Due to the tropical storm warning—predicting storm surge, hazardous winds, and flooding rain—we are cancelling all Norfolk events scheduled for Friday, September 22 and Saturday, September 23. Keep a look out for future opportunities to tour the R/V Virginia in VIMS’ e-Tidings newsletter.  

Birds & Wildlife

Some of the species commonly observed at the Teaching Marsh include muskrat, rabbits, water snakes, frogs, turtles and terrapins, fish-eating birds such as herons and red-winged blackbirds.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Large, gray-blue heron, black stripe extends above eye; holds neck in S-shape hook during flight; commonly seen in fresh and salt water marshes along the water’s edge; eats fish, snakes, frogs.

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

Image by zoosnow from Pixabay
Small, chunky heron with short dull yellow legs; green upper parts mixed with blue-gray; greenish crown; solitary, prefers marshes with adjacent woodland cover.

Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)

Image by JudaM from Pixabay
Blue breast band & wings; short, stocky legs; large head, large bill, shaggy crest; perches then dives head first to catch small fish; burrows in sandy banks.

Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Male - Image by Akiroq Brost from Pixabay
Male birds are glossy black with red shoulder patches; female birds dark brown & heavily streaked; nests in thick marsh vegetation; abundant & aggressive; mixes with winter flocks of other black birds.Female - Image by JudaM from Pixabay

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)

Image by skeeze from Pixabay
Small, chunky bird with slender, slightly curved bill, white eyebrow stripe; common in reedy marshes; football-shaped nest attached to reeds above water; loud song, vigorous territorial defense.

Black-Crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) 

Stocky heron with short neck and legs, hunches neck into body; adult has glossy black crown and back, pale underparts and red eyes; nocturnal, opportunistic feeding on insects, mussels, fish, amphibians, insects, rodents, birds, eggs and dead animals; spends daytime hidden among terrestrial vegetation.

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

Small heron with bold black face and white cheeks, yellow crown,  gray underparts, and thick black bill; feeds day and night primarily on crustaceans such as marsh crabs, fiddler crabs, mud crabs, blue crabs, also fish, small snakes, young birds, and small mammals.

Reptiles & Amphibians
Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea)

Image by Brett Hondow from Pixabay
This species occurs in the coastal region, including the Eastern Shore. The green treefrog occurs throughout the coastal plain and prefers the floating and emergent vegetation along the swampy edges of ponds, lakes, marshes, and streams. During the day, these well-camouflaged frogs rest motionless, often on cattail plants: at night, they are sometimes attracted to insects near lights. It is often found in campground bathrooms, on kitchen windows, or on the side of well lit buildings actively foraging for insects.

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)

Northern Water Snake
This snake is found below 1500 meters elevation statewide in Virginia, including several of the barrier islands. The northern watersnake is common in a variety of aquatic habitats, including lakes, ponds, rivers, freshwater and tidal creeks, ditches, swamps, freshwater and brackish marshes, and low wet areas.

Northern Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)
Diamondback Terrapin
A medium-sized turtle that lives in brackish waters. The upper shell has a distinct pattern of concentric rings and the head and limbs are spotted. The females lay eggs in shallow nests dug into sandy beach and marsh shorelines. Diamondback terrapins eat clams, worms, snails, crabs, dead animals and some vegetation.
Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)
Muskrats are semi-aquatic rodents commonly observed in ponds, streams, and marshes. They are about the size of a small house cat, glossy fur ranging in color from light brown to sometimes black, with thin scaly tails that are flat on the sides. Muskrats are excellent swimmers and they eat mostly wetland plants, but will also feed on clams, frogs and fish. They are sometimes considered to be a nuisance because they excavate bank dens that are incorrectly perceived as shoreline erosion.
Nutria (Myocastor coypus)
Nutria are non-native semi-aquatic rodents larger than muskrats and smaller than beaver and can be identified by their orange teeth, and round, slightly haired tail that remains still when it swims. Strictly herbivores, they eat a wide variety of aquatic plants with roots an important part of their diet.  Their range is expanding throughout Virginia at the expense of the muskrat.
Beaver (Castor canadensis)

Image by David Mark from Pixabay
The beaver is not commonly associated with tidal marshes, but in a suburban setting they will search for food in any suitable wetland habitat. Beaver visit the Teaching Marsh during the winter and eat branches of river alder and wax myrtle.

River Otter (Lutra canadensis)

Image by thisis13mon from Pixabay
River otters live in rivers, marshy ponds and wooded areas and move between these habitats seasonally in search of food, such as fish, crabs, frogs, and snakes. They have sharp teeth, long tails and webbed feet for swimming. Otters are sensitive to human disturbance and are not often seen. They often leave areas of flattened marsh vegetation and trails coming out of the water that contain shellfish parts and droppings. 

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Image by ariesa66 from Pixabay
Raccoons are upland residents that are easily recognized by the black face mask and ringed tail. They forage mostly at night along marsh edges for a variety of foods, including fleshy fruits, insects, mice, fish, frogs, turtles, turtle eggs, crayfish, and clams. They may even wash their food before eating.

Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris palustris)

Excellent swimmer and most aquatic of North American rabbits confined solely to marsh habitats; similar appearance as other rabbits with small, dingy gray or brown tail instead of bright white like eastern cottontail; makes runways in marsh vegetation and nests made of soft grasses and rabbit fur instead of burrows; usually walks instead of hopping when moving across soft mud; mostly nocturnal herbivore feeding on greenbriers, rushes, grasses, blackberries and woody plants growing at the marsh edge.

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