Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia Beach, VA
Situated in southeastern Virginia Beach at the base of the narrow peninsula which forms the beginning of the Outer Banks, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for bird species year-round. The park is owned & operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the branch of the U.S. Department of the Interior that maintains control over all National Wildlife Refuges across the country. Consistently, Back Bay NWR is the leader in bird diversity among parks within the City of Virginia Beach, with over 200 different species of birds being observed each calendar year according to checklists submitted to eBird.org. Throughout the seasons, the types of birds that can be expected can change considerably. In wintertime, waterfowl & raptors are some of the most commonly observed species with the flocks of Tundra Swans potentially being the most sought after. During the spring & fall seasons, thousands of migrating birds move north & south (respectively) between their wintering & breeding grounds. These transitional periods offer opportunities for birders to glimpse rarely viewed species during a limited window that could include up to twenty species of warblers. In the summer, we are treated to a wide variety of breeding species.
Geographic & Seasonal Access
An entry fee is required to enter Back Bay NWR from 1 Apr through 31 Oct, and is paid at the Fee Collection Point at the north end of the park. As of 2015, the daily entrance fee was $5, and the annual park pass was $15. Since Back Bay NWR is run by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, possession of a duck hunting stamp also ensures access to any NWR property. In July 2015, this pass could be purchased for $25. For serious birders and outdoorsmen, this pass is a no-brainer, while for the casual observer, paying on a daily basis might be the better option. After gaining access to the park, visitors should also be aware that not all areas are open year-round. Here is a breakdown of the geographic & seasonal closures (see official park brochure for map: http://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/Region_5/NWRS/South_Zone/Back_Bay/BackBay.pdf):
East Dike – Closed 1 Nov – 31 Mar Annually. During the period 1 Apr – 31 Oct, either the East Dike or West Dike is opened to the public, depending on what areas are still hosting migratory wildlife. In 2015, the East Dike was the first to open on 1 Apr and it stayed open through 4 May, when the West Dike was then activated, likely due to the departure of lingering winter waterfowl. Later in the season, the East Dike was again opened on 10 Jul, and remained open through 31 Oct when both dikes were closed for the winter season.
West Dike – Closed 1 Nov – 31 Mar Annually. During the period 1 Apr – 31 Oct, either the East Dike or West Dike is singly opened to the public, depending on what areas are still hosting migratory wildlife. In 2015, the West Dike was opened to the public on 5 May after park officials decided enough of the wintering waterfowl had left the impoundments on their northbound journeys. It remained open until 9 Jul when southbound shorebirds began to arrive, and probably started filling up the impoundments, causing the area to be closed. The East Dike was then activated through the remainder of the ‘open’ season.
Waterfowl Viewing Station, Loop Road & Visitor Contact Station Trails (Bay, Bayside, Kuralt, Dune Boardwalk & Seaside Boardwalk Trails) – Open Year-round.
Beach – Open Year-round from access road east of Visitor Contact Station south all the way to the border of Back Bay NWR with False Cape State Park. Closed Year-round from the access road north to the boundary of Back Bay NWR with Little Island City Park.