Wrightsville Beach Area
County: New Hanover
Habitats: Beach, salt marshes, inlets, rock jetty.
Key birds: Summer: Brown Pelican and Common Tern. Winter: Common and Red-throated Loons, Pied-billed and Horned Grebes, Great Cormorant, Long-tailed Duck, Black and Surf Scoters, Purple Sandpiper, and Sharp-tailed Sparrows. Year-round: Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, American Oystercatcher, Royal Tern, Willet, and Seaside Sparrow.
Best times to bird: winter months for near-shore ocean species, and flocks of waterbirds.
Description: Wrightsville Beach is a highly developed barrier island about seven miles long. The area between the Intracoastal Waterway and Banks Channel is Harbor Island and is the location of Wrightsville Beach Park, which has wheelchair accessible restrooms and picnic tables. Mason Inlet separates Wrightsville Beach from Figure-Eight Island to the north and Masonboro Inlet separates Wrightsville Beach from Masonboro Island, an undeveloped island to the south. Rock jetties are found on both sides of Masonboro inlet and extend approximately a half-mile into the ocean. Sand bars and mud flats landward of Masonboro Inlet often attract large waterbird flocks. Access to the northern end of Wrightsville Beach is closed. The North Carolina Audubon chapter manages the area to protect nesting birds.
Directions: Well-marked signs lead visitors from all directions to Wrightsville Beach. Both U.S. 74 (Eastwood Road) and U.S. 76 (Oleander Dr.) end at Wrightsville Beach. After crossing the drawbridge across the Intracoastal Waterway U.S. 74 separates to the left, crosses another bridge, and ends at the north end of Wrightsville Beach. U.S. 76 ends near the southern end of the island. Lumina Avenue is the main road that parallels the beach.
Birding Highlights: For those with limited time, a visit to both inlets will produce a good list of common species. During the winter be sure to check the jetty at the south end for rarities. The jetty offers some of the best habitat for attracting sea ducks including scoters and Long-tailed Duck. A variety of rarities have also been seen here. These include Pacific Loon, Razorbill, Harlequin Duck, King and Common Eiders, and Black Guillemot. Great Cormorant is often found on pilings and the rocks around the jetty and there is usually a bird or two that will summer here. The concrete pier near the northern end provides great views and a stable base for scanning the ocean with a scope. Although bird activity is often greater in the early morning, the light is best for offshore scanning in the late afternoon.
Lack of habitat and busy roads limit the variety of songbirds. During the summer months, however, look for Painted Bunting in the shrubs just west of the bridge prior to crossing the Intracoastal Waterway.
General Information: There are public restrooms and showers, during the summer, at several of the beach access points. From Wrightsville Beach Park you can access a five-mile trail that crosses two bridges and offers good views of salt-marsh habitats. Parking is free and often available. Parking along the beach is limited and most spaces require a fee, except during the winter months.
DeLorme map grid: page 84, D2
North Carolina Travel Map grid: I5
For more information: Wrightsville Beach Chamber of Commerce, (910) 395-2965