February 12, 2013


NPS releases 2012 protected species reports

By IRENE NOLAN



The National Park Service has released its 2012 reports for protected species of birds, turtles, and plants in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Separate reports were issued for piping plovers, sea turtles, seabeach amaranth, American oystercatchers, and colonial waterbirds.

The species seem to have fared well enough on the seashore last year, though the reasons why are far from clear.

For instance, the seashore again had a record-breaking sea turtle nesting season in 2012 with 222 nests reported.  However, media reports from up and down the southeast coast of the U.S. confirm that there were records broken in many areas.

As seashore officials have noted in the past, one record season or even a couple of good seasons do not necessarily make a trend.

The Southern Environmental Law Center claims that the nesting success of the past few years is because of a 2007 lawsuit against the park by its clients, Defenders of Wildlife and National Audubon Society.

The lawsuit was settled by a consent decree in 2008 that imposed much larger buffers than ever before around nests and other much stricter rules about such issues as night driving.

The consent decree was replaced a year ago by the seashore’s new off-road vehicle plan and final rule, which continues many of the same restrictions as the consent decree.

Larger and earlier pre-nesting closures and other rules may indeed contribute to nesting success for birds and sea turtles.  However, there are also other factors at work.

The new rules at Cape Hatteras did not influence sea turtle nesting in other areas on the southeast coast.

The birds and turtles are being more closely monitored by Park Service staff.

There is a more aggressive predator control program.

Finally, the weather has worked in favor of nesting success.  There were no major storms this year during nesting season.

Here is a brief summary of the reports with a link to the full reports if you want more information.

PIPING PLOVERS

“The 2012 nesting season was a relatively good year in terms of productivity,” the report states.

Fifteen breeding pairs were identified, matching the previous highs of 15 pairs in 2011 and 1989.

The birds established nests on Bodie Island, Cape Point, South Beach on Hatteras, and South Point and the northern spit on Ocracoke. However, only four pairs, all from Cape Point, successfully fledged chicks.

The birds established 22 known nests, of which 11 successfully hatched.  Eleven chicks were fledged for a fledge rate of 0.73 chicks per breeding pair.

The fledge rate was high in 2010 – 1.25 per breeding pair – and lower last year – 0.67 per pair -- when 15 breeding pairs produced 10 fledged chicks.

In 2012, 37 piping plover eggs hatched, exceeding the previous highs of 33 in 2010 and 35 in 2011.  The higher number of eggs hatched did not translate into a higher number of fledged chicks.  Seventy percent of the chicks were lost prior to fledging, most within the first week.  The losses were attributed to predation, overwash, and unknown causes.

SEA TURTLES

A record 222 nests were confirmed at the seashore in 2012 – 219 loggerhead nests, two green turtle nests, and one leatherback nest.

Only two nests were found on Bodie Island.  There were 166 (74.8 percent) on Hatteras and 54 (24.3 percent) on Ocracoke.

The first nest was found on May 11 and the last recorded was Aug. 26.

SEABEACH AMARANTH

This plant, which is listed as threatened, is found on barrier island beaches, usually in overwash areas or at the bottom of frontal dunes.

In the seashore, 93 plants were found in 2002.  Only one plant was found in 2004 and two in 2005.  No plants have been found since 2005, and none were found last year. The plant is currently thought to possibly be extirpated from the seashore.

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS

Twenty-two nesting pairs of American Oystercatchers were documented in 2012. The birds established 30 nests, of which 18 hatched and produced 15 fledged chicks.

One breeding pair was found on Bodie Island, one on Green Island, 15 on Hatteras, and five on Ocracoke.

The breeding pairs have been fairly consistent since 2007.  Total nests have varied during the same period from 35 in 2007 to a low of 26 last year.  Fledged chicks have also fluctuated from a high of 30 in 2010 from a low of 12 in 2007.

The report says that although the chicks fledged per breeding pair at the seashore appears to be cyclical, there is generally “an increasing trend in productivity when looked at over multiple years.”

American oystercatchers are not endangered or threatened but listed as a species of special concern.

COLONIAL WATERBIRDS

The colonial waterbird monitoring at the seashore consisted of a single walk-through between June 3 and June 16.

Seventeen active colonies were identified, only 11 of which meet the requirements of a colony – 10 or more nests – as defined in the ORV plan.

Colonial waterbirds include least terns, common terns, black skimmers, and gull-billed terns.  All nest in colonies and obtain their food from the water. None is listed as endangered or threatened but only as a species of special concern.

An increase in nests for all the birds except least terns was recorded in 2012. 

The seashore attributes this to a number of factors, including pre-nesting closures and buffers, ideal weather with no storms during the nesting season, and experience of the field staff on such issues as early detection and protection of colonies.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

All five of the reports can be found at http://www.nps.gov/caha/naturescience/protected-species-2012-annual-reports.htm.



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