- Public transportation: Q35 bus stops on Flatbush Avenue in front of the Ryan Center.
- Car: Belt Parkway to Flatbush Avenue, exit 11S. Proceed approximately 1 mile and turn left into Floyd Bennett Field (do not go over the Marine Park Bridge).
- Visitor Center phone: 718-338-3799.
Floyd Bennett Field is a remarkable example of a mixed-use property. A landfill in the early 1900s, the site was later chosen as the city’s first municipal airport in 1931 and regularly visited by aviation luminaries like Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes. Come World War II, Floyd Bennett Field became a naval air station and in 1971, the land was transferred to the National Park Service (NPS).
More recently, the 1,448 acres of outwash plains created by retreating glaciers still has many old military buildings but new additions include a sports recreation center, an historic aircraft restoration project, the nation’s largest community garden, and a model aircraft field.
But the area’s natural history is just as exciting with plenty to enjoy courtesy of a landscape that includes upland fields, scrub, salt marsh, and bay. The land even has a 140-acre grassland managed jointly by NPS and New York City Audubon since 1985. With wildflowers and native grasses like Panic Grass and Little Bluestem, it is a haven for numerous bird species such as the Grasshopper Sparrow, Horned Lark, Eastern Meadowlark, Upland Sandpiper and Northern Harrier.
Scrub areas like the North Forty Trail wind through stands of Bayberry and Staghorn Sumac, along with the invasive Phragmities. The Trail features a two-acre man made pond called “Make a Gift Pond” – financed through the Make a Gift to Wildlife check box on your tax form (a fine example of tax dollars at work!). Wildflowers attract numerous skipper and swallowtail butterflies, and Monarchs are frequently seen as summer transitions into fall.
Closer to shore, watch for Black Skimmers, terns, and Glossy Ibis in the summer. Winter is just as popular for birds with throngs of Brant Geese gobbling up Sea Lettuce along with other winter waterfowl. As further testament to the city’s cleaner waters, I had the treat of watching four Harbor Seals frolic near the sea boat ramp on a cold February day.
To start your field trip, head to the Visitor Center housed within the Ryan Center, once the main terminal when the area was an airport. There you can get maps, learn about scheduled walks, and even peruse the books for sale. Several groups like New York City Audubon and the American Littoral Society offer nature walks throughout the year. Floyd Bennett Field also offers the only legal campsite in New York City – contact the Ecology Village for more information (718-338-4306).
Be prepared for cold winds in winter, and hot summers with limited shade. Take precautions for mosquitoes and Poison Ivy. Also note that some parking lots require a permit — inquire at the Ryan Center office.
- Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City by Leslie Day, published 2007 by The Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Floyd Bennett Field: World War II, 1941-1945 by the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior, Gateway National Recreation Area, Jamaica Bay Unit.
- Local Area Hot Spots: Floyd Bennett Field by the Brooklyn Bird Club, accessed on 1/2/09 at http://www.brooklynbirdclub.org/floyd.htm.
- The New York City Audubon Society Guide to Finding Birds in the Metropolitan Area by Marcia T. Fowle and Paul Kerlinger, published 2001 by Cornell University Press.
- Significant Habitats and Habitat Complexes of the New York Bight Watershed: Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point by United States Fish and Wildlife Service, accessed on 1/2/09 at http://training.fws.gov/library/pubs5/web_link/text/jb_form.htm.
- Wild New York: A Guide to the Wildlife, Wild Places and Natural Phenomena of New York City by Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson, published 1997 by Three Rivers Press.
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