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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