During annual festival, people come from far and wide to enjoy nature, parks and local wildlife

A great blue heron is seen hunting for food on Sunday, Jan. 27, at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach. It was among two hunting along a road until the other one seemingly chased this one off. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

VIRGINIA BEACH — On the opening night of this year’s Winter Wildlife Festival, Dr. John Marzluff, a college professor and author, addressed a number of outdoor enthusiasts and birders at Old Donation School during his talk about supporting birdlife in neighborhoods and making developed places more supportive of wildlife.

Among the practical tips for making suburban spaces friendly to birds was one that drew a smile or two.

“You can do what I did and quit mowing your lawn,” he said.

“My neighbors don’t live that close to me so they didn’t give me any static,” he added. Recommendations for creating a place where birds can thrive included reducing the amount of manicured lawn in favor of shrubs and native plants.

“It doesn’t have to look as messy as mine, by any means,” he noted.

Author, researcher and educator Dr. John Marzluff was the festival’s keynote speaker. [The Princess Anne Independent News]
After the talk, Caleb Jake Van Grack, 9, was among the people who picked up one of Marzluff’s books. Van Grack and his mom, Kate Bollie, came all the way to Virginia beach from Germantown, Md. Bollie said they came to the festival last year, too, and this was a good time of year to enjoy deals on hotels here.

“This wildlife festival is as old as I am,” Van Grack said.

Indeed, the festival, which turns 10 next year, is presented by the Virginia Beach Department of Parks & Recreation and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Nine organizations are involved in putting it on.

Katie Webb, festival coordinator for parks and recreation, said this year’s event went well, with strong attendance and good weather over the weekend. And they soon will turn to planning the 2020 event.

This year was the highest turnout yet for the exhibit hall and activities for children at Princess Anne Recreation Center, the hub for a festival that reached other locations in Virginia Beach and extended to neighboring communities.

The federal shutdown led to cancelation of a trip to Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge in Knotts Island, N.C., and a change to another planned excursion.

“One of the trips we made a change to went to Savage Neck Dunes rather than Fishermans Island,” Webb said, explaining that a state natural area preserve stood in for a federal refuge. “The participants really liked that. We may add that next year.”

Of the shutdown, she added, “People were really understanding. Obviously, the shutdown was beyond our control.”

Suleka Deevi of Richmond, who was in town visiting family, spent part of Sunday, Jan. 27, at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and neighboring False Cape State Park for a birding trip that is part of the festival.

“We saw lots of birds,” Deevi, an avid birder who has led treks of her own, said. She said the trip let people see tundra swans, eagles, geese, hawks and warblers, among others. It was a great experience, she said, and a showcase for the natural areas conserved as parks and refuges.

“If we didn’t have people caring for this, we wouldn’t be able to see all we saw today,” she said.

Many families were at the exhibit hall at the recreation center on Saturday, Jan. 26. Nicole Hamilton of Ocean Lakes brought 3½ -year-old Hayes Hamilton. Hayes got a good look at Neptune, an eastern kingsnake held by Laura Papp, an education specialist at First Landing State Park. 

“This is our first time,” Nicole Hamilton said, adding that it was good to bring children face-to-face with nature — and away from electronics.

Webb recommended saving the dates for the 10th annual Winter Wildlife Festival – Jan 24-26, 2020.

Sister, a rescued great horned owl, was among the stars of the Winter Wildlife Festival exhibit hall at Princess Anne Recreation Center. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
Jamie Champe of Lago Mar carves a miniature canvasback decoy on Saturday in the exhibition hall. Carving, a beloved tradition in southern Virginia Beach, is a star attraction at the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum at the Oceanfront. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
Caleb Jake Van Grack, 9, of Germantown, Md., came to Virginia Beach with his mom, Kate Bollie, to visit the festival. He is seen looking at books following a talk by Dr. John Marzluff, an author and professor of wildlife science at University of Washington. The talk was held at Old Donation School on Friday, Jan. 25. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
A bird hides just off a trail as evening falls on Saturday at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

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