Summer time brings awesome river activities like boating, swimming, and fishing. In Tidewater, at the mouth of the James River, it also brings with it thousands of new residents. Not tourists…birds.

Each summer Rip Raps Island at the mouth of the James River hosts the state’s largest breeding colony of seabirds. Thousands of terns, pelicans, gulls, cormorants, and a few egrets and herons return to the island to raise their chicks. The lack of predators and isolation of the island creates a safe haven several species of conservation need in Virginia such as Gull-billed Tern, Royal Tern, and Black Skimmer.

These birds utilize the waters of the James River, sometimes as far inland as Jamestown Island, to forage for fish to feed growing chicks. Continued restoration efforts by JRA and watershed communities make it possible for this nesting colony to thrive at the very end of the James River.

As an individual enjoying the river this summer you can help by disposing of trash and recycling in proper containers and being responsible with fishing line and tackle. To view these birds as they forage it is best to visit Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton, VA. The fishing piers and waterside walk have an excellent view of the river and Rip Raps Island and you can to watch terns and pelicans dive for fish. The shallow waters of Mill Creek, on the opposite side of the fort, provide a chance to see herons in the marsh and to see the Black Skimmer effortlessly skimming over the waters surface snapping up small fish. To get close views of birds visit Phoebus Waterfront Park where many of them will be roosting on the piles of the old pier.

For more information, please visit DWRs website “Seabird Conservation in Hampton Roads