Tag Archives: Beaver Island State Park

Tundra Swans at Beaver Island State Park

It’s winter on the Niagara River.  While most of us are looking forward to spring, migratory birds from the high Arctic are frolicking here as if the river were a tropical resort.

The tundra swan foreshadows the arrival of winter on the Niagara frontier.  During the waning days of autumn, large flocks of these elegant birds congregate along riverbanks and small islands wherever there is shallow water where they remain for several months feeding mostly on the roots of submerged aquatic plants.  Sometimes they are joined by lesser numbers of mute swans  and trumpeter swans.

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Adult tundra swans along the Niagara River.

As our tundra swans settle into their winter environs they often behave in a stealthy manner, choosing to lead a low-key existence until the annual waterfowl hunting season ends. However, it’s easy to locate these birds from their unique calls which are reminiscent of those of a baying dog but with a bit of a musical lilt.  By the end of January, large flocks of hundreds of birds emerge where they can be observed feeding, preening their feathers or engaging in mating rituals.  One of the best areas to observe the tundra swan is at Beaver Island State Park located at the south end of Grand Island where the Niagara River is widest.

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Adult tundra swan preening it’s feathers.  During preening, or straightening and smoothing the feathers, swans distribute uropygial oil, a special oil that helps keep their feathers dry.  Swans and other water birds produce uropygial oil in their uropygial gland.

It’s easy to identify the tundra swan.  Adult birds are pure white with black legs and have a black bill with a distinctive yellow spot just below the eye. This area of the bill is known as the lore.  Immature tundra swans are also white but their head and neck is streaked with gray.  They often travel with the adults.  Contrast that with the features of the mute swan, a non-native species brought over from Europe, which has an orange bill with a black base and short legs.  The neck is slender and is always held in a graceful shape resembling the letter “S”.   A trumpeter swan on the other hand, has a heavy all white body with a long neck that is held straight whether on the water or in flight. The bill and the legs are black.

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Adult and juvenile tundra swans.

The tundra swans will remain here until early spring.  As the weather warms they will depart on the long journey to their breeding grounds above the Arctic Circle.

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Aerial view of the Niagara River Greenway

The ecological significance of the Niagara River has long been recognized.  In 1996 it was the first to be designated a Globally Significant Important Bird Area.  Then in 2005 New York State added further support officially establishing the Niagara River Greenway.  Since that time millions of dollars have been invested in habitat restoration and enhancement projects significantly enhancing the biodiversity of the Niagara River corridor.

Post and photos by Paul Leuchner

The Return of the Eagle

Between 1950 and 1972, chemical contaminations such as DDT almost eliminated bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). The chemicals lead to soft, very breakable eggs resulting in no baby bald eagles and a drastic decline in the population, at which time the species was put on the NYS endangered species list as well as the federal list. By 1960, only one active eagle nest was known in New York State. So, in the late 1970’s, an intensive restoration program began to rebuild the population in the state, to hopefully remove them from the list. The program involved bringing in and raising wild bald eagles from the Great Lakes region and Alaska in hopes that the birds would reestablish the population here in New York. The project, known as “hacking”, was a big success! In 2014, a statewide survey found approximately 330 nests in New York, 250 of which were occupied by breeding pairs, causing the species to be moved from  endangered status to threatened within the state. In addition, the birds’ successful recovery across the U.S. led to the removal of bald eagles from the federal Endangered Species list.

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Immature bald eagles often hang out near the nest during the summer. Notice that these birds are all brown, indicating they were born this year. Photo by State Parks.

Bald eagles mate for life and will usually return to the same nesting site year after year, somewhere near their birth nest area. Bald eagle pairs perform various activities together before mating, such as sharing food, building the breeding nest, and sometimes even courtship flights. The nesting season in New York ranges from the beginning of January to the end of August. Between September and December some birds may stay if there is open water and ample food, while others may migrate to a wintering location. During the nesting season, the eagles are extremely sensitive to human disturbances, such as loud noises, fast movement, or being too close to the nest. If too many disturbances happen during the nesting season, the eagles may leave or even abandon their nest. This past summer, State Parks and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) enacted a plan to help protect the bald eagles nesting in Beaver Island State Park from these human disturbances. Similar protections are in place for eagles nesting in other State Parks such as on the Hudson River, Thousand Islands, and other regions.

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One of many “no motorized vessel” buoys located around the nesting area. Photo by Josh Wulf,2016.

One protective measure is to keep motorized vessels away from the nesting bald eagles. The “no motorized vessel” buoys extend 330 feet all around the nesting area in all directions. Non-motorized vessels such as kayaks or canoes are permitted. In all cases, there are still federal navigation laws around the islands to help protect the habitat, such as maintaining a 5 mph speed limit while within 100 feet of the shoreline. There are also signs on the land that note the edge of the prohibited area for anyone walking on foot. You can help by paying attention to signs to keep your distance from nesting eagles and also avoid disturbing groups of eagles you may see in the winter.

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Immature bald eagle in late winter. Notice the white feathers are starting to come in, but the bird still lacks the white head of the adults. Photo by Gary McDannel, 2014.

Preserving and maintaining good habitat in State Parks has played an important role to the return of this majestic species. With the cooperation of everyone, we can continue to enjoy the wonder of seeing bald eagles on New York’s lakes and rivers, thanks to the remarkable recovery effort that brought the eagles back.

For more information on bald eagles and the protection, please visit the NYSDEC website:

Viewing Tips

Life History

Protection

Post by Jillian Harris, State Parks

 

Kayak Adventures in the Niagara Region

Is kayaking on your bucket list?  Have you ever wanted to try it?  Paddle sports are on the rise according to paddle sport statistics and kayaking is the most popular form of paddling.  Kayaking allows you to experience new things and have your own unique experience with nature. Being only a few inches off the water and a few feet away from wildlife, you gain a new connection and understanding of the natural world around you. Kayaking is a recreational activity that is fun for all ages.

Here at the Niagara Region Interpretative Programs Office, we share our love of this paddle sport and pass our knowledge on to park patrons through free Smartstart paddling orientation kayak programs during the summer season. Our adventures lead us to paddle in the following waterways within New York State Parks:

The Lagoon at Beaver Island State Park

Calm waters of the lagoon make this a perfect location for first time kayakers, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Calm waters of the lagoon make this a perfect location for first time kayakers, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Gallagher Beach on Lake Erie at Buffalo Harbor State Park, the newest state park

Winds and other traffic add an element of difficulty, making this a great option for non-first timers! photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Winds and other traffic add an element of difficulty, making this a great option for non-first timers! photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Woods Creek at Buckhorn Island State Park 

A prime example of managed Niagara River Wetlands, and a great opportunity for wildlife viewing, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
A prime example of Niagara River wetlands, part of ongoing restoration efforts and a great opportunity for wildlife viewing, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

East branch of Twelve Mile Creek at Wilson Tuscarora State Park

Paddle from Tuscarora Bay past cattails into the marsh area, great for bird watching, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Paddle from Tuscarora Bay past cattails into the marsh, great for bird watching, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

And the west branch of Twelve Mile Creek at Wilson Tuscarora State Park

Share this waterway with local boat traffic as the creek will take you into Lake Ontario, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Share this waterway with local boat traffic as the creek leads into Lake Ontario, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Beaver Island State Park Kayak Experience

Escape the daily grind, leave the phones and tablets behind and join us for a kayak lesson.  Learn about kayaks, paddles, apparel and how to be safe on the water.

We’ll start our journey by launching off the EZ Dock Launcher, where you just put your kayak (which we supply) down on the rollers and roll off into the water.

Dock Launcher at Beaver Island State Park, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Dock Launcher at Beaver Island State Park, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

As soon as you’re floating on the water, chances are you will float right into a patch of fragrant water lilies, which are scattered all throughout the lagoon.

Along with the aquatic plants, there is an abundance of wildlife.  You can witness Great Blue Herons wading in the shallow waters or flying overhead, while common terns are diving next to you trying to catch their next meal!

In the lagoon, we have an Osprey nesting platform.  From our kayaks below we have had the pleasure of seeing the parent birds keeping watch over their chicks.

Swimming right below our kayaks is a diverse group of aquatic life such as fish and turtles, while flying around us are dragonflies and damselflies.

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Our evening kayak classes are often accompanied by the ever telling song of the bull frog, singing along with the cicadas which are heard all throughout the park on any given summer day.

Getting out on the water with us can give you a chance to see all of this; but also give you a new understanding of kayaking as a sport, learn more efficient ways of paddling, and a few tricks of the trade. So what are you waiting for? Find a kayak class near you and see where your next adventure will take you.  We are here. Where are you?

Sunset on the Niagara River, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Sunset on the Niagara River, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Post by Tina Spencer and Kelly Sieman, OPRHP, Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office, Park Naturalists