Come spring, the Hog Island WMA offers some of the best wildlife watching in the Old Dominion. That’s because this season is an excellent time to observe bald eagles and other avian species.
“Hog Island WMA is part of the James River eagle concentration area,” says Stephen Living, a DGIF Lands and Facilities manager. “As such, it is heavily used by resident and migratory bald eagles throughout the year. Dozens of bald eagles can be seen at Hog Island on any given day, foraging around the impoundments or along the James River shoreline. There are at least three active bald eagle nests on Hog Island this year, but there are as many as seven historical nest sites.”
Living adds that DGIF personnel conduct moist soil management for waterfowl, which involves draining water from the impoundments at Hog Island to help foster plants attractive to migrating and wintering ducks. When these impoundments are lowered in the spring, gizzard shad respond by journeying to them. Carp also spawn during this time frame and attempt to enter the impoundments as well. These events reach their peak anytime from March through May and the large numbers of fish stacked up in the surrounding creeks and canals provide a veritable feast for eagles, herons, and any number of other wildlife species.
One thing visitors should not expect to see at the Hog Island WMA is, well, hogs.
“There are no feral hogs present there,” Living says. “The name is derived from the Jamestown settlement days when the early colonists would keep their pigs on the island.”
The Hog Island WMA consists of 3,908 acres in three separate tracts on the lower Tidal James. Two tracts (Hog Island and Carlisle) are in Surry County; the third tract (Stewart) lies in Isle of Wight County. The public land is also an excellent place to view a wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds as well as raptors such as ospreys. Tidal marshes, loblolly pine forest, agricultural land, and ponds enrich the very diversified habitat there. For more information: www.dgif.virginia.gov/wma/hog-island.
After the initial sighting of a ruff at Hog Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) on July 20, birders have continued to flock to the site in hopes of catching a glimpse of the rare bird. While seeking the ruff on July 25, two birders spotted another rarity for Virginia, a roseate spoonbill. Roseate spoonbills are a wading bird related to ibises that range much further south. They breed along the coasts of southern Florida, Louisiana and Texas, and on down along the coasts of Mexico and into South America. Although a few scattered sightings of roseate spoonbills have occurred in Virginia since 2017, previously the last documentation of this species in the Commonwealth was in June of 2009.
Juvenile tricolored heron at Hog Island WMA. Photo by Dan Whiting.
In addition to the ruff and the roseate spoonbill, birders have been turning in some impressive eBird checklists for Hog Island WMA all week, including reports of American avocet, tricolored heron, little blue heron, white ibis, and glossy ibis. These shorebirds and wading birds have been enticed to the WMA by the mudflats and low water levels resulting from work on our renovation project with Ducks Unlimited, during which work crews have been pumping water out of the WMA. The renovation entails replacement of aging water control structures and the dredging of canals, which will allow us to raise and lower water levels, a management practice that facilitates habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, and other birds. After the project’s completion, we look forward to continuing water drawdowns as part of our habitat management efforts throughout the year.
If you would like to try your luck at spotting the ruff, roseate spoonbill, and many other shorebirds and wading birds, be sure to check out Hog Island WMA’s mudflats and impoundments at the northern end of the property and walk the internal roads around the impoundments. Birding conditions remain good–although crews have temporarily stopped pumping water and the recent rains have increased water levels a bit, we are still seeing many notable birds. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars or a spotting scope to get the best look!
Visiting Hog Island WMA
Hog Island WMA is currently open seven days a week. An Access Permit or a current Virginia Hunting, Fishing or Boating License is required. Access Permits are available for purchase online or by calling 1-866-721-6911.
Please note that when traveling to Hog Island WMA, you will first need to pass through the Security Checkpoint for the Surry Power Plant–be sure to have a valid ID. Security personnel will need to check your vehicle as well. Wearing bug spray is recommended. While Hog Island WMA remains open during our renovation project, please be sure to give work crews plenty of space to safely do their work and pay attention to any “area closed” notices. Please park in designated areas only. Foot traffic is welcome on gated roads.