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Heislerville Wildlife Management Area

Site Description

  • State: New Jersey
  • County: Cumberland
  • Ownership: State

Impoundments

  • Heislerville Main Pool: 55 acres
  • Heislerville North Impoundment: 131 acres
  • Heislerville South Impoundment: 119 acres
  • Heislerville West: 5 acres

Ecology and Management

There may be no better spring shorebirding spot in NJ than at the Heislerville impoundment.”
-(Elia 2009)

Over 400 bird species have been reported from the Heislerville impoundments.

Heislerville Wildlife Management Area is a state-owned refuge along the Delaware Bayshore in rural Cumberland County, New Jersey. Four contiguous impoundments occur there near the mouth of the Maurice River. The Heislerville impoundments are known among birders as a superb site to see large concentrations of shorebirds, especially when area mudflats are covered by high tides. This is a primary reason it is considered a priority site within the Delaware Bayshore Important Bird Area by New Jersey Audubon. The impoundments are also considered a ‘focal area’ among east coast sites monitored as part of the International Shorebird Survey (ISS; Chan and Schulte 2008). Delaware Bay as a whole is considered an area of hemispheric importance in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) as it hosts an estimated 500,000 shorebirds annually. The Heislerville impoundments are well birded. Over 400 eBird checklists have been submitted specifically from the impoundments and over 1,700 from Heislerville WMA as a whole. Over 200 species have been reported, including max counts of 8,000 Short-billed Dowitcher and 7,000 Semipalmated Sandpiper. One source indicates that it can serve as an important high-tide roost site for up to 50,000 individual shorebirds, mainly “peeps” (ALS 2012). A long-term research program studying Semipalmated Sandpiper migration at the site is run by scientists at New Jersey Audubon.

The history of the impoundments is unclear, but the three larger units had new water control structures installed in 2004 by Ducks Unlimited and partners (Kessler 2004). The press release states they were “restored through the installation of state-of-the-art water control structures that will allow for maximizing water level management capability. In turn, this will provide optimal feeding and resting opportunities for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, and endangered Bald Eagles during critical times.” Management of the impoundments is performed by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) staff. Water levels in the main pool are dropped for northbound and southbound shorebird migration and raised again in the fall. Other pools may be kept full to allow fishing and crabbing activities.

Vulnerability

The Heislerville impoundments were “decimated” during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (ALS 2012). Overtopping from storm surge caused severe erosion and breaches in the dikes, with an estimated repair cost of approximately $100,000 (AFSBSPT 2013). These embankments are not especially high, averaging about 3-4 feet above the mean high water line. Their proximity to the bay make them vulnerable to sea level rise.

Human Value

The impoundments are frequented by birders, photographers, and fishermen. Their embankments may provide some protection to the buildings and businesses that lie directly behind them on Matt’s Landing Road.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Dave Golden and Jason Hearson (NJDEP DFW) for providing information used on this page.

Literature Resources

Below is a list of articles describing research occurring at or near the impoundments:
  • AFSBSPT [Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Business Strategy Planning Team]. Hurricane Sandy Rapid Assessment – Final Report. Manomet, MA: Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences; 2013.
  • ALS [American Litoral Society]. Assessing the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on coastal habitats. Highlands, New Jersey: American Littoral Society; 2012.
  • Bauers, S. 2013. Report finds $50M in post-Sandy bird habitat projects needed. Philadelphia Inquirer / Philly.com January 3, 2013:1.
  • Chan, S., and S. Shulte. A Plan for Monitoring Shorebirds During the Non-breeding Season in Bird Monitoring Region New Jersey – BCR 30. Manomet, Massachusetts: Manomet Center for Conservation Science; 2008.
  • Elia, V. 2009. Region 5, Waterfowl – Terns. New Jersey Birds 35:109-111.
  • Kessler, C. Ducks Unlimited and Partners Finish Wetland Restoration Project at Heislerville Wildlife Management Area. http://www.outdoorcentral.com/mc/pr/04/05/20b8.asp: Ducks Unlimited; 2004.
  • Sutton, C., and J. Dowdell. Wintering raptors and waterfowl on the Maurice River Cumberland County, NJ: A twenty-year summary of observed status and trends, 1987-2007. Millville, NJ: Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries; 2009.