The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the Northeast United States. The refuge is run by the National Park Service and, as of 2014, there were 325 species of birds who call the Refuge home.
Our all-knowing guide was Geri Kobryn-Blatter, not only a Park Ranger, but a geologist as well. We were especially eager to see the tree swallows since we were told they’re used to people and will pose for you.
Geri said the Jamaica Bay “pond” had two parts separated by land – one part with fresh water, the other with salt water. When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, it devastated the Refuge. No longer was there any fresh water, and in its place were gas tanks, docks, boats – every kind of debris imaginable. The perfect storm of wind, tide and the moon wreaked such havoc; the birds changed their migratory routes.
When Geri took us outside, the tweets and chirps began. We caught glimpses and sometimes even pictures of beautiful blue male swallows, an osprey being hounded by a crow, even a terrapin turtle. Also sharing the sanctuary with the birds are horseshoe crabs, butterflies, dragonflies, red and brown bats, and striped bass in the water.
As we walked along the pebbled trail, Geri pointed out something that none of us will ever forget: poison ivy. Her words of warning lodged in our brains: “Leaves of three? Let ‘em be!” She also pointed out beach plum and red cedar plants, favorite noshes for birds, and the juniper plant which is used to make gin.
Other birds that stay at the sanctuary are brown thrashers, glossy ibis, house wrens, common terns and red-wing black birds. But the birds we loved learning about most were the laughing gulls. Their high-pitched laugh is so loud, it sounds like they’ve heard a great joke.
Geri explained for the best bird watching, you should visit during a “peak migratory season.” You can find out when those seasons are and other information by calling 718-318-4340. If you do go, who knows? You might get a gull to giggle.