Birding Virginia Beach and other fun outdoor activities to check out while there!

Since my house is about the same distance to Virginia Beach as it is to the NC coast, I decided to take a trip there to explore some of the local birding spots and use the Virginia Beach Get Outdoors Pass. It is free and offers many deals and discounts on many local outdoor adventures and activities in the Virginia Beach area.

Day 1: Our first adventure was a visit to First Landing State Park. The park offers 19 miles of hiking trails that traverse through various habitats: cypress swamps, salt marshes, maritime forests, freshwater wetlands, dunes, and 1 1/4 miles of bay shoreline…perfect for birding! There are trails for everyone, of all abilities, and the opportunity to see a variety of birds like herons, egrets, warblers, woodpeckers, and various songbirds, as well as other wildlife (we came across 2 Northern Watersnakes). We checked out the Osprey Trail and look forward to going back soon to check out the other trails. I couldn’t find a trail map online but you can ask for one at the guard gate on your way in.

After First Landing SP, we went to see Cape Henry Lighthouse. We couldn’t do much birding since you are very restricted on where you can go due to the fact you are on an active military base but we enjoyed seeing the two lighthouses. As a retired teacher, I always like to enjoy a little history while traveling. The first Cape Henry Lighthouse was the first federally funded construction project of the newly formed United States government under George Washington. It was built with the same Aquia sandstone as much of Washington, D.C. and completed in October of 1792 at a cost of $17,700. The lighthouse is situated near the site where settlers from England first set foot on their way to settle in Jamestown. Cape Henry Lighthouse guided sea travelers for close to 100 years. The distinctive black and white striped “new” Cape Henry Lighthouse was built in 1881, after safety concerns arose about the original lighthouse, but remains closed to the public.

After a birding hike at First Landing SP and our tour of the lighthouses, we headed to the Virginia Aquarium for a Dolphin Boat Tour to end our day (another great discount from the VB Get Outdoors Pass). While we didn’t see any dolphins on our particular tour, it was a relaxing change of pace and provided us with a chance to sit and watch some sea birds and other marine wildlife. We saw plenty of osprey, terns, and various gulls hunting for fish (probably for their young back at the nest). I was even surprised to see a few Black Scoters (from a distance). They should be breeding in the boreal forests of the far north right now…not swimming off the VA coast. Some people on the tour spotted some sea turtles and I saw some rays. You really never know what you’ll see which is all part of the adventure!

After our dolphin tour, it was time to head to dinner and watch the sun set over the Chesapeake Bay! Truly beautiful!

Day 2: Another great spot for birding in VB that I was looking forward to checking out was Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. With many trails running through various habitats, you are sure to see a variety of birds and other wildlife. There is a nice boardwalk that traverses over and around a marsh that is suitable for people of any ability. There is also a nice walkway out to the beach on the Seaside Trail and many other trails throughout the refuge. Birding here is definitely multi-seasonal with an abundance of nesting shorebirds in the summer and, from what I can tell, an abundance of waterfowl in the winter. Another thing I discovered while exploring Back Bay, they have a wonderful pollinator garden filled with native plants at the Visitor Center! There were many different butterflies and bees buzzing about while I was there. I also saw one of my favorite birds while walking along the Seaside Trail, the beautiful Indigo Bunting and a Great Egret! We even came across a cottonmouth while walking along the marsh boardwalk, so be sure to always be aware of where you are stepping! Luckily for us, it was already across the path and well on its way into the reeds. Definitely adding this place to my list for a return trip!

After exploring Back Bay NWR on foot and having a picnic lunch, it was time for a kayak tour of Back Bay with Surf & Adventure Co. I was nervous because I hadn’t been in a kayak in 10+ years! But our guides quickly made me feel at ease and we were off! 2+ miles of paddling along a serene estuary until we reached the bay and turned around to head back, another 2+ miles, gave me plenty of time to watch for birds! I saw many birds, but no pictures as I didn’t take my camera out of concern for its safety. While paddling I saw a few Osprey, many Red-winged Blackbirds, a Red-headed Woodpecker, a few Carolina Wrens, sparrows(possibly Seaside Sparrows), egrets, herons, and a few turtles. I am pretty sure there were some secretive birds (bitterns and rails) hiding amongst the reeds since it is the perfect habitat for them. It was a wonderful adventure!

After kayaking it was time for dinner and then drinks on the beach with another beautiful sunset over the Chesapeake Bay!

I wish there had more time to see and do more of the things in the Virginia Beach Get Outdoors Pass. The dolphin tour and all of the parks access fees are just a few of the outdoor adventures discounted through the pass. And for all your needs while planning a trip to Virginia Beach, make sure to go to the official source for everything you need: Visit Virginia Beach.

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