Restoration of Heron Island Lake Norman

Restoration of ‘Heron Island’ will help protect the natural resource from further shoreline degradation caused by erosion

CHARLOTTE, NC (Feb. 21, 2020) – Local wildlife conservationists have begun shoreline and vegetation restoration of an eroding Great Blue Heron rookery located on one of Lake Norman’s most exposed islands.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF) is working on a stabilization project to help conserve Heron Island, an ecologically significant and diminishing wildlife habitat.

“These islands are sanctuaries for wildlife as shore front property has been heavily built up over the decades. This particular heron rookery island is positioned on the main channel in Davidson Creek, where there is significant boating traffic and wind-generated waves,” said Tim Gestwicki, CEO of NCWF.

Gestwicki noted that restoring and stabilizing the island’s main channel side is a significant team effort and involves creating a rock and living shoreline using 300 tons of material and native plants. The project will take place over the next few weeks, depending on water levels and weather conditions.

Volunteers from the Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists, a local Community Wildlife Chapter of NCWF, will plant native buttonbush and silky dogwood. Lancaster Dock and Dredge will stabilize the shoreline with rock mined from a Concord quarry by Vulcan Materials Company.

For years, the Lake Norman islands have been favorite gathering spots, landmarks and places to view wildlife. While some are well-protected from wind and waves, other islands are more exposed to natural and man-made elements that cause shorelines to cave, degrade and erode.

Many islands where family and friends used to gather are now shoals marked with a sign on a pole – a stark reminder of the memories made on land that’s now underwater, Gestwicki said.

“Through this habitat restoration project, we’re preserving Heron Island from the wind, boat waves and storms that wreak havoc on many of the islands and shorelines around Lake Norman,” he said.

“We want the herons to be here for everyone to enjoy for many years to come. That includes all the folks who don’t live on or near the lake but still appreciate watching our heron and osprey nesting cameras.”

A Duke Energy Habitat Enhancement Program (HEP) grant is funding the stabilization project. HEP is a cooperative effort by Duke Energy, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The program is supported through Duke Energy contributions and fees charged to property owners and developers building piers in Catawba-Wateree Hydro Project reservoirs.

“The NC Wildlife Federation’s Heron Island Project is a great example of how the HEP can fund the restoration and enhancement of fish and wildlife habitat and one where lake residents can enjoy the benefits of their investment,” said Michael Abney, senior environmental resource manager for Duke Energy.

About the restoration project

The project involves restoring and stabilizing the main channel side of the island that’s eroding by employing a matted rock shoreline with over 300 tons of material and woody vegetation. Native plants, including buttonbush and silky dogwood, will provide brood and forage habitat as well as wildlife food and cover. Additionally, the plants can survive periodic flooding and fluctuating waters and can thrive in most types of moist environments with partial to full sun.

About Great Blue Herons

Great Blue Herons are listed by the NC Natural Heritage Program as a vulnerable species in the Piedmont due to loss and fragmentation of habitats by development along rivers, reservoirs and adjacent floodplain forests. Colonial waterbirds, in general and on Lake Norman, have been identified as a priority conservation resource in the North Carolina Wildlife Action Plan.

In addition, Duke Energy’s Shoreline Management Plan for Lake Norman has implemented protection for these critical heron rookeries found within the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Project Boundary. Duke Energy conducts annual aerial nest surveys for colonial nesting birds (as well as bald eagles) within the Catawba-Water chain of reservoirs, including Lake Norman. The specific rookeries (i.e., islands) are protected under the Colonial Waterbird Nesting Area Program. The boundaries of these habitat areas are posted (with specific signage) and no entry is allowed during the waterbird nesting season from April through August. This species nests in colonies known as “rookeries” or “heronries,” which can contain many nests and thus are classified as colonial nesting waterbirds.

In colonies with many nests and potential nesting sites, males select and defend the highest nest sites. In defending selected sites, male birds put on grand displays accompanied by shrieking in order to attract females. Males gather material and females build the nest. They build a large, bulky nest of sticks, lining the interior with twigs, moss, and pine needles. Both adults then care for the hatchlings (generally 3-5) within the rookery until they are ready to fledge. North Carolina Wildlife Federation streams a heron island nest camera during active nesting months. View the cameras at www.ncwf.org and www.lnwc.org.

About NCWF

For 75 years, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation has protected, restored and conserved wildlife and habitat in North Carolina. NCWF unites North Carolinians to ensure wildlife thrive in the Tar Heel State, from the coast to the mountains, by creating experiences that connect them to the natural world. The organization fights for science-based conservation policy at the state legislature and restoring habitat for all walks of life to enjoy.

For more information, please contact our Charlotte office at (704) 332-5696.