds above aren’t enough there was also the usual assortment of gulls, other shorebirds, a flushed Wilson’s Snipe and a brief look at an albino Ring-necked Pheasant!  Expect to read more about Flushing Airport on 10,000 Birds in the future; the habitat is too good not to visit!

a warning to unwary birders…Flushing Airport should not be birded alone

This post was originally published on 12 May 2010 but a post like this shouldn’t be left to languish in the archives!

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.