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Tangier Island and Onancock Wharf

Important Notices

COVID-19 & the VBWT: Be Safe While OutdoorsDWR encourages you to be safe while outdoors. Before heading out, first check with individual sites on the Virginia Bird & Wildlife Trail for any COVID-19 policies or closures. This information is typically posted on a site's own website. Remember to maintain CDC social distancing guidelines while enjoying the outdoors.

Description

Tangier Island is situated in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay between the Eastern Shore and the Northern Neck of Virginia. The island’s crab-fishing community, historically isolated, has developed an interesting culture and unique dialect. Measuring less than one square mile, the Town of Tangier is actually comprised of three low-lying islands joined by small bridges. The town is situated about four feet above sea level, but the remainder of the island is mostly comprised of tidally inundated marshland. The expansive marshes provide habitat for several heron species, glossy ibis, and numerous clapper rails and seaside sparrows.

A couple of recommended habitats to explore on foot include an attractive small sandy beach at the island’s southern tip and a scrubby woodland near the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s education facility at Port Isobel.

One of the most effective ways to observe wildlife in the area is by kayaking along the town’s water trails. The Orange Trail serves as the center, encircling the Town of Tangier by flowing under several bridges and through the harbor all while showcasing a rich culture of water-dependent commerce. Common sightings include belted kingfisher, laughing gulls, and Foster’s terns as well as stingrays in the shallows of Cod Harbor. From the southwest end of this trail, take the Blue Trail through marshes where you may find periwinkle snails, fiddler crabs, and willet. The Yellow Trail follows directly south off the Orange Trail to an isolated beach where brown pelicans, American oystercatchers, and gulls line the southern tip while a nesting colony of terns and black skimmers reside to the northeast in late summer. From the north end of the Orange Trail, head east towards Port Isobel to find osprey and Northern gannet as well as various other species along this island’s pedestrian trail. Or, continue north from the main trail up to the Pink Trail, another circular path that encompasses the “Uppards.” Formerly home to about 600 people, including a school and grocery stores, these marshlands now provide habitat to songbirds, northern harrier, warblers, common yellowthroat, and peregrine falcon.

NOTE: Tangier Island is only accessible by ferry, which runs seasonally from late May through early October. The only ferry departing from the Eastern Shore in Virginia is from Onancock. The Onancock-Tangier Ferry is a one-hour trip, each way. (See detailed ferry schedule here.).

While awaiting the ferry in Onancock Harbor, ample opportunity exists to see gulls, common passerine species and ospreys nesting on the channel markers. The Onancock-Tangier ferry boat ride is likely to produce sightings of common, royal and Forster’s terns, brown pelican, herons, egrets, and views of nesting birds. During the cooler months, you can expect to see diving ducks, loons, and northern gannets.

Directions

Physical Address for Onancock-Tangier Ferry: 2 Market Street, Onancock VA 23417

To Onancock-Tangier Ferry from the Previous Site on the Eastern Shore Loop of VBWT:

From Harborton Landing, return 3.0 miles on SR 180 to Pungoteague. Turn left on SR 178/Bobtown Road and travel 6.1 miles to Rt. 718/Cashville Road. Turn right on Rt. 718 and proceed 1.1 miles to SR 179/Market Street. Turn left on Market Street and drive 0.9 miles to Onancock Wharf.

Other transportation options:

Seasonal tour boats visit the island from Reedville, Virginia, and Crisfield, Maryland. A mail and passenger boat also runs out of Crisfield year-round (except on Sundays), but requires an overnight stay on the island. Private boat and plane charters are also available.

Location & Directions

View on Google Maps

Site Information

  • Site Contact: Tangier Island History Museum: 757-891-2374 and Tangier Town Office: 757-891-2438, tgitownoffice@yahoo.com
  • Website
  • Access: Tangier Island: Access is by ferry only, which has a fee and service is seasonal (May-early October); Onancock Wharf: Free, daily, year-round

Seasonal Bird Observations

Facilities

  • Accessible
  • Information
  • Lodging
  • Phone
  • Picnic
  • Restrooms
  • Kayak/Canoe Launch
  • Boat Ramp