Located at the southernmost tip of New Jersey, Cape Island is a man made island separated from the rest of Cape May Peninsula by the Cape May Canal, Cape Island Creek and Cape May Harbor. The Cape Island IBA includes The Nature Conservancy's South Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge (229 acres), the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area (1068 acres), Cape May Point State Park, Hidden Valley Ranch and privately owned habitat south of the canal and west of the Garden State Parkway. The Island consists of a wide variety of habitats ranging from beach/dune habitat and tidal salt marsh bordering the Delaware Bay to small woodlots and fallow fields of West Cape May to lawns and gardens associated with the private residences of Cape May Point. The area is a well-recognized, critical stopover site for major concentrations of fall migrants contained within the Cape May Corridor Natural Heritage Priority Macrosite and the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge Natural Heritage Priority Site. Designated by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), Natural Heritage Priority Sites are considered the state's most significant natural areas. The Island also continues to host the nation's oldest beach resort communities.

Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is located in the northwest corner of Cape Island, just south of the Cape May Canal. The site's forested wetland, salt marsh, mixed upland forest and scrub-shrub habitats were purchased by the state in 1978 with federal funds for the protection of endangered and threatened species habitat. Higbee Beach WMA protects the last remaining dune forest along the Delaware Bay shoreline and is recognized as critical stopover habitat for migratory birds. This IBA is contained within the Cape May Corridor Natural Heritage Priority Macrosite and the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge Natural Heritage Priority Site. Designated by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), Natural Heritage Priority Sites are considered the state?s most significant natural areas.

Ornithological Summary

Conservation Concern - Federally-threatened; State-endangered: Piping Plover (B)

Conservation Concern - Federally-endangered; State-endangered: Least Tern (B)

Conservation Concern - State-threatened: Barred Owl (B)

Conservation Concern - State-special Concern: Least Bittern (B)

Significant Congregations-Exceptional Diversity (SM, FM)

Significant Migrant Stopover/Flyover-Raptors (FM)

Significant Migrant Stopover/Flyover-Landbirds (SM, FM)

Long-term Research/Monitoring

Conservation Issues

The remaining unprotected habitats of Cape Island are under severe pressure from development. Development destroys, degrades and fragments habitat which leads to water quality declines, expansion of invasive plants, pressure on groundwater resources and increased disturbance to nesting, foraging and migrating birds. Early successional habitats, including scrub-shrub, are especially threatened by intensive land uses and succession to forest. Protection and restoration of privately-owned parcels throughout this region is incredibly important for a largely juvenile population of migrants that are less experienced and less efficient at finding suitable stopover habitat. Maintaining priority habitats for migratory and forest birds will also protect habitats for rare breeding bird populations in the area. NJAS has encouraged property owners to enhance backyard stopover habitat by planting native trees, shrubs and other plants to create resting and foraging habitat for migrating songbirds. NJAS, The Nature Conservancy, NJDEP?s Division of Parks and Forestry and other organizations continue to add to the protected areas of Cape Island. Many of these areas are actively managed for breeding and migratory birds. The Nature Conservancy recently teamed with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the NJDEP to implement a restoration project at the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge that would provide ecosystem restoration and storm damage reduction. Restoration activities include beach replenishment, construction of back ponds, the re-engineering of wetlands and removal of the invasive common reed (Phragmites australis). The NJAS? Important Bird and Birding Areas Program is working with the owners of The Rea Farm (?The Beanery?), a retired lima bean farm opened to NJAS members for birding, to restore grassland habitat.

Ownership

Different sections of the nominated site are owned by different entities. There are private holdings, a section held by The Nature Conservancy, a Wildlife Management Area owned by the State of New Jersey, and property held by the local municipality.

Owned By: Higbee WMA-NJDEP NLM
Tony Petrongolo, Chief of Lands Mgmt.
PO Box 400
Trenton, NJ

Also Owned By: The Nature Conservancy
Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge
Delaware Bayshores Office
2350 Route 47
Delmont, NJ 08314

Habitat

Mix of habitats including small woodlots, tidal wetlands, shrub-scrub and beach/dune

Land Use

The site is primarily used for a variety of recreational activities particularly those associated with a beach environment. Farming, private residences, and managed natural aeas are secondary uses.

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