IBA Lake of the Woods Sand Spit Archipelago
Rainy River, Ontario
Site Summary
ON144 Latitude
48.904° N
94.663° W
318 - 323 m
51.41 km²
deciduous woods (temperate), scrub/shrub, freshwater lake, freshwater marsh, coastal sand dunes & beaches
Land Use:
Nature conservation and research, Fisheries/aquaculture, Hunting
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Disturbance, Interactions with native species/disease, Other environmental events
IBA Criteria: Continentally Significant: Congregatory Species, Nationally Significant: Threatened Species
Conservation status: IBA Conservation Plan written/being written, Nature Reserve (provincial)
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Site Description
The Lake of the Woods Sand Spit Archipelago lies in the southeastern portion of Lake of the Woods, with the eastern portion of the site in Ontario, and the western portion in Minnesota, U.S.A. The Canadian portion consists of Sable Islands, Windy Point, and Burton Island, which are located about 25 km northwest of the town of Rainy River. The US portion contains Pine, Currys and Tern islands, Morris and Rocky points, and Zippel Spit. The closest town, Baudette, Minnesota, lies 25 km to the southeast.

The Sable Islands are a 10 kilometre long narrow barrier island that is low enough in places for high water to submerge parts, forming two or three islands. It lies close to the mainland, and is essentially a large sand dune with sparse tree growth and shrubs occupying the higher sites, a few marshes along the shoreward side, and wide sandy beaches all around. Windy Point is about 3 km to the northeast of the Sable Islands, and is a narrow peninsula jutting out about 2 km from the mainland. The point is at most 200 m wide, has thin tree growth and shrubs at the highest points, and is surrounded by wide sandy shores, except at the base, which is surrounded by marsh. Burton Island is a small, rocky island, which lies just west of the northern end of Sable Island.

The seven kilometre-long connected Pine and Currys islands are separated from the west end of Sable Island by only about 100 m of water, and are within a km of Morris Point. Rocky Point is also on the mainland, while Zippel Spit is a long barrier bar at the mouth of Zippel Bay, located approximately 8 km west of Morris Point. All the US sites have sandy beaches along their shores.

This site is currently the only known site in Ontario where the nationally endangered Piping Plover breeds. Furthermore, the site is the easternmost breeding location in Canada of the northern Great Plains population of the Piping Plover, with the nearest significant population being 300 km to the northwest, on Lake Manitoba. From 1983 to 1988, an average of 39 adults were surveyed here, (about 1% of the prairie population). Since 1988, however, the population has declined, leading to a 1983/98 average of 26 birds, and to a 1994/98 average of 16 birds. Although this site does not in most recent years meet IBA continental thresholds for congregatory species, this site has been identified as an IBA because it holds a population of an globally vulnerable species that is widely separated from other breeding locations within Canada.

The highest concentration of birds has consistently occurred at Pine and Currys islands, while at least three birds have been present every year since 1995 at Windy Point. But, Zippel Spit has not had any since 1983, while Sable Islands saw its last birds (three) in 1994. There was a seven year absence of birds at Rocky Point (1991-97) but then two were recorded in 1998. Considering this, and the proximity of the population of birds on Pine and Currys Island, there is a good chance that Piping Plovers will once again nest on Sable Islands.

This site is host to many shorebird migrants in spring and fall. Additionally, thousands of waterfowl congregate between the barrier islands and the Rainy River mouth, especially in early spring. There are nesting Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, and occasionally American White Pelicans on Burton Island, while Black Terns (possibly a large colony) breed in the wetlands at Windy Point. Common Terns, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Marbled Godwits also breed nearby.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Loggerhead Shrike 2001 SU 1
Piping Plover 1983 - 1998 SU 13 - 53
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
Fluctuating water levels during the nesting season probably both negatively and positively affect Piping Plover shoreline habitat (rising levels increase erosion but can also lead to deposition, and help keep shorelines unvegetated). Foxes and other predators, and disturbance from humans during the nesting season are two other concerns. The latter problem is partly addressed through signs on the beach at Pine and Currys Island that indicate that the area is used by Piping Plovers.

Sable Island is a Ministry of Natural Resources provincial nature reserve, Pine and Currys islands are designated a State Science and Natural Area, while Windy Point is privately owned. Due to the presence of the Piping Plovers, this entire site has been recommended as an Endangered Species Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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