Groups can observe hundreds of species of birds both mid-flight and in their resting places
Virginia’s coastal shores are some of the best locations in the country for bird watching enthusiasts. Located in a prime position along the Atlantic Flyway, a major north-south migration path for birds, visitors can observe hundreds of species of birds as they take advantage of Virginia’s marshy forests as a resting place. Virginia’s protected preserves make for an ideal location to spot some of America’s most iconic and rare species of birds.
DISMAL SWAMP NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge expands to cover 112,000 acres of undisturbed wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay region. Home to more than 213 species of birds, the many trails and overlooks this national preserve offers are ideal for anyone wanting to experience the best of Virginia birding. Along with the miles of hiking trails spanning throughout the preserve, visitors can enjoy one of the guided kayak tours that take you through the untouched waterways of the cypress swamp.
The Dismal Swamp, with its easily accessible trails and ideal location in the Atlantic Flyway, make it a perfect location for any birding expertise level. In the fall, bird watchers are able to witness a multitude of exotic birds migrate south for the winter. This includes two of the rarest birds in North America – the Swainson’s Warbler and the Wayne’s Warbler. For more than one million birds like swans, geese, and ducks, Dismal Swamp is their final destination for the winter season.
Spring is the most popular time for birders to visit the Dismal Swamp for a combination of the pleasant weather and to hear the songs of the 35 species of neotropical warblers that travel through. Some of the season’s rarer birds to spot during this time are the Mourning Warbler and the American Pipit.
If you’re looking for more involved events to round out your Dismal Swamp experience, every spring the preserve hosts the Dismal Swamp Stomp Running Festival, which offers races for every expert level and age. Also held every year from December 14 through January 5 is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Birdwatchers from around the country participate in this competition to see how many birds they can hear or see during the duration of the competition. You can either compete from Dismal Swamp and the Chesapeake region or sign up to compete from your hometown. There is no expertise level or fee to join, but donations are highly recommended. Near the Dismal Swamp the cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk have a wide variety of accommodation and amenity options.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a chain of islands situated between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Just minutes north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel, this location is easily accessible to anyone living in the urban areas nearby. Eastern Shore is gorgeous to visit throughout the year, with its breathtaking views of the ocean and the native landscape. Throughout the year, birders can spot Virginia’s many shorebirds who habit this region year-round, including Black Skimmers, American Oystercatchers, Wilson’s Plovers, and Gull-billed Terns.
The Eastern Shore has 22 marked locations within the park for guests to explore, and many visitors opt to visit multiple locations in one day by riding their bikes down the interconnected trails. Park rangers recommend the best places to visit in the park for birders are Chincoteague, Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve, Savage Neck Dunes, and Wachapreague Interpreted Marsh View.
One of the best times to visit is during the Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival in October. Along with being able to witness the millions of birds that are making their way south, the preserve offers keynote presentations, guided tours, and boat trips. Many of the birds you can spot from the Eastern Shore Refuge are endangered, so the park urges visitors to be mindful of proper trash disposal and refrain from feeding the gulls. Along with the miles of trails the park offers, visitors can see a preserved World War II bunker, the Assateague Lighthouse and the Eastern Shore Railway Museum. Or, you can stop by the Eastern Shore Welcome Center to explore their interactive exhibit for children where they can hold geological finds like turtle shells, marine life bones, and small fossils. There are many amenities for birders hoping to stay at Eastern Shore, including multiple hotels and inns, campgrounds restaurants along the entire Eastern Shore. For more information on birding statewide visit online at virginia.org/birdingandwildlifetrail/
By Isabella Wilkes