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Niagara River Remedial Action Plan Stage 2 Update Report

Niagara River Remedial Action Plan Stage 2 Update Report

Colonial Waterbird

Colonial Waterbird survey in the Niagara River (US) During the fourth decadal colonial waterbird survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on the U.S. side of the Niagara River in 2007, over 13 700 nests of seven colonial waterbird species were reported at six different sites on the River (Table 16, 108 ). These included four species, doublecrested cormorant, great blue heron, great egret and common tern. Compared to the small islands and rocky outcrops on Canadian side of the Niagara River, the U.S. side supports a much higher proportion of nesting birds due to a greater availability of suitable habitat. It is difficult to report on U.S. population trends between the third and fourth surveys since nest count data for this side of the River at this time are incomplete (data for two sites are not yet available in entirety). Table 18: Census data of colonial waterbird nests (=pairs) on the U.S. side of the Niagara River (A) during the 1st (1977), 2nd (1989-1991), 3rd (1997/99) and 4th (2007/08) surveys as part of the Great Lakes-wide decadal surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 109 . Data presented for the U.S. sides of the Niagara River and Lake Erie for the 4th survey are incomplete and hence no annual rates of change have been calculated. Species Census Year 1977 1989-91 1997/99 2007* Ring-billed Gull 4 809 11 427 16 859 12 917 Double-crested Cormorant 0 0 49 552 Herring Gull 110 156 24 12 Black-crowned Night-Heron 0 0 38 98 Great Blue Heron 0 0 40 64 Great Egret 0 0 7 20 Common Tern 518 160 113 89 Total 5 437 11 743 17 130 13 749 * Data for fourth survey are incomplete as data for two sites has not yet been entered in entirety. Numbers of nesting double-crested cormorants have increased since the first year they appeared, in 1992. Annual counts of double-crested cormorants on the U.S. side of the River indicate that nest numbers gradually increased over the next thirteen year period to a peak of 705 nests at five sites in 2005 and then subsequently declined to 552 nests at four sites in 2007 (Table 3; 110 ). Following concerns of the impacts on other nesting colonial waterbird species, cormorant management activities have been implemented by NYSDEC since 1996 to reduce the success of nesting cormorants in this region as well as at some sites on the U.S. side of Lake Erie. It is unknown why there are no cormorants breeding on the Canadian side; it is unlikely due to a lack of habitat, and they may start breeding at any time on the Canadian side. 109 Scharf and Shugart 1998; Cuthbert et al. 2001; Cuthbert and Wires 2008 110 CWS and NYSDEC unpublished 68

Niagara river remedial action plan stage 2 update Table 19: Census data of double crested cormorants (=pairs) on the U.S. side of the Niagara River (1992-2008) Colony 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 Goat I. 0 9 47 38 72 88 151 127 176 243 Buckhorn Weir 7 51 52 29 32 0 0 0 0 0 20 128 46 83 87 180 203 NiMo Crib 7 4 16 32 44 Motor I. * 0 0 0 0 0 18 0 0 0 0 26 57 28 12 20 0 0 Strawberry I. * 0 0 0 0 0 31 4 0 0 0 0 0 130 455 235 164 38 Total 7 51 52 29 32 49 4 0 9 47 84 257 299 705 485 552 528 Overall, the large declines in contaminant levels in herring gull eggs from the Niagara River in the last twenty years and the relatively stable numbers of nesting species suggests that contaminant-induced effects do not appear to be limiting factors at the population level for birds feeding in the AOC. Bald eagles have recently returned to nest on the Niagara River at Navy Island and successfully fledged eaglets in 2005, 2006 and 2008 providing additional support for the improved health of aquaticfeeding birds in the AOC 111 . Although herring gull numbers have declined, herons and cormorant numbers have increased. The most likely limiting factor for colonial waterbirds in general on the Canadian side is the limited natural nesting habitat. 2) Undesirable Algae component (under the Eutrophication or Undesirable Algae BUI) – from Not Impaired to Impaired resulting in the entire BUI now being listed as Impaired. The Welland River watershed has poor water quality and attempts to mitigate the effects of altered water flow and introduce more favourable land-use practices have been implemented through the Welland River watershed Strategy. There is an absence of key evidence of how the Welland River system is responding biologically to excess phosphorus. Consequently delisting criteria could not be recommended at this time for the BUI “Eutrophication and Undesirable Algae”. Both benthic biomonitoring (BioMAP) and fisheries assessment data suggest an impaired aquatic ecosystem, but interpretation is complicated by other possible stressors such as water level fluctuations, habitat degradation, barriers (in the case of fish movement), or other factors such as depositional and suspended sediment. Currently, the Welland River Eutrophication Study is underway and will be completed in 2011. When complete, this study will assess the status of the Eutrophication and Undesirable Algae BUI and develop delisting criteria for it. 111 Allair 2008 69

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