This park on Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a great place to watch migrating Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, American Kestrel, warblers, thrushes, herons, and shorebirds.
By Robert Klages | Published: 8/26/2011
I first visited Kiptopeke in 1995 with an avid birder who suggested we take a day to check out the hawkwatch. We were greeted by Brian Sullivan, who was the compiler that year and is now a co-leader of eBird. I was astounded by the variety and abundance of the migrating raptors and by Brian’s ability to identify a speck at great distance. I never thought a bird of prey could be as small as a male Sharp-shinned Hawk. I also watched bird banders in action at the park’s songbird- and hawk-banding operations, and on a subsequent trip, I was thrilled to release a banded harrier. I was hooked.
The hawkwatch was founded in 1977 and has been tracking raptor movements ever since. It’s one of the best places on the planet to observe migrating falcons. One-day totals of more than 350 Merlins have been recorded, and two or more 100-Peregrine days occur each fall.
A few years after my first visit, I became a banding sub-permittee, and today I’m a bander on the Raptor Team. I eagerly look forward to fall migration every year and the variety of birds that make the park a stopover on their way south. — Robert Klages
Robert Klages is the owner of a television production company in Virginia Beach. He has been a member of the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory board of directors since 1996.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Wetlands, forests, marine, uplands.
Flat. Most trails wheelchair-accessible.
Fall hawkwatch: American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Goshawk, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Broad-winged Hawks, Osprey, Bald and Golden Eagles, and Northern Harrier. Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Magnolia, Blackpoll, and Wilson’s Warblers, Ovenbird, numerous thrushes, Great Blue and Green Herons, Black- and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, yellowlegs, hummingbirds, sparrows. Winter on the bay: Rough-legged Hawk (rare), waterfowl.
When to go
Banding begins with passerines in mid-August and raptors in early September. Migration peaks in mid-October. Early mornings are best for passerines and some accipiters, but falcon flights can go until sundown.
Hawkwatch platform. Passerine banding station open to visitors; birds may be observed during processing. Boardwalk trails, boat ramp, camp sites, six-bedroom lodges, and a butterfly garden. Many motels and restaurants nearby.
State park. Parking fees: cars $3 weekdays, $4 weekends and holidays; buses $15 any day. Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel tolls: $17 for a daytrip ($12 for a one-way trip, plus $5 with receipt if the return trip is within 24 hours).
Dress for the heat in September and the cold in November. Bring bug repellent and sun screen.Spotting scope available at the hawkwatch.
For more info
Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR
Three miles south of Kiptopeke on the sea side of the peninsula. Trails lead through woods and grasses and to views of a saltmarsh, barrier islands, bays, and the ocean.
Fisherman Island NWR
Free guided tours are offered on Saturdays from October through mid-March. Contact the Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR to register.