Catherine Miller

Back Bay NWR Weather Station Information

Did you know that you can check the weather at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge? A weather station is located between the Visitor Center and the bay. Every hour the weather station uploads measurements to a website, accessible by this QR code.

An alternative method to the QR code is the following website:

Click on Virginia then scroll down the menu on the left-hand side to find “Back Bay Virginia,” about halfway down the list.

Read more

A Time To Plant by Laura McMahon

A Time to Plant by Laura McMahon

Some years, summer just can’t let go.
It’s like the dear old friend who lingers at our doorstep, trying to stretch out our time together.

We both know it’s time to part ways, but neither one of us is ready to say goodbye.
Meanwhile, fall respectfully waits in the wings, far too polite to barge in.
Until now.
Pack your bags, summer.
It’s check-out time.

Lately, waking up to the chill in the air has been delightfully refreshing.
It’s like being in the ocean on a hot sticky day when all of a sudden you find yourself surrounded by a cold pocket of water.

Don’t get me wrong. My family loves summertime in Virginia Beach.
We’ve made marvelous memories together in flip flops and freedom and fireworks.
Shared good times with great friends warmed by the sun and cooled by the sea.
But after a long hot humid summer, we all breathe a collective sigh of relief when fall finally moves on in.

I love fall’s cool, crisp air and sunny skies.
I love the sounds of geese overhead and the crunch of dry leaves underfoot.
I love flinging the windows open and enjoying nature’s perfect air conditioning.

A Time To Every Purpose
As seasons come and seasons go, we learn to embrace the good things about each one.
We come to appreciate each season’s unique rhythms and tempos and opportunities.
As wise Solomon once said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
Sometimes the activity involves giving back.

Recently, after fueling up on coffee and breakfast biscuits, my son and I hopped in the car and drove out to the Refuge.

Talk about perfect fall weather.
The morning was crisp and clear without a trace of humidity.
A steady bay breeze kept us refreshed and rejuvenated.

It was National Public Lands Day – the nation’s largest single-day volunteer event for public lands.
Established in 1994, it celebrates the connection between people and green space in their community.
Its aim is to encourage the use of open space for education, recreation, and health benefits while also inspiring environmental stewardship.

Visitors to the Refuge walk the Seaside Trail enjoying beautiful fall weather photo by Reese Lukei

From the looks of things, the promoters of this special day definitely hit their mark. People were out in droves!
There were bikers, hikers, folks enjoying scenic lookouts, and groups cleaning up trash.

Erica Ryder (far left) works alongside volunteers to help prepare the new pollinator beds

We were there to help with the first phase of the new Native Plant Pollinator Garden. The garden is a joint project between the Refuge and its Friends Group, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society.

Wood Nymph butterfly photo by Reese Lukei

People with long histories of volunteering at the Refuge joined forces with those of us just getting our feet wet.
While our years of experience may have differed, we all held two things in common – we loved coming to the Refuge and we were eager to give back.
Charlie Ellin, Society board member and co-coordinator for the project, along with Erica Ryder, Refuge Visitor Services Specialist, gave each of us a warm welcome and provided an overview of the plan and purpose of the project.

A Monarch butterfly feeds on Four ‘o Clocks in the author’s mother’s garden in Virginia Beach

The Native Plant Pollinator Garden project is designed to support pollinators, educate the public on the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals and provide an aesthetic enhancement to the Visitor Center.

Dr. Barry Kurzer, Society board member and project co-coordinator, helps out on planting day

Many thanks to Charlie, Erica, and Dr. Barry Kurzer, Society Treasurer and project co-coordinator, for all of their hard work in organizing and coordinating this project.

Charlie Ellin, Society board member and project co-coordinator, breaks up the soil in preparation for planting

A Time to Work
After brief introductions and general directions, it was time to pick up a garden tool and get to work.
Under sunny skies and the skilled guidance of Dr. Laurie Fox, the project’s Technical Advisor, volunteers dug up roots, removed brush, raked out debris, and laid topsoil.

Dr. Laurie Fox (far right) limbs up the bushes as volunteers dig up roots and remove brush

We’re so fortunate to have Laurie. She comes to us from Virginia Tech Hampton Roads Agricultural Research & Extension Center, and has graciously offered her expertise and support to this project. Her professional help and knowledge have been invaluable.

Laurie’s energy and enthusiasm was contagious. She taught as she worked her way through the beds. It was fun learning from her. She explained a two-fold purpose behind why she was “limbing up” the bushes.
Clipping and pruning select low hanging branches allows more light to reach future plants. It also provides additional room for plants to grow.

Black-Eyed Susans are a popular plant choice in pollinator gardens

Laurie explained that fall is a great time for planting. The cooler temperatures combined with less intense sunlight mean less stress for young cultivars.
In the mild weather of fall, the soil is still warm enough to let tender roots become established before the cold snap of ‘Old Man Winter’ sets in.

Diverse native perennials were chosen to provide multi-season interest. The plants will require low maintenance.
During selection, attention was given to plant color, size, and height, as well as which plants do best in full sun, part sun, or full shade.
Best of all, the plants will provide pollinator support. To learn more about these important creatures, read this Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge abuzz with new projects and opportunities – Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society (

Conceptual design of pollinator bed by Trista Imrich, landscape designer, Wild Works of Whimsy. Actual plants may differ from mock-up.
Another bonus of planting in the fall: Less watering is required. In the fall, plants don’t transpire as much as they do in the summer.
In addition, moisture is retained by keeping the plugs clustered closely together and surrounding them with a layer of mulch.

A praying mantis blends in perfectly with its surroundings in the pollinator garden

A Tough Nature Lesson
While working, my son and I were treated to a fascinating (albeit disturbing) act of nature.
As we removed vines, roots, and brush, we spotted something. Several huge praying mantis sat atop the bushes.
Their camouflage and slight movement made them difficult to detect. We marveled at their size.

Soon our amazement turned to dismay as we watched one mantis begin to eat the other!
Laurie heard the shock in our voices and asked what we had discovered.
She confirmed our worst suspicions.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “After mating, the female bites the head off the male and then eats him.”
My son said he didn’t know how he was going to face the rest of his day after that.

A clean slate – the beds are prepped and ready for planting

Many Hands Make Light Work
In what seemed like no time at all, “Phase 1” was complete. We put down our tools and stood back to admire our work.
With the bushes trimmed, the debris removed, and dark rich topsoil spread evenly on top, the beds looked crisp and clean.
As we munched on cookies and wiped the sweat from our brows, we all agreed it was quite a difference from just two hours earlier.

Teamwork makes the dream work!
My son and I agreed it had been a really nice morning. Not only was it good being out in nature together on such a beautiful fall day, it was rewarding meeting others and helping out for a good cause.

Volunteers put plants in the ground during the second phase of installation

The “Phase 2” workforce had an equally successful time. Volunteers enjoyed the camaraderie, the lovely weather, and the opportunity to lend a hand.

A volunteer carefully spaces out the plants

What a great turnout for planting day! Photos of garden installation supplied by Reese Lukei, Society board member

Plants were planted using a “plant by numbers” technique.
Small plant plugs were laid out in designated areas according to the beautiful garden design developed by Trista Imrich, owner of Wild Works of Whimsy, a local landscape design company specializing in the use of native plants.

BBNWR Society President Richard Dyer enjoys the shade as he arranges the plants in the pollinator garden

Many thanks to all of the volunteers for their help with this project. It will be fun to watch the gardens grow and to see the pollinators arrive.
As fall settles in, now’s the perfect time to visit to the Refuge. While you’re there, swing by the Visitor Center and take a peek at the gardens.
Ongoing help will be needed, so stay tuned for future volunteer opportunities.
Until next time…
See you down at the Refuge!

To find out more about becoming a member of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society or to make a donation, visit
The purpose of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society is to promote and support the BBNWR in its mission to conserve, protect and enhance natural resources through projects, advocacy, outreach, education, fundraising, diverse membership and volunteerism for the betterment of BBNWR. The Society depends on donations to fund programs and projects that directly support the Refuge.

Read more

Back Bay NWR Society Pollinator Garden Planting Day

The BBNWR Society Pollinator Garden Project Planting Day was October 16, 2021.
A big thank you to the volunteers who came out to help. We can’t wait to see the results of all of the planning and hard work. Look for an update in the Spring!


Read more

Pollinator Garden at BBNWR

The Society Pollinator Garden Project got underway on Sept. 25th. Thank you to everyone who came out to help break ground on this project. Planting will be done on October 16th. The Society will need help with planting and with the maintenance of this garden. Here are a few photos of the first day of the project.



Read more

Project on BBNWR

The City of Virginia Beach has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to design, permit, and build marsh terraces in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The project will restore valuable habitat, improve water quality, and help reduce wind-driven flooding. Come learn about the project and ask your questions during the Q&A period.


Hope you can join us on Thursday, October 14, 2021, 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at Creeds Elementary School, 920 Princess Anne Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23457.

Read more