Cape Hatteras National Seashore officials this morning established an off-road vehicle corridor near Cape Point to allow drivers to bypass a pair of American oystercatchers that are engaged in pre-nesting behavior.
This is the first time that the seashore has used the new buffer regulations that were enacted last summer as a part of changes in the ORV plan required by legislation passed by Congress in December 2014.
Under the old buffer rules, the area would have been closed to ORVs and pedestrians when the birds began exhibiting their “courting” behavior — effectively shutting down access to Cape Point.
The new rules allow the park to establish a corridor to allow ORVs to pass by the birds during breeding and nesting.
According to Hatteras Island District Ranger Joe Darling, the corridor is about 1/4 mile long and is open to ORVs only. It is closed to pedestrians.
That’s because the birds recognize humans as predators, said Randy Swilling, the seashore’s natural resources program manager, but are less bothered by passing vehicles.
Since most of the seashore’s oystercatchers are banded, Swilling said resource managers know the pair is the same couple that has closed down Cape Point in the past.
The new rules allow the corridor to remain in place if the birds decide to build a nest in the area. However, when the chicks hatch — normally after about 30 days — a 150-meter buffer would effectively close access to Cape Point until the chicks fledge.
Theoretically, if no other nesting shorebirds get in the mix at Cape Point, access to Cape Point could remain open this year well into May.
In recent years, Cape Point has been closed to vehicles — and sometimes pedestrians — in early April. Last year, access to the Point was closed on April 7.
The new buffer rules are intended to allow more public access to the seashore’s beaches during the bird and turtle nesting season, while still protecting the wildlife.
Swilling said seashore rangers will be in the area, explaining the buffer rules to visitors and sharing with them how the park works to protect wildlife. The rangers will occasionally bring spotting scopes, so the visitors can get a better look at the birds.
“We want to have a presence, to get the word out,” Swilling said.
Darling said that pedestrians were getting creative about the fact they aren’t allowed to use the corridor. He said he talked to a couple of people who were hiking to the Point and were stopped at the corridor. Undeterred, they hitched a ride in a vehicle for the 1/4 mile and then walked the rest of the way.