Stone Harbor Update: Week of March 1 to 7, 2015

Reports from Stone Harbor Point by Larry Niles, LJ  Niles and Associates LLC - 2015

Boomer spreading the shell with a tracked dumptruck. Much of the shell is covered in sand but we expect that today, after last night's rain, it will have a more hospitable appearance. 
March 5

 Boomer and the H4 crew finished the runnel and the runnel island. I say island but it's actually a peninsula with  the bay on one side and the runnel on the other. The runnel starts at the bay and rises in elevation from the low tide line to the spring high tide line. Thus the peninsula will be an island only during spring tides. In the picture below the viewer looks north along the elevated peninsula with the bay on the left and the runnel on the right. In the second picture the viewer looks south down the runnel with the peninsula on the right.






The peninsula will provide superior nesting habitat. Along its bay shore snakes the channel leading to Hereford Inlet but nearer to the peninsula lies an extensive shoal with both sea lettuce and shifting intertidal flat.The skimmers and least terns will love foraging this area that lies so close to their nests. The runnel itself should provide good foraging for both species as well as piping plover at lower tides. Next week we will top the island with shell and a few weeks after that we will begin our colony establishment using decoys. We hope a vibrant active colony of terns and skimmers will provide plovers with air cover against marauding raccoons, feral cats and fox.  

Phil Heun will finish his foraging today. For the last three weeks he has delicately manipulated the excavator's gargantuan bucket to make sure we fulfill our permitted requirement of taking no more than two feet of sand from our prescribed borrow zone at the end of Stone Harbor Point. In the movie below the viewer can see how he managed to do that. 

Predators will be a key influence on the success of our project. Ground predators have the greatest impact on the beach nesters, but peregrine falcons kill both shorebirds and beach nesters. Peregrine numbers once hovered close to extinction in the 80's when I first joined the Endangered Species Program. As project leader I helped restore their numbers. Now they pose a significant threat to spring and fall migrating shorebirds because as falcon numbers grow, the areas where shorebirds can safely roost and forage diminish. Shorebird numbers are also falling range wide. The two peregrines (an adult and immature) in the movie feed on a Black-bellied Plover. The bands on the adult peregrine suggest it is one of the pair from a nearby state managed eyrie.

We found our shell from Cliff Richardson in Bivalve, NJ. Our key indicators of quality are size of the fragments and smell. We will do one more smell test today, but as far as we an tell  the shell is clean. 


We will finish with a grading of the site next week.  The Heun Brothers (Phil (JR) and Boomer) are testing a new method to grade the site using a steel beam that literally weighs a ton.   



March 3 

As we near the completion of the project and the end of our permitted time period we are focusing on finishing up. We have completed the northern habitat and the southern one will be complete by the end of today. Boomer Heun completed the runnel yesterday and the island bounded by the runnel will also be completed today.  

The rest of the week will be spent finishing up the resiliency dune and after that all that remains is applying shell to the nesting areas and grading away all the remnant signs of the heavy equipment.

Easier said than done. We can get the dune done despite the threat of another serious snow storm and the full moon tides, which will make moving sand more difficult. A greater and  insurmountable difficulty is the cold. One of our last jobs is apply a thin layer of crushed shell to the habitat, at coverage rate of about 20%, to make the nesting areas more attractive to beach nesting birds.   We also need  to grade away the heavy machine tracks to give the point a more natural appearance. The unusually cold winter has left the Point frozen solid and we need a thaw to do the finishing. We expect a thaw next week so we hope to finish on Weds and Thursday.  


The borrow zone at the end of the peninsula has provided our project will all the sand we needed to do the work. It's a key part of our project, because we expect it to be restored with new sand by next year. This way we can replenished the nesting areas at a future time when it is needed.


The runnel is complete.  It starts at the low tide level (near part of the picture) and runs away while rising in elevation to about the level of the mean high tide line.   We hope it will provide good foraging for shorebirds and nesting beach nesting birds.




The southern habitat area is nearly complete.  One can see it rising well above the surrounding land.  In fact it will be about 3 ft higher and should provide flood-free nesting.