Photo: Bob Schamerhorn

Winter Wildlife Takes Spotlight in Va. Beach

The temperatures may be chilly, but winter wildlife is active on the Bay, and will be celebrated in all its glory during the 10th annual Winter Wildlife Festival this weekend in Virginia Beach.

Presented by Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the festival will find Chesapeake Bay nature lovers converging on venues across the city for a variety of events, presentations, and demonstrations dedicated to all things winter wildlife. 

Kicking off the festivities on Friday will be a Birding Tour of the southern Eastern Shore, during which participants will be able to spot coastal birds wintering near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Kiptopeke State Park, and other spots on the southern tip of the shore.

At the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Brock Environmental Center, a Birding Basics Workshop and Field Session will teach rookie birders all they need to know about the pastime. Attendees are cordially invited to schedule a tour of CBF’s “Living Building,” too.

The North Landing River Boat Tour launching from Pungo will head out at select times throughout the weekend to introduce cruisers to the many habitats and species that make up the southern Virginia ecosystem during the winter. The tours are described as an ideal opportunity to snap some photos, so photographers of all levels are welcome.

Award-winning photographer Bob Schamerhorn will lead the Atlantic Coastal Birds Workshop at the Brock Center Friday afternoon. Schamerhorn, known for his stunning nature photography, will highlight the many coastal birds he’s captured on film.

Bay Bulletin had the chance to catch up with Schamerhorn, whose passion for Bay birds couldn’t be more clear.

“The Chesapeake region has been a highly favored region of mine for nature photography for decades, both for the abundance of the wildlife population and the seasonal changes in species,” he says. “There is always something interesting just around the corner it seems.”

As a photographer, Schamerhorn says the colder months offer a prime opportunity to capture avian life found throughout watershed and the general mid-Atlantic coastal region such as pelicans, sandpipers, and Bald Eagles.

“The winter brings an amazing array of waterfowl and sandpipers to the area. Capturing them in action always makes form the most interesting images, whether chasing their prey or striking an impressive pose. Sometimes showing a unique identification mark or including some landscape is in order. Knowing what makes each species different, pre-imagining that perfect shot, plus a fast shutter speed are the primary ingredients for a ‘wow factor’ photograph.”

The event’s official welcome will take place Friday evening at Town Center and will feature expert birder and author Sharon Stiteler, who will present “My Birding Career.”

The fun will continue on Saturday, when a Chesapeake Bay Birding Boat Trip and Waterfowl Walk will encourage birders of all levels to bust out their binoculars to take in the sights on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel islands and in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, respectively. Other planned activities include exploring Fisherman Island, Oyster Harbor, Cape Henry (lighthouse included), Lynnhaven Inlet, and the North Landing River.

Seafarers of all ages can hop aboard a Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center boat to try to spot whales and other wildlife off Virginia Beach, walkers and hikers can learn more about the many forms of life at First Landing State Park, and (human) night owls can brave the dark in search of horned, barred, and screech owls at multiple state parks/nature areas throughout the city. 

The festival’s final day will feature nature art classes for both adults and children, more boat and field trips dedicated to learning about and (hopefully) spotting winter wildlife, a teacher workshop focusing on ways to bring nature into the classroom, and programs about getting that perfect shot when photographing nature or birds. 

For those who can’t commit to a lengthy event, a series of walk-up workshops offered primarily at the Princess Anne Recreation Center will offer bite-sized opportunities to learn more about Chesapeake Bay wildlife.  From “Saving Sea Turtles” and “SmartPhone Birding” to “Amphibians and Reptiles in the Winter: Naptime for Some, Hanky-panky for Others,” there’s sure to be something for everyone.

Many events are already full; register online for available programs.

Laura Adams Boycourt