Hidden Meadow in downtown BK, a remarkable bird sanctuary


Birdwatcher Loyan Beausoleil remembers the first time she discovered the prairie, nestled near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in an area dotted with tile shops, plastics manufacturers and gas stations.

“It wasn’t at all what I expected,” she said. “Just that native prairie in the middle of Brooklyn.”

It was June 2020 and Beausoleil had recently been invited to do a bird study in the landscape of the Naval Cemetery, a 1.7 acre urban green space opened to the public in 2016.

The landscape of the naval cemetery. Photo: Grégory Topscher

The ecologist and manager of the Bird program for the Washington Square Park ecoproject rode a Citibike from Manhattan, unsure of what to expect.

She parked near Atlantic Avenue before walking to the site near the Navy Yard, past the freeway, small businesses, and lots and lots of cars.

But when she entered the green space, “everything else kind of disappeared,” she says. Herbs and flowers were blooming, insects buzzed in the undergrowth, and she could hear the birds.

Loyan Beausoleil. Photo: Jean Shum

“Suddenly it’s like you’ve been transported out of New York. ”

This week, Beausoleil published a report on his year of touring the Naval Cemetery Landscape, with its unique downtown meadow.

She reveals the discovery that space has become a sanctuary for some of New York City’s rare and vulnerable bird species.

A refuge for dozens of species

Out of 13 investigation reports, Beausoleil found that 37 different species of birds enjoyed the space, which is open to the public but not to dogs.

Among Beausoleil’s findings were an abundance of native finches and sparrows, breeding pairs of house finches and juvenile woodpeckers, and an “unexpected profusion” of chimney swifts – a vulnerable native bird species and a rare sight in Brooklyn.

“When I got there I saw chimney swifts feeding low above the meadow,” Beausoleil said. “It tells me that this tiny little urban green space provides quality prey for a vulnerable species.”

A blue jay. Photo: Gregory Topscher / BGI

As a result, Beausoleil concluded that an increase in city-wide spaces such as the Navy Cemetery landscape could be a way to increase and support urban and migratory birds.

“It’s a fragment in an urban environment and we humans are taking more and more green spaces. It creates fragments, and fragmentation affects biodiversity.

“If we could develop corridors of connected fragmented spaces, it could even be in developments, including green roofs, birds could jump or jump or overlap from one place to another.”

At the right time, in the right place

For bird watchers, the naval cemetery landscape is a great place to experience fall migration up close.

Brooklyn Bird Club President Dennis W. Hrehowsik.

Brooklyn Bird Club President Dennis Hrehowsik said it was the most exciting time of year for birding in New York City.

First, the warblers and neo-tropical species move from September to October, then you get the sparrows, then until November you can spot rare birds migrating from the west of the country, as well as the favorites of Hrehowsik: winter waterfowl and gulls.

“People always say New York is not a natural place,” he said. “What they have to do is reframe what they see as nature. We live in one of the largest national parks in the country.

In that reframing, Hrehowsik said New Yorkers could also do simple things to help the environment, in addition to making conscious consumption decisions.

One of the biggest problems for birds is off-leash dogs, the impact of which can be seen at Prospect Park. Hrehowsik also encouraged Brooklynites to consider not raking their leaves – the piles of leaves creating great places to look for food for birds, and being good for grass as well.

The landscape of the naval cemetery. Photo: Grégory Topscher

During the pandemic, birdwatching became a hobby in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is a particularly good place to start bird watching, the city being located along a unique natural bird route called the Atlantic Flyway.

The Atlantic Flyway – a major migratory route – stretches from the tropics of South America to Greenland. Click here for more information on birding in Brooklyn and how to get involved.

On December 18, birders organize the Brooklyn Bird Count, which is part of Audubon’s 122nd annual Christmas Bird Count.

Next, a potluck dinner will take place at the Prospect Park Boathouse, with bird lovers of all skill levels welcome. Click here to register.

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Chris B. Hall