Reese F. Lukei, Jr. Raptor Trail

The Reese F. Lukei Raptor Trail is a network of trails in southeastern Virginia dedicated to Reese Lukei in appreciation of his decades of volunteer work with raptor conservation, wildlife education and nature trails.
Reese Lukei ​retired at age 48 to devote the rest of his life to protecting raptors, educating the public about birds of prey, and creating and maintaining wild places and trails where the public can see these and other magnificent species. Travel the Reese F. Lukei, Jr. ​Raptor Trail and look for raptors in flight, perched in trees, on their nests,​ or hunting for prey.​​

Raptors are seen in southeastern Virginia throughout the year. In late winter and early spring, bald eagles, hawks and owls are nesting. Falcons, vultures and osprey begin to nest in March, and hawks in April. While some North American raptors stay year-round, others, including falcons and hawks, migrate to warmer climates for the winter. The northern harriers is one species that visits here in winter only. Most osprey migrate south for the winter, returning in February to nest on manmade platforms, channel markers and tree snags across the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Raptor migration begins in late August, peaks in late September and continues through October. Hampton Roads is on the Atlantic Flyway, one of four migration paths across the U.S. Hawks, falcons, and eagles converge at the tip of the Eastern Shore, crossing the Chesapeake Bay to Hampton Roads and beyond.  They sometimes can be seen flying along the coast and stopping to dine at backyard bird feeders. ​

Raptor Trail MapRaptor Trail Locations and Map

Visit the trails, benches and observation sites below which have been designated as part of the Reese F. Lukei, Jr. Raptor Trail. View a larger map. ​

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge​

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established ​​​in 1938 to provide feeding and resting habitat for migratory birds. The refuge spans over 9,100 acres of freshwater marsh, beach, dunes and upland forest. Back Bay NWR provides habitat for many kinds of wildlife, including threatened species such as the loggerhead sea turtle and recently recovered species such as the bald eagle and brown pelican.​

False Cape State Park

Nestled between Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, False Cape State Park is a one-mile wide barrier spit that is one of the last remaining undeveloped areas along the Atlantic coast. The ​Sandridge Trail is a 6.2 mile trail that runs almost the entire length of the park, provides access to many overlooks, and provides opportunities to observe numerous raptor species including osprey, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks, red shouldered hawks, and northern harriers. 

First Landing State Park 

First Landing State Park, listed as both a National Natural Landmark and in the National Register of Historic Places, is located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and provides globally rare and diverse habitats including bald cypress swamps, interdunal ponds, and maritime upland forests. First Landing State Park is the northernmost point for many southern species, and is home to over 600 different flora species. 

The Cape Henry Extension Trail, a 1.6 mile long trail located off of 64th Street, runs along Lake Susan Constant, through an expansive salt marsh, provides beautiful views of Linkhorn Bay, and is home to an abundance of nesting osprey. Many raptors can be observed at the park as they make their first stop across the Chesapeake Bay as they travel down the Atlantic flyway during fall migration. 

Kiptopeke State Park 

Kiptopeke State Park, located on Virginia’s beautiful Eastern Shore, provides access to the Lower Chesapeake Bay and the opportunity to explore unique migratory bird habitats. The Raptor Trail is a 1.3 mile long trail that traverses along the edges of a mature upland maritime forest and along a large early successional field of grasses and wildflowers where many raptors can be spotted. An abundance of migrating raptors including sharp-shinned hawks, American kestrels, merlins, peregrine falcons, broad-winged hawks, Cooper’s hawks, northern goshawks and even golden eagles have been observed at the park making their way down the Atlantic Flyway during fall migration.

Lake Lawson / Lake Smith Natural Area

The Lake Lawson / Lake Smith Natural Area is a 42-acre preserve with more than 12,000 feet of shoreline located in the Bayside Borough of Virginia Beach. The soft surface and paved trails provide access for all to this park designed to showcase the environment. Benches are placed along the walkways and one, provided by the Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation Foundation, is in honor of Reese Lukei. It allows the visitor to relax in a beautiful setting in hopes of glimpsing hawks, osprey and perhaps an eagle. Other park amenities include a small playground, docks, fishing area, boat ramp, a bridge connecting the two lakes, and overlook platforms.

Pleasure House Point Natural Area

Pleasure House Point Natural Area is 118 acres of water, tidal marsh, sandy shores and maritime forest located just west of the Lesner Bridge and south of the Chesapeake Bay. Placed in this site is a bench honoring Reese Lukei by the Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation Foundation. Visible from the bench, the area is one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land on the Lynnhaven River and home to many raptors and other bird, reptile and amphibian species. Maintained by Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation, many forested and waterside trails are available. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has its Brock Environmental Center on a 10-acre parcel adjoining the City’s property, overlooking the Lynnhaven River.​

Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center​

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center features over 10,000 animals representing over 300 species, and includes two buildings separated by a 1/3 mile Nature Trail. Along this trail, guests have the opportunity to view a protected salt marsh, constructed oyster reef, woodland wildlife, and native birds, including osprey, herons, pelicans, and a nesting pair of bald eagles.

reese.jpgAbout Reese Lukei

As a volunteer research associate with the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary since 1991, Reese has monitored eagle and osprey populations in southeastern Virginia, banded raptors, conducted bird counts and assisted in wildlife rescues.  He has been licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey to trap and band raptors, and has banded over 15,000 hawks, falcons, eagles and owls. He also has written blogs, co-authored numerous publications and has always been available to speak to wildlife groups, young and old.

Reese has been a dedicated trails volunteer, assisting trail construction projects in local parks and refuges as well as further afield. Reese has hiked in all 50 states, every Province and Territory of Canada (except Labrador), 72 countries including the North Pole and Antarctica, the entire Appalachian Trail.

On May 10, 2017, Reese was presented with the Hulet Hornbeck Lifetime Service Award at the American Trails Symposium in Dayton, OH. It is the highest honor celebrated in the national trails community. Reese gives much of the credit to Back Bay NWR and "The Crew,​" and the many years of activity with the City of Virginia Beach, the Appalachian Trail and the American Discovery Trail (of which he was the founder and national coordinator). The American Discovery Trail also recently named an award in his honor: the Reese Lukei, Jr. Lifetime Service Award.

Contact Information

Partner Agencies

  • Lynnhaven River Now​​
  • The Center for Conservation Biology​
  • Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center​​
  • Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation
  • Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation Foundation
  • Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service​