Surprise in the skies

Published 9:22 pm Monday, September 14, 2015

Vicki Garcia, a doctoral student at Old Dominion University, looks for birds early Saturday morning on a bird walk at Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve.

Vicki Garcia, a doctoral student at Old Dominion University, looks for birds early Saturday morning on a bird walk at Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve.

Participants can never be quite sure what they’ll see when they arrive for one of Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve’s monthly bird walks.

But that’s part of the attraction.

“(Birdwatchers) like finding rare things,” said Nick Flanders, leader of Saturday’s bird walk. Flanders has been volunteering at these monthly bird walks for the past few months. “Every time you go out in the field, you never know what you’re going to find.”


Email newsletter signup

On Saturday, a small group of birdwatchers with binoculars set out at 8 a.m. along the trail of the preserve, which is located just across the city line, on Twin Pines Road in Portsmouth.

With clear, cool weather to greet them, conditions were good for both avid birdwatchers and those who simply wanted to get out for some exercise. During the morning walk, scheduled for about two and a half hours, participants heard and saw mallard ducks, Carolina wrens, downy woodpeckers, crows, blue jays, robins, warblers and more.

Shore birds were unusually scarce during this outing, Flanders said, possibly because of the high tide. Participants, however, got a rare chance to see a blue-winged warbler and a yellow warbler.

Warblers typically breed farther north, Flanders said, but Saturday’s birdwatchers were able to see them making their way south.

“Migration is probably the most exciting thing,” he said, explaining that when birds fly a little off course, people get the opportunity to see some unique birds.

Flanders’ interest in birds developed from his childhood fishing adventures with his grandfather. While they were fishing, he would notice the osprey and eagles flying about, he said. His neighbor at the time was an avid bird watcher and owned a bird feeder that attracted Flanders’ interest and served as the centerpiece of a middle school science fair project. Birds eventually grew to be a more serious interest for him.

As an adult, Flanders has been involved in the Hampton Roads Bird Club and the Cape Henry Audubon Society.

Flanders is working on a doctorate in ecological sciences at Old Dominion University and shares a research lab there with other students who joined the group for Saturday’s walk in the woods.

“I’ve always been an outdoors-loving person,” said Spencer Schubert.

As a child, Schubert spent a significant amount of time with his grandmother going on bird walks and feeding and observing the birds at her backyard bird feeder.

When groups of crows and blue jays began “mobbing” — letting each other know about a nearby predator — during Saturday’s walk, Schubert explained the behavior to a visitor.

He and fellow birdwatcher Vicki Garcia both work with Flanders in the ODU research lab.

“They just have such diversity in behaviors,” Garcia said of the objects of Saturday’s avian interest. “And also, they’re just really pretty, and they can sing.”

Hoffler Creek’s next bird walk will be held from 8 to 10:30 a.m. Oct 10. For more information about this and other events the preserve has planned this year, visit