Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR

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Here's a slideshow from the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, near the southern tip of the Eastern Shore. I stopped here on my way from Norfolk, VA up to Wallops Island back in September. I'd taken a redeye flight from Portland, with an early morning layover in Charlotte, and I was a bit out of sorts. (Protip: Don't assume US Airways will give you a pillow and blanket just because JetBlue had them on your last redeye flight.) I'd stopped for breakfast at the little restaurant on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (yes, on), but I decided I needed to stop and walk around a bit, so I turned at the wildlife refuge sign and had a look around.

It's primarily a migratory bird refuge, but early September isn't prime bird watching season (as far as I know), so most of my photos are of butterflies and a nearby abandoned artillery battery. The visitor center had a small butterfly garden behind the main building, and most of the photos come from there, but it seemed like there were butterflies everywhere, to a rather surreal degree. I noticed the butterflies all along the Eastern Shore, so I can't blame this entirely on jet lag. Maybe what I picked up on is actually the Northwest's relative lack of butterflies. I'm not sure, and the Questions & Answers page from the North American Butterfly Association is vague about what regions have larger or smaller butterfly populations. The Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory has been doing butterfly research here for several years, and several TripAdvisor reviews of the refuge mention the butterflies, so it's probably not just my imagination.

There are also a couple of photos of an enormous "cicada killer" wasp that was bumbling around on the visitor center lawn. I'd never seen one before, or any sort of bee this large for that matter. As a West Coast resident, I didn't realize the USA had bees this size. I figured (correctly, as it turns out) that I would've heard of these creatures before if they were as dangerous as they looked, so I stopped for some close up photos. A refuge volunteer wandered by to see what I was doing & was amused that I was so fascinated by a mere cicada killer. Every time an East Coast person says something like this, I always want to respond with "Oh yeah? We have wolves." Which is true, though I've never actually seen one in the wild.

The coastal battery in a few of the photos is Battery Winslow, part of the former Fort Custis. During World War II, it (along with Fort Story in Virginia Beach), defended the entrance to Chesapeake Bay from shipborne evildoers. This involved several concrete batteries sporting huge cannons, pointed seaward and able to put very large holes in anything that strayed too close to Hampton Roads. This is more or less the same role Fort Stevens played at the mouth of the Columbia River here in Oregon. Fort Custis morphed into an air force installation shortly after WWII, and was finally deactivated in 1980. The US Fish and Wildlife Service took it over a few years after that.

I'm not a military history fan by any means, but abandoned military bases can be a good source of mysterious concrete structures, slowly being reclaimed by nature. That tends to be photogenic, so I'm willing make a detour to see something like this. I"m not sure a warm sunny day was the right time to visit, though. The battery seems to call for a cold, gloomy, blustery day, and black and white photos, and maybe some angsty musicians or runway models posing unhappily in front of it. Maybe as an album cover, with an equally gloomy vinyl LP inside.

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