Winter for the birds

Published 9:17 pm Monday, December 28, 2015

Participants seek birds during a previous birdwatching expedition at Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve in September.

Participants seek birds during a previous birdwatching expedition at Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve in September.

The Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve is sponsoring winter hikes and bird-watching expeditions throughout the next three months.

“I prefer the winter woods to any other time of the year,” said Helen Kuhns, the preserve’s executive director. “Without all the trees and vines (of summer) obstructing the view, you can see through the woods and hear the ice settling on puddles,” Kuhns said. “It’s refreshing in ways you can’t experience any other time of year.”

The 142-acre refuge in Churchland will host winter bird walks on the second Saturday of every month. The first walk of 2016 is set for 8 a.m. Jan. 9, with the gates opening at 7:30 a.m. to let birdwatchers into the park.

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Local birders and experts from Old Dominion University’s bird lab will lead the hike along the 3.5-mile trail around Ballard Lake. They will be able to help identify birds, both by observation and sound.

The preserve, located at 4510 Twin Pines Road in Portsmouth, normally opens to the public at 10 a.m.

“We like to let bird enthusiasts come in early,” Kuhns said. “That is when the birds are most active.”

More than 200 species of birds have been documented at the preserve, Kuhns said. Some of the more recent sightings include a loon, which is somewhat unusual for this area, and bald eagles and a pair of peregrine falcons, both once endangered birds of prey.

Winter is also the best time to see waterfowl on Lake Ballard, Kuhns said.

“This winter’s unseasonably warm temperatures are not affecting what we see, as much as it is when we see it,” Kuhns said. For example, it so warm that turtles — which are usually hunkered down in mud for the winter this time of year — are still on the lake, she said.

“It’s unusual to see the turtles’ heads poking up out of water this time of year,” said Kuhns. Birds’ migration habits revolve around the length of the day rather than temperatures, she added.

Other winter bird-watching walks are scheduled for Feb. 13 and March 12.

On Jan. 16, local forester Mike Aherron will lead a group walk around the preserve. He will share how local flora spends the winter, evergreens, dormant vegetation and show participants how to identify trees without their leaves.

The group will leave from park headquarters at 10:30 a.m., and registration will be on the morning of the event.

Both the bird-watching and nature walks are free and open to the public.

Hoffler Creek is a nonprofit organization and accepts donations to keep its programs going.