This year’s Winter Wildlife Festival may have a different feel, but events for young and old are scheduled in January

A great blue heron hunts at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach in February 2020. [File/The Independent News]

VIRGINIA BEACH — The 2021 Winter Wildlife Festival has something for just about everyone, whether you’re a seasoned birder or a novice – and whether you prefer to observe wildlife from a boat, a hiking trail or even your own backyard.

Festival organizers have come up with some creative ways to adapt  the activities, which are scheduled throughout the month of January, to restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The festival will include some limited group events as well as activities that you can do alone at home. There will also be an outdoor, interactive event for children as well as virtual workshops.

The event will culminate in speeches, workshops, and excursions scheduled from Thursday, Jan. 28, through Sunday, Jan. 31, but a children’s outdoor, interactive Story Walk is scheduled at area libraries on Saturdays and Wednesdays throughout January.

And photographers can take pictures for the popular wildlife photo contest any time throughout January.  

“Man and Gulls” is the topic of the online keynote speech, which will be delivered by Illinois resident Amar Ayyash at 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 29. Ayyash is a self-described “gull evangelist,” and the author of the blog  “Anything Larus,” and he is on mission to dispel the image that some have of seagulls as the “rats of the sky,” according to the festival coordinator, Katie Webb of the Virginia Beach Department of Parks & Recreation.

Ayyash will also conduct an online workshop on gull identification from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30.  Other online workshop topics will include “Seabird Conservation in Hampton Roads,” scheduled for 11 a .m. on Saturday, Jan. 30, and “What’s that Bird,” an introductory bird identification program for both adults and kids 12 and over,  scheduled for 10:30 a.m., Friday, Jan. 29.

Winter birders can participate in the Birding Challenge, which is “a sort of a 5K except that you go birding and see how many birds you can see,” Webb said.  

Participants form their own teams of two to five members, and they observe anytime from Saturday, Jan. 23, to Friday, Jan. 29. Teams can choose to observe over a three-hour period or a 24-hour period. Challenge participants can observe birds by land or by boat, and there’s also a backyard bird count for those who would rather stay warm at home.

Big Sits, which allow participants to spot and identify birds with the help of guides, are scheduled at Pleasure House Point, Back Bay Wildlife Refuge and Princess Anne Management Area. Nighttime observers can look for owls at First Landing State Park or Great Neck Park. 

“Big Sit” is a term used by birders to refer to bird watches that require observers to remain in one place, and Webb recommends that participants bring a lawn chair for these one-hour events.

Other events include whale watching tours offered by the Virginia Aquarium and tree identification tours offered by Lynnhaven River Now.

This is the 11th year of the Winter Wildlife Festival, and organizers realized in July that social distancing restrictions would require more virtual and small group events, Webb said.  

A Facebook group is already available that invites users to interact with experts and other members of the public and to get updated information about the festival.

Many events require registration, and there is a fee for some events.  

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, 2018. [John-Henry Doucette/The Independent News]

For more information and to register for events, visit or search Virginia Beach Wildlife Festival on Facebook to find the social media group.

© 2020, 2021 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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