Important Bird Areas

Upper St. Lawrence/Thousand Islands

New York

This site stretches from Wilson Bay on Cape Vincent where Lake
Ontario drains into the St. Lawrence, 42 miles downriver to
Chippewa Bay. It encompasses a range of wetland, shrub, and upland
habitats. According to the NY GAP land cover data, 20% of the site
is shrub habitat, which includes old field/pasture, successional shrub,
successional shrub, and small amounts of shrub swamp. There are
numerous islands, ranging in size from large islands like Wellesley and Grindstone Islands to the many small islands in Chippewa Bay. The
site is primarily privately owned, but some parcels are administered by
NYS DEC, NYS OPRHP, and owned by the Thousand Island Land
Trust (TILT).

Ornithological Summary

This site is an important Common Tern nesting area, supporting 315
pairs in 2004. It is also an important waterfowl migration and wintering
area, with thousands of individuals documented. Large numbers of
Common Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers use this stretch of the
river (1,826 Common Mergansers were counted in an aerial survey in
January 1996) and, in the past, this area has had large concentrations of
Canvasbacks and Redheads. The site supported the largest Great Blue
Heron rookery in the state at Ironsides Island (1,147 nests in 1995), but
there were no nests in 2004. There are probably still hundreds of Great
Blue Herons in the area in scattered rookeries. At-risk breeding species
include the American Black Duck (winters and breeds), Common
Loon (breeds), Least Bittern (possible breeder), Osprey (breeds), Bald
Eagle (winters), Northern Harrier (breeds), Sharp-shinned Hawk
(possible breeder), Red-shouldered Hawk (possible breeder), American
Woodcock (probable breeder), Common Tern (breeds), Black Tern
(historic breeder), Whip-poor-will (probable breeder), Red-headed
Woodpecker (possible breeder), Willow Flycatcher (possible breeder),
Wood Thrush (probable breeder), Cerulean Warbler (confirmed
breeder, two nests observed on TILT property), and Vesper Sparrow
(possible breeder). This is an important Bald Eagle wintering area, with
8-12 individuals seen each winter, especially near Wellesley Island.
7,532 ind. in 1994 [1];1. Lee Harper
pers. comm. 2004;

Conservation Issues

This site is listed in the 2002 Open Space Conservation Plan as a priority
site under the project name St. Lawrence River Islands, Shorelines,
and Wetlands. A major factor affecting Common Terns and other fisheating
species is the level of toxins found in the ecosystem. Studies of
Common Tern eggs and forage fish in the St. Lawrence from 1986-1989
documented the presence of organochlorines, including PCBs, dieldrin,
metals, and trace elements, including mercury, selenium, copper,
aluminum, and cadmium. The levels of several organochlorines and
mercury exceeded the no-observed-adverse-effect level and the lowestobserved-
adverse-effect level for sensitive species and may contribute to
low levels of reproductive success. Further work is needed to monitor
the reproductive success of other fish-eating birds and the levels of
environmental toxins in the river. The river is a very popular area for
recreational boating and fishing, which can disturb birds, especially
terns and herons at breeding colonies. Development of shoreline habitats is also a concern. Save the River, a non-profit, member-based
environmental organization whose mission is to preserve and protect the
ecological integrity of the Thousand Islands Region of the St. Lawrence
River, recently adopted this IBA. Save the River has an active program
that monitors and protects Common Tern nesting sites. The Thousand
Island Land Trust is also active in this area, purchasing grasslands,
riparian areas, and wet woods; they currently own about 3,300 acres of
land and hold conservation easements on 3,500 acres.