EcoTourism and Birding in Hampton Roads
A Male Eastern Bluebird, courtesy of Jim Clark and Refuge Reporter.
This area is blessed with an abundance of wetlands, coastal estuaries, wildlife
preserves and state parks. Birders flock to Virginia's Eastern Shore and
the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Both regions are bird watching paradises,
being on the migratory path of so many species. Migrating birds of all sorts
pass through the area, stopping for a few days to feed and rest before crossing
the open expanse of the Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia Beach is the state's most populous city, with all the amenities that suggests. And yet areas of the land have been protected from urban growth and remain today as pristine and lovely as they were when Captain John Smith was first exploring the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the adjacent False Cape State Park are perfect examples. False Cape has no vehicular access. Visitors trek in along the beach or via a rustic trail.
Read about high points of ecotourism here, and check the links below for many additional options and far richer detail on the ones mentioned here.
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge contains 7,732 acres, situated on and around a thin strip of coastline typical of barrier islands found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Habitats include beach, dunes, woodland, farm fields, and marsh. The majority of refuge marshlands are on islands contained within the waters of Back Bay.
Approximately 10,000 snow geese and a large variety of ducks visit Back Bay Refuge during the peak of fall migration, usually in December. The refuge also provides habitat for a wide assortment of other wildlife, including threatened and endangered species such as loggerhead sea turtles, piping plovers, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles.
If you'd like to know more, read this Back Bay Brochure in PDF format (1.37 MB so give it a few minutes to load). To view it, you need the Adobe Acrobat PDF Viewer installed. If you don't already have Acrobat, use the link above to get your free copy.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge includes more than 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh, and maritime forest. Most of the refuge is located on the Virginia end of Assateague Island; however, 418 acres are on the Maryland side of the island. Chincoteague Refuge is renowned for its abundant, diverse bird habitat. More than 320 species are known to use the refuge regularly for nesting and brood rearing, feeding, resting and staging during migration, or wintering.
Look for a large bushy tailed squirrel as you drive and hike through the refuge, but please be careful not to accidentally hit one as they frequently cross the road. The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel is an endangered species inhabiting the refuge's loblolly pine forests. Their coloring is similar to the gray squirrel, but the fox squirrel is larger and is more terrestrial than the gray squirrel. And of course, the Chincoteague wild ponies are now world famous, and always thrilling to watch in their natural habitat.
The Eastern Shore
The Eastern shore is a finger of land caught between two great bodies of water, the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. It acts as a natural funnel for migratory birds, which gather in enormous numbers to feed and rest before crossing the great expanse of open water. Birders and naturalist of all sorts find the area unbelievably rich in flora and fauna.
Throughout the year, black ducks and great blue herons can be seen feeding in the marshes of the Eastern National and Fisherman's Island Wildlife Refuges.
The Charles Kuralt Trail
News commentator Charles Kuralt, born in Wilmington, North Carolina, held a lifelong fascination with the abundant wildlife of his homeland. In the mid-Atlantic Coastal plain of Virginia and North Carolina, mysterious, dark backwater rivers flow into estuarine sounds contained by the Outer Banks. Here, eleven national wildlife refuges and a national fish hatchery are working to conserve fish, wildlife, plants and their native habitats. The Charles Kuralt Trail has been established to help people enjoy these wildlands and to recognize the broadcast journalist who shared the delights and wonders of out-of-the-way places like these.
Visit the Northeastern North Carolina Home Page to learn more about the Kuralt Trail.
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