Eastern Shore Natural Area Preserves (NAPs)



Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve

Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve with its mile of Chesapeake Bay shoreline is special for its large bay-side dunes and associated plant communities, and because it supports one of the most important conservation areas in the world for the federally threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle (Cincindela dorsalis dorsalis). The diverse maritime plant communities on the preserve represent highly important habitats for migratory birds. The land was acquired with funds from the 1992 Parks and Natural Areas Bond and from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.




This 286-acre preserve encompasses woodlands, forested wetlands and extensive salt marshes. These communities provide habitat for a variety of coastal species. Waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds forage in the salt marsh for mussel, snails, fish and crustaceans. Diamondback terrapins and clapper rails are common on the mud flats. The woodlands provide excellent resting and foraging habitat for migratory songbirds. Warblers, orioles and other migratory songbirds utilize the abundance of trees and shrubs to rest and replenish energy reserves before crossing the Chesapeake Bay. Approximately 140 acres of former agricultural fields have been converted to migratory songbird habitat.




Mutton Hunk Fen Natural Area Preserve is located on the seaside of Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The protected acreage fronts on Gargathy Bay on the east and is bounded by Whites Creek and Mutton Hunk Branch on the north. A conservation focus of this protection effort was the occurrence of a globally rare sea-level fen community – one of only four in Virginia. Sea-level fens are open, freshwater wetlands located between uplands and wide, oceanside tidal marshes. The freshwater wetland vegetation is sustained by springs at the upland edge that provide large volumes of fresh groundwater. The low nutrient content of the groundwater and the acidic conditions of the soil strongly influence the types of plants found in sea-level fens. The vegetation consists of an interesting combination of acid-tolerant bog plants and tidal freshwater wetland plants capable of surviving in low nutrient areas. Five state-rare plant species occur here. 220 acres formerly under private lease for agricultural production have been converted to migratory songbird habitat, as originally prescribed in the sale agreement. The protection of this and other properties in the area is a cooperative effort of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, The Nature Conservancy and the Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust.




This preserve is found on the Bay side of the Eastern Shore. Its 50 acres feature coastal beach, dune, and maritime forest habitats. The preserve provides habitat for the federally threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle (Cicindela dorsalis dorsalis). Coast bedstraw (Galium hispidulum), an herbaceous plant, grows on the dunes at the interface between open grassy areas and shaded areas where shrubs and trees dominate. During fall migration, the forest abounds with migratory songbirds and raptors resting and feeding before continuing their journey across the Chesapeake Bay.




The Parkers Marsh Natural Area Preserve incorporates Chesapeake Bay beach habitat, low marsh, high marsh and shrub and forest vegetation. The wetland communities provide habitat for a variety of plant and animal species, including migrating waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds. The extensive saltmarsh is by far the most notable feature within this area, comprising approximately 75% of the site. A maritime shrub community supporting species such as marsh elder (Iva frutescens) and black cherry is found on old dune ridges in the marsh and on the bay shore. Narrow bands of forest dominated by loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) and black cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina) occur along the tops of old dunes. Some of the low primary dunes support grassland species such as saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens) and beach panic grass (Panicum amarum var. amarulum, = Panicum amarulum). The salt marsh at this site provides ideal habitat for marsh nesting birds. One rare marsh nesting species, the sharp-tailed sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus), has been observed here. Peregrine falcons have successfully nested here as recently as 1998. The beach strand here supports one of the largest and most viable populations of the federally threatened Northeastern beach tiger beetle (Cicindela dorsalis dorsalis). The adults are active along the intertidal zone (the area between high and low tide) during the day and rest under the sand along the back beach at night. The larvae inhabit vertical burrows within the intertidal zone, capturing food items washed ashore by waves. The marsh has been designated an Audubon Important Bird Area as part of the Delmarva Bayside Marshes IBA, which extends from Saxis WMA to just north of the Northampton County line.




Located mid-way along Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Parramore Island is the state’s largest natural area preserve. More than seven and a half miles long, the island is one of 14 uninhabited Atlantic barrier islands that are part of The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve. The island features a high-energy beach and dune system, a globally rare maritime scrub community, and expansive salt marshes.




This preserve is comprised of two tracts fronting on the Chesapeake Bay near Pickett’s Harbor in Northampton County. The protected properties provide permanent protection for a highly threatened coastal natural area supporting rare species and high biological diversity on the Southern Tip of the Eastern Shore. The preserve contains exemplary beach strand and dune communities. The Pickett’s Harbor Natural Area Preserve supports a population of the federally threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle (Cicindela dorsalis dorsalis). Behind the active dunes of the bayshore are stable Holocene dune ridges which support maritime scrub and woodlands. This preserve provides habitats that are critical for migrating birds, particularly songbirds, and for the likelihood of maintaining viable populations of the northeastern beach tiger beetle. Migratory songbird stopover habitats are especially critical because such huge numbers of birds must find places to rest and feed within such small areas, or “bottlenecks”, like the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Breaks in suitable habitat such as croplands and lawns create dangerous areas which the songbirds must cross at risk of being preyed upon by raptors that are migrating along with them.




Wreck Island is part of Virginia’s Atlantic coast barrier island chain. This pristine island preserve consists of beach, dune, maritime grassland/shrubland, salt flat and salt marsh habitats, and is an important nursery for colonial nesting birds. In fact, the preserve has been designated as an Audubon Important Bird Area as part of the Barrier Island/Lagoon System IBA, which extends from Assateague Island south to Fisherman Island NWR. This IBA is considered one of the most important in VA. Impressive dune-like mounds of ancient shells once paralleled much of the beach, but were completely flattened by Hurricane Isabelle. Wind, waves and ocean currents continuously reshape the island, which is slowly migrating towards the mainland.