Important Bird Areas

Fairmount Park and Benjamin Rush State Park

Fairmount Park (FP) is actually a system of individual parks that are distributed throughout the city of Philadelphia (confluent with Philadelphia Co.) which together form the largest city park system in the world. These parks range in size from 1 acre to over 2400 acres, and while many contain museums, historical buildings, recreational facilities, municipal waterworks, farms and stables, athletic fields, and other types of man-made structures or modifications, all contain at least some trees and open space, and many contain significant amounts of relatively undisturbed areas called 'natural lands' by the park.

Overall, FP includes over 9200 acres of land and it accounts for over 10% of the total land area in Philadelphia. Fairmount Park lands are also well distributed throughout the county so that no Philadelphia resident lives more than a mile or a few minutes drive from some section of the park. Most of the park's 9200 acres however, are contained within 7 large parcels which include, from north to south, Poquessing Park (280 acres), Pennypack Park (1776 acres), Wissahickon Park (2091 acres), Tacony Park (307 acres), East and West Parks (2434 acres), Cobbs Creek Park (848 acres), and F.D. Roosevelt Park (348 acres). Six of these parcels are situated entirely within the Piedmont physiographic province or within both the Piedmont and Coastal Plain provinces, and these parcels contain mature and second growth deciduous and mixed woodlands, scattered White Pine plantations, areas of mowed grass, brushlands, and fields that are situated on moderately hilly landscapes bisected by streams or rivers. Some of these streams form shallow to deep gorges. F.D. Roosevelt Park however, is situated entirely within the flat Coastal Plain physiographic province, and it contains remnants of a coastal plain deciduous forest (a rare habitat in Pennsylvania), areas of mowed grass, phragmites, and brushlands as well as lakes and (slightly) tidal streams, that are bordered by small amounts of marsh habitat.

Over 40 additional parcels of FP land are also scattered throughout the county and while most of these are smaller than 50 acres, and more disturbed, most do provide important habitat for birds, especially during migration when large numbers of migrants regularly use these areas as stopover habitat.

Benjamin Rush State Park (BRSP), a 275 acre site in Northeastern Philadelphia is the largest single area of undeveloped land remaining along the Poquessing Creek. Along with a total of 280 acres of nearby FP land (which is made up of several smaller non contiguous tracts), BRSP plays an important role in protecting the Poquessing Watershed. This undeveloped and under-appreciated state park, created in 1975 from land formerly owned by the Philadelphia County Prison System, contains a mixture of herbacious grasslands and hedgerows along with deciduous woodlots and (formerly) wet meadow habitat. BRSP is also described as having the 'world's largest community gardens. Although the limited bird census work that has been conducted in the park indicates that it is just as important an area for landbirds as nearby FP lands, it has been such a poorly known and little valued property that in 1993, 19.5 acres were given to the Veterans Administration for construction of a Nursing Home.

Ornithological Summary

Fairmount Park (FP) and Benjamin Rush State Park (BRSP) together comprise almost 9500 acres of largely undeveloped lands within the nation's fifth largest city. As such they form an important oasis which has allowed a large variety of breeding, wintering and migratory species to persist within an otherwise heavily developed region. Over 200 species of birds occur within FP and BRSP each year and these include 78-96 current breeding species, and 90-95 current wintering species. A large number and variety of birds also occur during north and southbound migrations. While FP and BRSP bird populations are dominated by landbirds, many species of waterfowl also occur, along with some waders, shorebirds and marshbirds.

Migration: FP lands have long been recognized as areas used by large numbers of birds during migration and this is probably due to several factors. 1) Philadelphia lies in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania, a location which falls within the geographic ranges of a larger number of bird species than many other sections of the state. 2) Philadelphia appears to lie on a heavily used spring migration corridor which extends north through northwestern New Jersey and the Connecticut Valley. It also appears to lie on a heavily used fall migration corridor which parallels the Delaware River. 3) FP and BRSP lands make up the largest percentage of the undeveloped lands remaining within the state's most heavily developed county, and as such they function as an oasis in which birds tend to concentrate during migration.

During north and southbound migration FP lands attract most of the landbird species that migrate through eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, along with many species of waterfowl, waders, shorebirds and marshbirds. Birds use all areas of the park during migration, even the park's smallest and most disturbed parcels. While no systematic counts have been made recently in any of FP's small or heavily disturbed sections during migration, recent casual observations from these areas, such as the Benjamin Franklin Parkway or Bartram's Garden, indicate that migrants are also using these areas as stopover locations in not insignificant numbers.

That large numbers of birds migrate through Philadelphia has also been demonstrated by radar images. For example, radar images of nocturnal bird migration over Philadelphia in May 2001 showed densities as high as 1500 birds/square kilometer, which is much higher than the highest spring densities observed for example, over Buffalo, NY, and perhaps many other sections of Pennsylvania.

Breeding: At least 78 species of birds currently breed within FP and BRSP. There are also an additional 9 species that bred in FP until the 1990s whose current breeding status is unclear, and another 15 species that are regular nonbreeding summer residents, some of which may occasional breed.

Most of the summer residents of FP/BRSP are landbird species and these include a typical assortment of forest breeders such as Wood Thrush, Great Crested Flycatcher, American Redstart, and Red-eyed Vireo. Within the park's largest forests however (the Wissahickon and Pennypack valleys) a number of area dependant species also breed including Pileated Woodpecker, Veery, Worm-eating, Parula, Cerulean, Hooded, and Kentucky warblers (although the latter 3 species have not bred since the mid-1990s), along with Louisiana Waterthrush (16 pairs were found in the Wissahickon alone in 1998) and, recently, Barred Owl. There are also healthy populations of riparian breeders throughout FP including Wood Duck, Warbling Vireo and Acadian Flycatcher, and many breeders that prefer edge and early successional habitats such as Ring-necked Pheasant, Brown Thrasher, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Indigo Bunting, and Field Sparrow, but the latter group has declined significantly since the late 1980s.

Winter: FP/BRSP lands also attract a diverse bird population during the winter. This has been evidenced indirectly by the fact that the number of species recorded on the annual Philadelphia Mid-Winter Bird Census (90% of which are found on FP/BRSP lands) is usually among the highest of any winter census (CBC) in Pennsylvania, and has occasionally been higher than any Pennsylvania CBCs. An average of 91 species were recorded on the PMWBC between 1987 and 2005 and an average of 95 were recorded between 1996 and 2005. On two occasions 108 species were recorded. Wintering species include typical winter landbirds of forest and field, hawks, owls, waterfowl, herons, gulls, and other waterbirds.

15 Pennsylvania Species of Special Concern occur. Olive-sided Flycatcher, Great Egret, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Pied-billed Grebe, Northern Goshawk, American Coot, Swainson's Thrush, Prothonotary Warbler occur annually while Long-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Summer Tanager and Red Crossbill occur irregularly.

Ownership

FP was created to protect the city?s watersheds and to provide an area for the public to enjoy the outdoors. The park was originally begun in 1855 when a parcel of land along the east banks of the Schuylkill River, that had originally been purchased by the city of Philadelphia in 1843 to protect intake valves of the municipal water works, was officially dedicated as a pleasure ground for the citizens of Philadelphia, ?to be called Fairmount Park.? The park's popularity soon led to the acquisition of additional lands along the river, and professional landscaping of the rapidly expanding park began to be implemented during the 1860s. In 1867 1400 additional acres were acquired along the Wissahickon Creek which drains into the Schuyllkill, and the Pennsylvania General Assembly created the Commissioners of Fairmount Park, which were charged with the park?s care and maintenance. In 1872 the Fairmount Park Art Association was formed to promote public art in the natural landscape, and by the beginning of the 20th Century the Pennypack Creek, Cobbs Creek and Tacony Creek valleys had been acquired, followed shortly thereafter by F.D. Roosevelt Park (the former League Island Park), and somewhat later by the lands along the Poquessing Creek. Although the acquisition of new lands has virtually ceased since the 1980s (possibly due to budgetary constraints) the potential for adding new lands to the park remains, particularly in Northeast Philadelphia.

Habitat

Most of Fairmount Park's 9200 acres are contained within 7 large parcels which include, from north to south, Poquessing Park (280 acres), Pennypack Park (1776 acres), Wissahickon Park (2091 acres), Tacony Park (307 acres), East and West Parks (2434 acres), Cobbs Creek Park (848 acres), and F.D. Roosevelt Park (348 acres). Six of these parcels are situated entirely within the Piedmont physiographic province or within both the Piedmont and Coastal Plain provinces, and these parcels contain mature and second growth deciduous and mixed woodlands, scattered White Pine plantations, areas of mowed grass, brushlands, and fields that are situated on moderately hilly landscapes bisected by streams or rivers. Some of these streams form shallow to deep gorges. F.D. Roosevelt Park however, is situated entirely within the flat Coastal Plain physiographic province, and it contains remnants of a coastal plain deciduous forest (a rare habitat in Pennsylvania), areas of mowed grass, phragmites, and brushlands as well as lakes and (slightly) tidal streams, that are bordered by small amounts of marsh habitat.

Over 40 additional parcels of FP land are also scattered throughout the county and while most of these are smaller than 50 acres, and more disturbed.

Benjamin Rush State Park (BRSP), a 275 acre site in Northeastern Philadelphia, contains a mixture of herbacious grasslands and hedgerows along with deciduous woodlots and (formerly) wet meadow habitat. BRSP is also described as having the 'world's largest community gardens.

Land Use

Fairmount Park lands serve a multitude of functions. In addition to providing watershed protection, wildlife habitat and public access to the outdoors, a number of important cultural institutions are located on park lands including the Philadelphia Zoological Gardens, Mann Music Center for the Performing Arts, Robin Hood Dell East outdoor amphitheater, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rodin Art Museum, American Swedish Historical Museum, and the soon to be added Please Touch Children's Museum and Barnes Foundation Art Museum. FP is also home to a multitude of diverse 17th, 18th and 19th century historical sites including the Rittenhouse homestead - America?s first paper mill - a National Historic Landmark, the John Bartram homestead - America?s first botanic garden, the U.S. Centennial Exhibition site, the U.S. Sesquicentennial Exposition site, the nation?s first water mill, the nation?s first zoo, the oldest stone arch bridge still carrying traffic in the United States, Philadelphia's only covered bridge, cemeteries containing the remains of Betsy Ross and other historic figures, sites of the initial battles of the Revolutionary War, former living quarters of Alexander Wilson the ?father of American Ornithology? and John James Audubon, and so on. The park also contains a storage facility for treated water, over 100 outdoor sculptures, fountains, and monuments, several working agricultural or livestock farms, several formal gardens, and 6 public golf courses. And if that were not enough, park lands are heavily used for recreation, including (in addition to golf) fishing, hiking, jogging, dog walking, biking, roller blading, rowing, horseback riding, softball, soccer, frisby golf, tennis, basketball, skateboarding, birding and other forms of natural history observation.

In addition to providing wildlife habitat Benjamin Rush State Park is contains a large area that is used as a community garden. Another area is also used by a local club for flying model airplanes.