Story and Photo by Stefanie Jackson – The Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve, near Cape Charles, originally a 285-acre preserve, recently acquired an additional 55 acres of former farmland on Latimer Siding Road that’s being transformed into a haven for migratory songbirds, insect pollinators, and even bicyclists.
The field where soybeans, corn, and potatoes once grew is being planted with oak trees, wax myrtles, and winter wheat.
The Eastern Shore Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists provided most of the volunteers who have been planting 360 oak trees over the course of three weeks, starting in the last week of February, heading into March.
The master naturalists are spending up to eight hours per day planting four different species of oak, including white, scarlet, and willow oak.
About 1,150 bushes and shrubs have also been planted.
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation participants include Dot Field, Eastern Shore region steward, Richard Ayers, coastal operations steward, and Shelby Crouch, senior public relations and marketing specialist.
The preserve has been designed to provide a welcoming stopover habitat for migratory birds, like black-throated blue warblers and Kentucky warblers, that live up north and migrate to Central America for the winter.
The birds stop to rest and feed before crossing the Chesapeake Bay.
When the wax myrtles that were planted reach maturity, the evergreens will bear fruit that will provide fat and fiber for the warblers as they prepare to continue their journey south.
The birds travel under cover of night to avoid predators like hawks and eagles.
One corner of the preserve will be planted with milkweed, which attracts monarch butterflies during their fall migration.
It will be a designated pollinator area for butterflies, bees, and beetles, and it will feature a bike rack and path around the area for visitors to enjoy who stop along the Southern Tip Bike and Hike Trail that runs between the preserve and Route 13.
The Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve is one of 20 of 63 preserves open to the public.
Nine of Virginia’s nature preserves are on the Eastern Shore.
Unlike state parks, natural area preserves do not offer facilities like picnic areas or restrooms, so they are usually open year-round.
Occasionally, preserves will be closed when birds are nesting or during other periods. Information on closings can be found online by visiting www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage
Crouch invited everyone to come visit Virginia preserves and enjoy “nature exactly how it should be.”