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Clay Pit Ponds Bird Conservation Area

General Site Information: The Clay Pit Ponds Bird Conservation Area (BCA) consists of portions of Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve on the southwestern portion of Staten Island. The BCA has a variety of habitats including wetlands, ponds, sand barrens, spring-fed streams and woodlands. Careful evaluation of the criteria for BCA designation has shown that most of the Park Preserve qualifies as a BCA (Perry, 2003). Developed or altered areas have been found to not meet the criteria for BCA designation.

There are 180 species of birds that have been identified within the Clay Pit Ponds BCA. Fifty- seven species of neotropical migratory songbirds have been observed. Forest dwelling neotropical migrants include broad-winged hawk, yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos, great crested and olive-sided flycatchers, red-eyed vireo, blue-gray gnatcatcher, wood thrush, veery and Swainson's thrush. In addition, 31 species of warblers have been recorded including palm, bay-breasted and Wilson's warblers. Whip-poor-will, a species of special concern in New York, has been confirmed as a breeder.

Clay Pit Ponds BCA Management Guidance Summary

Site Name: Clay Pit Ponds Bird Conservation Area

State Ownership and Managing Agency: Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

Location: Richmond County, Town of Charleston, Staten Island

Size of Area: 260 acres

DEC Region: 2

OPRHP Region: New York City

Vision Statement: Access and passive recreational opportunities will continue in a manner consistent with conservation of the diverse assemblage of bird species using the area for breeding or during migration. Habitat diversity will be maintained and features that make the Preserve unique will be enhanced (Management Plan, 1986). Consistent with its Preserve status, OPRHP will maintain the integrity of the BCA, provide for management of endangered, threatened or rare species and provide for their educational and scientific use (Article 20, 1976).

Key BCA Criteria: Migratory bird concentration site; diverse species concentration site (ECL §11-2001, 3.e, f). There are 180 species of birds that have been identified within the Clay Pit Ponds BCA. Fifty-seven species of Neotropical migratory songbirds have been observed. Forest dwelling Neotropical migrants include broad-winged hawk, yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos, great crested and olive-sided flycatchers, red-eyed vireo, blue-gray gnatcatcher, wood thrush, veery and Swainson's thrush. In addition, 31 species of warblers have been recorded including palm, bay-breasted and Wilson's warblers.

Whip-poor-will (special concern) has been confirmed as a breeder in the past and may continue to breed.

Critical Habitat Types: Ecological communities within the BCA include oak-tulip tree forest and successional southern hardwoods, together covering about 45% of the BCA. The NY Natural Heritage Program has identified two significant natural communities. One community, the post oak-blackjack oak barrens, is the only confirmed occurrence of this community in the state. Breeding has been documented for several species associated with sandy barrens communities including brown thrasher, common yellowthroat, indigo bunting, eastern towhee and field sparrow (Edinger et al., 2002).

The second significant community is the red maple-sweetgum swamp. This is a dominant community and a central feature of the BCA (30% of the total acreage). It is the largest of seven documented examples of this community type in the state (Evans et. al., 2002). Birds at Clay Pit Ponds associated with deciduous swamps include black-crowned night-heron, wood duck, red-bellied woodpecker and tufted titmouse (Smith and Gregory, 1998). The presence of these communities as well as associated wetlands and fields contributes to the diversity of bird species and use of the site as a migratory stopover.

Operation and Management Considerations:

  • Identify habitat management activities needed to maintain site as a BCA.
    Management of the BCA will safeguard and enhance populations of wild birds and the habitats that the birds depend upon for breeding, migration, shelter, and sustenance.

    Ponds are in an advanced state of eutrophication due mainly to the impact of high sedimentation. Eutrophication can result in a significant reduction in diversity of plants and animals including birds. The ponds are used during spring and fall migration by a variety of herons and egrets and waterfowl. Restoration of Sharrotts and Abraham's Ponds by deepening should be considered. To maintain ponds it will be necessary to reduce sources of siltation and nutrients that are causing the ponds to fill in. Stabilize eroding areas within each pond's catchment area. Control run-off from streets and lawns; redirect as necessary to reduce nutrient enrichment (Management Plan, 1986). Drainage pipe under road at Tappen's Pond is depositing silt where water enters the pond. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is proposing to put in a silt retention basin at the pipe intake; to widen the channel into the pond and remove silt that is entering the pond; and to plant native plants for stream bank soil retention. Both regional and Albany offices of OPRHP should review plans for this proposal. In the event that DEP does not do the work, steps should be taken by OPRHP to develop plans for pond improvement and protection.

    Monitor and control the spread of invasive plant species. Phragmites is present in nearly all open wetlands in the BCA. Multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle are along and near the trails within the red maple-sweetgum swamp (Evans et. al., 2002). Control will allow for more diverse flora and in time more diverse habitat elements for birds.

  • Identify seasonal sensitivities; adjust routine operations accordingly.
    Mow old fields on a 1-3 year schedule (Management Plan, 1986). Mowing should be limited to after August 15th.

  • Identify state activities or operations which may pose a threat to the critical habitat types identified above; recommend alternatives to existing and future operations which may pose threats to those habitats.
    There are no state activities or operations at this facility that pose a threat to critical habitat types. The park is a preserve and designed to protect these areas.

  • Identify any existing or potential use impacts; recommend new management strategies to address those impacts.
    The red maple-sweetgum swamp and other wetlands are susceptible to impacts of erosion and resultant sedimentation due to heavy trail use. The soils are easily disturbed and extremely susceptible to erosion where repeated passes are made. Disturbed areas may create entry routes for exotic wetland plants and as a result impact biodiversity. Impacts along trails should be monitored. Trail degradation impacts should be addressed immediately. Consider rotating trail use to minimize impacts and to help protect upland forest, woodlands and adjacent wetlands (Evans et al., 2002).

    Continue to protect the rare post oak-blackjack oak barrens. Trails should be routed around these areas in order to minimize erosion and sedimentation of the sandy
    soil, exotic species introductions and inadvertent trampling of vegetation (Evans et al., 2002).

    Control use of the degraded portions of the post oak-blackjack oak barrens. Work with neighboring private landowners to minimize impacts to vegetation. Alternate use of trails in order to allow periods of recovery for impacted vegetation. Restoration of impacted areas should include planting of native barrens species (Evans et al., 2002).

    There is a need to evaluate the potential use of prescribed burning in the maintenance of this ecological community.

Education, Outreach, and Research Considerations:

  • Assess current access; recommend enhanced access, if feasible.
    With the addition of the green trail, there are about 2 miles of walking trails and about 7 miles of horse trails. Hiking is not allowed on the horse trails due to safety concerns. There is a need to assess the adequacy of existing access to the BCA on foot.

    Horse trails are an existing use that will not be impacted by the BCA designation.

    Number of visitors is controlled by parking lot capacity (approximately 10 cars). A new nature center is planned which will provide approximately 30 additional spaces including bus parking. Additional access, especially for school groups, will provide increased opportunities for educating school children and other visitors about the importance of protecting populations of New York State's birds and their habitats.

    The pavilion, picnic and recreation areas are wheelchair accessible.

    Public transportation is available and used by some visitors.

  • Determine education and outreach needs; recommend strategies and materials.
    Clay Pit Ponds BCA cannot currently handle more school groups due to lack of space and staffing. The new nature center, with bus parking, will likely result in an increased use by school groups. More visitors, in general, could be accommodated.

    The Preserve staff offers bird related programs each season. Continue to partner with Audubon New York, NYC Audubon, Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences and other organizations to provide bird-related education and interpretive programs. The Clay Pit Ponds BCA should also coordinate interpretive programming with DEC staff at Mount Loretto.

    Interpretive materials about the diverse bird species will be developed. Update and reprint "Birds of Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve."

    A BCA kiosk will be designed and installed in an appropriate location.

  • Identify research needs; prioritize and recommend specific projects or studies.
    Institute a program of ecological research and monitoring by staff, scientists from Staten Island universities and institutions and from DEC guided by a research committee. Establish the ecological significance of Clay Pit Ponds within the context of Staten Island, NYC and the northeast region (Management Plan, 1986).

    Whip-poor-will (special concern) is listed as a breeding bird for the BCA. Breeding has not been confirmed for several years but anecdotal reports suggest that it may still be present at the Gericke Farm site. This location should be monitored for whip-poor-will. If detected they should be surveyed to determine numbers and breeding status.

Tom Lyons, OPRHP, Albany, phone: 518-474-0409

Ray Perry, OPRHP, Albany, phone: 518-474-0409

Chris Cuschieri, OPRHP, Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, phone: 718-967-1976

Article 20 of the Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law, New York State Park Preserve System, 1976.

Birds of Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve. NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Albany, New York.

Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve Management Plan. NYS OPRHP, June 1986.

Edinger et al. DRAFT--Ecological Communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, Albany, NY.

Evans, D.J., P.G. Novak and T.W. Weldy. 2002. Rare Species and Ecological Communities of Clay Pit Ponds State Park. New York Natural Heritage Program, Latham, NY.

Perry, R.W. 2003. BCA Worksheet and Evaluation for the Clay Pit Ponds BCA, Environmental Management Bureau, NYS OPRHP, Albany, NY.

Date BCA Designated: 3/14/05

Date MGS Prepared: 3/9/05

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