Birders flock to the Chesapeake for year-round opportunities

Fran Severn


It might be part of the Coastal Virginia Region, but Chesapeake has another much more “natural” side. It boasts parks, waterways, refuges, gardens, and nature centers that offer recreation for humans and habitats for wildlife.

It’s particularly popular with bird watchers. Once considered a pastime for loners with limited social skills, “birding” has morphed into the fastest-growing wildlife-related hobby in America. Some 51 million people arm themselves with field guides, cameras, and sophisticated spotting scopes as they head outside to search for familiar and rare birds.

Many members of the birding fraternity migrate to Chesapeake, which is site of the South Chesapeake Loop of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail. That’s a statewide collection of habitats that birds, wildlife, and reptiles call home. Four sites in the Chesapeake area are part of the loop.

The sites along the South Chesapeake Loop of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail are prime places for viewing migrating or resident birds.

Despite its name, Old Grove Lake Park is Chesapeake’s newest park. With a lake and a mix of hardwoods and wetlands, it’s a good bet you’ll spot dragonflies and songbirds as you walk the 1 1/2-mile fitness trail. The park has five ADA-accessible observation platforms.

Chesapeake Arboretum also has 1 1/2 miles of trails that lace through its 48 acres. One trail crosses a woodland stream where you’ll spot turtles, frogs, and the occasional salamander. Special gardens attract butterflies and songbirds.

Located on the banks of its namesake, Northwest River Park covers 763 acres. There is a host of recreational activities at the park, but for birders, the big attraction is Deer Island Trail. With a mix of forests and wetlands, it attracts a long list of songbirds and waterfowl, while the swamps and ponds see reptiles and forest dwellers, such as raccoon and foxes. If you want to spot the early-morning fliers, the park has 66 groomed campsites, two cabins, and accommodations for RVs.

“A Place for Girls” is the headquarters and program center for the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast Council. The 8 1/2-acre natural area features a creek, old pine stand, marsh, and riverside wetlands. Boardwalks over the marshes and an elevated platform make it easy to look for wading birds, osprey, and crabs — both fiddler and blue — in the waters.

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge’s Canal Trail is another area to spot birds and other wildlife. An accessible, paved, flat nature trail winds through the wilderness.

Insider tip: Each April, the refuge holds its free birding festival, with tours and opportunities to catch the spring neotropical migration. Throughout the spring and fall migration you can hear up to 35 species of warblers, but there are 200 types of birds that are permanent residents of the refuge or are passing through.

Another way to watch birds is by canoe, kayak, or standup paddleboard. The annual KayaXpedition weekend
is set for June 10–11. Fun for experienced paddlers, but designed for newcomers to paddle sports, it has a schedule of demonstrations and lessons on the basics of paddling at several
locations, including Northwest River Park.

Guided paddle tours are part of the weekend. You’ll get far off the trail into areas where birds and wildlife are undisturbed and easier to spot. Most events require registration and charge a nominal fee.

For more information:

Chesapeake Tourism:

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