It isn't much to look at when it comes to islands from a human perspective, but to the birds, Craney Island is a sanctuary, and in turn has become a favorite hot-spot for bird watching.
The man-made dredged peninsula disposal site consist of 2,500 plus acres located in Portsmouth, Virginia where the James and Elizabeth River come together. Shallow ponds cover much of the island.
For the most part, Craney Island is an industrial area made up of material dredged from the local channels and ports in the Hampton Roads area. The site was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s and is still managed by them today.
Over the years Craney Island has become a vital food, nesting and rest stop for many migrating birds. Fortunately the corps, working with local conservationist, have recognized the area as an important region for many bird species and work to co-exist with them.
I was excited to tag along with the Virginia Beach Audubon Society group on a field trip to Craney Island last month. Despite the blustery chilly weather that day, we weren't disappointed. Right out the gate we spotted a bald eagle, and from there it only got better. We split up into small groups, jumped in our designated vehicles and toured the island in true caravan style – sometimes stopping every few feet to look at birds.
We were fortunate to see a wide variety of birds ranging from raptors to songbirds, and lots in-between. I was even fortunate to get a lifer on the trip. Below is just a few of what we saw on Craney. Note that some of the photo’s were taken by club members as noted above each photo.
The below photo of American wigeons was taken by our trip leader Steve Coari.
Lots of Northern gannets were flying along the edges of the island out over the James River. It’s fun to watch these seabirds plunge-dive for fish from high above. This is a juvenile Northern gannet.
Below is an adult gannet about to take a nose dive. Photo by Keith Roberts.
One of my favorite raptors is the Northern harrier (below). It’s often seen gracefully gliding low over open fields and marshes.
And this was my one lifer for the day – the red-throated loon (in non-breeding plumage). The red-throated loon is the smallest of the loons and winter here along our shores. Photo by Keith Roberts.
Below is a complete bird list for the day, topping out at 37 species.
Brown Headed Cowbirds
Bald eagle (Immature)
Red Tailed hawk
Green Winged teal
Northern Gannet (adults and Immature)
Great Black Backed Gull
Great Blue Heron