Pelham Bay Park is located on the shore of Long Island Sound and
is the largest natural area complex within the region. The park has
a wide range of habitats, including forests (782 acres), meadows (83
acres), mixed scrub (51 acres), salt marsh (195 acres), fresh water marsh
(three acres), salt flats (161 acres), and a stretch of saltwater coastline.
The site also includes a golf course, parking lot, human-made beach,
and re-vegetating landfill. The site supports a number of state-listed
plant species, including wild pink (Silene caroliniana), slender blue flag
(Iris prismatica), field beadgrass (Paspalum laeve), slender spikerush
(Eleocharis tenuis var. pseudoptera), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana),
and gamma grass (Tripsacum dactyloides). The site is the only known
location in the state that supports a species of noctuid moth (Amphipoea
erepta ryensis), which is dependent on gamma grass. This site is owned
by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
As one of few large natural areas in the heavily urbanized New
York City region, the site is particularly important to the remaining
breeding forest and wetland bird species. It also serves as a stopover
site for a great diversity of migrant birds. The deciduous forest and
scrub habitats support a characteristic breeding community, including
the Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Chestnut-sided
Warbler, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, and Eastern Towhee. The
salt marshes support the breeding Clapper Rail (1 pair in 1994), Marsh
Wren (20 pairs in 1994), Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (six pairs in
1994), and Swamp Sparrow (15 pairs in 1994). The site has a small
rookery with Snowy Egrets (two pairs in 1996), Black-crowned Night-
Herons (27 pairs in 1996), and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (one
pair in 1996). The salt marshes are also used extensively for foraging
by herons and egrets from nearby rookeries. Occasional breeders at the site include the Least Bittern (one pair in 1989), Least Tern, and
Barn Owl. The site is also a well-known fall hawk watch location,
with season totals of 21,951 hawks in 1990 and 12,065 hawks in 1988.
The hawk watch at Pelham Bay regularly has tallied one of the highest
Osprey counts in the U.S. (third highest in 1988 and 1989).
Competition from non-native plants is negatively affecting many plant
communities in the park, and may be impacting bird abundance.
The presence of small culverts under some roads restricts the flow of
the tidal marshes and may decrease overall ecosystem health, which
may partly account for decreased densities of salt marsh bird species
(121 pairs of Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows in 1958 as compared
to six pairs in 1994). The New York City Department of Parks and
Recreation completed a natural areas management plan for the park
in 1988, which recommended removal of non-native plants, trail
restoration, pond creation, and amphibian and reptile reintroductions.
More inventories and monitoring of at-risk and migrating species are
needed to support the IBA status of this site.