Important Bird Areas

Catskills Peaks Area

New York

This site is located within the Catskill Park and includes one of the
largest contiguous forest tracts in the state. The coniferous forests
above 3,500 feet are primarily composed of balsam fir (Abies balsamea)
and red spruce (Picea rubens). The lower elevation hardwood forests
are dominated by sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and beech (Fagus
grandifolia). According to the NY GAP land cover data, approximately
97% of the site is forested, and includes Appalachian oak-pine,
deciduous wetland, evergreen northern hardwood, evergreen
plantation, evergreen wetland, spruce-fir, oak, and sugar maple mesic
forests. Most of the site is administered by NYS DEC, but some is
privately owned as well.

Ornithological Summary

The Catskill peaks over 3,000 feet support a distinctive sub-alpine bird
community including breeding Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Swainson?s
Thrushes, Hermit Thrushes, Magnolia Warblers, Yellow-rumped
Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos. Peaks
over 3,500 feet support breeding Bicknell?s Thrushes and Blackpoll
Warblers. This is the southernmost extension of the breeding range
of these two species. In 1997, spot-mapping surveys of three plots
totaling 24.4 hectares on two Catskill peaks (two on Hunter and one
on Plateau) found 11 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher territories, 23-27
Bicknell?s Thrush territories, 10-11 Swainson?s Thrush territories,
12-13 Magnolia Warbler territories, 22-25 Yellow-rumped Warbler
territories, and 71-78 Blackpoll Warbler territories (Rimmer and
McFarland 1997). The average density of Bicknell?s Thrush over the
three study plots in 1997 was 50 territories/40 hectares. Researchers
estimated that Hunter Mountain might have supported 30-35 pairs
of Bicknell?s Thrush in 1997. Other at-risk species found at the site
include the American Black Duck (breeds), Osprey (breeds), Bald Eagle
(observed in breeding season), Sharp-shinned Hawk (breeds), Cooper?s
Hawk (breeds), Northern Goshawk (breeds), Red-shouldered Hawk
(breeds), Peregrine Falcon (breeds), American Woodcock (breeds),
Olive-sided Flycatcher (breeds), Wood Thrush (breeds), Cerulean
Warbler (breeds), and Canada Warbler (breeds).

Conservation Issues

High elevation habitats are relatively secure throughout the
Catskills because they are state-owned and protected under the state
constitution. However, a proposal was put forth in 1996 to amend
the constitution to allow the Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl to lease and
develop 500 acres of high elevation habitat. The proposal was tabled, but
the ski area owners continue to argue that the development is necessary
for the business to remain economically viable. Permanent protection
of the remaining privately owned portions is needed to prevent their
development and conversion to non-forest uses. Options include public
acquisition and conservation easements. Working forest easements that
provide for sustainable forestry may provide suitable habitats for species
that require successional or disturbed forests. Recently there has been
concern over a proposed development on Belleayre Mountain that, if
completed, would fragment this intact forest. The Catskill Peaks are
very popular for recreation?particularly hiking and, in some localities,
mountain biking. More research is needed on whether bird populations
are significantly impacted by current levels of human visitation. More
research is also needed on possible impacts that acid rain may be having
on the nesting success of songbirds, particularly at high elevations. Acid
rain can kill snails, whose shells provide a source of calcium needed for
egg production in birds; it can also kill trees, thereby degrading songbird
habitat. The curtailment of sulfur dioxide emissions and the reduction
of acid rain is currently a significant NY State initiative. A detailed
inventory and standardized monitoring of at-risk species is needed for
the area.