Friday, July 11, 2014

Calvert Vaux Park

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Gravesend Bay in Brooklyn.
     I was searching for a new place to explore and I came upon this park, Calvert Vaux, in Gravesend Brooklyn on Google maps and found it is a nice place for wildlife viewing. Overall I liked the park and what I saw, but it had its share of flaws for sure.
     The park is named for Calvert Vaux, who partnered with Fredrick Law Olmstead to design many parks in the United States, including Central Park and Prospect Park here in New York City. Vaux had a son who lived in Brooklyn, which also happens to be where he died when visiting him from drowning in Gravesend Bay. This park, overlooking the bay was named in 1998 for Vaux and is made of sand and rock excavated from when the Verrazano Bridge was constructed.
     As far as pro's go, the park is like a peninsula, surrounded by the waters of Gravesend Bay and Coney Island Creek, making it very nice for shore birds. Some of the shoreline is made accessible by walkways that take you down onto the sand and rocky shore. Much of the park has lots of "wild" plant growth, making it nice for birds, the wildflowers are absolutely beautiful, attracting pollinators, grasshoppers, and insects galore! It's a bit off the beaten path, you have to cross over the belt parkway to get to it, making it not super crowded. It does have a parking lot, which most NYC parks do not have, I did not drive- but I'm sure that is a plus for some. It of course did have lovely bird viewing for sure. I took the D train to Bay 50th street and walked from there.
     The con's are oddly almost the same as the pro's - The shoreline is accessible by many man-made trails. I went down one that took me to a popular bon fire spot that overlooks Gravesend Bay and gave stellar views of the Verrazano Bridge. Otherwise, the man-made trails look like they are mostly made by people going fishing on the shore, but I honestly did not feel the need to stumble upon any surprises on an unmarked trail so, overall, those were avoided. The park isn't crowded, sticking to the main areas is best, because literally I think in total, I ran into 3 people when walking around the parts of the park away from the ball fields, so just be aware when walking around. I also had an off leash dog run up to me barking, not in the playful way - this happened twice from the same dog and the owner didn't seem to think much of it or care, it was not a fun moment. Also, the park is full of trash, it isn't very well maintained, as one could easily see just by the plant growth, and strewn through out it is lots of trash.
     It is very obvious that Mr. Vaux, himself, did not have any part in designing this park upon my walk through it. But despite its flaws I saw some beautiful sights, birds, blooms, and butterflies! I *think* I may have even seen a monarch butterfly, but lots of cloudless sulphurs, tiger swallowtails, black swallowtail, and common blues. Bird sightings included double crested cormorant, black backed gulls, laughing gulls, yellow crowned night heron, black crowned night heron, great egret, snowy egret, catbird, common grackle, least sandpiper, killdeer, barn swallows, cardinal, robins, mocking bird, redwing blackbird, American crow, cedar waxwing and SO MANY STARLINGS. I have never seen so many starlings in one place all at the same time!
     Warning: I took a lot of photos....
A Spring Azure - thanks to my butterfly ID whiz, EF! Thanks!
Remember how I said lots of starlings? ...and see below. 

     One thing that drove me to come here, is that on Tuesday when I first visited, I saw that laughing gulls were just parked on the fields, sitting, hanging out. Those that were flying flew low. I love nothing more than photographing birds in flight. It is challenging and also I love their wings open and feathers spread. These gulls were flying with and acting like barn swallows! They were flying and maneuvering to catch flying beetles and even flying and plucking beetles off the grass while still in the air. It was such interesting behavior to observe and very cool to stand in the middle of a field with birds just doing their thing all around me. I like that these photos are fun and playful, I love the look summer laughing gulls have, their black heads and blood-red bills are beautiful!

got one!

Gulls are really intelligent and adaptive, clearly these birds have learned that there is a terrestrial buffet next to their beach!

oh yeah, this is part of the trail! I think these are yellow cone flowers. They were a pleasure to walk through, absolutely beautiful!
The Coney Island Creek side of the park includes old abandoned boats/piers and its kind cool to see how they were allowed to remain and become part of the landscape. This one became its own little marsh, with a water source in the middle of all the grasses. Note the yellow crowned night heron hanging out on the starboard side (right). A snowy egret was in among the grass. 

From the shoreline looking back up to the trail. I mean, c'mon this is just lovely!
     Oh yeah, I really love birds in flight. I think egrets may be my favorite bird in flight. They are just stunning!! A great egret flew right over me and did a wonderful job of looking amazing.

Least sandpipers darted around along the beach foraging in the sand.

Bird nerd and bird prints in the sand together.
Also along the beach were many prints like this. Horseshoe crab sand angels.

Another least sandpiper.
My first Brooklyn killdeer!
A fishing great egret. Caught two fish while I watched. 
The normal habitat of this species is normally power lines... this individual has taken up residence in a very different habitat than normal.
A lovely surprise before leaving, a cedar waxwing perched and preening!