Nesting** Spring Migration*** Fall Migration*** Winter**
(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)
Mount Loretto Nature Preserve is a unique natural area near the southern section of Richmond County overlooking the waters of Raritan Bay. It is just north of the Conference House Park and one can combine these two birding sites very easily for a good birding day.
The park contains some of the finest remaining tracts of grassland habitat in the metropolitan region. Ecologically, it is a superb natural site with a wealth of botanical diversity and excellent birding in any season. The number of recorded goldenrod species and asters is impressive.
The property was formally owned by the Archdiocese of New York and served as an orphanage. In 1999, after years of persistent lobbying by the Protectors of Pine Oak Woods and the Trust for Public Land, New York State purchased the property of 194 acres on the Raritan Bay side of Hylan Boulevard. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation manages the property as a nature preserve.
Spring and Summer Birds
In spring this remnant of former pasture is excellent for finding Indigo Bunting, migrating swallows, White-crowned Sparrow, Bobolink, and open country specialties such as the breeding population of Orchard Orioles. As many as 10 pairs are believed to be nesting residents from May through early September. Blue Grosbeaks have been found in summer and it is hoped they may breed soon.
The Orchard Orioles arrive in early May and can be easily located in the fields throughout the park. Willow Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, Brown Thrashers, Indigo Buntings, and Yellow Warblers are also common breeding species. Grassland specialties such as Eastern Meadowlark can be a regular migrant in April and October. Upland Sandpipers have made an appearance in late April on a number of occasions. American Woodcock are resident and can be heard courting beginning in late February depending on the weather conditions. It is hoped that Bobolink will again remain to nest in the fields as they once did as recently as July of 2000. The American Kestrel and Eastern Meadowlark nest here also, and hopefully they will return to breed.
The NYSDEC management program now mows the meadows in late October, long after nestlings fledge. This practice will guarantee the preservation of open fields for many species.
Both Black-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-billed Cuckoo have nested and are likely to be found during migration. White-eyed Vireo (now rare) and Warbling Vireo (very common) and Willow Flycatcher nest in the second growth vegetation on the southern edge of the property near the ponds. Cedar Waxwings are now common in summer and autumn, and they began nesting here fairly recently. American Goldfinches are abundant in summer.
Autumn and Winter Birds
During early autumn migration (August), shorebirds, Eastern Kingbirds and swallows are found in and near the ponds in good numbers. Male Wood Ducks are present during the eclipse molting period (late August to late September) in Brown’s Pond, and some may continue to nest regularly in the vicinity of the smaller, “nameless” pond also to the west of Brown’s Pond.
The Eastern Screech-Owl continues to nest in some older hardwood trees along the roads that form the periphery of the park. Eastern Screech-Owls are surviving as a resident species, and this preserved habitat will guarantee their survival. Great Horned Owls are also permanent residents and with diligent searching and luck, the rare Short-eared and Long-eared Owls can been found in winter.
Ring-necked Pheasant, Belted Kingfisher, Tree Swallow, and the elusive Yellow-breasted Chat nest nearby. Purple Martins, which nest nearby in Lemon Creek can be observed in late summer among flocks of other swallows. Ring-necked Pheasant numbers have plummeted recently, and now Wild Turkeys have become a recent addition to the avifauna.
In the fall, the wooded, sandy bluff overlooking Raritan Bay is excellent for migrants. From late August through September, migrant diversity can be impressive. Sparrow diversity is a park highlight, with peak numbers during the cooler days of early and mid-October. Large numbers of White-crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows and Lincoln’s Sparrow are likely to be seen. Raptors can be spotted in good numbers particularly falcons and accipiters in October as they move along the shoreline. Western Kingbird and Ash-throated Flycatcher have been observed in fall and there is one June record for Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Any autumn vagrant is possible here given the proximity to the bay and the extensive fields and brushy edge. The only October record for Yellow Rail in Staten Island was recorded here, and the bird was found in the wet areas in taller grasses.
From the bluff area in winter, scan the bay for Great Cormorant (on rocks), Razorbills (one record), loons, grebes (two recent, past records for Western Grebe in late winter), Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Ducks and notable numbers of wintering Common Goldeneye and other waterfowl.
The geologically unique bluffs offer the visitor panoramic views of distant Sandy Hook and Raritan Bay. Northern Harriers and Red-shouldered Hawks are likely to be encountered during the winter in mowed fields in search of voles and other rodents. Harbor Seals are also found here basking on rocks in winter.
One should remain on trails. The main road offers good viewing.
Poison Ivy can be a problem if one ventures off the trails. Insect repellent is recommended during the summer. Dog ticks can also be numerous and mosquitoes are a nuisance. Recently increasing deer population, has made deer ticks a possibility as well – use caution.
The parking lot for the Nature Preserve is located off of Hylan Boulevard and facilities are available.
Click here for google map and directions.
Click here for a trail map.
Note: From Sharrott Avenue, just west of the Hylan Boulevard turn you can enter a trail with dense brambles and second growth forest where Yellow-breasted Chat have been seen in mid-May and summer; it is suspected that they nest here. The trail is opposite the cemetery entrance facing south. Just be aware of dog feces and dog walkers here, otherwise it's a beautiful birdy area.
Resource Person for Mount Loretto Nature Preserve:
2012 and 2001 - Howard Fischer
All photos are courtesy of the Staten Island Borough President's Office