Protecting Migratory Bird Habitat on the Southern Tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore: Efforts of the Virginia CZM Program and Its Partners Fact Sheet (PDF)
The southern tip was documented as a hemispherically important stopover habitat for migratory songbirds based on Virginia CZM funded research in the early 1990s. Since then, several key properties have been acquired and protected, but more are needed to ensure that sufficient habitat is maintained as parts of the southern tip are developed.
Migratory songbirds play important ecological and economic roles for the Eastern Shore. They consume insects and provide a unique ecotourism opportunity. They stop on the Eastern Shore during the fall for food and shelter during their migration to Central and South America.
Research has documented the southern tip of the Eastern Shore as a hemispherically important stopover habitat for neotropical migratory songbirds. As millions of birds flying south in the fall are funneled into the tip of the Shore’s long peninsula, they must find food and cover quickly. The protection and management of this habitat provides the berries, insects and protection from predators needed by the birds to make the trip to the tropics each year.
To learn more about Virginia CZM's land acquisition projects, contact Laura McKay, program manager for the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program at (804) 698-4323, Laura.McKay@deq.virginia.gov.
Kiptopeke State Park
More than 1,800 native trees and shrubs were planted in May 2010 a few miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to help feed and shelter the 6-7 million migratory songbirds that use the southern tip of the Eastern Shore as a rest stop during their fall migration.
The planting occurred along the west side of Route 13 on a 26 acre expansion of Kiptopeke State Park that was acquired in December 2009 with $446,000 from the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program and $200,000 from singer/songwriter James Taylor and his wife Kim to support migratory songbirds.
The new planting includes fruit-producing shrubs such as Southern wax myrtle and Northern bayberry that serve as food and shelter for the birds. Midstory trees such as Persimmon, American holly and Sassafras will also provide fruits. The deciduous hardwood trees such as Mockernut hickory, American beech, and oaks will eventually grow up among the shrubs and develop a canopy, producing leaf litter and insects for the birds.
This newly planted parcel is the last piece of a puzzle, connecting existing forest habitat areas of Kiptopeke State Park to the north, south and east and providing migratory songbirds a contiguous stretch of food and shelter. The Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program at DEQ, along with the program’s member agencies, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, work with The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife as part of the Southern Tip Partnership. Together they protect and manage more than 24,000 acres on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
The Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program provided $35,000 in funding to plant the newly acquired site at Kiptopeke with native grasses, canopy trees, and understory shrubs to restore food-rich, wooded stopover habitat. The grant will also fund trails connecting to other parts of Kiptopeke State Park, a Plant ES Natives campaign
demonstration garden, wildlife observation blinds, and interpretive signage that tells the story of songbird migration.
Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve
Using a combination of Virginia CZM Program land acquisition funds (see table below), FY06 CELCP earmark funds, gifts from Caroline & James Taylor and Virginia Land Conservation Foundation funds, the Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve (NAP) was acquired by the Department of Conservation & Recreation in 2007.
This 285-acre property on the seaside of the southern tip contains about 71 acres of wetlands, 82 acres of forest and 132 acres of crop land.
This tract, and another 206 acres, were originally purchased in 2004 by The Nature Conservancy and held until these grant funds became available. The US Fish & Wildlife Service acquired the southern 206 acres and now includes it as part of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Wildlife Refuge.
Together, these tracts encompasses 491 acres on the lower seaside of Northampton County, Virginia. The area includes 80 acres of salt marsh along Mockhorn Bay and Mill Creek, which serve as habitat for oyster reefs, diamond back terrapins, sand sharks and marine turtles. The tract also has nearly 125 acres of coastal forest along the seaside containing patches of seepage swamp. The property contains a large pond and water access to Mill Creek which drains to Mockhorn Bay which connects to the Atlantic Ocean. There are 155 acres of farmland suitable for conversion to migratory songbird habitat. Through farm fields and across salt marsh, over man-made dikes bordered in Phragmites (which would be a target for future control efforts) and into loblolly pine forests with rich, holly understory and curious seepage swamps (saturated woodlands), every step of the property offers commanding views.
Because this property touches on adjacent protected tracts, it substantially enlarges existing protected areas and greatly increases the protected habitat patch sizes. These linkages are critical for migrating birds, particularly songbirds. Songbirds have been declining drastically in number due to habitat loss on the breeding grounds in the northeastern US and Canada, the wintering grounds in Central and South America and migration stopover habitats along the way.
Stopover habitats are especially critical because huge numbers of birds must find places to rest and feed within very small areas, or “bottlenecks,” like the tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Disconnects or gaps in the useable habitat such as croplands and lawns, create dangerous areas which the songbirds must cross and risk being preyed upon by raptors that are migrating along with them.
The eventual conversion of the farmland on this property to understory vegetation for songbirds will help offset the inevitable conversion of bird habitat to residential use in other parts of Northampton County.