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Harbor Herons Bird Conservation Area

General Site Information: The Harbor Herons BCA consists of Goethals Bridge Pond, adjoining wetlands, and property along Old Place Creek. BCA designation is confined to these state-owned lands, part of a larger assemblage referred to as the Harbor Herons Complex consisting of several nesting islands and foraging areas throughout the New York City area. Goethals Bridge Pond is a Department of State-designated Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat. The mixture of productive tidal marsh, freshwater marsh, shallow water foraging habitats, their proximity to islands with suitable nesting habitat and minimal human and predator intrusion, is key to the importance of the area for nesting wading birds. The presence of abundant and consistently available forage fish and invertebrates are a critical element to continued existence of these productive nesting colonies. Shorebirds also use the mud flats extensively for foraging.

Nesting islands near the BCA include the Isle of Meadows and Pralls Island (owned by New York City) and Shooters Island (mostly in New York, but a small portion is in New Jersey, and managed by New York City). These islands are located in the near shore waters to the north and west of Staten Island, and are all part of the Harbor Herons Complex. The nesting birds on these islands rely heavily on the BCA for foraging habitat. Other islands in the Harbor Herons Complex used by colonial waterbirds for nesting are: Hoffman Island (south of eastern end of Staten Island), North and South Brothers Islands (East River), and islands in Jamaica Bay.

Nesting islands in the Harbor Herons Complex support significant portions of the nesting populations of several species of wading birds in New York State. Overall, the total number of individuals present for most of the wading bird species found in the Harbor Herons Complex appear relatively stable. However, the actual nesting colony locations appear to shift between the various islands over time. Occasional human disturbance, predators, and loss of suitable nesting habitat due to changes in vegetation appear to be factors influencing these shifts.

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Harbor Herons BCA Management Guidance Summary

Site Name: Harbor Herons Bird Conservation Area

State Ownership and Managing Agency: Department of Environmental Conservation

Location: Richmond County, Staten Island, City of New York

Size of Area: 111 acres

DEC Region: 2

Vision Statement: Manage the diverse and productive forage habitats for all bird species with special emphasis on colonial waterbirds using the area.

Key BCA Criteria: Wading bird concentration site; diverse species concentration site; individual species concentration site; bird research site (ECL §11-2001, 3.d, f, g and i). This BCA is an important foraging area for the nearby nesting colonies, which support a significant percentage of the state's nesting cattle egret, great egret, snowy egret, black-crowned night heron, and glossy ibis, as well as smaller numbers of little blue heron, yellow-crowned night heron, great black-backed gull, and herring gull. Ponds, wetlands, and creeks support marsh wren, waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wetland-dependent species.

Critical Habitat Types: Freshwater and tidal ponds, marshes, creeks, and mud flats serve as important foraging areas. Goethals Bridge Pond is particularly important due to its unique habitat, size, and forage productivity.

Operation and Management Considerations:

  • Identify habitat management activities needed to maintain site as a BCA.
    A hydrologic study is underway for the tidal wetland area adjacent to Goethals Bridge Pond to determine the best approach to restore tidal influence. Tidal influence will help to reduce the encroaching Phragmites reed and restore native plant communities. Similar efforts are being considered for Goethals Bridge Pond.
  • Identify seasonal sensitivities; adjust routine operations accordingly.
    Disturbance (human intrusion, predators) of foraging areas needs to be minimized at Goethals Bridge Pond, in particular.
  • 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.
    Ensure that bird conservation concerns are addressed when a management plan is developed for the site.
  • Identify any existing or potential use impacts; recommend new management strategies to address those impacts.
    Access to locations, other than the parking and viewing areas at Goethals Bridge Pond, should be limited.

    The area is under pressure from surrounding development. Adjacent properties include Howland Hook Terminal and the GATX Facility. Howland Hook has a potential port expansion project, while GATX may be a commercial development project. Potential impacts to the BCA and larger Harbor Herons area will need to be assessed.

Education, Outreach, and Research Considerations:

  • Assess current access; recommend enhanced access, if feasible.
    Current access to the BCA is adequate. Parking and viewing areas are provided at Goethals Bridge Pond.
  • Determine education and outreach needs; recommend strategies and materials.
    Emphasize the foraging habitats within, and outside of the BCA, and use it as a teaching tool. A kiosk will be placed at Goethals Bridge Pond access site that explains the ecology of the BCA and Harbor Herons Complex.
  • Identify research needs; prioritize and recommend specific projects or studies.
    Continue inventory and monitoring of colonial waterbird species, in particular nesting wading birds.

    Toxicology studies of dead birds recovered from the New York Harbor area indicate high levels of heavy metals, DDT, and other contaminants. The levels of contaminants in birds using the BCA, nesting islands, and nearby foraging areas, and the possible reproductive, behavioral, and sub-lethal effects of these contaminants, should be assessed.

    Apparent declines in glossy ibis, cattle egret, herring gull, and great black-backed gull need to be assessed. The reduction in gull nesting appears to be due to transition of nesting islands towards more shrubs and trees rather than the preferred open, grass areas. Gulls are also ground nesters vulnerable to mammalian predators. Reasons for the decline in glossy ibis and cattle egret are uncertain.

Other Issues: This site qualifies as a BCA primarily due to the presence of the nearby nesting islands (Isle of Meadows, Pralls Island, and Shooters Island). The wading birds utilizing these nesting islands are sensitive to human disturbance during nesting. New York City, which owns Pralls Island, Isle of Meadows, and most of Shooters Island, has expressed a desire to work with DEC to protect and enhance the islands for nesting wading birds. DEC should work with New York City, and other willing owners of nesting islands, to protect the nesting birds and enhance the habitat on the nesting islands.

Oil spills have been, and continue to be, a threat to the health of the Harbor Herons Complex. The birds themselves are affected directly by physical contact with oil spills, which may also dramatically reduce available forage in some areas. The existing oil spill contingency plan has been revised to identify critical bird habitats, and includes a protocol for implementing protective measures for these areas, such as booms.

DEC Region 2 Wildlife Manager, 718-482-4941

Kerlinger, P. 1999. The New York City Audubon Society Harbor Ecosystem Study: Nesting Populations of Herons, Egrets, Ibis, Gulls and Other Birds, 1999. NYC Audubon Society, New York, NY.

Maccarone, A.D. and Brzorad, J.N. 1998. The Use of Foraging Habitats by Wading Birds Seven Years After the Occurrence of Major Oil Spills. Colonial Waterbirds 21 (3): 367-374.

Parsons, K.C. 1987. The Harbor Herons Project, 1986. NYC Audubon Society, New York, NY.

Parsons, K.C. 1992. Aquatic Birds of New York Harbor: 1992 Management Report. NYC Audubon Society, New York, NY.

Parsons, K.C. 1994. Wildlife Habitats on Shooters Island, New York Harbor: Characterization Study and Management Recommendations. Manomet Observatory, Manomet, MA.

Sommers, L.A., M.L. Alfieri, K.J. Meskill, and R.L. Miller. 1996. 1995 Long Island Colonial Waterbird and Piping Plover Survey. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Stony Brook, NY.

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

Date BCA Designated: 11/16/01

Date MGS Prepared: 8/20/01

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