Point Gratiot Park is a popular Dunkirk city park for various forms of recreation. It consists of mostly open mowed areas, and a beach area that merges into rocky bluffs, black shale cliffs and pebble-strewn coves. The top of the bluff is fenced off for the safety of visitors. There are a number of trails through wooded, brushy areas. The park has ample parking areas, a playground, picnic shelter, and restroom facilities.
Natural History Interest
Point Gratiot is a good place to see black, oil-bearing shale that was laid down during the upper Devonian Period, some 360 million years ago. The shale cliffs along the lake shore may be approached from the beach. Find a loose chunk of the dark, brittle rock and break it. Smell the freshly exposed rock, and notice the kerosene-like odor it gives off. Some of the shoreline sedimentary rocks in the Dunkirk-Point Gratiot area bear interesting fossils. They include “logs” from giant clubmosses (Lycopodia) that are believed to have washed out into the ancient sea from the eroding highlands to the east. These are preserved as ribbons of coal sandwiched between layers of shale. Point Gratiot is an outstanding “trap” for migratory song birds, particularly during spring migration.
Who To Contact
If you would like more information on Point Gratiot Park contact the City of Dunkirk by visiting their website or calling 716-366-0454.
How To Get There
Point Gratiot is located in Dunkirk, NY, just north of NY 5. From exit 59 (Dunkirk/Fredonia) off I-90, turn right onto NY 60 (Bennett Road). Go approximately 2.0 miles to NY 5. Turn left onto NY 5 and proceed approximately 1.2 miles to Point Drive West. Turn right onto Point Drive West and follow it to West Park Drive. Continue onto West Park Drive. This street will take you through Point Gratiot Park, but note that this is a one way street. You cannot drive onto West Park Drive from the northern end of Point Drive North.
What To See
To view the eBird hotspot of Point Gratiot complete with recent bird sightings click on this link. To view an eBird bar chart page of all recorded sightings click on this link. Point Gratiot’s geographical position sticking out into the south shore of Lake Erie means that birds heading north during the spring will stop there before or instead of attempting to fly over the water. These “trapped” birds, mostly passerines, usually migrate at night and rest and forage during the day. With cooperative weather conditions such as a southerly wind hundreds of Neotropical birds on their way to northern breeding grounds, such as warblers, tanagers, and vireos, may stop here and fill the brushy woodlot bordering the park with their amazing colors and songs. Significant sightings have included Orchard Oriole, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Summer Tanager, Worm-eating and Prothonotary Warbler, and Ash-throated Flycatcher.
In late April and early May all six swallow species—Barn, Northern Rough-winged, Tree, Cliff, Bank, and Purple Martin—can sometimes be seen on the utility wires along Point Drive North. Trees in the park may harbor a migrating Merlin. You may also witness the Blue Jay migration, with up to 100 streaming onto the point as they move along the Lake Erie shore. Nesting species include the uncommon Red-headed and Red-bellied Woodpecker.
Why It’s Important To Conservation
Spring migrant “traps” are not only important to the bird watcher as they provide a tremendous service for migrating birds during possibly the most dangerous part of their lives. Studies have shown that Neotropical migrants’ mortality rates can be up to ten times higher during migration than at other points of the year. Spring migration is an even greater rush than most of fall migration with birds needing to reach their breeding grounds by a certain point in time to secure a mate and be able to successfully reproduce. Point Gratiot Park and locations like it are a sort of bed and breakfast for the traveling bird as they find safety, shelter and food at a critical stopover site in their journey.