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Napeague Bird Conservation Area

General Site Information: The Napeague BCA consists of portions of Napeague and Hither Hills State Parks on eastern Long Island's South Fork. It includes most of Napeague State Park and the western portion of Hither Hills State Park. The diversity of birds at the site is due in part to the fact that Napeague/Hither Hills is part of one of the largest, relatively unfragmented areas of maritime open space on eastern Long Island. Breeding birds include beach/dune species such as piping plover, least tern and American oystercatcher. Roseate terns and black skimmers have bred here in the past. The site also supports breeding ospreys and northern harriers and wintering short-eared owls.

Napeague BCA Management Guidance Summary

Site Name: Napeague BCA

State Ownership and Managing Agency: Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

Location: Suffolk County, Town of East Hampton

Size of Area: 2,140 acres

DEC Region: 1

OPRHP Region: Long Island

Vision Statement: Recreational/interpretive opportunities and access will continue in a manner consistent with conservation of the diverse assemblage of bird species using the area for breeding or during migration. The park will remain in a relatively natural condition. The site will be managed to increase the chances of nesting success of bird species at risk including piping plover (Endangered; federally Threatened), least tern and northern harrier (Threatened), and osprey (Special Concern). Efforts will also be made to attract former breeders, common and roseate terns and black skimmers to the site.

Key BCA Criteria: Pelagic bird site; diverse species concentration site; and species at risk site (ECL §11-2001, 3.b, f, and h.). Pelagic birds in the BCA include least terns and, until recently, common terns. Hicks Island had supported an average of 25 pairs of least terns per year for 14 years (2000, Evans et al.) and an average of 106 pairs of common terns per year for 15 years (2000, Evans et al.). In 2006, within the BCA, there were 35 pairs of least terns on Hicks Island, 17 pairs at Goff Point and 3 pairs at Napeague Beach (2006, Coy) although they were unsuccessful (see below). Diversity of birds is due in part to the fact that Napeague/Hither Hills is part of one of the largest, relatively unfragmented areas of maritime open space on eastern Long Island. Diversity of breeding birds is high including beach/dune species such as piping plover, least terns and American oystercatchers. Roseate terns and black skimmers have bred here in the past.

Species at risk include both breeding and wintering species. The area around Napeague Harbor is one of the few sites on eastern Long Island that is still occupied by northern harriers during the breeding season. In addition to breeding by state threatened species, northern harrier and least terns, and species of special concern, osprey, the site also hosts state endangered wintering short-eared owls. The state-endangered/federally threatened piping plover nests at Hicks Island, Goff Point and Napeague Beach. In 2006, 23 pairs fledged 11 young. In 2005, 18 pairs fledged 23 young. The Hicks Island common tern colony was one of the more successful sites for common terns on Long Island (Evans, et. al. 2000). Habitat still exists and the site will be managed to increase the chance for nesting success.

Critical Habitat Types: The coastal beaches at Hicks Island, Napeague Beach and Goff Point are critical nesting habitat for piping plovers and least terns. The saltmarshes around Napeague Harbor are important for breeding northern harriers and wintering short-eared owls.

Operation and Management Considerations:

  • Identify habitat management activities needed to maintain site as a BCA.
    Hicks Island has been, more or less, created by dredged sand. Vegetation tends to invade the site, reducing its suitability for nesting shorebirds. Periodically remove vegetation or deposit dredged sand. Deposition should only be done in consultation with DEC and/or USFWS, as appropriate.

    Evaluate the impact of predators (e.g., crows, gulls, foxes, raccoons, rats and feral cats) on nesting success rate of listed species. Based on findings from this evaluation take steps to remove or control predators as necessary. Piping plover nests will be protected from predator impacts, e.g. use of exclosures.

    The maintenance of natural processes is the most cost effective way to protect and restore shorebird habitat. Allow beaches and dunes to undergo erosion and other natural changes that occur with storms and high tides. Avoid bulkheading and other forms of shoreline hardening within the park. Due to the habitat considerations associated with the species which depend upon the Hicks Island, "soft" erosion solutions such as continued dredged material deposition as indicated above may be needed periodically. Any such deposition will be performed in accordance with applicable permit conditions including appropriate grading or other work consistent with habitat needs, and by approval of OPRHP.

  • Identify seasonal sensitivities; adjust routine operations accordingly.
    Seasonal weather events impact the channels into Napeague Harbor. In 2006, the east channel between Hicks Island (Napeague State Park) and Goff Point (Hither Hills State Park) was closed due to deposition. This created a land bridge from Goff Point to Hicks Island. The Hicks Island tern colony was eliminated by 1-2 foxes and perhaps other terrestrial predators. Winter dredging was followed by a spring Nor-easter that filled in the dredged area about half-way. OPRHP will continue to work with the Town of East Hampton and DEC regarding maintenance dredging and the location of the channel. Whenever Hicks Island is connected to the mainland, measures to reduce predation by foxes should be implemented.

  • Identify state activities or operations that may pose a threat to the critical habitat types identified above; recommend alternatives to existing and future operations, which may pose threats to those habitats.
    Parks staff should explore ways to exclude even official vehicles from beach areas during the time the areas are used by nesting shorebirds.

    Beach grooming and cleaning should be avoided in the vicinity of nesting shorebirds.

    Special attention should be paid to dredging windows to assure proper timing that will not conflict with nesting, and the method by which dredged material is placed within shorebird habitat areas to assure beneficial use.

  • Identify any existing or potential use impacts; recommend new management strategies to address those impacts.
    There appears to be heavy use by public and official ORVs, beachgoers and dogs. There is a need for more detailed evaluation of the type and extent of use on beach areas. Work closely with the Town of East Hampton to assure adequate protection of plover nests. Such protection may include erecting of exclosures around plover nests as well as closure of beach areas during critical nesting periods.

  • Assess current access; recommend enhanced access, if feasible.
    Conduct a detailed study of current use and access by people to the current nesting areas. A review of Natural Heritage reports indicates a need to control access in order to further protect nesting bird habitat and success rates. Incorporate the findings of the access study into the piping plover Protection Program implemented by the Town of East Hampton within the BCA.

    Locate nesting areas of beach nesting birds early in the breeding season and ensure that adequate protection steps are included in the Town of East Hampton protocol.

    Areas of the beach may be especially narrow. There is a need to evaluate and identify options for plover protection when adequate buffer between nests and vehicular and pedestrian traffic is not possible.

    Boat landings can have adverse impacts on birds and nesting success. Identify controls and implement them at particularly sensitive areas such as Hicks Island.

Education, Outreach, and Research Considerations:

  • Determine education and outreach needs; recommend strategies and materials.
    Distribute in appropriate areas informational brochures on piping plovers and colonial waterbirds.

    A BCA kiosk will be designed and installed in an appropriate location.

  • Identify research needs; prioritize and recommend specific projects or studies.
    Support additional surveys to identify the areas used by nesting northern harriers and other grassland birds over a period of 5-10 years. Once the occupied habitat is documented develop a plan that will minimize traffic and other human disturbances during the breeding season.

    Research into the historic and recent populations as well as habitat needs of listed species should be conducted. The findings from this research can better define operational and management direction for the BCA and listed species within the BCA.

    Ensure that the monitoring of piping plovers and terns continues and implement steps to maintain or enhance their populations.

Tom Dess, OPRHP, Montauk Point State Park , 631-668-3781
Tom Lyons, OPRHP, Albany, phone: 518-474-0409
Ray Perry, OPRHP, Albany, phone: 518-474-0409

Burger, M. and J. Liner. 2005. Important Bird Areas of New York State: Habitats Worth Protecting. Audubon New York.

Coy, L. 2006. 2006 Piping Plover and Least Tern Breeding Report for East Hampton. Town of East Hampton Natural Resource Department.

Evans, D. J., K. Schneider and T. Weldy. 2000. Rare Species and Ecological Communities of Napeague State Park. NY Natural Heritage

Town of East Hampton Proposed Management Plan for Piping Plovers, Least Terns, Common Tern, Roseate Tern, Osprey and Sea Beach Amaranth Protection.

Date Designated: May 14, 2008