Access to Fisherman’s Island, the southern most Virginia Barrier Island, is restricted most of the year due to nesting birds. With reservations, one can join Wildlife Refuge volunteers on guided hikes Saturdays October until March. Information is available on Fisherman Island Wildlife Refuge website.
Our small group of a dozen met several volunteers, who are also Master Naturalists, and the rangers at the Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. Forming carpools we drove through the Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel toll booth to a set of locked gates and a small parking area.
Dressing warmly is a given during this time of year. Waterproof boots will be helpful while walking on the beach. We began by walking the old military road installed during World War II. This plain concrete ribbon took us from the parking area down to the beach. As we progressed our naturalist tour leaders provided a fascinating narration about the history and ecology of Fisherman’s Island which served a variety of military functions.
We learned the term “buzzards” should only be applied to the European version of that bird. In North America those large black birds are more appropriately called “vultures”. It was someone disconcerting that a pair of Black Vultures seemed keenly interested in our group.
The most interesting trees on our walk was the Southern Prickly Ash, sometimes known as the Toothache Tree, which is covered in nasty looking thorns. However, chewing on its bark will numb your mouth just like Novocaine. Fisherman’s Island is home to the two largest Southern Prickly Ash trees in the entire world.
As we continued toward the beach two interesting flocks of birds flew overhead in the distance. A flock of Ibises (both mature and immature), and a flock of brown pelicans
Ruins of old military infrastructure still exist on the island including this antenna tower. Our guides were great historians able to give insight into the life of military personnel and their families stationed on the island
On one concrete pad, volunteers staged beach trash for pick-up. Our naturalists used some of the bones and items as props for an interesting nature lecture.
At the end of the island the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel came into view. Our group fanned out along the shoreline and began to explore.
At one point dolphins could be seen curving through the water and hunting fish. Along the sand ghost crabs scurried, all but invisible with their effective camouflage.
A dead dolphin washed up on the sand provided one of the most interesting things we found (and the grossest) with both its skeleton and large sections of skin still intact. Both fascinating and sad. Dolphins die just as humans do, but this vivid reminder juxtaposed as it was with playful dolphins out in the bay was someone surreal.
If you have the time this hike is a not to be missed excursion on DELMARVA.
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Refuge Headquarters located just before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Good displays in visitor center and some additional hiking trails.
Lodging: Sunset Beach Resort provides basic hotel rooms for a great off season price just across the Highway from the Refuge Headquarters. B & B’s in Cape Charles.
Food: Great seafood restaurants ( the Shanty and Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery both have waterfront views) in Cape Charles, or try Sting-Ray’s along Rt. 13 for comfort food.
Great post and photos! This is a hike I’d love to take! I’ll have to plan this one day. 🙂
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Great post! I hope to get down in that general area (Cape Charles) in April. Sounds like that may be too late for this excursion. Any thoughts?
Robin, they only allow you on the island until the beginning of March. It’s part of the Atlantic Flyway and a number of birds nest on the beach. However, you still can do some exploring in the Refuge which is not on the island. There are also kayaking launching spots in the area.
Looks like a wonderful place to see plenty of wildlife. I enjoyed this post, the adventure and goodwill of it, the photos, the writing. The thorns on the prickly ash were a surprise to me, now that’s prickly.
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