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Winchester Star - News Paper Article

Northern Shenandoah Valley Audubon Society Event

March 27, 2016

The local riverside heron rookery should be alive with mating pairs as spring advances in the Shenandoah Valley.

The Audubon Society of the Shenandoah Valley invites bird lovers — most notably heron lovers — to take a walk along the Shenandoah River to the rookery to see these tall, elegant fowl and other spring migrants that live “Along the River’s Edge,” which is the title of Bob Schamerhorn’s talk on Saturday at the Cool Spring Campus of Shenandoah University. The event is free. The day begins at 9 a.m. as visitors walk a half-mile to the riverbank to see the rookery and possibly even glimpse an eagle’s nest.

At 10:30 a.m., Schamerhorn, a former member of the board of directors for the Richmond Audubon, will offer facts about heron colonies and other migratory birds that prefer riverine habitats, which he said are returning to the area. “The Great Blue Heron is a year-round resident of Virginia,” Schamerhorn said in a telephone interview earlier this month. The herons disperse after raising their young in colonies with others of their kind, but they often return to the same rookery for many years.

Richmond had such a site on an island in the James River for many years, Schamerhorn said.
There were as many as 42 nests there, he noted, and bird enthusiasts loved to go to the riverbank and watch as the herons rebuilt nests, fished for dinner and raised their broods. There were so many birds coming and going, it looked like O’Hare Airport, he said. That went on for about eight years after he moved to Richmond from the more rural Bedford County. Then, “two years ago, [no birds] showed up,” Schamerhorn said. The site was abandoned, and nobody knows why.

While herons establish a territory for fishing, they seem to prefer nesting with others of their kind. Males return to the nesting area and claim an old nest or build a new one. They display themselves and the nest to attract a female. Schamerhorn, who is also a wildlife photographer specializing in birds, said the courting behavior of herons can make for great pictures.

After a couple pair up, the male will continue to bring sticks to the female to embellish the nest.
With each delivery, he will put on a display, raising crest and breast feathers. Schamerhorn said the male will give the stick to the female or, if he puts it into the nest, she will usually pick it up and move it.
“Does that sound familiar?” he asked.

The pair will have three to six eggs in the nest and take turns incubating them for 27 days. The chicks will fledge in 70 to 80 days but will continue to return to the nest for a meal for a while after they take wing.
Schamerhorn said his fourth grade teacher in Lynchburg, who was a founding member of the Lynchburg Bird Club, was the person who got him interested in birding, while his photography bent grew out of a class he took in seventh grade. He worked part time delivering prescriptions in high school, and the pharmacist there, also a hobby photographer, gave him his first 35mm camera. He credits his knowledge of wildlife habitat with helping him get exciting pictures of birds — pictures that tell stories about his subjects.

Today, Schamerhorn owns Infinity Graphics in Richmond and works for himself as a graphic artist and wildlife photographer. He uses his photographic art at shows and festivals to be an advocate for birds with people who know little about them. Being self-employed also gives him the flexibility to “run off when I hear there is some bird somewhere.” While Schamerhorn has visited the area many times, this will be his first visit to SU’s Cool Spring campus on Parker Lane. “Many migrating birds use river branches as landmarks for where they are heading,” he pointed out. That should mean that the Shenandoah’s banks will give bird watchers just what they bargain for this weekend.

For more information about the heron rookery and talk, go online at audubon-nsvas.org.

Written by Val Van Meter.

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