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Elizabeth A. Morton
National Wildlife Refuge

Jessups Neck
2595 Noyak Rd.
Sag Harbor, NY   11963
E-mail: longislandrefuges@fws.gov
Phone Number: 631-286-0485
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
The Refuge's beach peninsula is closed to public use April-August to protect the Federally threatened piping plover during their breeding season.
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  Wildlife and Habitat

Continued . . .

Uplands The north-south axis of the refuge's peninsula between Long Island's two forks (Jessups Neck) also makes the Refuge an important migration corridor for a variety of terrestrial birds. The peninsula consists of three miles of undeveloped shoreline--one of the few shorelines without bulk heading or development remaining in the area. The beach area has been designated as critical habitat for the piping plover by the USFWS. The tip of the Neck has steep and heavily eroded bluffs approaching 50-feet in height. Habitats present are varied and include sand beach, salt marsh, freshwater marsh, brackish and freshwater ponds, lagoon, tidal flats, old fields and oak and cedar forests.

Upland areas at the refuge consist of upland brush, old fields and forest stands composed of mixed oak, red maple, pioneer and red cedar types. The dominant upland cover type is oak forest, classified by the New York State Heritage Program as a maritime oak forest. Morton NWR showcases a prime example of this habitat type in New York State and represents one of only few areas of this habitat type remaining in New York State. Other common upland habitats on the Refuge include upland shrubs which are dominated by honeysuckle and bayberry; grasslands, which are dominated by beach grass; and hardwoods dominated by black cherry.

Morton contains about three miles of undeveloped shoreline. The beaches are narrow, and consist of either sand or small stones in distinct zones. Shells are extremely abundant. Further inland, beach grass and seaside goldenrod are often well established.

On the peninsula, the sand and stone beach slopes abruptly upward into heavily eroded sandy bluffs. The deciduous forest atop the peninsula boasts 30 to 40-foot oaks. Shrub growth is extremely dense and mixed, including bayberry, grape, and some occurrence of sassafras, Prunus, and Pyrus species.

Between these forested patches are two brackish ponds that are infrequently flooded by bay waters. Floating and submerged algal growth is seldom flushed out and is therefore very thick and colorful. Shorebirds feed extensively here during fall migration. Ospreys are known to nest in dead cedar trees and on nearby platforms.

The southern portion of the peninsula contains open water contiguous with Noyack Bay. These sheltered shorelines contain a fringe of cordgrass. Several tidal flats offer important feeding areas for shorebirds.

The inland portion of the refuge is mostly upland deciduous forest with a variety of other scattered forest types. Several eastern red cedar stands are also present. The main forest is more diverse than typical Long Island oak-dominated woodlands. Many of these vegetation types, especially those adjacent to public-use areas, currently contain an abundance of invasive exotic plants such as garlic mustard, Asiatic bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle, and Japanese barberry. Pothole type depressions and small ponds are located on the peninsula and mainland.

Wetlands The dominant aquatic/wetland habitat at Morton NWR is a beach, which occurs along the entire Jessups Neck peninsula. The other two dominant wetland types are intertidal marsh and high marsh dominated by cordgrass. Phragmites, an exotic an invasive plant, occupies a small portion of the refuge and is not considered as great a problem as on other Long Island Refuges.

Changes to the refuge's shoreline occur with regularity due to the buildup of sediment and the effects of storms. The apex of the Jessup's Neck peninsula, which consists of a sand and gravel bar, continues to expand toward Long Island's north fork. The bar is a favorite loafing spot for gulls, terns, shorebirds and cormorants.

A freshwater pond is located within the upland portion of the Refuge. The pond is prime habitat for mallards, wood ducks, wading birds, painted turtles, and frogs. Water levels in the pond can be somewhat manipulated via a water control structure.

Fish and Wildlife

The refuge provides habitat for close to 300 species of birds. The north-south axis of the Jessup's Neck peninsula acts as an important migration corridor for numerous species of birds on Long Island's east end. The refuge's beach and adjacent waters serve as important habitat for piping plover, roseate tern, osprey, common tern, and shorebirds. Sea duck species and American black ducks are common in winter. Management is directed toward rare strand-using species and migratory birds. The waters surrounding the Refuge are also used by marine turtles, seals, and a diversity of fish.

The most common birds observed on or adjacent to the Refuge include white-winged scoter, long-tailed duck, common goldeneye, black duck, great black-backed gull, herring gull, horned grebe, red-breasted merganser, sanderling, ruddy turnstone, and common loon. Other bird species of interest because of a scarcity of sightings in the area are fox sparrow, sharp-shinned hawk, hermit thrush, fish crow, horned lark, snow bunting, and swamp sparrow.

Raptors--Raptors observed during migration and winter at the Morton NWR include sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper's hawks, American kestrels, merlins, northern harriers, peregrine falcons, and rough legged hawks. Sightings of sharp-shinned hawks, merlins, kestrels, and northern harriers are common at Morton as they move up and down the peninsula. Permanent raptor residents and breeders include great horned owl, screech owl, red-tailed hawk, broad winged hawk, and osprey. Screech owls roost in the wood duck nest boxes on the freshwater pond and are easily viewed by the public.

Waterfowl--Waterfowl use of the Morton NWR is highest during the winter months, with a community dominated by sea ducks. Numbers are lowest in the summer. Waterfowl numbers peak either in January or February, and then decline in May. Common waterfowl observed in winter include long-tailed duck, white-winged scoter, black duck, common goldeneye, and red-breasted merganser. The tip of the Jessup's Neck peninsula receives the greatest use by sea ducks, particularly white-winged scoter and common goldeneye. Long-tailed ducks are found somewhat uniformly around the peninsula and black ducks use the lagoon and brackish pond. Although waterfowl numbers are low during summer, black ducks, wood ducks, and mallards can be observed and a few red-breasted mergansers are usually present in the bays.

Shorebirds, Gulls, Terns and Allied Species--The most common waterbirds observed at Morton NWR include double-crested cormorant, common loon, and horned grebe. Double-crested cormorants are observed year round at the refuge but peak in numbers during spring and autumn months. Double-crested cormorants feed in the bays adjacent to the refuge and loaf on the Jessup's Neck peninsula and adjacent pilings. Great cormorants are sporadically encountered, chiefly in winter. Common loons and horned grebes occur at the refuge from September/October through May, however, peak numbers usually occur in November and December. Nearly 100 individuals of each species have been documented.

Snowy egrets, great blue herons, great egrets, and green herons are common at Morton, usually on the lagoon and ponds.

Fourteen species of shorebirds and plovers have been observed at the Morton NWR. Ruddy turnstone, black-bellied plovers, and greater yellowlegs are the most common species observed during the warmer months. Sanderlings are sighted on the beach every month of the year, although they are more common during autumn and winter. American oystercatchers and whimbrels, uncommon to the Peconic Bay area, have been observed on the refuge occasionally.

Gulls are conspicuous at the refuge. Their numbers are lowest during summer and higher during the rest of the year. Approximately 200 gulls routinely loaf on the beach. About half of the loafing gulls are herring gulls and the remainder are great black-backed gulls. Ring-billed gulls are found in low numbers and laughing gulls are observed during late summer. Tern species such as royal, Forster's and arctic terns are also observed at Morton in late summer and early autumn.

Other Migratory Birds--Bank swallows are observed nesting on the western bluffs of Jessup's Neck. More than 100 burrows have been counted at the site with an estimated colony size of approximately 40 pairs. Volunteers monitor the use of songbird nest boxes on the Refuge during the spring and summer. Tree swallows and house wrens are the most common species using the boxes.

A total of 46 songbird species has been observed on the refuge. The most common birds observed include gray catbird, common yellowthroat, mourning dove, yellow warbler, robin, common grackle, song sparrow, northern cardinal, bank swallow, black-capped chickadee, great-crested flycatcher, and tree swallow. Forest interior species, such as ovenbird, redstart, red-eyed vireo, wood peewee, and wood thrush have been detected using the refuge's relatively small acreage of mature forest.

Other Resident Wildlife--The most common mammals sited at Morton NWR include white-tailed deer, eastern chipmunk, eastern cottontail, gray squirrel, and red fox.

Marine Mammals--Seasonally, harbor seals may be sighted at the Morton NWR. They are observed either hauling out on the beach or swimming near inshore areas during March, November and December. Seal sightings are continuing to increase throughout Long Island.

Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species--While one of the more picturesque locations on Long Island, Morton NWR also provides habitats to several state and federal endangered and threatened species, including the piping plover, roseate tern, common tern, least tern, osprey, peregrine falcon, Kemp's ridley sea turtle, and loggerhead sea turtle.

The Jessup's Neck portion of the Refuge has historically been used by rare wildlife species. Although the majority of the Jessup's Neck peninsula is closed to the public during the late-spring to mid-summer breeding season, all these species can be observed by the public from that portion of beach which remains open.

Piping plovers, a federally threatened species, arrive at the Morton Refuge between mid-March and early April. Heaviest plover use of the refuge occurs in July; not only are there nesting adults and their young present, but adults and fledglings from other areas use the refuge for foraging and loafing. A maximum of 19 piping plovers have been documented in a single day at the refuge.

The osprey, a New York State species of concern, is a highly visible raptor at Morton; one to two pairs have nested on the refuge for the last three decades. At least two nesting pairs have successfully raised young each year at Morton. The tall nesting platforms at the lagoon are used at least by one pair and another pair have used a natural nest site in a snag close to the tip of Jessup's Neck.

Marine turtles, including the threatened loggerhead and the endangered Kemp's ridley, feed in the waters off the Morton peninsula. Occasionally in the autumn and winter months, as the waters cool and the animals have not yet migrated south, a cold-stunned turtle will wash ashore on Long Island beaches.

Terns are highly visible species at the refuge during late spring and early summer. The most common species observed include common and least terns, NYS designated threatened species, and roseate tern, a federally designated endangered species. The peninsula at Morton is a favorite loafing site and the surrounding bays provide an excellent foraging habitat for all tern species during this time of year. In 2006, the least tern colony successfully raised 35 chicks. In addition, the refuge acts as a local staging area for many terns before the breeding season.

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