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Introducing the Robert W. Duncan WMA & Mattaponi Bluffs WMA

DGIF has acquired over 1300 acres in Caroline County. The newly acquired Robert W. Duncan (RWD) Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and the Mattaponi Bluffs Wildlife Management Area officially opened to the public on April 11, 2019.

The RWD is nestled in the northeast corner of Caroline County, in the Upper Coastal Plain and located between Frog Level and Aylett. The land is a contiguous tract of flat to gently rolling land, with a few steep and adjacent to the Mattaponi River. Mattaponi Bluffs is located in the north-central portion of Caroline County, in the Upper Coastal Plain and located between Athens and Penola. The land is a contiguous tract of steep bluffs and wetlands, somewhat typical of the surrounding topography adjacent to the Mattaponi River.

The WMAs feature a diverse set of plant communities and habitats, and are excellent locations to pursue wildlife and angling activities.

Robert W. Duncan WMA

The RWD WMA is 1300 plus acres and conserves important upper coastal plain wildlife habitat, providing quality wildlife-related recreation. Forests range from mature and mixed upland hardwoods to managed pine stands, as well as wetland and bottomland forests. The property borders the Mattaponi River for approximately 3 miles.

Wildlife enthusiasts will find exciting viewing opportunities on the RWD WMA, especially along the 3 miles of Mattaponi river frontage. Bald Eagles, Osprey and Blue Herons are common and the diverse forests provide critical habitats for many migratory warblers. Interior wetland habitats provide opportunities for viewing wading birds and amphibians.

The diverse forests and open lands of the RWD WMA provide abundant habitat for all of game species found in central Virginia. Deer, turkey and squirrel populations are thriving and in recent years, black bears have become more common in the area. An oxbow wetlands complex of the Mattaponi River provides opportunities for duck hunting; woodcock are also common in the bottomlands and wetter forested sites.

Mattaponi Bluffs WMA

The Mattaponi Bluffs WMA is 470 acres and conserves important upper coastal plain wildlife habitat, providing quality wildlife-related recreation. Forests are predominantly mixed upland hardwoods with some wetland and bottomland forests as well. The property borders the Mattaponi River for approximately 1.5 miles.

The Mattaponi River supports a good fishery throughout much of its length, including the section of river adjacent to the RWD WMA. Bluegill and redbreast sunfish, chain pickerel, bowfin, and brown bullheads are common as well as smaller-sized largemouth bass. The spring run of white and yellow perch can make for exciting ultra-light fishing.

The RWD WMA property was purchased from the Neale Family and Mattaponi Bluffs was purchased from Banbury Farm II, LLC. Partnerships with the Fish and Wildlife Service, members of the Neale family, Hopkins family, founders of Green Top Sporting Goods, and hunters and anglers made this possible.

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Looking to explore a DGIF Wildlife Management Area or lake? Considering getting a Restore the Wild membership!

DGIF invites you to join us in our mission to ensure wildlife has healthy places to live and thrive.

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  • April 25th, 2019

Trillium at Thompson WMA

The large-flowered trillium is the wildflower icon among wildflower enthusiasts and naturalists from all over the Mid-Atlantic region, maybe even the country and internationally!

The stand of trilliums that exists on this portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains encompasses an area of approximately two square miles and is unique because of the ridge-top and top-slope position and soil type on which this plant community grows.

It is the largest plant community of this kind in Virginia, and maybe anywhere else in the United States.

Large-flowered trillium and other wildflowers found at the Thompson Wildlife Management Area are more typical of rich hardwood cove and rich forested side-slope sites. But, the special soil type characterizing this site, and the fact this area was relatively undisturbed throughout history, drives this unique display of plants.

In the spring of 1990, by way of an agreement between DGIF and the Virginia Native Plant Society, the area on Thompson WMA containing the trillium stand was the very first site placed on the then brand new Virginia Native Plant Registry. The Registry is a list containing all the lands throughout Virginia protected for their plant treasures and natural communities. The Native Plant Registry is a voluntary program that DGIF recognized was of great significance to participate in to conserve some of Virginia’s natural ecosystems.

When to See Trillium at Thompson WMA

Typical peak blooming time for the trilliums at the Thompson WMA is the first week of May. This may vary a few days (up to a week in some cases) on either end of this typical blooming time and depends largely on spring weather conditions. For instance, warm springs push trillium blooming earlier and cold springs push blooming later.

For 2019, peak blooming is predicted to occur “on time”, during the second weekend and first full week of May (4th – 10th).

A great diversity of other wildflower species that will interest the naturalist occur throughout the area as well. For example, in mid-April (before trillium bloom) a nice display of blood root, trout lilies, and Dutchman’s breeches can be observed blooming in great numbers throughout the forest. Over the remainder of the spring and into early summer a plethora of other interesting rich forest plant species, like black cohosh and Canada lilies,  can be seen in bloom.

The Thompson WMA also contains a number of forested spring seeps that occur on the side slopes throughout the area. These places are rich in plant diversity and contain a few rare and endemic plant and invertebrate species. Several of these spring seeps are technically called seepage swamps, which is a rare and unique natural community here in Virginia. The Thompson WMA contains the largest seepage swamp (30+ acres) in Virginia that highly benefits from the protection DGIF affords it.

Wildlife Viewing & Access at Thompson WMA

Another great opportunity at the Thompson for the outdoor enthusiast is birding. During spring and fall migrations, and during the breeding season, the rich forest habitats of the Thompson WMA support a diversity of bird species, particularly forest dwelling neotropical migrants. A few of the most notable species include cerulean warblers, American redstarts, hooded warblers, Kentucky warblers, worm eating warblers, scarlet tanagers, oven birds, wood thrushes, veeries, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and a host of others.

A scarlet tanager perches on a branch at Thompson WMA.

The Thompson WMA has an extensive network of public access facilities for the public to utilize. Eleven designated parking areas and miles of interior, administrative roads are present. The Marjorie Arundel Wildflower and Birding Trail is 1.2 mile loop trail located in the heart of the plant registry site. It is accessed from the Trillium Parking Area and follows a portion of an administrative access road, a short segment of the Appalachian Trail, and a segment of a short spur trail (Tower Spur Trail) splitting off the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail runs through the entire length of WMA.

Looking to explore a DGIF Wildlife Management Area or lake? Considering getting a Restore the Wild membership!

DGIF invites you to join us in our mission to ensure wildlife has healthy places to live and thrive.

Learn About Restore the Wild
  • April 19th, 2019

Accessible Trails Provide Quality Hunting Opportunities

powhatan-trailThe Phelps Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Fauquier County has long featured a trail with hunting stands that are available to mobility-impaired hunters on a reservations-based system. Building on the success of this program, in 2013 the Department launched an effort to improve accessible hunting at WMA’s all across the Commonwealth.

Each of the Department’s four regions has now installed an accessible hunting trail. The locations were selected to facilitate quality hunting and to provide barrier-free access to all hunters, including those who have limited mobility. All the new trails are available on a first-come first-serve basis. Read the rest of this article…

  • December 9th, 2016

Big Woods WMA, New Parker’s Branch Tract Open to the Public

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) announced today that it has purchased 1,965 acres in Sussex County, Virginia, adjoining the existing Big Woods Wildlife Management Area and Big Woods State Forest.  This acquisition, approved by the DGIF Board for the price of $3.8 million, supports the DGIF’s efforts to restore pine-savannah habitat and provide additional public land in an underserved area of Virginia. Read the rest of this article…

  • November 10th, 2016

Restoring the Red-cockaded Woodpecker in Virginia


Under the still, blue skies of Sussex County on the morning of June 10, six pairs of boots strolled  through the open loblolly pine forests of Big Woods Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Faintly at first, then louder, the repeated call of a red-cockaded woodpecker was heard by six pairs of excited ears. This lone woodpecker’s call was evidence that birds from


Red-cockaded woodpecker with nestling. Photo by Kevin Rose (DGIF).

the bordering Piney Grove Nature Preserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), are finding their way onto the WMA, owned by DGIF.  The boot-clad biologists from DGIF and TNC were thrilled, after all, they had met at the WMA specifically to discuss facilitating an expansion of the red-cockaded woodpecker population from Piney Grove onto Big Woods in the coming years.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers, affectionately known by the acronym RCW, are a federally endangered species that depend on mature, open pine savannas that once blanketed much of the southeastern United States, but have over time been reduced to a fragment of their former glory.  Despite this adversity, the birds persist on this remaining landscape and for decades, have been staging a recovery thanks to intensive habitat management and woodpecker monitoring by a variety of partners.


Open loblolly pine savanna at Big Woods WMA.

In Virginia, DGIF participates in a coalition working on RCW conservation that includes partners such as TNC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary. DGIF has supported management and monitoring of RCWs at Piney Grove Preserve, Virginia’s only documented RCW population, as well as the recent reintroduction efforts of RCWs into Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (which is hoped will result in the


Prescribed burn at Big Woods WMA. Photo by Matt Kline (DGIF).

Commonwealth’s second RCW population). DGIF’s purchase of Big Woods WMA in 2009 and habitat management efforts to restore its pine savanna habitat, including hundreds of acres of prescribed burns (980 acres in 2015; 1200 acres in 2016), underscores the Agency’s commitment to recovering RCW in Virginia.  The woodpecker population has thrived at Piney Grove, but is now pushing up against available habitat with little room left to expand.  With some additional thinning and continued prescribed burning to open the understory of its fire-adapted pine forests, areas of Big Woods should be suitable to welcome RCWs in the next year or two.  In order to encourage settlement and breeding by the RCWs, older mature pines will be provided with artificial cavities, a technique that has successfully been used to expand RCW populations into new areas of already-settled forest.


DGIF biologist takes a sample core from loblolly pine to evaluate its suitability for RCW cavities.

RCWs are unique among woodpeckers in that they excavate cavities exclusively in living pine trees, rather than in snags (dead trees).  RCWs are also unique in that they are cooperative breeders (only 3% of all bird species breed in this manner). They live in family groups whose offspring from previous years delay their own reproduction in order to help parents raise their future siblings.  The dynamics of this breeding system limit the number of birds that are nesting in any given year. This behavior, in conjunction with the mechanics of excavating cavities in living trees and the dependence on mature and open forest conditions, contributes to long recovery times for the RCW population as a whole.  Restoration of this unique species requires patience and a long-term view, but with continued collaboration among partners, is achievable within the Commonwealth.


Red-cockaded woodpecker approaching its tree cavity. Photo by Kevin Rose.

In the meantime, walking through Big Woods on that mild late-spring morning reminded the biologists that their conservation goals for RCW speak to the broader goal of restoring a southern pine ecosystem to the WMA, along with all of the species supported by this habitat-type.  They listened for bobwhite quail, watched red-headed and pileated woodpeckers fly from tree to tree, and heard the singing of yellow-breasted chats, prairie warblers, Eastern towhees and field sparrows. Experiences such as these, while planning future management strategies, help to keep spirits high and minds focused while moving forward on this conservation journey.

  • June 20th, 2016