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(Chesapeake, Va. - 2017) As open spaces become more and more precious, birding and wildlife enthusiasts flock to habitats that teem with natural appeal. With the estimated number of bird watchers in the United States topping 51 million, bird-watching --also known as birding-- has become a billion-dollar industry and is recognized as the fastest-growing wildlife-related hobby in America. Chesapeake is no exception in attracting this burgeoning travel market and, as home to the South Chesapeake Loop of Virginia's Birding and Wildlife Trail, nature-lovers won't be disappointed.
The sites in the South Chesapeake Loop of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail offer a sample of habitats at the interface of pinewoods and the swampy bottomlands lining several rivers that drain the southeastern corner of the state. Typically, sites on this loop present a diverse assortment of wildlife that reflects this amalgam of habitats. At a single site, visitors may encounter birds ranging from nuthatches flitting through the pines to prothonotary warblers nesting in hollow swamp trees to stealthy great blue herons hunting in the shallows. The South Chesapeake Loop includes Oak Grove Lake Park, Chesapeake Arboretum, Northwest River Park and A Place for Girls, each free and open to the public daily.
Oak Grove Lake Park is the newest of the city's recreational parks, but many species of birds and mammals already have been recorded there. Its sizable lake and mixed woodlands provide an attractive habitat for dragonflies, butterflies and songbirds.
The Chesapeake Arboretum consists of two acres of gardens and the farmhouse headquarters building, as well as 48 acres of woodlands with more than 1.5 miles of mulched trails. Highlights of the trail include crossing a small clear stream that flows through the forest attracting reptiles, amphibians and butterflies while providing a bathing spot for the woodland birds that frequent the property.
Wildlife watching opportunities abound in the 763-acre Northwest River Park, but the Deer Island Trail is of particular interest to birders. Forests interspersed with wetlands offer a variety of woodlands and swamp associated birds, including prothonotary warblers. The parks' aquatic habitats, such as riverside wetlands, swampy ponds and open lake edges, attract an array of reptiles and amphibians for the curious visitor to discover.
Woodland trails, amidst the 8.5-acre natural area behind the Girl Scout program center, offer access to a diversity of ecological habitats including tidal Belles Mill Creek, marsh, a riparian bottomland and an old pine stand. The woodland trails are worth birding during any season. In the summer, look for warblers, flycatchers and other woodland birds. Boardwalks over the creek's brackish waters provide views of estuarine species such as killifish, fiddler and blue crabs. The elevated platform overlooking the creek is an excellent place to scan for large wading birds and provides eye-level views of the ospreys that nest nearby. The trail continues to meander past a canoe launch, picnic areas and a fitness trail.
Not all birds flock together, and the rare Swainson's Warbler chooses to make its winter home in Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge consists of more than 111,000 acres of forested wetlands, about one-third of which lies within Chesapeake's borders. The refuge is home to the largest population of black bear on the East Coast, as well as bobcat and many other wildlife species, providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. A new Nature Trail opened last year and is a flat, paved path through the wilderness that offers access to all abilities. Hiking, biking, canoeing and fishing are available year-round, and the park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Chesapeake's central location also provides access to several other notable birding and wildlife viewing sites in the Hampton Roads region. Additional loops on the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail - the Seashore to Cypress and Suffolk Loops-- are nearby, and a quick day trip takes visitors across the historic Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, an inviting rest stop for birds and waterfowl during their spring and fall migrations.
A variety of birds and wildlife call Chesapeake home year round. For more information and vacation planning, click on www.visitchesapeake.com or call toll-free 888-889-5551.