The above is a video I took on a long gone winter’s day in Central Park. Most of the water in the pond was ice leaving just this one spot ice free.
Welcome to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve! Located in Sleepy Hollow, NY, the 1,000 + acre park features a variety of habitats ranging from open meadows, deciduous forest & wetlands. Rockefeller State Park Preserve is listed as an “IBA” (Important Bird Area) by the National Audubon Society. Over 180 species of birds have been documented in the preserve!
Common birds (depending on the time of the year) found in the preserve include the belong among others:
- Black-Capped Chickadee
- Blue Jay
- Northern Cardinal
- Baltimore Oriole
- Orchard Oriole
- Indigo Bunting
- Yellow Warbler
- Warbling Vireo
- Wood Thrush
Welcome! Today, using the map below, we are going to explore the Swan Lake area of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve!
The 22 acre Swan Lake was created by impounding a tributary of the Pocantico River (a tributary of the Hudson River).
The carriage roads we will be walking on were developed by John D Rockefeller Sr & John D Rockefeller Jr between the years 1910-1950. Every winter the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve evaluates which trails need fresh surface material added. Drainage of trails is completed every spring to ensure carriage roads stay dry. Trail maintenance is a 12 month process!
After paying the minimal parking fee ($6 at the time of this writing in 2013) let’s walk over to the visitor center.
After picking up a trail map let’s check out the interesting flowering plants blooming nearby. These flowers are Japanese Peony and are known as the “King of Flowers” in Japan.
Just past the flowers and the visitor center there is a kiosk chock full of information about the Rockefeller State Park preserve.
Here we can find excellent information regarding common flora and fauna of the preserve. All set? Let’s head towards Swan lake!
But first let’s poke around the Fern Garden found just past the visitor center. The fern garden is populated with Cinnamon, Royal & Sensitive Ferns among other species including some rather large Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants!
Leaving the Fern Garden we follow a brief trail through a forest to get to Brother’s Path.
We are going to be following the 1.1 mile Brother’s Path which encircles Swan Lake. As we start out heading south on the Brother’s Path, the trailhead of the .7 mile Overlook Trail appears to our right.
Let’s take a quick detour from Brother’s Path to walk a section of the Overlook Path for a few minutes. According to the Hudson River Audubon Society website this area is one of the best spots to view Eastern Bluebirds. Eastern Bluebirds, New York’s state bird, are a small thrush whose habitats include open woodlands and meadows such as where we are right now. Eastern Bluebird populations have experienced a decline due to strong competition from aggressive non-native birds like the House Sparrow and European Starlings.
As we ponder the future fate of these birds a blue blur flies by and lands on a nesting box which has been placed in the meadow by a member of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve staff. Ready to head back to the Brother’s Path? Let’s head back to continue our journey around Swan Lake. Heading south on Brother’s Path we see continuous views of Swan Lake mixed with occasional Flowering Dogwood to our left.
Flowering Dogwood, native to the eastern United States, is a common understory tree found in forest edges.
Continuing south an opening has appeared to our right providing a view of the sweeping meadows we sampled on the Overlook Trail. As we walk Swan Lake is becoming narrower. Turning east we cross over two Pocantico River tributaries draining Swan Lake.
Passing the Farm Meadow Trailhead to our south we continue to follow the Brothers Path heading north.
Swan Lake is now on our left.
As we walk, we pass Canada Mayflower to our left in bloom.
Canada Mayflower is part of the Lily family and native to the Eastern United States.
A sudden squeak makes an Eastern Chipmunk known to us.
I’m not sure if the chipmunk is sounding the alarm over us or this Northern Black Racer lurking nearby. Maybe both?
As we leave the chipmunk and snake we hear a sudden “meow” sound and realize that the sound is not coming from a cat but a bird! The bird is a Gray Catbird. Gray Catbirds are migratory and fly to the southeaster US, Mexico and Central America for the winter months.
Continuing north and passing the trailhead to the Ridge Trail, we spot some Striped Wintergreen, a species which is considered vulnerable in New York.
We cross over a Swan Lake feeder stream and pass a couple of Mallards and a turtle as we head west on the Brothers Path back to the parking lot to complete our hike. I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Swan Lake and that it inspired you to visit it for yourself!
1) WALKABLE WESTCHESTER – The book covers over 180 parks with almost 600 miles of trails in Westchester County.
Click here for more information!
2) The Nature of New York – This work offers a sweeping environmental history of New York State. Author David Stradling shows how New York’s varied landscape and abundant natural resources have played a fundamental role in shaping the state’s culture and economy.
Click here for more information!
3) Eastern Deciduous Forest Ecology and Wildlife Conservation – This book is a useful tool for anyone who wants know or hopes to help one of North America’s great natural resources!
Click here for more information!
Feel free to comment with any questions, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!
On December 4, 2011, Watershed Advocacy group Bergen SWAN (Save the Watershed Action Network) teamed with naturalist Nancy Slowik to host the first ever Emerson Woods nature walk. Once targeted for intense development, the woods are now preserved and help protect the Oradell Reservoir from non-point source pollution.
Bergen SWAN played a major role in preserving Emerson Woods. Bergen SWAN has fought for almost 24 years to help preserve the remaining forests surrounding upper Bergen County’s reservoirs. The most recent settlement occurred in 2009 with United Water (now Suez). Suez manages the Oradell, Lake Tappan and Woodcliff Lake Reservoirs in Bergen County. After 5 years of negotiations with Bergen SWAN & the Hackensack Riverkeeper, United Water agreed to granting conservation easements on 3,100 watershed acres to the NJDEP in addition to setting aside $1 million to assist in acquiring and preserving additional land along the Hackensack River and its tributaries. United Water has since become a close ally of Bergen SWAN by helping to sponsor events such as the 2010 “Planting in the Park” in Pascack Brook County Park and allowing Bergen SWAN to host the December 4th nature walk on United Water watershed land-land which is normally not open to the general public.
The tour, led by naturalist Nancy Slowik, started in the United Water recreation parking lot near Lakeview Terrace in Emerson, NJ. Once the group was organized, Bergen SWAN opened up the gate to the Oradell Reservoir providing a rare opportunity to walk along the shore of the reservoir. Nancy directed the tour to the waterfowl present on the open water of the reservoir. Double-crested Cormorant were seen in addition to Hooded Mergansers.
Heading away from the shore, the tour passed a stand of American Sycamore with their white peeling bark.
Early settlers used to make buttons out of American Sycamore seedpods. The “button” is found inside the seedpod. This practice created another name for the American Sycamore: the Buttonwood Tree. Nancy pointed out Poison Ivy growing on a dead Eastern Hemlock tree. Members of the tour were advised to never touch the hairy vine of Poison Ivy as you can still get a painful itchy rash even in winter.
Palmolive dish washing liquid was recommended as an inexpensive cure for poison ivy. The tour then led participants up a gas line right of way for about ¼ a mile.
Along the way, White-Tailed Deer were seen browsing in the woods west of the right of way.
As the group proceeded on, Nancy pointed out large rectangular holes found on a dead tree.
These holes were created by a Pileated Woodpecker, North America’s largest woodpecker. Most likely the bird was hunting carpenter ants, one it’s favorite sources of food. While the group admired the holes, a Black-Capped Chickadee, Northern Flicker and Red-Bellied Woodpecker were heard calling.
Up ahead on the gas trail was a stand of Northern Red Oak (NJ’s state tree!) with its characteristic “ski slope” bark. Nancy informed the tour that when a Northern Red Oak gets cut it admits a foul odor.
Shortly before turning west onto the Heck Ditch trail, the group happened upon a White Pine plantation.
White pines make excellent habitat for Great-Horned Owls and other birds of prey which frequent Emerson Woods.
Cones of White Pine are sticky with the seeds found inside. Native Americans used to chew on White Pine needles to obtain Vitamin C.
As the group passed the Heck Ditch Nancy pointed out that the oily looking water surface of the ditch was caused by bacteria decomposing leaves.
Ground Pine was found growing in large colonies on the other side of the Heck ditch trail. Ground Pine takes years to become established.
After walking for about 15-20 minutes on the Heck Ditch trail, the tour headed south on the Equisetum trail which leads back to the United Water Recreating parking lot. Along the way, Nancy pointed out large growths of equisetum growing near massive Cottonwood trees. This collection of Equisetum is thought to consist of the largest stand in New Jersey. Equisetum are members of an ancient order of plants and appeared well before the appearance of the first flowering plants. Equisetum was known to early settlers as “Scouring Rush”-a name given for its ability to clean and scrub pots and pans.
Check out Plant Communities of New Jersey.
NJ’s geology, topography and soil, climate, plant-plant and plant-animal relationships, and the human impact on the environment are all discussed in great detail. Twelve plant habitats are described and the authors were good enough to put in examples of where to visit!
Click here for more information!
The group headed back to the parking lot as twilight descended. As we walked, we happened upon an abandoned Red-Eyed Vireo nest. The red-eye vireo spends the winter living in South America.
The group proceeded to the parking area and the tour concluded.
A special thanks to Bergen SWAN and Nancy Slowik for offering the opportunity to explore Emerson Woods in great detail. For more information on Bergen SWAN click here.
The Emerson Woods Preserve are accessible from off of Main Street in Emerson or Lakeview Drive. Ample parking is available on Summer Street. Be sure to check out Bergen SWAN if you wish to participate in nature walks, community clean-ups and educational events in Emerson Woods.
Twinney Park, located off of Red Birch Court, has Valleau Cemetery to the southeast, Franklin Turnpike to the North and dense residential development to the south and west. Ridgewater Water, which supplies water to an estimated 65,000 residents in Ridgewood, Glen Rock, Midland Park and Wyckoff has Twinney Well located to the east of the park.
Twinney Park’s three acres consist of remnant deciduous woodlands and freshwater wetlands. The focal point of the park is Twinney Pond. Twinney Pond, at almost an acre, is a figure eight shaped freshwater body of water created from glaciers.
A rough trail encircles the pond. Occasionally the path is laden with woodchips. The trail goes through upland and freshwater wetland habitat.
Twinney Pond is home to Mallards, Wood Ducks and other waterfowl. American Bullfrogs and Green Frogs can be heard seasonally. The surrounding remnant woodland is home to countless Eastern Chipmunks and Eastern Gray Squirrels as well as other mammals.
The pond and woodlands features a nice diversity of flora including:
The park is open from dusk to dawn. It is absolutely amazing to find a natural pond teeming with wildlife in such a built up area. Click here for directions.
Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!