Birding the Eastern Shore of Virginia
There are some great birding locations in the southern part of the
Delmarva Peninsula, in Accomack and Northampton counties. Chincoteague and
Assateague are best known, but there are numerous spots further south. Assuming you are traveling north from
over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel (CBBT), I provide an ordered list
of a few of these sites below,
progressing south to north (click on the links for a map view).
- Scenic Overlook North of the CBBT
- After the CBBT and Fisherman's Island, there is a scenic overlook on
the west side of the road. A good place to meet up and coordinate plans
after touring the CBBT. Also worth scoping the pilings for Great
Cormorants and the beach for shore birds.
The Eastern Shore
of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge
- Great woodland and marsh habitat. Check at the visitor center for what
birds people are seeing. The marsh and water views from Ramp Road can be
particularly productive. Note that the refuge may be closed to
non-hunters for deer hunting in the late fall. Refuge
phone: (757) 331-2760.
Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve and the Bull Tract of the ESVNWR -
Virginia DCR has a small parking area for their Magothy Bay NAP. From
that parking area you can walk north through the meadow in the NAP, or
east along the south edge of the NAP and into the Bull Tract of the
ESVNWR (now open to the public). This east path leads through meadow and
pine forest to Bull Drive, which is a causeway out through the salt
marsh. There is also a left fork just before exiting the pines that
leads north to a dike around the east side of the NAP. Altogether this
requires 4 to 5 miles of hiking, so this is not a quick stop, but it is
neat habitat and you are likely to have it to yourself.
Mockhorn Island (GATR) Wildlife Management Area
- I have not explored this area much, but the small parking area is
adjacent to a dense hedgerow and wooded area. Requires an access fee (either
access permit or a VA hunting or fishing license). Hunting is allowed in
this area, so exercise caution.
Kiptopeke State Park
- Famous for its banding station, Saw-whet Owl study, and hawk watch
(all under the sponsorship of the Coastal Virginia Wildlife
Observatory), Kiptopeke is worth a stop. As a VA state park, it requires
an entrance fee. It also has a lottery deer hunt and the woodland access may
be closed to non-hunters in the fall.
- Not a park or anything, the road is the destination. The west end
often yields Eurasian Collared Doves, but the more interesting east end
leads down through a salt marsh to a dead-end at a private beach area
(i.e. no trespassing).
Be aware that taking more than 3 or 4 cars down to the end at one time
becomes very awkward, as there is little room to turn around or park.
Seaside Road, State Road 600 - This road runs parallel to Rt. 13 to the
east; you will be on it or cross it to get to many of the other sites
listed here. South of Oyster, this road is a more tranquil north-south
alternative to Rt. 13 that can yield interesting birds in the fields and
on the wires.
Bay-Mason Ave Breakwater, Cape Charles
- The corner of these two roads provides waterfront views and access to
a walkway and gazebo commanding a view of the breakwater and shoreline.
Note that in late 2012 the walkway was closed due to damage from
Tropical Storm Sandy.
Cape Charles Coastal Habitat Natural Area Preserve - Accessible from the SW
corner of the parking lot of a largely
unoccupied office park. There is a small pond and then a boardwalk
that stretches back into the woods for a really unbelievable distance.
Cheriton Landfill, Oyster
- Sometimes referred to as the Oyster Landfill. The Landfill's main
claim to fame is the pond to the left after you enter, which typically
has a lot of gulls, vultures, and ducks of assorted species in and
around it. Upon entering the landfill, stop at the weigh station and ask
the attendant if it is OK to come in and bird watch. Be aware that under
winter hours effective 11/1 - 2/28, the landfill closes at noon on
Saturdays. There is also an abandoned boardwalk and viewing platform,
found by going past the left side of the aeration ponds in the back and
into the woods. Landfill phone: (757) 331-2699.
Oyster Boat Ramp
- Affords some good marsh views to the left of the boat ramp and the
small wooded area sometimes yields some passerines. There is also a
porta-john there. Just saying.
Seaview Farm - There is a small brown sign on the east side of
Seaside Road marking the turn in for the parking area. From there you
can walk east, with woods around a pond and creek to the south and
agricultural fields to the north. There are paths that lead into the
woods and if you continue east, you have salt marsh and bay views. About
3/4 mile to the trail end at the water.
Willis Wharf near Exmore
- Kind of a hike up from Oyster, but has a nice platform with views out
over low-tide mudflats. Don't forget to check the hedgerow around the
parking area for passerines.
Where to eat: there are not that many places convenient to the birding locations above, so here are a few options. Note that Island 1 of the CBBT also has a restaurant.
Sting-Ray's Restaurant - An eastern shore institution, with great
local seafood at very reasonable prices. Very informal. Gift shop has
Accomack/Northampton county roadmaps, which are very useful to the visiting birder.
26507 Lankford Hwy, Cape Charles, VA 23310. (757) 331-1541.
McDonalds at Rt 13 and 184.
Location location location. Enough said. There is also a Food Lion
Kelly's Gingernut Pub, Cape Charles - I only get here once per year,
but I really look forward to it. In a converted brick church, with a great
draft beer selection. You might need a reservation. 133 Mason Avenue, Cape
Charles, VA 23310. (757) 331-3222. Website:
If you are visiting this area as a part of the VSO December Virginia Beach Weekend, some thoughts on an itinerary.
Typically people head north to the Eastern Shore at about 11a.m., once the
Saturday CBBT tour completes. If you are a fan of landfills, head to Cheriton
first, before they close at noon. Then consider Sting-Rays for lunch. Next
would be Kiptopeke and Magotha Road. Check if ESVNWR is
closed off for hunting. Then to the Cape Charles locations. Once done there,
if there is time and particularly if the tide is low, I'd consider a trip to Willis Wharf.