Like a planet in a faraway galaxy, my most local wildlife area was essentially light years away. I can see Willow Lake, part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, from my apartment window. Yet it is closed to the public due to vandalism and deterioration of footbridges leading to the trails. By chance, I noticed an Urban Park Ranger-led bird walk in the area, and a new world opened up for me.
Along with nearby Meadow Lake, Willow Lake is one of the largest freshwater bodies in Queens. The 106-acre landscape has been managed as a natural area since the 1930s (it’s also a NYC Parks Forever Wild site). Though I’m disappointed that access isn’t easier, perhaps the lack of disturbance (save for a large MTA subway rail yard) might be beneficial to wildlife.
Our first spotting of the morning was scat. Now, I’m not too interested in dog doo, but this was special – consensus is that a coyote has made a home at Willow Lake!
Birds were plentiful. Barn Swallows darted by, Red-winged Blackbirds shouted their trills, and we were reprimanded in no uncertain terms by two Killdeers. An Osprey was a special sighting along with a little sandpiper which I think was a Spotted Sandpiper.
Invasive phragmites reeds are a big problem for Willow Lake but I must say, bushwhacking offered an exotic feeling to this Sunday morning walk. Though the pesky reeds made access to the actual Lake nearly impossible, an old wooden bridge over a small inlet was the perfect place to coo over Canada Goose goslings.
Though we did not see the secretive rails (a small reed-dwelling bird) or muskrats our Ranger guide watched just days earlier, we were thrilled to almost trip over a Ring-necked Pheasant tail feather.
My journey to Willow Lake was not far, but felt so remote in spite of the distant humming of the Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway. I longed for more time to explore, but maybe that's the special grace of such areas. Our time is restricted and thus the experience is nearly divine.