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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.

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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.

https://arcg.is/4C4ej

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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:  https://www.wavy.com/hr-show/reck-on-the-road/reck-on-the-road-back-bay-national-wildlife-refuge-society/

 

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 richarddyer@verizon.net 

 

 

Projects

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!

 

https://backbaynwrsociety.org/

 

www.facebook.com/backbaynwrsociety  

 

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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New project completed

The BBNWR Society recently purchased and installed some new informational signs along one of the trails on the refuge. Thank you to everyone who has donated to the Society. Your donations help fund projects like this one. Come on out to the refuge and take a look.

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New Press Release

Press Release
Contact: Richard Dyer
Phone: 757-721-3458

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Introduces Friends Group

Virginia Beach, VA – Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society has recently organized as the official Friend’s group in support of and as a partner with Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Refuge Friend’s groups are non-profit organizations comprised of dedicated community members who work to support their local national wildlife refuges, to help improve refuges for wildlife and people. Upcoming projects for the newly formed Society include installing and maintaining osprey platforms and the creation of a plant-identification walk along Back Bay NWR’s popular Raptor Trail.
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1938 as a refuge and sanctuary for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife. The Refuge located just south of Sandbridge in southeastern Virginia Beach, is open from dawn to dusk. More information can be found online at the BBNWR official webpage, the official Facebook page, or by calling the Refuge at 757-301-7329.
The BBNWR Society is currently seeking members who would like to join them in this new adventure. Please visit www.backbaynwrsociety.org or www.facebook.com/backbaynwrsociety for more information about the Society and free membership. The Society is looking forward to this new partnership and working with the community to meet shared conservation goals.
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society
1324 Sandbridge Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23456-4023

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Herons

Great blue herons are widely distributed throughout the continental United States, and they eat a wide variety of wetland prey near ponds, streams, lakes, rivers, marshes and coastlines, including frogs, snakes and, yes, fish.
Photo by Frank Miles/USFWS

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Sea Turtle update at Back Bay

Back Bay NWR’s first sea turtle nest of the season was found this morning!
We can see the female turtle’s distinct tracks coming out of and returning to the ocean. This turtle crossed over her incoming tracks when she made her way back out to the water.
A cage has been placed over the nest to protect the eggs while they incubate. The eggs will develop over the next two months and will hatch approximately 60 days from today. We will keep the updates coming when more nests are found!
What a great way to celebrate #OceanMonth2020!

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New Osprey family

June 15 at 9:31 AM ·
Have you seen this?!
A new osprey nest platform was installed across from the refuge fishing dock by the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society in late winter.
We are very excited to see that a pair of osprey have recently taken to the nest. Check it out on your next visit! This platform is visible from the large parking area, fishing dock and the deck of the Visitor Center.

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