The Wild Shore Takes Flight

More Virginia Birding Hotspots
By Laura Kammermeier
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Chincoteague’s ponies take a swim
ANOTHER KIND OF WILDLIFE: Chincoteague’s ponies take a swim (J. Holloman/courtesy, Virginia Tourism Corporation)

If you don't make this year's festival, the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail Guide makes it easy for you to plan your own birding trip. The guide features site descriptions and directions for hundreds of birding destinations throughout the state, including 18 sites along the Eastern Shore.

Many shorebirds tend to linger in offshore habitats where public access is limited, so one of the best ways to bird on the Eastern Shore is by water. Though you cannot set foot on the private barrier islands without permission, a guided boat tour can help you spot species that gather on their remote shores. For the more adventurous birder, paddling a canoe or kayak is a good way to explore the secret bays and coves where birds feed in seclusion. The Virginia Seaside Water Trail Guide can help you select a paddling route that matches your interest and skill level.

Eastern Shore of Virginia & Fisherman Island NWR
Located at the tip of the peninsular "funnel," this premier refuge concentrates massive numbers of migrants, particularly raptors, wood warblers, and even butterflies, before the next leg of their journey. More than 300 species have been spotted within the park's 1,700 acres of salt marshes, grasslands, loblolly pine forests, and freshwater and brackish ponds. Tours of Fisherman Island, an especially pristine barrier island just offshore, are offered in fall and winter by reservation only.

Kiptopeke State Park
A signature birding feature at Kiptopeke is a group of partially submerged concrete ships just offshore where gulls, gannets, loons, and other seabirds congregate. Due to its strategic location near the tip of the peninsula, Kiptopeke has one of the longest-running neotropical songbird-banding operations in the nation and is one of the best places in the country to view migrating raptors. The park offers interpretive programs and 4.2 miles of hiking trails through varied habitats.

Willis Wharf
Scores of shorebirds, particularly whimbrels and marbled godwits, blanket the exposed mudflats at Willis Wharf. The wildlife viewing platform, which will be dedicated at this year's Birding & Wildlife Festival, is a great place to scan for red knots, short-billed dowitchers, semipalmated sandpipers, and black-bellied plovers. In winter, check the marshes for saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrows.

Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge
Known for its wild ponies, fragile dunes, historic lighthouse, and freshwater impoundments, this popular wildlife refuge at the northern end of the peninsula offers a variety of habitats that make for great birding and wildlife viewing. In spring, spawning horseshoe crabs make Chincoteague second only to Delaware Bay as a feeding area for red knot, ruddy turnstone, dunlin, semipalmated sandpiper, and sanderling. More than 320 bird species have been observed in Chincoteague—shorebirds and waterfowl abound in fall and winter. Be sure to explore the famed three-mile wildlife loop and the secluded Wash Flats. Tread lightly on the dunes, where you might hear but not see endangered piping plovers nesting in the sand.

Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve
This 298-acre preserve features one mile of Chesapeake Bay shoreline and striking 50-foot sand dunes that tower over the bay. Look for migrating songbirds in the thickets and woods, and for shorebirds and waterfowl in the bay. But also keep your eyes to the ground, where an exemplary population of the endangered northeastern beach tiger beetle scurries in the sand.


Laura Kammermeier writes about bird watching and nature travel from her home in upstate, NY.

Published: 22 Aug 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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