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“A total of 1,624 tern chicks were banded…”

2014: A Successful/Record Year for Common Terns in the 1000 Islands.

After 25 years of working to restore the dwindling population of the Common Tern, one of the 1000 Island’s most recognizable water birds, 2014 was one of the most successful years of restoration work for the species.

Under the guidance of Dr. Lee Harper and his crew from Riveredge Associates, volunteers from Save The River, Thousand Islands Land Trust(TILT), and the Chippewa Bay area, braved the elements for the 17th straight year to prepare and monitor nesting sites throughout the Upper St. Lawrence River area. Many of these nesting sites are on navigation cells owned and operated by The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, which has been cooperating with and encouraging the tern restoration efforts for many years.

Dr. Harper credits the diligent efforts of this corps of volunteers, as the primary reason for the success of the program, to restore the breeding habitat of common terns in the 1000 Islands, for what was a dangerously declining bird population, threatened by loss of nesting sites, due to human encroachment, effects of pollution and the ongoing challenges of predation.

Dr. Harper reports in his summary presented at the Great Lakes Area Working Group on Colonial Waterbirds annual meeting, that over the last 25 years, Common Terns have nested at 64 sites on the international sector of the St. Lawrence River. In 2014, 19 of these sites had nesting terns, more than in recent years. A total of approximately 1,284 nests were recorded on the early June survey , recovering a bit from 2013 when owl and peregrine falcon depredation was severe and some nesting sites were abandoned.

All nesting colonies of Common Terns on the St. Lawrence River are being managed with added nesting gravel, chick shelters, fencing, vegetation removal, goose nest removal, gull/osprey exclusion grids and/or mink trapping. These efforts are supported by NYSDEC, NYPA, Save The River and the Thousand Islands Land Trust.

These management efforts have been successful. In 2014, the average nesting productivity of tern colonies (downstream of Ogdensburg) was double that recorded in 2013 and approximately equal to the long term average. Depredation was not a major factor in 2014.

Charts of the number of terns on the St. Lawrence River from the same article show the resurgence of the tern population since 2001. Since that time, the number of nesting terns of the river has more than doubled!

Under the guidance of TILT’s Director of Land Conservation, Sarah Walsh, the annual setting up of gull exclusion grids on its Eagle Wings Shoals and Tidd shoals takes place in mid-April. These grids help exclude gulls and make nesting space available for the smaller and later nesting terns. This River outing on the TILT Stanley work boat is always a bonding event for volunteers, looking forward to another season of working on the River. A late summer take-down of the grids is a second opportunity to get back out on the River and help preserve the tern population.

Save The River volunteers, under the guidance of Program Manager, Kate Breheny, fan-out on the River, in their own boats, during the same period, to assess the effects of winter storms on the sites they will be monitoring. At this time, necessary repairs are made to the sites, including adding fencing and bird shelters built by members of school classes. Once sites are prepared, the anticipation of the terns arrival is all that is left until monitoring begins.

From May through July, volunteers monitor, by checking on and recording any activity at the sites, on a weekly basis. This includes locating new nests and counting eggs found at each site. As the summer progresses, the anticipation of new chicks hatching grows with each week.

In July the banding of mature chicks, ready to fledge and fly, is always an exciting part of the program. Volunteers participating in the banding experience, hold and help band the chicks.

The recorded data is used for the master tables compiled by Riveredge Associates, which reflects how many birds will be added to the population as a result of the nesting season. Each bird gets an individually numbered stainless steel leg band. Recoveries of banded birds tell us a lot about their movements and migration. On nesting sites experiencing a significant hatch of chicks, one volunteer in a boat is needed to stay in the boat and gently capture any “jumpers” that attempt to swim away. These fluffy little swimmers are netted and returned to their nests before they are lost on the River, or to opportunistic predators.

Harper reports that in 2014, “A total of 1,624 tern chicks were banded. Only 611 were banded in 2013, due to predators. Terns banded as chicks on the St. Lawrence River have been recorded nesting as adults (on eggs) in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New York (Oneida Lake), Ontario (Presqu’ile Provincial Park) and Vermont (Lake Champlain).” Banding chicks after months of preparing and monitoring nesting sites is the most gratifying part of the Common Tern Restoration & Monitoring Program. The volunteers get to see the results of all of their hard restoration and monitoring work with birds, successfully fledging and adding to the tern population.

Lee Harper writes,

The photos of the adult and chicks, on the left of the accompanying slide, are indeed from Ashland, Wisconsin, of a bird we banded on the SLR in 2008. She nested in WI in both 2013 and in 2014 (they trapped her to read her band number in both years). Those chicks are River grandkids!

Also, an adult on eggs was trapped at Monomoy Island, Cape Cod, the first well documented movement of a bird, from the Great Lakes to the coast. Our SLR tern management efforts are really supporting tern populations all over the Northeastern US and Canada.

The Common Tern Restoration & Monitoring Program runs on volunteer help. If you are interested in volunteering to help the Common Tern, please contact either Kate at Save The River:, 315-686-2010, or Sarah at TILT: , 315-686-5345.

By John Peach, Huckleberry Island, Ivy Lea

John and his wife Pat, live on Huckleberry Island, near Ivy Lea, from May through October. The rest of the year they reside in Princeton, NJ, although John continues to make frequent return visits to the Islands, throughout the winter. John retired several years ago from his career in international business. His family has owned a place in the Thousand Islands for over 50 years. John is a past president of Save The River, and is still active on the Save The River Board.

Click here to see John’s other articles for TI Life.

Posted in: Places, Nature, People
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Morris Huck
Comment by: Morris Huck ( )
Left at: 10:19 AM Sunday, March 15, 2015
Great story John, Years back when Bud Andress was with Parks Canada he had a crew that graded Ice Island for the turns and it was very successful. Since he has retired it has not carried on.
If it would be possible maybe the crew from TILT could do it again

Elaine Tack
Comment by: Elaine Tack
Left at: 9:45 PM Thursday, March 19, 2015
After watching "Winged Migration" years ago I have been addicted to Birds! Thank you for this terrific article and update! Fantastic Community effort!!!