By Blogger Meg Raynes
Photos by Meg Raynes
What a year it has been! My final adventure on the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail for 2022 took me to the Seashore to Cypress Loop in the Coastal Region. Located in the Virginia Beach area, this loop is made up of 14 sites. On the first weekend of December, I visited a few of these sites, with First Landing State Park being my favorite.
If you have been following along on these blogs, or know me in person, this comes as no surprise. State Parks offer nature viewing, educational programs, and plenty of trails to hike! First Landing State Park happened to also be where I was most fortunate with wildlife observations on this sunny December day.
Having visited prior, I was familiar with the trail system, so I knew exactly where I wanted to go: the Kingfisher and Osprey trails. As you reach the Osprey trail, beginning at the Trail Center, you’ll find an observation deck. Here I spotted my first great blue heron of the day, hiding in a tree along the bay’s edge. Below the tree, another heron basked in the early afternoon sunlight.
Further down the Osprey trail, past a wooden bridge, I spotted a belted kingfisher perched high up on a limb. My first kingfisher sighting! I always imagined, because of their grand name, that kingfishers were large birds. My first impression was that it looked like a cross between a cardinal, with its sharp crest, and a hummingbird, with its vibrant color.
It’s the eyes that always get me. Heron eyes are strikingly beautiful. To capture them in a photograph is a treat. On the second day of my Seashore to Cypress adventure, I found yet another great blue heron. This one looked as if it was either disappointed with the rainy day or irritated that the weather failed to keep the humans away.
Over the fourth of July weekend, I had hiked my way through Back Bay to reach False Cape State Park, which is only accessible on foot, bicycle, kayak, boat, or tram car. This December visit, as I walked on a portion of the Dunes and Seaside Trail, I passed a hiker loaded up with pack on their shoulders and my mind skipped back five months to the trip that I so enjoyed. What a difference a few months can make. I heard none of the haunting calls of chuck-wills-widow birds nor witnessed a fiery sunset over calm waters. Instead, I locked eyes with a stoic heron, separated by still water and soft raindrops.
Just before reaching Back Bay, if you are heading south, you’ll pass by Little Island Park. I made a stop here to walk along the beach. As I parked my car, I turned to see two women dressed as pandas walking through the lot. Here I am, on a photographer’s hunt for wildlife, when my adventures took a silly turn. How life reminds us to giggle at just the right moments.
Speaking of silly moments, never before had I seen a group of pigeons on the beach! Little Island Park has a 775-foot beach, which I walked south before running into a wildlife sign that told me to go no further. Along the way, I walked around a very large flock of pigeons. When we visited the beach, we expected to see gulls, and I did, but a flock of pigeons seemed out of place. They must have been enjoying the off-season with fewer tourists taking up space.
In great contrast to the quiet of Little Island Park was Pleasure House Point Natural Area. I quickly learned this location is popular for portrait photography, as I passed several groups posing alongside the 2.3-mile hiking loop. The name of this location caught my attention right away, and a Google search taught me that Pleasure House refers to a tavern that once stood in the area. I quickly decided wildlife viewing would be sparse with crowds continuing to pile into the park. Pleasure House Point Natural Area will remain on my coastal to-do list for next time. I read it’s perfect for catching a sunrise.
If you, too, have locations from the Seashore to Cypress Loop on your to-do list, consider attending the Virginia Beach Winter Wildlife Festival on January 28 through February 5. The festival includes talks from naturalists, birding excursions, workshops, an exhibit hall, a photography contest, and more. Whether you are looking to catch a solitary sunrise like me, or join a group of fellow nature nerds, the festival has a little something special for everyone to participate in. Start off your 2023 with a bang—birding at the beach on the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail.