I’m not sure how many of you have ever driven over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge or seen the movie Interstellar, but they are essentially the same experience. I spent the larger part of yesterday morning driving through the water world from Interstellar looking for birds in the fog on the last section of the VSO VA Beach trip I would attend. The threat of rain loomed all morning but luckily held off long enough for us to get to the warmth of a local restaurant for lunch.
I was nearly out of gas on my way there, but my GPS gave me an arrival time 10 minutes later than the mandatory meetup time, so I was in somewhat of a rushed panic when I stopped at 7/11 to get gas. I had a strange encounter with a girl there who couldn’t figure out how to open the nonexistent gas cap on her rental car and therefore could not fill up on gas and then I raced off unnecessarily quickly, arriving at the meetup location 20 minutes early. Several minutes later gas girl shows up and it turns out she’s attending the trip as well. Of course she is. Because the only person I would interact with in the sprawling metropolis of Virginia Beach would be another birder on the same trip. It certainly gave us something to talk about. We set off on our route of 3 of the 4 islands encompassed by the CBB, our caravan escorted by two police officers. None of the islands were very birdy, but we got to watch gannets diving, pelicans causing a ruckus on the rocks, a single immature male Common Eider, some Ruddy Turnstones, Purple Sandpipers, and Sanderlings skittering around the jetty feeding, and a few Harbor Seals bobbing adorably nearby. This was the first time I had ever seen seals of any kind so I was pretty much geeking out. A rather pretentious trip attendee who I hope will never read this informed me that their adorable neck bending was their way of resting (after also telling me every tidbit of information about the area that I did not want to know and what trash birds Brown Pelicans were when I “oohed” and “aahed” over their aerial antics and questioned my loon ID) which I found rather interesting.
The best part of the whole morning was probably a juvenile River Otter playing around the rocks of the first island. It was spotted three times on different sides of the jetty by almost everyone in the group. The pivotal word there is almost. Guess who missed the damn otter THREE TIMES? I was scanning the rocks where it had been seen moments earlier when a group walked back from another side of the jetty exclaiming, “we just saw an otter!” I hope the otter splashed salt water in all of your paper cuts. I’m not bitter though. My loon ID vindicated and my species list otter-ly low, we pushed onwards to more islands and the talk of food began around 10 AM. It’s easy to tell that everyone has eaten breakfast before 6 in the morning when they all start comparing recipes and describing mouth-watering dishes by 10. Food is one of my favorite conversation topics among birders, hikers, or anyone who is not currently eating at that moment. Everyone can discuss the particulars of their favorite foods for hours when they’re hungry, and I’ve found it’s a great way to get to know people. With few birds and the promise of lunch ahead, we sped through the last island and on to Cape Charles for some food. The rain started just as we finished and I began checking the weather forecast for the next morning when we’d be on an open tram tour of Back Bay NWR. I weighed the benefits of a rainy tram ride over a quick 5 hour drive to Blacksburg to see my buds, which did not take exceedingly long looking out at the grey clouds. Blacksburg won out and I said my goodbyes, packed up my fancy hotel room and took off. Luckily I only got charged for one night at the hotel and now I can get to Florida a day earlier and I get to see my best friend and go birding with my “creators,” the New River Valley Birding Club. I just got a little heart flutter writing that sentence. I am so excited for the next two weeks I can barely contain myself. My quick 5 hour drive turned into an excruciatingly rainy, white-knuckled trip on dark back roads, however, because 64-W was blocked for miles and I was forced to backtrack and take 460-W all the way across Virginia. Driving issues aside, I did not expect to feel as nostalgic and sentimental as I did going through the last of the Blue Ridge Mountains before arriving at Virginia Tech. It was dark and I could only see misty silhouettes of the mountains, but this is the first time I’ve been back since graduation and it hit me like a stooping peregrine (I couldn’t just say “like a ton of bricks”). Blacksburg was my home for the last four years and nowhere I’ve ever lived has ever felt quite so welcoming and warm as southwest Virginia. I love it here more than just about anywhere else and I can’t wait to take today to revisit some of my old friends and places. Turner Place salad…I’m coming for you. I’m convinced those salads are the reason we have ranked so highly for so many years in the food category in the Princeton Review. Champagne vinaigrette…I mean come on. Basically today will be a food tour of Blacksburg with a little birding thrown in and lots of friendly chatting. I will absolutely be posting food porn later so get ready!