Press-Republican

Local News

August 10, 2008

Four Brothers Islands a haven for a variety of birds

Four Brothers Islands home to a variety of birds

WILLSBORO -- They rise from the depths of Lake Champlain, four seemingly incongruous sentinels sitting miles from shore in one of the lake's widest sections.

They appear haggard from a distance, as if time itself has eroded their stately presence.

But Four Brothers Islands are teeming with life and play a major role in the breeding success of at least a dozen species of migratory birds.

"Our mission is biodiversity, and this is biodiversity in its glory," said Tom Berry, director of the Lake Champlain Program for the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and Land Trust, which owns the rights to Four Brothers Islands.

The islands don't have specific names but are called A, B, C and D, respectively, and possess distinct personalities of their own.

Islands A and B, which are farthest from the New York shore, are both capped with fairly thick growths of vegetation, while C and D are more or less bare, each possessing a strikingly different appearance.

GHOST SHIP ISLAND

Island D is perhaps the most distinctive, with the trunks of tall white pine trees still standing from one end to the other despite the fact that they died years ago.

"Island D had a huge white-pine canopy with a typical forest community underneath," said David Capen, research professor for the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. "Island D would be the island where you'd land and pitch a tent if you were so inclined. It was truly a beautiful island."

Now, Island D looks eerily like a ghost ship, its masts rising from an earthen deck like huge matchsticks, devoid of branches, leaves and any sign of living vegetation.

The fate of those majestic trees lay in the island's popularity in attracting colonial birds to its shores. With large numbers of cormorants in particular breeding throughout the pine forest since arriving on Lake Champlain in the 1980s, the droppings from several generations eventually choked the life out of the pines.

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