What to See
Make sure you have our iNaturalist-powered Ecological Guide up on your phone! It's a quick reference of the life you can find during your visit.
Below are some specific interesting features and organisms found at the Burke. Keep an eye out for them!
The Old Stone Bridge
At the edge of the northern trees just before the canopy breaks and the wetland begins, you can spot a stone structure running east/west.
This is a bridge passing over the stream which runs from a small spring out into the Hudson. We don't know how long this structure has been here, but it's been documented in photographs since the early 1900's, and the waterway is seen on maps from the 1800's.
For more information on historical features of the park, take a look at our History of the Burke Estate page.
Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Horsetails are some of the most ancient and unusual plants - during the triassic era they filled the niche now served by trees and towered at over 100 feet tall.
The variety of horsetails at the Burke is known as the Field Horsetail
Rather than forming seeds, horsetails release spores. These spores only contain a single cell and resemble a find powder. (in the early spring if you tap one of the fertile cones, you can see the spores fly out in a cloud of dust!). Horsetails are sometimes called ferns or fern allies, as ferns also reproduce through spores.
The non-fertile cones of the horsetail grow into green bushy groundcovers. If you look east while walking the northern portion of the north/south path, you will see large swaths of horsetails.
A spore releasing fertile cone.
Native Philadelphia Fleabane, surrounded by bushy Non-fertile horsetails.
Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium american)
The Yellow Trout Lily is also sometimes known as a 'dogtooth violet' because its bulbs resemble a dog's tooth.
This native wildflower forms dense colonies, which can persist for hundreds of years in minimally disturbed soil. If you see a dogtooth violet you can know they've likely been there for a long time. The denser the colony, the older the soil.
Every year, only a few plants will blossom. The rest remain only as modest flat leaves with mottled coloration peppering the forest floor in the early spring (this being the reason for its other name - the dappled leaves resembling the scales on a trout).
Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
In the northeast, forest under-stories are full of lush native ferns such as the Ostrich Fern, so named because of each frond's resemblance to an ostrich feather. Many gardeners have replaced the fern's role in their yard with hostas - a non-native variety of plants which fill a similar niche in their local ecosystems.
Although not popular in European cuisine, young fronds (known in culinary terms as fiddleheads) are a common dish throughout the world. Fiddleheads must be cooked in order to safely break down various toxic and carcinogenic components present in many species.
Look for these plants in the southern portion of the Burke Estate, where they've found spots to grow along the edges of pools and wetlands.
Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)
This aggressive native wildflower is known by a host of other colorful names including Granny-pop-out-of-bed, Heavenly Trumpets, Old Man's Nightcap, Belle of the Ball, White Witches Hat, and Bearbind. Like other members of the morning glory family, it produces beautiful trumpet-shaped blossoms. The leaves of the Hedge Bindweed are a distinctive arrow-head shape, and are easy to spot growing amongst other plants.
Hedge Bindweed is a vine, and so climbs on other plants and landscape features rather than growing its own supportive stem. In the Burke Estate it's been found twining around invasive common reeds.
Although they may be an annoyance to gardeners, in environments such as the Burke our aggressive natives are the survivors - keeping a foothold in an increasingly inhospitable landscape of foreign plant invasions. They remain an integral component of the ecosystem and provide both food and habitat for other native species.
Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
A flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds lives in the reeds and trees of the Burke Estate wetland. They're easy to notice due to their loud raspy call and the bright red shoulders on male birds.
Ornithologists have heavily studied this species due to their elaborate social hierarchies and breeding behaviors. The distinctive shoulder coloring plays a crucial role in this system - ales who exhibit large wingspots are more aggressive and better able to defend their territories.
A dull colored female, resembling a starling or sparrow.
The male sporting the flashy red and yellow patches. Unmistakable even at a distance.
White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
The White-Tailed Deer have become massively overpopulated in our area. At least ten individuals visit the park regularly to sleep and browse for food.
Considering that a healthy population density is about 6-10 deer per square mile, only one single deer could live off of the area sustainably. Normally large carnivores such as wolves keep deer numbers in a healthy range, but we have removed those carnivores from our environment.
Deer preferentially eat native plants as their primary food source, and so their overpopulation leads to degradation and eventual collapse of native plant biodiversity as they begin to eat more than the land can provide. The massive numbers of deer also enable the spread of contagious illnesses such as chronic wasting disease, lyme, and hemorrhagic disease.
The majority of the deer visiting the Burke sport yellow ear-tags - which indicates they are females who have been given contraception to stop their reproduction. This is one local effort to reduce the population count.
Although the deer population in Hastings has begun to drop, only time will tell if this strategy works sufficiently in isolation.
Keep an eye out for hoofprints, droppings, and newly worn off tree bark. These are all signs the deer have recently passed through.
Siebold's Viburnum (Viburnum sieboldii)
Plant Battle between Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)
A battle line has been drawn on the forest floor. On one side is Garlic mustard, a tall thin plant sporting tiny white flowers. On the other is Goutweed, a sprawling groundcover. Who will win?
Garlic mustard is easily identifiable by its smell. Crush some leaves and you will notice a distinct garlic aroma. This plant was originally introduced by European settlers who used the plant as a spice and vegetable. Although mature plants have a strong bitter flavor, young greens are popular in pesto dishes. The roots have a kick not unlike horseradish. Garlic mustard spreads fast, and as it grows it kills healthy microbes in the soil - terraforming the dirt into a desolate blanket where only they can survive.
To the untrained eye Goutweed looks like poison ivy, but its sprawling blankets of growth betray its true identity. Originally it was introduced as a garden plant, to spread over rock walls and cover the ground. Unfortunately it was too effective and now spreads and covers our forest floors.
This site shows the harm of invasives: where they spread, other plants cannot co-exist. These 'battle lines' would not happen in a healthy diverse forest environment. When you walk around the park, look for areas which have a broad mix of species - you won't find established invasive populations there.