Vegetation Management on the Cape Fear River Pays Off

As nesting season has progressed this year, we’ve observed fantastic results of vegetation management work on two islands on the Cape Fear River!

Ferry Slip Island and South Pelican Island are two dredged-material islands on the Cape Fear River. Because they are not natural barrier islands, which can maintain open, sandy bird-nesting habitat through natural processes like overwash, erosion, and accretion, they require management to create and sustain suitable nesting habitat.

Last winter, Audubon North Carolina completed vegetation management at both islands thanks to grant funding from the Duke Rivers and Waters Program and the partnership of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

On Ferry Slip, tilling the entire island and treatment with herbicide resulted in an incredible transformation, from a bushy, grassy jungle to ideal open sand.

Though Bermuda grass has grown back—as expected, since it’s a tough species that requires multiple seasons of treatments to tame—the island remains in excellent condition for nesting American Oystercatchers.

Instead of having to eke out a territory among dense vegetation and contend with Laughing Gulls (which prefer to nest in grass), so far the 15 oystercatcher pairs have been able to raise four chicks to fledging (being able to fly).

Three pairs are continuing to raise chicks and eight other pairs that lost their first nests earlier in the season are incubating new nests. Royal Terns, which also like open sandy ground to nest on, did not choose to nest on Ferry Slip this year, but about 100 were inspecting it in April and may be back next year to form a nesting colony.

Meanwhile, on South Pelican, herbicide treatment has essentially eliminated the cordgrass that was threatening to take over the elevated crown of the island and reducing the habitat available for Royal and Sandwich Terns.

Almost none of the vegetation has re-sprouted, and the terns are nesting there in the largest colony we’ve seen in over 15 years! The 14 pairs of oystercatchers are still having a hard time, having only fledged one chick so far, partially due to overwash on the shoreline. However, five nests remain and may yet fledge additional chicks before the summer’s end.

Vegetation management is an essential component of managing man-made islands like these, whether through deposits of new sand or work like we’ve completed this year. The grant funds additional seasons of work and management will always be needed, but we’re happy to see positive results for birds this season.