10 Best Places to Photograph Wildlife in Hampton Roads, Virginia

Photos and Text by Lori A Cash
April 01, 2022

10 Best Places to Photograph Wildlife in Hampton Roads, Virginia was put together for a photographer friend who had asked me about places in this area as she would be visiting the area later this summer. I created this list for her, but I thought I would also share this list of what I consider are the best places for wildlife photography in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.

This list of the 10 best places is not in any particular order or ranked. Hampton Roads has a lot of great locations to photography wildlife. However, I picked what I consider to be the 10 best locations for wildlife photography in Hampton Roads. Check out the below gallery of images from all these different wildlife locations in Hampton Roads.

10 Best Places to Photograph Wildlife in Hampton Roads, Virginia

  1. Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton
    Northeast of Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel on Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA
    https://www.nps.gov/fomr/index.htm

    Fort Monroe National Monuments has many pairs of nesting osprey located around the fort. I know of at least 5 nesting pairs of osprey. Springtime is an awesome time to photograph the osprey as they are returning to the area to rebuild their nest. Later in the summer when the chicks have hatched is another great time to photograph the osprey at Fort Monroe. In addition, you may find herons, oystercatchers, skimmers, shorebirds, buffleheads, pelicans, and songbirds during the summer. Behind The Chamberlin on Fort Monroe, there is a pathway along the seawall called Fort Monroe Seawall. This walkway is a great place to photograph different birds, depending on tides, such as oystercatchers, skimmers flying by, shorebirds, pelicans and terns. Looking out across the water from the seawall, you may see Fort Wool. This decommissioned island fortification is located in the mouth of the Hampton Roads. Currently, Fort Wool is being used temporarily as a nesting place for seabirds including royal tern, common tern, the state-threatened gull-billed tern, laughing gull, and black skimmer. Often you may see these birds flying across the Hampton Roads looking for food or hanging on posts near the seawall. There is also a lot of potential here for a variety of wildlife including red foxes. Fort Monroe is one of my favorite places to photograph wildlife in Hampton Roads. In the winter, you may find a variety of overwintering waterfowl around Fort Monroe National Monument.

    A side note: Outlook Beach on Fort Monroe is one of my favorite locations for photographing the sunrise in Hampton Roads.

  2. Phoebus Waterfront Park in Hampton
    Located on East Mellon Street on the way to Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton, Virginia.

    The park is a great location for wildlife photography in Hampton Roads. This small park is located on the left side of road just before you cross the bridge to Fort Monroe. Just off a little dingy dock there are some old pilings on which a pod of brown pelicans use to roost at night during the winter. As the sun comes up the brown pelicans will awaken, do their stretching and then fly off for the day. In the late evening, the brown pelicans return to roost at the pilings for the night. Therefore, there are great opportunities for in-flight bird photography. In addition, there are cormorants, gulls and terns that hang out on the pilings. Also, buffleheads, scaups, ring-billed ducks and common loons can be photographed swimming in the water around this area. Sunrise or the morning time here would provide great silhouette opportunities to photograph the pelicans or other birds, otherwise, the best frontal lighting at this location is the late afternoon/evening.

  3. Island Loop Drive on Jamestown Island in James County1368 Colonial Parkway, Jamestown, VA 23081-Visitor Center- the drive is located by the visitor center area. https://www.nps.gov/jame/island-loop-drive.htm

    This is a great location for bald eagles as there are eagles that live on the island year-round as well as along the nearby James River. Wildlife opportunities are great here. In addition to the eagles, I have photographed deer and screech owl. I hear there maybe other owls in this area, but I have not found them, yet. There is a 3-mile paved loop and a 5-mile paved loop that you can walk or drive. Definitely, walk the trail at Black Point. It is on the eastern tip of the island and has great views of the James River. I have photographed bald eagles flying low over the water in this area. Also, along Passmore Creek just before you enter the Island Drive on Jamestown Island, there are often bald eagles flying around and hanging out in the dead trees or snags.

  4. First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach
    2500 Shore Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23451-1415
    https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/first-landing

    This location has a lot of opportunities for a variety of wildlife. First Landing State Park has many trails with some trails along the water. This park covers 2,888-acres. I especially enjoy the Long Creek trail that runs along the shoreline of Broad Bay. Along Long Creek a variety of ducks such as buffleheads, mallards and ruddy ducks can be photographed. Often I have found buffleheads and an assortment of ducks and osprey flying overhead. A variety of songbird species nests at First Landing State Park as well as warblers and woodpeckers. Also, Across the street from the trail center is another part of the park that has 1.5 miles of Chesapeake Bay Beach.

  5. Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk
    100 Desert Rd, Suffolk, VA 23434
    https://www.fws.gov/refuge/great-dismal-swamp

    The Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive is a 4-mile gravel road from the entrance to Lake Drummond. Nearly 113,000 acres, the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is the largest intact remnant of swampland that had once covered more than one million acres. The diverse ecosystem here provides opportunity to photograph a large selection of wildlife including black bear. Other wildlife that can be photographed are prothonotary warblers, turtles, beavers, green herons, white-tailed deer, dragonflies and butterflies all depending on the time of year. Last year in late August, I saw dozens of green herons along the wildlife drive in trees and in the swamp canal on the right side of the wildlife road as you drive towards Lake Drummond. In each season there are different wildlife photography possibilities at the Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive. Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is the best chance to see and photograph black bear in this area of Virginia.

  6. Pleasure House Point Natural Area in Virginia Beach
    3957 Marlin Bay Drive, Virginia Beach
    https://dwr.virginia.gov/vbwt/sites/pleasure-house-point-natural-area/ 

    This natural area consists of 118 acres of water, sandy shores, tidal marsh, and maritime forest. Three sandy trails provide excellent birding and wildlife photography opportunities. The main trail, the Beach Trail, leads to a beach at the eastern end of this natural area. This trail provides views of the marsh, and a lot of yellow-crowned night herons, both adult and juveniles, can be found along the shoreline as they feed on crabs. Also, rails, oystercatchers, other herons, egrets, osprey, shorebirds, woodpeckers and songbirds are there. This location is one of the best wildlife photography places in the Hampton Roads. During the winter, an assortment of wintering waterfowl can be found here at Pleasure House Point Natural Area. As for parking, there is not a parking lot; however, parallel parking is available along Marlin Bay Drive.
  7. Lions Bridge at the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News
    00 Museum Drive, Newport News, VA 23606
    https://www.marinersmuseum.org/

    The Lions Bridge area which is located in the back of the Mariners’ Museum on the James River where there are statues of lions on a bridge. Along the shoreline of the James River, you can photograph brown pelicans fishing, osprey hovering over the water and fishing, terns, cormorants, ducks, and egrets. Also, I have photographed bald eagles flying over the James River. The shrubbery and trees that are located near the shoreline are great habitats for songbirds, and I photographed many different species of songbirds in this area at Lions Bridge. In addition, to the shoreline of the James River, there is a 5 mile trail located in this park called Noland Trail. The Noland Trail is a very popular trail and is a great place to hike and photography wildlife that may be on the trail.

  8. Newport News Park in Newport News
    13560 Jefferson Avenue, Newport News, VA 23603
    https://www.newport-news.org/visitors/things-to-do/outdoors-and-recreation/6/newport-news-park/

    This park is one of the most popular parks in the area, as it is one of the largest municipal parks east of the Mississippi. Newport News gets very busy during the day, so, I would suggest opening the park for a little quieter time to photograph wildlife. There are many trails that provide water views of the reservoir where green herons, blue herons, grebes, turtles and ducks can be found. Migrations during the spring and fall can bring a selection of flycatchers, warblers, tanagers, vireos, and thrushes to the Newport News Park. During the winter, waterfowl such as tundra swans and wood ducks can be photographed in the reservoirs. In addition, a variety of sparrows can be found in the woodlands and grassy edge areas of the park. The summer provides the opportunity to photography a variety of dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies, as well reptiles and amphibians.

  9. Williamsburg Botanical Park at Freedom Park in Williamsburg
    Located within Freedom Park at 5537 Centerville Road, Williamsburg 23188
    https://williamsburgbotanicalgarden.org/

    Williamsburg Botanical Garden is a small botanical garden located inside the entrance to Freedom Park. Entrance is free to this small botanical garden. Although this garden is small a lot of butterflies, hummingbirds and songbirds are found within the garden. They have bird feeders located inside this garden, so, that attracts a lot of songbirds and woodpeckers. I have photographed butterflies, hummingbirds, goldfinches, bluebirds, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, flickers, and of course, the sparrows, cardinals and even some rabbits. This has become one of my favorite spots, other than my backyard butterfly garden, to photograph butterflies as well as the songbirds. The songbird action is great at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

  10. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach
    Trails are located at 4005 Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23456 (south end of Sandbridge Beach and the very end of Sandpiper Road).
    https://www.fws.gov/refuge/back-bay

    This national wildlife refuge consists of 9,200-acres as fresh water and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Back Bay on the west. This refuge consists of diverse habitats, including beachfront, freshwater marsh, dunes, shrub-scrub and upland forest and is home to hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and fish. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1938 in order to provide habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl. There have been over 300 species of wildlife that have been documented at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge offers a chance for excellent wildlife photography.

Conclusion

Hampton Roads has so many great places for wildlife photography. It would be easy to add more places to the list as there is an abundance of wildlife photography opportunities available in Hampton Roads. However, these 10 places are excellent locations to start photographing wildlife in Hampton Roads. If you are visiting the Hampton Roads, Virginia area, I hope that by sharing this list of best locations for wildlife photography in Hampton Roads you will find great some wildlife to photograph.

If you like more information or interested in learning about other locations, please contact me at lacphoto@outlook.com.

Gallery of Images Taken at the Above Locations in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

About the Author

Lori A Cash is an award-winning wildlife and nature conservation photographer who has over thirty years’ experience photographing wildlife and nature. In addition to being a conservation photographer, Lori is a visual storyteller, writer and blogger.  Lori resides in Hampton, Virginia and primarily photographs in the Hampton Roads area. Her conservation efforts expand throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Through her conservation storytelling and photography, Lori strives to inspire and educate others about the beauty of the natural world and to advocate for the protection of our environment and wildlife.

Update on Butterfly Oasis Habitat Project

Butterfly Oasis Habitat Project is a conservation photography project by Lori A Cash Conservation Photography as she has created a habitat oasis for the declining monarch butterfly population as well as for other visiting butterflies.

Copyright © 2022 Lori A Cash Conservation Photography, LLC

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