"Tell me what you don't see," says Rick Kellam, an Eastern Shore native who runs trips to all of Virginia's 23 barrier islands through Broadwater Bay Ecotours. "Not a condominium, not a high-rise. Life here on the Eastern Shore in some respects is probably 10 years behind the rest of the world, but we wouldn't have it any other way. The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a well-kept secret." And it's a secret fat with outdoor opportunity. Kellam, for example, offers activities like clam digging, kayaking, surf and fly fishing, hunting, and bird-watching, to name a few. In the spring and fall, great masses of migrating birds alight, and thousands of waterfowl - black ducks, mallards, snow geese - winter on the islands.

Today, we're wending through the marshy channels of the Machipongo River, past mounded islands that are home to deer, fox, and white-tailed rabbit. We pause in the vast spread of Broadwater Bay to absorb the hypnotic sound of Atlantic brant, the birds issuing odd, basso croaks like frogs clamoring beside a creek. We watch a peregrine falcon vectoring in low, and finally stroll past wild blackberry, wax myrtle, and stands of black pine to arrive at a dune ridge overlooking the Atlantic.

In the early 1900s, Hog Island was home to the village of Broadwater, a thriving community of about 250 people, with 60-plus homes, a church, three general stores, a post office, a school, and an ice-cream parlor. What was once Broadwater now rests a quarter-mile out to sea. The island migrated out from under it.

Waves unfurl, their tops blown back in vapor-trail wisps by a light wind blowing refrigerator cool. The beach is smooth as velvet. There are no footprints.

Kellam grins. "I hereby proclaim Hog Island beach mine for the day."