This weekend’s Winter Wildlife Festival connects you with ‘watchable wildlife’ in Virginia Beach and beyond

An egret flies close to the waters of Knotts Island Bay with Carova, N.C., and the light of the dawn behind it on Saturday, Dec. 16. While the Winter Wildlife Festival includes a number of events in Virginia Beach, it also includes excursions to the Eastern Shore and Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge on Knotts Island. [John-Henry Doucette/The Independent News]

VIRGINIA BEACH — The Winter Wildlife Festival this weekend will feature a number of exhibitions and activities for families and outdoors lovers at the Princess Anne Recreation Center and the Princess Anne Area Library next door.

But that’s just the starting point for a weekend of nature loving that includes excursions to a number of places in Virginia Beach — and beyond — from Friday, Jan. 26, through Sunday, Jan. 28.

A free exhibit hall and workshops at the recreation center and free activities for children at the library are on Saturday, Jan. 27, but events, some leaving from the rec center, fill the weekend with opportunities to get outside and explore local resources.

The festival includes a keynote from a birder who traveled the world, workshops for birders, budding photographers and kids. 

Excursions to points including local national wildlife refuges on the Eastern Shore, at Fisherman Island, Back Bay and Mackay Island, as well as locations such as the Princess Anne Management Area near Creeds.

And there are trips to First Landing State Park, city parks and outdoor areas, events at the Brock Environmental Center and even leaving from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center to explore local waters.

And a lot more than that.

“It’s grown over the years,” said Katie Webb, the festival coordinator and a recreation specialist with Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation.

The city parks department is presenting the 2018 festival, the eighth, with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and, in all, seven organizations support the event.

The goal of the festival is to highlight the abundance of natural resources in the area and, in a shared goal with state game and inland fisheries, to let people know about “watchable wildlife,” including in the winter months.

“We want people to get out to our parks and open areas and use them for the gems that they are,” Webb said. “It’s actually a really cool time to see wildlife.”

Jessica Ruthenberg, a watchable wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said the festival reinforces that this is a great area for viewing wildlife.

“What I’d like people to take away from the festival is appreciation for the wildlife and habitat we have in Virginia Beach,” Ruthenberg said.

She said she hopes attendees will be excited to see birds and other wildlife and encounter either an animal or an outdoor location they have not seen before.

“I hope this sparks an interest in birding and wildlife viewing,” she added.

For first time attendees, she recommended signing up for a field trip, especially to a location that is new to them. She noted that winter is a good time to see birds and whales. There are trips that are ashore and on the water.

Also recommended are exhibits in the hall at Princess Anne Recreation Center and talks, including a keynote speech by Noah Strycker, who spent 2015 traveling the world seeing more than half the bird species on the planet.

His talk is at 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 26, at Old Donation Center, 4633 Honeygrove Road. Advance registration is needed for that talk, though it is free.

Steve Coari of Kempsville is a trip director and public awareness speaker with the Virginia Beach Audubon Society volunteer who has been active with the festival for years. He’s a volunteer and sponsor, and he leads journeys into the field throughout the weekend festival.

He said the Winter Wildlife Festival is a special event for the city and its neighbors because it gives an opportunity to show the natural resources and wildlife in the area and create awareness.

“I’ve been to a lot of these places, and I just love them to death,” he said. “It’s a unique opportunity to do something in the wintertime when a lot of people are afraid to come out.”

Trips often have a mix of experienced birders and newbies, and Coari said it’s a special moment “when that light comes on” in the eyes of a first-timer. They realize what exists in natural areas of their own area – whether its whales, seals, otters, birds galore or simply the scenery and life of the environment.

 “You don’t know what you’re going to see until you go out,” he said, “but if you’re in front of your TV, you’re never going to see any of this stuff.”

A great blue heron hunts at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in late November. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
A ruddy duck swims near the Marsh Causeway near Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge in Knotts Island, N.C., in December. Waterfowl are a popular sight at area parks, refuges and open spaces, even in winter — and the annual Winter Wildlife Festival aims to raise awareness about opportunities to see nature at work, even at this time of year. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
A nutria walks the ice near the Marsh Causeway in Knotts Island, N.C., on Sunday, Jan. 7. The creatures are nocturnal, but this one was out and about in the early morning along the causeway. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Details of price, location and travel requirements are online. Visit​ for more information about the festival, the schedule and to register for events.

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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