Catherine Miller

Do You Hear What I Hear? by Laura McMahon


Sunset at “Back Bay”

Do you hear what I hear?

Have you ever heard a sound that perplexed you?   One you just couldn’t quite figure it out?
Sometimes our senses leave us scratching our heads.  And sometimes they downright deceive us.

Like many around the world, my co-workers and I have been toggling back and forth between working from the office (safely distanced and masked-up) and working from home.  A few weeks ago, however, we were asked to return to 100% remote work, due to the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases.   My work-from-home mode means I set up shop at the island in my cozy kitchen.  It’s my virtual command center.  The other day, I made the delightfully short commute in to work, poured myself a nice, hot cup of coffee, fired up the laptop, and eagerly leaned into my day.

Focusing on a new project had me feeling productive and happy, and the hours slipped away.
My fingers were flying freely across the keyboard, when suddenly they froze, hovering mid-air above home row.  Unidentifiable noises had stopped me cold.  Interrupting my sweet solitude was a strange sequence of sounds – kind of like the far-away yapping of a pack of small terriers, and yet, these were no ordinary barks.

The “barks” subsided and returned, sometimes loudly, sometimes softly, ebbing and flowing like waves on the shore of my mind.  I’d catch a little piece of it, then it would vanish into thin air.  As the sound continued, irritation set in.  What in the world was it and where was it coming from?!
That doggone noise confounded me!

Properly perturbed, I gave in.  I pushed “pause” on the project and myself away from the island.  Making my way to the window, I craned my neck up-up-up to follow the noise. There it was!  Wow, what a sight! Directly overhead, high in the sky, I spotted several large white birds, flying in perfect V-formation:
A flock of tundra swans was migrating high above me!

The morning sun’s rays illumined the swans to appear a dazzling white.  As their urgent cries to one another continued, I quickly grabbed my phone and ran outside in hopes of trying to capture the stately scene on video. Unfortunately, I was a little too late.  Away south they all flew, off to the refuge!


I was excited to have witnessed something so spectacular.  My aforementioned irritation quickly shifted to wonder – what had just happened was cool!


Canada geese – I’ve seen plenty. But I couldn’t remember ever seeing these beautiful snow-white birds in migratory flight.  They seemed to be flying much higher than our Canadian friends… I wondered, is that typical behavior for tundra swans?  Stop to think of it, I wondered if these even were tundra swans –I’m definitely no expert in waterfowl species identification.  My mind began spinning with these questions and more.


Later, my research began, and I received a proper primer in “all things swan”.  Images, descriptions, and information abounded on the internet.  I found out from BBNWR website that “the arrival of tundra swans marks the arrival of winter here in Virginia Beach.   They travel here from northern parts of the U.S. and Canada every November through February, and they are usually heard before they are seen.”  Aha!  Now we were getting somewhere.  I read that tundra swans can be heard up to 3 miles away, and yes, in case you were wondering, their bugling calls really do sound like barking dogs.
But don’t take my word for it – listen to their flight calls for yourself.


Tundra Swans


I scrolled through photo after photo of swans in flight, swans on the water, swans nesting.  I learned that swans can sleep on either land or water, and that they can reach flying speeds of up to 60 mph (up to 100 mph in a good tail wind).  I even stumbled across what some consider the hidden meaning of
“7 swans-a-swimming” from that old familiar Christmas carol.


Tundra swans are sometimes confused for Trumpeter swans when it comes to identification.
Tundras have a small yellow spot near the base of their bills, one of the markings that distinguishes them from Trumpeters.   A characteristic whistling in their wings led Meriwether Lewis to call Tundra swans “whistling swans”, a name still in use. The whistling can be heard even when the swans are 110 feet or more overhead.


A third species, the Mute swan, also populates the waters and shorelines of North America, but this fellow is not native to America.  The Mute swan was made famous by the classic Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling”, and can be distinguished from the other swans by its long neck that’s held in a graceful S-curve.  It has an orange bill with a black knob at the base.  The Mute swan is an invasive species.


Mute Swan


After doing my due diligence in swan sleuthing, I was satisfied that I had landed on the right bird after all (pun intended).  Tundra swans they were! (at least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!)




I remembered seeing a beautiful image of a tundra swan posted on BBNWR Society’s photo gallery, wings fully extended.  I credit this photo below (thank you to Barry Kutzer) with helping me identify the swans in the first place.  Check out this spectacular sight!


Photo courtesy of Barry Kurzer


I discovered that these amazing waterfowl are long-lived birds (some live 20-30 years), and that they mate for life.  They have a wingspan of up to six feet!  It’s thought that up to 10,000 tundra swan migrate to the Virginia coast through spring.  They prefer shallow lakes and coastal estuaries where they find their favorite foods such as grasses and pondweeds.  While they eat mainly plant matter, they’ll also eat mollusks and arthropods. They’re not only looking for food, but for safe cover in which to rest.
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge provides a perfect place for these majestic birds to winter.


Tundra swans fly in a V-formation just like geese.  This helps them save energy for their long flight.  Scientists have conducted studies on other migratory waterfowl and discovered that the birds position themselves in just the right spot – just off to the right or left of the bird in front of them- to take advantage of the “upwash” of air coming off the wings of the front bird.  They perfectly time their own flap to use that air current to its best advantage.  Pretty genius, if you ask me.


But here’s the really cool part:  the bird’s use of this “good air” is very consistent.  Scientists had only expected the birds to stay in the “sweet spot” 20% of the time, but found them doing it almost 100% of the time!




Have you seen tundra swan at the refuge recently?  Please leave a comment below!


It was neat witnessing and learning all about these majestic birds.  My newfound knowledge made me want to see them for myself.  I wondered if they would be difficult to spot at the refuge.  So far, they’ve eluded me, but I’m not giving up.  There are still plenty of opportunities left to see them this winter before they all head back to their Arctic breeding grounds on the tundra for which they’re named.



A few takeaways:

#1 There’s often more to something than meets the eye, or in this case, the ear.
Be open; question things; consider alternative theories.

#2 Minor annoyances can actually turn out to be little gifts from above. I obviously needed a brain break.
The feathered fly-over gave me pause, allowed me to step away from my work, and appreciate the
wonders of nature.  After all was said and done, I was able to hit “reset” and return to work feeling
re-energized and motivated.


#3 Never stop learning.  My swan song experience inspired me to further my knowledge and learn some
pretty interesting facts about our feathered friends from afar; now I’m excited about hopefully
catching a glimpse of them at the refuge.



The lessons I learned?  Keep looking and listening. Stay curious. Be open to pleasant possibilities.
Today, I hope you get to take a break from your busy day.  Who knows?
You just might have a little gift waiting to be discovered, too.


“See you down at the refuge!”



The Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society depends on donations to fund programs and projects that directly support the Refuge.

To make a donation click here


The Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society (Society) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose purpose is to promote and support Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (BBNWR) in its mission to conserve, protect, and enhance natural resources; through advocacy, outreach, education, fund raising, and projects for the betterment of BBNWR.

For more information regarding how to become involved, click here

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Fall at the Refuge by Laura McMahon

On a recent crisp and sunny afternoon, my husband and I loaded up the bikes and trekked on down to BBNWR. Fall’s cooler temperatures had us eager to hit the open trail!
Right away, we noticed a few subtle shifts at the refuge – summer’s vibrant hues had begun the transition to autumn’s calm and muted tones. There were still a few “pops” of color, however.

Punctuating the edges of the trail, cheerful yellow Goldenrod waved a friendly “Hello!” to us as we pedaled by, its slender stalks swaying lazily in the wind. I used to think Goldenrod was “just a weed”, but did you know? Goldenrod plants provide nectar for migrating butterflies and bees, encouraging them to remain in the area and pollinate crops. You just might want to consider planting some near your garden. Goldenrod has all sorts of beneficial properties



Further along the trail, we witnessed first-hand one of the benefits of the landscape’s subdued colors.
A majestic blue heron regally emerged from behind a veil of tall reeds, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. His designer had suited him quite smartly in a gray-blue “outfit”, providing clever cover for this wading bird. He delicately picked his way through the water in search of his next meal.
What would be on the menu today? Fish, insect, or mammal? They’re not picky eaters at all. Learn 11 facts about herons here.

This marsh man seemed to develop stage-fright once he spotted me. He reminded me of a skilled magician ”Now you see me; now you don’t!” He gracefully slipped behind the living curtain into complete concealment, and poof! He was gone!


Next, we came to a lookout, pulled the bikes off the path, and ascended the steps. As we surveyed the marsh around us, we spotted something swimming across the water. Due to the fading sunlight, we couldn’t quite make it out. Eventually, the neurons connected- it was a raccoon! I had never before witnessed this “masked bandit” doing the doggie paddle! Come to find out, raccoons are actually pretty strong swimmers, but they don’t swim farther than they need to because their fur isn’t waterproof and being wet weighs them down.
Raccoons typically emerge at dusk to hunt for frogs and crustaceans, all the while keeping a lookout for predators like coyotes and foxes. Before we knew it, our friend had made it to the other side; and without fanfare, he, too, quietly slipped out of view.

And so it went. New discoveries awaited us around every bend. Egrets, turtles, and juvenile cottonmouths comprised just a few of the cast and crew for the day’s performance. The one thing I didn’t get to experience was hearing the haunting howlings of the refuge’s coyotes -my husband had been regaling me with such stories lately- oh well, maybe next time!

A coyote at BBNWR poaches my husband’s freshly caught bass in 2019

As we continued on our journey, I reflected upon the way fall had gently and gradually eased into our region. The refuge and all its activity mirrored the same relaxed tempo. Not one thing was in a rush.
This I love: Nature gracefully takes her time, and yet everything still manages to get “done” in its own beautiful way. Maybe there’s a lesson here…

As fall gives way to winter, and winter to spring, I’ll keep venturing out to our area’s beautiful parks, forests, beaches, and waterways. I’ll be thankful for seasonal changes, new discoveries, and familiar sights. But most of all, I’ll enjoy the priceless gift of just being in nature and slowing down.

Sunset at “Back Bay”

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Willets in the surf at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge


Jumping off of our highlight of shorebirds today for #NWRweek, our summer highlight for this week is also about shorebirds on the beach! These willets certainly put on a show for us, with their version of "the floor is lava" game!

Posted by Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday, October 14, 2020

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Renovation projects at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

We are thrilled to announce the renovation of the Dune Trail and the pond platform on the Sunset Point Overlook Trail! Demolition has begun and rebuilding will immediately follow!
Until construction is complete, the Dune Trail will be closed and the section leading to the pond on the Sunset Point Overlook Trail will be closed as well. The majority of the Sunset Point Overlook Trail is still accessible via the Bay side entrance. Just walk south from the parking lot along the shoreline to access the open section of trails.
We will be sure to post pictures of the new and improved results when the work is complete!

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Marsh Birds at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Let’s highlight marsh birds today for #NWRweek. Marsh birds are secretive and elusive birds to sight. As their name suggests they live in the marsh and like to hide in and among the reeds, grasses and other vegetation. Most of the birds in this group have long toes and coloration that serves to camouflage them in their environment.
Two of the favorite marsh birds at Back Bay NWR are the American bittern and king rail. Both can be seen along the Raptor Trail, right behind the Visitor Center. However, due to their secretive nature it is always a treat when we spot one!
PHOTO CREDIT: American bittern – Steve Coari; king rail – Neal Phipps

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Respite in the Refuge by Laura McMahon

“A Respite in the Refuge”

After weeks of seemingly endless rain and oppressive humidity, a magnificent weather pattern graced our area, bringing with it abundant sunshine and delightfully drier air. Nature lovers that we are, as soon as we caught wind of the favorable weather forecast, my husband and I began plotting our escape from suburbia. Our “go to” spot? One of Virginia Beach’s best-kept secrets: Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you’ve never checked out this amazing place, you don’t know what you’re missing!
To learn about its interesting history, as well as get directions and more, click here.

We’re fortunate in that this hidden gem is a relatively short twenty-minute drive for us from doorstep to front gate. The refuge is immediately south of Sandbridge’s Little Island Park and beach, at the southern end of Sandpiper Road. Before you go, be sure to check the hours and directions, and other pertinent information, such as permits and passes, here and here. On this day, our plan was to bike, hike, and fish, but there are a variety of activities for all ages to enjoy at the refuge.
We set out fairly early in the day, and once there, we quickly unloaded the bikes, applied the SPF, and eagerly hit the trail. Weeks of work demands with relatively little play time had us desperate for a much-needed break from the grind. Getting back to nature seemed like a good remedy for our woes.


The east dike trail was open, allowing us to pedal the path that lies a bit closer to the coast. The path’s relative proximity to the ocean, along with the welcomed fair weather, allowed Mother Nature to gift us with gentle off-shore breezes and warm morning sun. We gratefully soaked up the untouched beauty of nature all around us.
We pedaled slowly in order to fully take in the sights and sounds; today’s visit was definitely not about “feeling the cycling burn”! The refuge’s paths wind through several different habitats, ranging from freshwater marshes, to dunes and beaches, to agricultural fields, to woodlands.
We love the variety! Keep an eye out for the varied wildlife, such as osprey, heron, otter, coyote, and, yes, even the occasional water moccasin! (Don’t worry, if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you!). I kept my head on a swivel, not wanting to miss a single bit of it. The ecosystem’s perfect interplay of rhythm, balance, and harmony created a symphony for my senses.
There’s something I find pretty fascinating about the wildlife refuge – False Cape State Park actually lies within its interior. The park is a few miles in from the main refuge entrance, and can only be accessed by foot, bike, beach transport, tram, or boat; no pets are allowed. Be sure to check the park trail guide – it contains important information you’ll want to know about before you go.
Our goal this day was to bike on through False Cape State Park to access the beach at Barbour’s Hill. More pristine marshlands and coastal beauty awaited us within the park proper, and, true to form, my husband just couldn’t resist stopping along the way to fly fish the park’s beautiful waters.
Tip: Be sure to bring a valid Virginia fishing license – it’s required.


I somehow managed to pull him away from his angling (despite his never-ending promises of “just one more cast!”), and soon we were headed to the False Cape State Park Visitor Center. Here, there’s a nice covered front porch, complete with relaxing rocking chairs, a water fountain, and public restrooms. Inside the Visitor Center you can learn about the park’s history and upcoming events. They have cold drinks, ice cream, snacks, supplies, and souvenirs available for purchase. Our stop gave us a welcomed chance to stretch our legs.

Not to be deterred from our ultimate destination (where’s the beach!), we wasted no time and quickly mounted up again. We pedaled as far as we could due east on Barbour Hill trail, but once the path became too thick with sand, we parked our bikes in the rack and took the rest of the trail by foot.

Along the way, we spotted happy campers rising and shining, beginning to greet the beautiful day. There are several campsites along this stretch of trail, and more sites are sprinkled throughout the park. Camping is primitive and you’ll need to be aware of several special regulations and considerations before planning your trip. We promised ourselves we’d return and camp here soon, especially now that nicer temperatures had finally arrived.


At last, we arrived at our destination! We crested the ridge, our view opened up, and wow, what a view it was! The sky was a beautiful cerulean blue backdrop for the churning ocean, reeling and rolling with its chopped up, frothy waves. Countless clouds skipped across the sky, but the sun emerged victorious, piercing through them all. The result was a brilliant, ever-changing play of sparkling light on water and mirror reflection on sand.


Seabirds swooped and dove, traveling in broken formations in their never-ending quest for food.
Sand pipers darted and dodged approaching waves, dancing fluidly and effortlessly with their partner, the ocean. The pipers skillfully gleaned crustaceous treats from the soft swaths of wet sand before being sent running for cover by the next set of approaching waves. Watching the repetitive interplay was both amusing and mesmerizing at the same time.


The beach was empty except for a few other people, and from the looks of it, they had spent an idyllic night under the stars, several yards from the dunes. Other than those campers, all we could see in either direction were miles and miles of unspoiled beach. My kind of beach day!

Walking along the shoreline, I bent down to inspect seashells nestled amongst clumps of washed-up sea foam. The shoreline shimmered and gleamed with each ebbing and flowing wave, revealing all its hidden treasures. Life was in full swing around me, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude for being able to be a part of it.
Nature was in no hurry here, and neither was I.

I paused and took in several long, deep breaths – I didn’t want this feeling to end! If I could have, I would have bottled up the whole day’s experience, and taken it home for a rainy day. But for now, it was good to just be in the moment, breathing in the salty air, feeling the gentle breeze, and listening to the whispers of the ocean, with its promises of even more spectacular days ahead.


The Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society’s purpose is to promote and support the BBNWR in its mission to preserve, protect, and enhance natural resources through advocacy, outreach, education, fundraising, and projects for the betterment of BBNWR.
For more information regarding how to become involved, click here

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Interactive map of the Raptor Trail at BBNWR

Check out this map of the Raptor Trail on your next visit to the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

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Night surf fishing at BBNWR

Calling all surf fishermen!

Each year Back Bay NWR offers a special Night Surf Fishing program. This program provides access to the refuge beach until midnight during the month of October. Permits are required and are available starting today.

All those interested in the program may visit the refuge Fee Booth to obtain the special Permit. Don’t forget to bring an ID, fishing license and $35.00 cash or check. Hours for Permit sales are Fridays – Tuesdays, 8:00am-3:30pm. Permits are not available on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Photo Credit: Mark Feltner

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Society Newsletter

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society

1324 Sandbridge Road Virginia Beach, VA ∙ 23456


Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society Newsletter

Issue 1, September 2020


Welcome to the first newsletter from the newly formed Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society.  On behalf of the Board of Directors, we appreciate your support and interest in the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the Society.  Of no surprise, COVID-19 restrictions throughout National Wildlife Refuges have hampered volunteer activities; however, we anticipate forming project teams with volunteers as conditions improve.  We will no doubt have to adjust plans to host an annual meeting.


The Refuge remains open with nearly double the visitation from last year; however, the Visitor Contact Station is closed until further notice.  As a reminder, to minimize disturbance of wintering waterfowl, the Refuge east and west dike trails will close between November 1 and March 31.  Access remains available on the trails near the Visitor Contact Station, the beach, and in Back Bay.


Society Featured on “Hampton Roads Show”

This summer the Society was featured on the Hampton Roads Show segment Reck on the Road.  Host Chris Reckling, Society Board Member Reese Lukei, Refuge Manager Doug Brewer, and Refuge Visitor Services Specialist Erica Ryder did a splendid job highlighting the Refuge and Society partnership.  Luckily, Chris came upon some wildlife and Chopper10 had perfect flying conditions.  Tune in here:


Seeking Volunteer Newsletter Editor

The Society is looking for a volunteer to work as our newsletter editor.  The editor will collaborate with volunteers, Refuge staff, Society Board and members, and others to capture events and accomplishments of the Society.  If you have skills in creating a newsletter and are interested in spreading the word about Society and our initiatives, please contact Society President Richard Dyer 




The Board of Directors have continued to meet virtually about projects, most of which were previously identified in our strategic plan.  Osprey Nesting Platform Project Manager Charlie Ellin worked with fellow board members and volunteers to install osprey nesting platforms in Back Bay waters this past winter.  This took some orchestrating, including fund raising and design/construction of a rig to aid in hoisting the 4’x4’x16’ tall structures from the boat deck.  The platforms/poles were then jettied into mounting holes with a water jet-pump.  Two of the structures can be seen from near the Visitor Contact Station.  A nesting platform located at the north end of North Bay was rebuilt by the team and was home to an osprey family that successfully produced two chicks.  The Society plans to place several more osprey nesting platforms in the future as this is an ongoing project.


The Society also completed a plant identification placard project along the 0.4 mile Reese F. Lukei Jr. Raptor Trail that extends behind the Visitor Contact Station to the bay.  Placards for 10 noteworthy plants including the deciduous conifer “bald cypress”, the exotic and invasive “phragmites”, and sure to get noticed “poison ivy” were deployed.  Thanks to Project Manager Dr. Barry Kurzer, these placards will add to the educational experience along this popular trail.  Refuge Visitor Services Specialist Erica Ryder was very instrumental in getting this project developed.


Other projects including a pollinator garden and large-scale native plant reforestation project are in early planning stages.  The devil is in the details so the Society will continue identifying project tasks including: design, budgeting, fund raising, plant selection, maintenance, visitor education, and volunteer coordination as COVID restrictions allow.



What You Can Do

While volunteering for projects and providing financial support is very rewarding, the impacts of direct conservation actions are also important.  Direct waterfront activities, if not performed carefully, can be detrimental to Back Bay.  Equally important are the environmental impacts from adjacent and far flung areas (non-point sources).  In this continuing series, we will highlight our part in conservation.


A good example of impactful local and distant activities on the Refuge and elsewhere, is the release of lighter-than-air consumer balloons.  This is evident by the abundance of balloons and balloon tethers that are regularly found on the 4.1 mile beach at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.   The ingesting of balloons/tethers and entanglement often results in serious marine and birdlife inflictions and deaths.  According to a 2016 Coastal Zone Management Program Grant report, more than 11,400 balloons, balloon pieces, and attachments were found on Virginia’s most remote beaches by Clean Virginia Waterways’ researchers as part of a five-year study of balloon litter in coastal environments of Virginia.  When released, these objects can drift unobstructed across air and water for hundreds of miles before landing in the ocean and being mistaken for food.  Rare and endangered sea turtles are especially vulnerable to floating debris where they commonly ingest the non-degradable materials only to fall ill or become impaired and die.  Please protect fragile marine life by securing balloons and insuring that children know the impact of their release.   Photo:  balloon washes up on BBNWR.  Photo credit:  USFWS


Featured Wildlife, Osprey photos and article by Reese F. Lukei, Jr.

The Osprey, commonly called the “fish hawk”, is a spring and summer resident in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.  It is the only member of the family Pandionidae, and is found on every continent except the Antarctic.  Pandion is thought to mean “bone crusher” and Haliaetus means “fish eagle”.


Osprey are large raptors measuring 21 to 26 inches from head to tail and have a wing span of 59 to 67 inches.  Like other birds of prey, the female is larger than the male.   Males weigh from 2 lbs. 2 oz. to 3 lbs. 2 oz. and females 2 lbs. 8 oz. to 3 lbs. 9 oz.  They can live as long as 26 years, but 8 to 10 years is more normal.  The immature Osprey has red-orange eyes and white speckles on its upper body feathers, while the adult has yellow eyes and solid brownish black upper body feathers.


The fish hawk eats a diet almost exclusively of fish and eels, gathered from both fresh and salt water.  It hunts by flying 30-100 feet above the water surface, hovers briefly when it sights a fish, dives with wings beating and plunges feet first with a big splash sometimes going completely under water.  It rises with powerful wings that allow it to break the surface of the water, gives a shudder to rid its feathers of water, and heads for its favorite feeding perch.  Their feet have three special adaptations that help hold slippery fish – long and strongly curved talons, sharp spicules in the palm, and an outer toe that can be forward and backward.  They always fly with the head of the fish forward.


In Hampton roads the Osprey begin to arrive by late February from their wintering grounds as far south as Venezuela.   Immediately upon their return they begin their search for a nest site, and once its location is agreed upon, construction begins.  Older pairs return to the same site year after year.  Their nest is a bulky affair about four feet in diameter built of sticks and lined with marsh grasses and

sometimes pine boughs.  It is always in the open and usually on top of dead trees, channel markers, utility poles and other man -made structures such as lights and at ball fields.  They bring all kinds of junk to their nest such as rope, plastic objects, balls, construction materials, and fishing line.


Osprey breed at the age of three years.  The female lays 2 to 4 white eggs with light to heavy brown markings.  She incubates the eggs for 32 – 33 days.  The young fledge in 52-54 days after hatching.  Adults defend their nests fiercely and will dive bomb intruders.  The resident Osprey have usually migrated south by mid-August, so those seen here during the fall are migrating from areas further north.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is thought to have the largest concentration of Osprey in the world, and therefore are easy to observe throughout our region.  Once considered a threatened specie in Virginia, its population today has significantly recovered because of reintroduction efforts and public support and is now protected under our wildlife laws just as are other species.


Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge News

Invasive Species Treatment

The Biology Crew at Back Bay NWR has been working hard this summer to treat Asiatic sand sedge, an invasive species that compromises the structure of 2.5 miles of refuge dune habitat.  Chemical treatment is the best option to remove this species without disturbance to the sensitive dune ecosystem.  These areas were first mapped using a grid survey method and a team of refuge volunteers. Two to three years of treatment and re-treatment should remove this invasive species.


Photo:  Judith Broussard applies chemical to Asiatic sand sedge.  Photo credit:  USFWS


Frog Surveys Begin!

Senior Biology Intern, Keiran Zwirner, created a survey form using ArcGIS Survey123 for frog call surveys. Using the newly developed form Keiran and Junior Biology Intern, Judith Broussard, completed the season’s first frog call surveys for Back Bay NWR in June and July.  This new program will assist Refuge Biologist, Lauren Mowbray, in understanding the diversity and distribution of frogs on the wildlife refuge.


Photo:  frog survey screenshot; Senior Biology Intern Keiran Zwirner created a survey form for easy data collection for frog call surveys.  Photo Credit: USFWS


Sea Turtle Update

This season Back Bay NWR staff discovered seven sea turtle nests, one on Sandbridge Beach, four on the wildlife refuge, and two at False Cape State Park.  In total Virginia Beach has had ten sea turtle nests in 2020, including two on Dam Neck and one on Camp Pendleton.  While volunteer nest-sitting was cancelled this season, due to concerns around COVID-19, biology staff are diligently checking sea turtle nests and will evaluate success rates for each nest as they hatch.


Photo:  sea turtle nest crawl found during the 2020 season.  Photo credit: USFWS




Thank You

On behalf of the Society, we offer our sincere gratitude for all the volunteers, members, and financial support provided.  The Society operates without paid staff, so donations go directly to operations and projects.  We couldn’t complete important projects without your continued support.  Please share our story and opportunity for free membership with your friends through the below Society links.  Thank you!  


Society Vision Statement:  A sustainable Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge that is responsive to diverse native wildlife and habitat maintained in a healthy ecosystem as a contributing link in the migration chain of the Atlantic Flyway


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