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Valcour Island Bird Conservation Area

General Site Information: Valcour Island BCA is a 1,100 acre forested calcareous outcrop that supports the largest great blue (Ardea herodias) heron rookery on Lake Champlain. This rookery is currently the largest in New York State, and the third largest rookery in the Great Lakes region. Surveys conducted by University of Vermont staff documented 416 active nests in 2004, with a peak of 552 nests in 2001.

Bald eagles (threatened) have been observed in the vicinity of Valcour Island; and the cliffs on the south end of the island were once a peregrine falcon (endangered) eyrie, although there has not been any nesting there for several decades. Historically, the island supported substantial populations of long-eared owl. The area also provides breeding and migratory habitat for a variety of waterfowl, shorebird, and songbird species. A number of rare plant species have been documented on site, including Champlain beachgrass (Ammophila champlainesis).

Valcour Island is the largest of the seven islands in the Champlain Islands Management Complex administered by DEC's Division of Lands and Forests. It has also been designated as an Audubon Important Bird Area. The island is accessible by boat for camping, hiking, wildlife viewing, and hunting. The island is currently classified as primitive relative to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan by the Adirondack Park Agency. The Bluff Point Lighthouse, a historic structure, exists on the west shore of the island. The waters surrounding the island are commonly used as anchorage sites for mariners on Lake Champlain.

Valcour Island BCA Management Guidance Summary

Site Name: Valcour Island

State Ownership and Managing Agency: Department of Environmental Conservation

Location: Valcour Island. Clinton County, Towns of Plattsburgh and Peru

Size of Area: 1,100 acres

DEC Region: 5

Vision Statement: Maintain the forested woodland, wetlands and shoreline habitats present to ensure continued use by waterbirds, landbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl.

Key BCA Criteria: Wading Bird Concentration Site and Individual Species Concentration Site (ECL §11-2001, 3. d and g). As a Wading Bird Concentration Site and Individual Species Concentration Site, Valcour Island BCA supports approximately 550 active great blue heron nests, the largest rookery on Lake Champlain. The BCA also supports a variety of other waterbird, waterfowl, shorebird, and landbird species during both the breeding season and spring and fall migration.

Critical Habitat Types: Dominant habitat types include eastern deciduous forest and freshwater wetlands, as well as a variety of ferns, grasses and wildflowers. The glacial soils favor a forest association of sugar maple, red maple, American beech, white and yellow birch, as well as black cherry and white ash. White and black spruce, eastern white cedar, hemlock, white pine and balsam fir reflect cooler temperatures and increased moisture closer to the lake.

The outcropping of Ordovician limestone bedrock that forms Valcour Island is unusual and gives rise to a mosaic of uncommon communities and the largest concentration of rare plants in eastern Clinton County. Eight natural communities are documented on the island: cobble shore wet meadow, inland calcareous lakeshore, calcareous shoreline outcrop, limestone woodland, northern white cedar rocky summit, silver maple-ash swamp, mesotrophic dimictic lake, and northern white cedar swamp. The northern white cedar swamp supports a Western Hemisphere Rookery where great blue herons nest communally.

The New York Natural Heritage Program has recorded extant population of 16 rare plants on Valcour Island, including melic-oats (Trisetum melicoides), and ram's-head ladyslipper (Cypripedium arietinum). Seven other rare plants have been known historically to exist on the island, but have not been re-located on recent surveys.

Operation and Management Considerations:

  • Identify habitat management activities needed to maintain the site as a BCA.
    Double-crested cormorant populations in the Great Lakes have undergone a range expansion and population increase in recent decades. This is due, in part, to a reduction in persistent toxic chemicals in the environment and an increase in overwinter survival as a result of the expansion of the fish farming industry in southern states. In certain cases, double-crested cormorants have been documented displacing other waterbirds from nesting sites. Negative impacts to vegetation have also been documented when double-crested cormorant colonies become firmly established. Regular surveys should be conducted to identify any new nesting attempts by double-crested cormorants in proximity of the existing great blue heron rookery. If such nests are recorded, various management options should be considered.

  • Identify seasonal sensitivities; adjust routine operations accordingly.
    Human disturbance in the northern white cedar swamp, particularly the heron rookery, should be minimized during the nesting season, March through August.

  • 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.
    Special care should be taken to avoid extensive trail maintenance or other types of disruptive activity during the breeding season of March through August within or adjacent to the rookery. Likewise, the rookery must be avoided when designing and building new trails or new designated campsites.

  • Identify any existing or potential use impacts; recommend new management strategies to address those impacts.
    On Valcour island, the beaches and protected harbors receive a particularly high level of use. The campsites around Valcour provide some of the most sought after camping locations on the lake. Public access to the wetlands and heronry should be discouraged during the nesting season, March through August, to minimize human disturbance.

    The seven Champlain Islands, like other natural areas in the Forest Preserve, cannot withstand ever increasing, unlimited visitor use without suffering the eventual loss of its essential, natural character. Managers should work to ensure the natural area's carrying capacity is not exceeded while concurrently providing for public use and benefit.

Education, Outreach, and Research Considerations:

  • Assess current access; recommend enhanced access, if feasible.
    Valcour Island, and the surrounding area, is historically significant due to the Revolutionary War Battle of Valcour Island and the pivotal War of 1812 Battle of Plattsburgh Bay. Three boat launches in the Lake Champlain Islands Management Complex administered by DEC Bureau of Fisheries provide adequate access; Peru Dock Boat Launch, Port Douglas Boat Launch and Willsboro Bay Boat Launch. In addition, a number of private marinas or boat launch sites on both the New York and Vermont side of the lake provide access.

    Numerous hiking trails allow public recreation. A vast trail system extends from the southern end looping around the circumference and including two bisector trails that cut through the center of the island.

    Plans are currently being developed as how to best rehabilitate the existing boat launches and docks managed by the Department to bring them into compliance with the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

  • Determine education and outreach needs; recommend strategies and materials.
    Several kiosk panels have been developed through the Lake Champlain Basin Program to increase public awareness regarding the historical, archaeological and natural areas aspects of Valcour Island. Additional kiosk panels should be considered to relay the importance of the avian resources and habitats present.

  • Identify research needs; prioritize and recommend specific projects or studies.
    Waterbird surveys for colonial nesting species and secretive marsh birds should be conducted at regular intervals utilizing standardized protocols. Observations of any potential bald eagle and peregrine falcon breeding activity in the vicinity of Valcour Island should be documented.

Other Issues:
None identified.

DEC Region 5 Wildlife Manager, 518-897-1291.

Burger, M. and J. Liner. 2005. Important Bird Areas of New York State.

Champlain Islands Draft Unit Management Plan. 2003. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Lands and Forest.

Dunnington, F. 1978. Lake Champlain Islands Report. Lake Champlain Basin Study.

Richards, Z. And D. Capen. 2001. An Inventory of the Great Blue Heron Rookery on Valcour Island, 2001. University of Vermont.

Richards, Z. And D. Capen. 2004. Great Blue Herons in the Lake Champlain Ecosystem: An Assessment of the Rookeries on Shad Island, VT and Valcour Island, NY. University of Vermont.

Date Designated: 9/25/06

Date Prepared: 7/7/06