Lea Island, Bird Sanctuary

Lea Island, Bird Sanctuary

See native waterbirds and fish as you explore the Lea Island marshes by kayak or boat.

Located between Topsail and Figure Eight islands in Pender County, Lea Island is one of only three barrier islands in North Carolina that remain uninhabited. The island is only accessible by boat and because there is no development there, it has retained the natural features characteristic of an untrammeled barrier island.

The island is also abundant with wildlife and is one of the most important havens for shorebirds and waterbirds in North Carolina, as well as an important nesting site for federally threatened loggerhead sea turtles.

The island is a popular destination for beachgoers who enjoy shelling, walking, swimming, fishing, surfing and wildlife viewing. Audubon biologists protect bird and sea turtle nesting sites during the spring and summer by roping off nests and educating island visitors about how people and dogs can inadvertently disturb nesting birds and sea turtles.

During the spring and summer, the island is a haven for nesting shorebirds such as Piping Plover, Wilson’s Plover, and American Oystercatcher, and other nesting birds including Black Skimmer and Least Tern. The island represents the southernmost documented breeding site for Piping Plover, a federally threatened bird named for its melodic call. Clapper Rails nest in great numbers in the marshes bordering the island. Nelson’s Sparrow and Seaside Sparrow are abundant during the fall and winter and the island is recognized as a globally significant site for Saltmarsh Sparrow.

In 2004, the National Audubon Society identified Lea Island as a critical component of the Lea-Hutaff Important Bird Area. The 5,461-acre Important Bird Area includes the upland sandy beach of Lea and Hutaff islands (now joined by the closure of Old Topsail Inlet) as well as an extensive marsh and tidal creek complex. The protected tract is located in the middle of the upland beach portion of the island and spans the marsh to the ocean. The tract is important for nesting shorebirds and terns, migrating and wintering shorebirds, nesting sea turtles and seabeach amaranth (a federally threatened plant).

Jason Frye

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