For a solitary stroll in nature, check out Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge at the south end of Virginia Beach. You won’t encounter many people, but during the winter months, approximately ten thousand migratory waterfowl, such as ducks, snow geese and tundra swans, fly into the area. It’s a sight to see. Add more than three hundred species of avian residents, including endangered species such as piping plover, peregrine falcon, and bald eagle, and the refuge becomes a bird watchers’ paradise. Through management of dikes and water impoundments, the refuge provides sustenance for the traveling flocks. To accommodate the wintering waterfowl, the trails along the dikes are closed to pedestrians from the first of November until the end of March. However, adjacent to the Visitor Contact Center, three short trails remain open throughout the year.
Bay Trail at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
The Bay Trail winds through the wetlands and along Back Bay. Signage on the path identifies the plants and animals that are indigenous to the area, such as osprey, great blue heron, deer, possum, bobcat, and cottonmouth snake (a sight I prefer to do without). On a sunny Saturday in January, we wandered along the Bay Trail and followed the Dune Trail over to the beach, which also remains open during the winter. On our eight-mile roundtrip trek, we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves, if you don’t count the pelicans, dolphins and shorebirds. Even though it was a cold day, the sun was warm and the wind was light. With a hat, gloves, and a winter coat, I stayed perfectly warm. Birdwatchers or walkers who are new to the area might want to take a free, guided walk, sponsored by the refuge and Back Bay Restoration Foundation. Call 619-6429 for information. However, if it’s the solace of nature you seek, you will find solitude in abundance on a winter walk in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Back Bay National Refuge is a birdwatcher's paradise
All photos courtesy of Katherine Jackson