Virginia CZM Program: 2011 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo

11.05

Grantee:

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Project Title:

Pickett's Harbor Natural Area Preserve Migratory Songbird Habitat Restoration

Project Description as Proposed:

Introduction
Pickett’s Harbor Natural Area Preserve (NAP) is a 122.423 acre, Commonwealth-owned property located on the lower Chesapeake Bay side of Northampton County, Virginia.  The original preserve consisted of 34.6 acres. In September 2011 the 87.823 “Davis Tract” was added to the preserve. The deed for the Davis tract (see attached 306A documentation) shows the Davis tract as two parcels (112-A-1 for 58.582 acres and 112-A-1B for 29.241 acres, creating a total of 87.823 acres). The preserve is within the Southern Tip migratory songbird stopover habitat zone and the Lower Delmarva Important Bird Area (IBA).  The preserve’s location within the “Southern Tip” of the Eastern Shore of Virginia and its proximity to the Chesapeake Bay make it an ideal stopover site for songbirds during the autumn migration period.  The project goal is to restore 62 acres of uplands, currently in agricultural fields, to maritime forest for the perpetual benefit of migratory songbirds along the Atlantic flyway. The 62 acres are wholly within the recently acquired “Davis Tract” portion of the Preserve.

Project Description
Restoration activities will consist of planting containerized wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) shrubs and native oak (Quercus spp.) saplings.  Specific oak species used will depend on availability, but will likely include southern red oak (Q. falcata), willow oak (Q. phellos), water oak (Q. nigra), and white oak (Q. alba).  Wax myrtles are a prominent native shrub on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and provide both immediate and long-term benefits for songbirds.  These shrubs grow quickly and are evergreen, providing instant islands of year-round cover.  Wax myrtle also matures and reaches fruit-bearing age rapidly, providing a preferred food source within a very short period of time.  In addition, wax myrtle has nitrogen fixation capabilities and is not mycorrhizae dependent, thus increasing survival rates in the altered soils of former agricultural fields.  On the Southern Tip of the Eastern Shore, non-dependence on mycorrhizae is especially important because of the long history of potato cultivation, which requires heavy use of fungicides that negatively impact mycorrhizal spore presence.  Planting large oak saplings provides an additional layer of cover to attract songbirds and results in the early establishment of a heavy-seeded hardwood species that would otherwise not be present so early in an old-field succession setting.  Planting shrubs and oak saplings also provides immediate structure for bird perches, promoting dispersal and establishment of other preferred food plants (e.g. black cherry, blackgum, sassafras, muscadine grape, greenbriar, etc.) into the restoration site via bird droppings.  DCR-DNH has found that this method for converting agricultural fields to young forests yields an increased diversity of preferred songbird food plants and enhanced forest structure in a shorter period of time and at lower establishment cost than other reforestation approaches. 

Federal Funding:

$45,000 

Project Contact:

Dorothy Field, 757.787.5989; dot.field@dcr.virginia.gov 

Project Status:

10/1/2013 - 6/30/2014; Project Completed 

Final Product Received:

Pickett's Harbor Natural Area Preserve Migratory Bird Habitat Restoration Final Report (PDF)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Pickett’s Harbor Natural Area Preserve is a 122.4-acre state-owned natural area preserve managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The preserve is located within the “Southern Tip” migratory songbird stopover habitat zone and the Lower Delmarva Important Bird Area. This location within the Southern Tip and its proximity to the Chesapeake Bay make Pickett’s Harbor an ideal stopover site for songbirds during the autumn migration period. Fee simple land acquisition and conversion of agricultural lands to native plant communities by state, federal and private agencies/organizations is a successful and preferred strategy for increasing available migratory bird habitat on the Southern Tip of the Virginia Eastern Shore.

From October 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014, DCR resource managers completed work to plan the project, prepare the planting site, and procure and plant native shrubs and trees in a previously-cropped 62-acre agricultural field within the Pickett’s Harbor preserve. Planted shrubs and trees augment and enhance natural succession and quickly yield high-quality, restored habitat available to migratory songbirds.

In October 2013, the site was prepared for planting by mowing, disking and sub-soiling. In November, DCR managers and volunteers planted a total of 2,170 containerized (1-gal) wax myrtles (Morella cerifera) at a density of 35 per acre. Wax myrtle is a native, evergreen shrub that grows quickly, providing instant islands of year-round cover for birds. This species also reaches fruit-bearing age rapidly, providing a preferred food source within a short period. Wax myrtle also fixes nitrogen and is not mycorrhizal-dependant, allowing higher survival in the altered soils of former agricultural fields.

In March and April 2014, DCR staff and volunteers planted 360 oaks ranging in height from 7-to 10-ft.  A skid-steer tractor mounted with an auger was used to bore planting holes for the ball & burlap oak saplings, each weighing 200-300 lbs. Six large oak saplings were planted per acre, ensuring establishment of heavy-seeded hardwoods that otherwise would not have been present so early in a successional setting. Planting large oaks also provides immediate structure for bird perches, promoting dispersal (via droppings) and establishment of a host of other preferred, heavy-seeded food plants (e.g. black cherry, blackgum, sassafras, muscadine grape, greenbriar, etc.). This method for converting agricultural fields to diverse young forests yields enhanced forest structure and composition in a short period relative to other restoration strategies.

This completes all activity for the Pickett’s Harbor Migratory Songbird Habitat Restoration project.

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email: Laura.McKay@deq.virginia.gov

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to Virginia.Witmer@deq.virginia.gov

 
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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000


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