If you’re a nature lover, one of your prime exploration destinations should be a marsh, because coastal marshes are complex ecosystems, teeming with all kinds of life. These circles of life furnish food and shelter for countless seabirds, marsh birds, and other animals. Plus, thanks to their dense vegetation, they help prevent coastal erosion.
They’re also remarkably beautiful. And remarkably fun to explore.
Take Sandbridge Marsh, for Example
Located just four minutes inland from Sandbridge Beach, VA, this secluded tidal wetland provides a perfect resting spot for ducks, geese, and other waterfowl that wing along the Atlantic Flyway every fall and winter. It’s also an ideal year-round habitat for turtles, toads, tadpoles, and other water-loving creatures.
And, since it’s not part of any park or preserve, you can wander around the perimeter anytime you like. Just be sure to dress appropriately with:
- Sturdy, water-resistant shoes
- Long pants that cover your ankles
- Warm layers (when the weather’s cold)
- Light, breathable fabrics (when it’s hot and sultry)
Plus, spray up with insect repellent to ward off pesky skeeters. And load your backpack with bottled water, snacks, and a first-aid kit.
If you plan to picnic, be sure to bring along a waterproof camping blanket. Even yards away from the marsh itself, the ground can get a bit soggy.
If you’re birding, you’ll want to bring your binoculars, of course. And don’t forget your digital camera or camera-enabled phone.
What can you expect to see once you arrive? Plenty of flora and fauna! Get set to observe and explore. You’ll be amazed by what you discover.
Look for the Lush Vegetation That Shelters and Nourishes Wildlife
At water’s edge, you’ll find various plants known to attract coastal waterfowl, including:
- Cordgrass, tall, hardy grasses that flourish in brackish (semi-salty) water, sometimes growing up to eight feet high. You’ll see them clustered at the shoreline, where their roots furnish nutrient-rich food for migrating geese.
- Black needlerush, sharp, pointed, gray-green plants that shelter small nesting birds such as marsh wrens and seaside sparrows
- Seacoast bulrush, grass-like perennial plants whose seeds offer crucial food for birds and other wildlife
- Common reeds, sea lavender, and more
Where the Plants Are, the Wildfowl Gather
Love birdwatching? You’re in luck. Like all coastal wetlands, Sandbridge Marsh hosts an ever-changing assortment of native and migratory birds.
During the lengthy fall-winter migration season, for example, you may spot snow geese, Canada geese, and various species of ducks. In spring and summer, you may notice nesting marsh birds like the King Rail, with its long pointed beak, and the Least Bittern, the smallest species of heron. And in winter, you may glimpse smaller marsh birds, such as the American Bittern, the Sedge Wren, and the Yellow Rail. These secretive birds thrive among thick marsh grasses, where they can conceal themselves from predators as they feed on minnows and insects.
Keep a lookout for other waterbirds, too, such as coots, loons, herons, and egrets. And expect to spot a few familiar songbirds – robins, sparrows, cardinals, and so on.
If you glance upward, you may also spy predatory birds such as owls, crows, hawks, and osprey. You might even glimpse a majestic bald eagle soaring high overhead, circling above its prey.
Birds Are Just the Beginning
Depending on the season, you can find other colorful critters at or near Sandbridge Marsh. For instance, you could encounter:
- Toads, such as the Southern Toad and tiny Fowler’s Toad
- Frogs, such as the Green Tree Frog, Squirrel Tree Frog, Southern Leopard Frog, and common American Bullfrog
- Skinks, stripe-backed lizards common in the Southeast
- Turtles, including painted turtles, snapping turtles, and sliders
- Snakes such as rat snakes, water snakes, and ribbon snakes, and even an occasional poisonous snake like the Eastern cottonmouth – watch before you wade!
- Small fish such as minnows, needlefish, and mosquitofish
- Bugs galore, including some colorful beetles, spiders, and flying insects
- Caterpillars, moths, and butterflies – look for beautiful butterfly species like the Pearl Crescent and Painted Lady
Savor the Peace and Serenity
There’s something truly restful about wetlands like Sandbridge Marsh. As you gaze at the glistening water and relish the cool tidal breeze, you can feel your everyday cares and concerns slowly fade away.
Even More Marshland to Explore
Sandbridge Marsh is not the only scenic swampland in the beautiful Sandbridge Beach area. There’s also the extensive network of wetlands at nearby Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Here you can hike well-maintained trails along emergent freshwater marshes that offer protected habitat to a huge array of wildlife.
With over 9,000 acres, the Refuge covers a variety of ecosystems, including sandy beachfront, grassy dunes, and dense maritime forest. But its marshes are perhaps its most single fascinating feature. See for yourself. Come to the Visitor Center at 4005 Sandpiper Road anytime during daylight hours. Then set out on yet another adventure exploring Virginia’s marshland.
Many Other Adventures Await You at Sandbridge Beach
Pack up the car, gather the fam, and discover Sandbridge now.