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Peconic River Headwaters Bird Conservation Area

General Site Information: The Peconic River Headwaters BCA consists of several parcels that comprise 4,267 acres along the Peconic River in the towns of Brookhaven and Riverhead, Suffolk County. It is located within Audubon's Long Island Pine Barrens Important Bird Area. The majority of the property was formerly owned by the US Navy as a buffer around the Grumman Corporation operated aircraft development center in Calverton.

Habitat types include ponds and riverine wetlands, upland grasslands and old fields, and pine barrens on rolling terrain. This area lies within the core of the Long Island Pine Barrens and provides the largest areas of grassland habitat in state ownership on Long Island. Grasslands are found in 3 large blocks (>200 acres) adjacent to other large grassland areas on non-state-owned lands. Extensive wetland systems along the Peconic River include two chains of coastal plain ponds (a rare habitat type). Extensive areas of pine/oak forest including a large block that in conjunction with the surrounding county owned lands forms the core of the Long Island Pine Barrens. This habitat also supports the only remaining population of ruffed grouse on Long Island.

Breeding species of particular interest include grasshopper sparrow (special concern), whip-poor-will (special concern), vesper sparrow (special concern), yellow-breasted chat (special concern), common nighthawk (special concern), Cooper's hawk (special concern), and northern bobwhite. More than 50 other species have been recorded during breeding season surveys in the area. Migration and winter species include northern harrier (threatened), short-eared owl (endangered), Cooper's hawk (special concern), and sharp-shinned hawk (special concern) as well as a wide diversity and abundance of songbirds and waterfowl.

Peconic River Headwaters BCA Management Guidance Summary

Site Name: Peconic River Headwaters

State Ownership and Managing Agency: Department of Environmental Conservation

Location: Suffolk County, Towns of Brookhaven and Riverhead

Size of Area: 4267 acres

DEC Region: 1

Vision Statement: Continue management activities to conserve the bird species and habitats in the area. Expand management to enhance bird populations where possible by restoring degraded habitats.

Key BCA Criteria: Diverse species concentration site, individual species concentration site, species at risk site (ECL §11-2001, 3. f,g and i.). Birds of interest include grasshopper sparrow (Special Concern), whip-poor-will (Special Concern), vesper sparrow (Special Concern), northern harrier (Threatened), short-eared owl (Endangered), and ruffed grouse (rare and on verge of extirpation on Long Island).

Critical Habitat Types: Grasslands, pitch pine-oak-heath woodlands and pitch pine-oak forest along with coastal plain ponds and riparian wetlands associated with the Peconic River headwaters.

Operation & Management Considerations:

  • Identify habitat management activities needed to maintain site as a BCA.
    Maintain grasslands and early successional habitats through mowing and prescribed fire. Mowing and/or burning should be done outside the bird nesting season and should not impact more than 30 percent of the habitat area of any one parcel. General guidelines would be to avoid mowing or burning from May 1-August 15, as directed in the Unit Management Plan (UMP). Treatment should be rotated from year to year with each area being treated at least once every three years to minimize invasion by woody vegetation.
  • Identify seasonal sensitivities; adjust routine operations accordingly.
    Dog trials/training currently allowed throughout the breeding season should be limited. Disturbance of nesting birds by dog training/trialing should be minimized during the peak of the breeding season (late May-mid July). The restrictions outlined in the UMP are a good start, but dogs should be kept out of all bird nesting habitat during the peak breeding season (May-July).

  • 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.
    Lack of grassland management is allowing succession to convert open areas into pitch pine forest. Maintain grasslands and early successional habitats through active management.

  • Identify any existing or potential use impacts; recommend new management strategies to address those impacts.
    Overuse of wetland areas is degrading habitat and disturbing breeding birds. Dog trials during the breeding season is impacting reproduction. Restrict dog training/trial activities to non-nesting habitat during May-July. Monitor and possibly restrict other activities such as fishing or canoeing/kayaking if they begin to impact the nesting habitat or cause excessive disturbance. Efforts to reduce the illegal ATV activity are also needed.

Education, Outreach, Research Considerations:

  • Assess current access; recommend enhanced access, if feasible.
    Access is more than adequate at this time.

  • Determine education and outreach needs; recommend strategies and materials.
    Information kiosks listing rules of use are needed as well as a BCA info kiosk.

  • Identify research needs; prioritize and recommend specific projects or studies.
    Continue breeding quail surveys and integrate with a breeding bird survey.

Other Issues:
This site is also very well suited for designation as a Natural Heritage Area due to its many species and communities of special concern. The coastal plain ponds support a wide variety of threatened and endangered plants and animals as well as being a rare ecosystem type. This site is heavily used during most of the year by people hiking, horseback riding, and training dogs, as well as hunting and fishing. Portions of the property are stocked with pheasants during November and December and are heavily hunted at these times.

DEC Region 1 Office, 631-444-0345

Andrle, R.F. and J.R. Carroll, eds. 1988. The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

Burger, M.F. and J.M. Liner. 2005. Important Bird Areas of New York. Audubon New York, Albany, NY

Wells, J.V. 1998. Important Bird Areas in New York State. National Audubon Society, Albany, NY

Date BCA Designated: 9/25/06

Date MGS Prepared: 3/6/06; revised 8/2/06