On Saturday, May 28th, Sunday, June 12th and Saturday October 8th, I led a group of between 15 and 20 people through historic All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens. I pointed out the locally breeding birds, butterflies and some of the more interesting botanics. In addition, tour participants were enlightened about the history of the area and cemetery by Newtown Historical Society president Christina Wilkinson, cemetery historian Brian Chavanne and president, Dan Austin.
The first two tours took place at the end of the northbound bird migration, so it can be reasonably assumed that the species remaining were nesting within the cemetery. At 225 acres, All Faiths is a tiny patch of green within New York City, however we were able to identify nearly forty species of breeding birds. One of the more unexpected sightings during the first tour was of a Turkey Vulture. This huge, dark bird is hard to miss as it effortlessly soars on a massive six foot wingspan. Cemetery workers had reported seeing this gentle giant hanging around the area. They are fairly common around NYC during migration but aren't known to nest around the five boroughs. Perhaps a pair has found a spot to settle down in Queens. Another nice discovery was of three species of breeding warbler. The Wood-Warbler is a large family of small, colorful songbirds that winter in the tropics and breed throughout North America. These beautiful songsters are highly sought out by birdwatchers during migration as they pass through the city. Of this group of birds I was pleasantly surprised to find three species in the cemetery – Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart and Yellow Warbler. At points during both tours I heard a shrill "killy-killy-killy" then spotted a hunting American Kestrel. At only about the size of a robin, this colorful falcon has a large personality, often challenging raptors five times their size. A cavity nester, they take advantage of human structures and likely nest on buildings just outside of All Faiths, but hunt for insects, small mammals and birds within the cemetery.
On a scouting walk prior to the tours Christina and I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk collecting large branches for nesting material, then flying south across Metropolitan Avenue. We tried, unsuccessfully, to locate the nest, but were certain that it was somewhere within the south half of the cemetery. While searching for it that day we did catch a whiff of another one of All Faith's neighbors – Striped Skunk. This harmless, but pungent mammal is protected in New York State and, I just learned, fairly common in the borough of Queens. Near the end of the second tour we did finally manage to find the Red-tailed Hawk nest at the top of a pine tree, a short distance from the General Slocum Memorial.
Other noteworthy species were small flocks of Cedar Waxwings, three species of mimic thrush (Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher and Northern Mockingbird) and a good number of trilling Chipping Sparrows. In addition, robins seemed to be the most abundant species, with foraging adults just about everywhere and lots of fledglings and "teenagers".
While Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery might be a little out of the way for this Brooklyn resident, I do look forward to exploring more of its nature in the future. You locals should also take advantage of this amazing natural venue located in your own backyards.
Dates: May 28, 2016 and June 12, 2016
Location: Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery
Number of Species: 39
Number of Checklists: 2
Turkey Vulture (1.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Great Black-backed Gull
American Kestrel (1.)
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)
October 8th list:
Cooper's Hawk (2)
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Number of Taxa: 24