Northeast Coastal Areas Study
Significant Coastal Habitats
Site 23 (CT)
I. SITE NAME: Falkner and Goose Islands
II. SITE LOCATION: These two adjacent islands are located in central Long Island Sound approximately 4 miles (6 km) south of Guilford on the central coast of Connecticut.
COUNTY: New Haven
USGS 7.5 MIN QUAD: Guilford 41072-36 (Islands not actually shown)
USGS COUNTY QUAD: New Haven County, Connecticut (1:50,000)
III. GENERAL BOUNDARY: Included are both islands in their entirety and nearshore waters out to approximately 0.5 miles (1 km) around their periphery.
IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTED STATUS: Falkner Island is owned by the U.S. Government (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Goose Island is privately owned.
V. GENERAL HABITAT DESCRIPTION: Falkner Island is a glacial moraine island, approximately 5 acres (2 ha) in size, with 16-33 foot (5-10 meters) high bluffs, and consisting of a densely vegetated, grassy interior plateau surrounded by a relatively narrow strip of rocky beach. Goose Island is considerably smaller in size, virtually devoid of vegetation except for a small patch of saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), and mostly awash at high tide. This island was apparently devastated by a hurricane.
VI. SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF AREA: Falkner Island contains the third largest nesting colony of roseate terns (Sterna dougallii), a U.S. Endangered species, in North America. Together with Bird Island in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, and Great Gull Island off the eastern end of Long Island, New York, these three islands constitute over 90% of the North American breeding population of this species. The number of roseate terns on Falkner Island has averaged about 175 nesting pairs over the past 10 years. Common terns (Sterna hirundo) also breed on Falkner Island, though in far greater numbers than roseate terns. The nesting population of common terns is estimated (1989) at over 4,000 pairs on this island. While common terns do a fair amount of feeding along the mainland coast of Connecticut, roseate terns are virtually never observed feeding in this area and, in fact, it has not been established precisely where the roseate terns from Falkner Island actually feed. Goose Island currently has a large and growing breeding population of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), great black-backed gulls (Larus marinus) and herring gulls (Larus argentatus). Other species of special emphasis using the nearshore waters of this general area, particularly during the winter, are: Atlantic brant (Branta bernicla), American black duck (Anas rubripes), greater and lesser scaup (Aythya marila and A. affinis), scoters (Melanitta spp.), common and red-throated loans (Gavia immer and G. stellata, respectively) and oldsquaw (Clangula hyemalis).
VII. THREATS: The waters of Long Island Sound surrounding Goose and Falkner Islands are heavily used for recreational boating, fishing and lobstering. The presence of terns and the lighthouse serve to attract unauthorized visitors to the island who land their boats to see the birds and lighthouse and to use the area for picnicking, which creates a disturbance to the nesting terns. The presence of Fish and Wildlife Service researchers on the island has tended to discourage these landings, but when they are not on the island the area is subject to disturbances and vandalism. The growing population of cormorants and gulls in the area, particularly on Goose Island, is of considerable concern regarding potential impacts on tern nesting on Falkner Island, especially gull predation on tern eggs and chicks, and in precluding any expansion of the tern population onto Goose Island. Shoreline erosion around Falkner Island is a growing problem and may serve to diminish the amount of available nesting habitat in the future for terns on this island.
VIII. CONSERVATION CONSIDERATIONS: Of primary concern is preventing disturbances to the roseate tern breeding population on Falkner Island. It will require rigorous enforcement efforts to prevent unauthorized landings during the tern nesting season, perhaps by establishing island caretakers and patrols throughout the nesting season. There is also a need to identify the major feeding areas of the roseate tern population on Falkner so as to ensure the protection of these areas as well and to develop and implement habitat conservation and management plans. It has been speculated that the roseate terns on Falkner Island may be feeding along the north shore of Long Island, NY, but more studies are needed for verification and to determine what risks, if any, these areas may be subject to. Consideration should be given to protecting Falkner Island from further shoreline erosion, including the placement of rip-rap along the shore. These materials may also serve to provide additional nesting habitat for roseate terns. Goose Island, even though not likely developable, is privately-owned and should be considered for possible enhancement opportunities to make this area more suitable for tern nesting, especially as the Falkner population grows and exceeds the carrying capacity of the island. Cormorant and gull control may also need to be considered if it is determined that these colonies are threats to the tern colony. If it is determined that Goose Island may be of potential value to expansion of the Falkner Island tern colony, the Fish and Wildlife Service may wish to pursue the development of a cooperative agreement with the current landowner of Goose Island to conserve, enhance and protect this island.
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