RAS to Host 2017 VSO Annual Meeting

There’s never a bad time to visit Richmond, Virginia, but if you had to pick just one weekend out of the year, the first weekend of May will not disappoint. It’s typically the Goldilocks of weather—not too hot, not too cold—and spring migration is typically right around its peak. This year, the Richmond Audubon Society is proud to serve as the host chapter for the VSO Annual Meeting during that first weekend in May. The Wyndham Virginia Crossings will serve as our home base for the weekend (May 5-7, 2017), and we have an exciting line-up of programs and field trips planned. Our keynote speaker on Saturday evening will be Charlottesville resident Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Genius of Birds. Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas Coordinator Ashley Peele will be presenting on Friday evening, and she will be hosting a workshop on Saturday afternoon to help you learn how to enter the data you collect during field trips into the Atlas’s database. Registration for the Annual Meeting is available online at the VSO website (here: http://www.virginiabirds.org/annual-meeting-registration/) or by mailing a check with the registration form found in this newsletter.  Prices per person are: registration $40, banquet $40, and raffle for a pair of Zeiss Optics binoculars $5.

The Wyndham Virginia Crossings hotel is located at 1000 Virginia Center Parkway, Glen Allen, Virginia. We have negotiated a special rate for the Annual Meeting weekend.  Single occupancy rooms with breakfast for one included (at the restaurant’s breakfast buffet) is $124 per night, and double occupancy rooms with breakfast for two included is $134 per night.  To get the group rate, call (804) 727-1400 or 1-888-444-6553 and identify yourself as a member of the Virginia Society of Ornithology group to get the reduced rate.  If you want to register online, use this link to get the reduced rate: https://www.wyndhamhotels.com/groups/virginia-society-of-ornithology-2017-annual-meeting. Be sure to register with the hotel before April 12, 2017!

We are planning some fun events for your time in Richmond outside of the Annual Meeting.  We are putting together a self-guided tour of some of the avian-themed artwork at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (which offers free admission).  We are also working with our friends at Lickinghole Creek Brewery for a Sunday afternoon social as folks are wrapping up their time in Richmond and getting ready to head home to points West. Look for more information about these and other fun opportunities when you check-in at the Annual Meeting in May!


Ashley Peele, PhD – Friday, May 5

The VSO meeting will begin with a talk on the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (VABBA2) by Dr. Ashley Peele, the Coordinator for the 2016-2020 survey effort in Virginia. The VABBA2 is a cooperative citizen-science project being run by the Virginia Society of Ornithology and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and will result in the state’s second Breeding Bird Atlas. Ashley Peele earned her Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Ohio Wesleyan University before attending Tulane University for her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She has researched American Redstart populations in Jamaica, feather-degrading bacteria, and importance of feather melanin on feather wear. Her current interest is engaging non-consumptive users and wildlife enthusiasts into participating in conservation efforts to contribute to a larger body of scientific knowledge.

Jennifer Ackerman – Saturday, May 6

Keynote speaker Jennifer Ackerman is both author and naturalist, having written The Genius of Birds in April 2016, which delves into the intelligence of “bird-brained” species across the globe that exhibit incredible feats of memory and creativity. Jennifer earned the Silver Medal Award for Nature Writing from the International Regional Magazine Association, has been selected for the New York Times “Editor’s Choice,” and also the New York Times “New and Noteworthy” paperback. She has been published by The New York Times, National Geographic, and Scientific American (to name a few) for her writing, has been interviewed by National Public Radio, and has published five books with critical acclaim. The Daily Progress commended, “Richly researched… The Genius of Birds provides engrossing evidence that will have readers looking at birds in a completely new way.”

Paper Sessions:

We are happy to announce that the afternoon Paper Session on Saturday will be sponsored by the VCU Rice Rivers Center, the VCU Center for Environmental Studies, and the Department of Biology.  Students from each of those programs will be participating as presenters, and we are inviting VCU students to attend the session free of charge. Other presenters are welcome.  The scientific paper session is set for Saturday, May 6, from 2-4pm. Presentations should be 15 minutes long, including time for questions. If you are interested in giving an oral presentation at the conference about your research, please submit the following information by March 17, 2017 in an e-mail to Abby Walter, Programs Coordinator (lawalter@udel.edu).

  • Name
  • E-mail address
  • Phone Number
  • Names of co-authors (if applicable)
  • Institutional affiliation (if applicable)
  • Title of oral presentation
  • Brief abstract (250 word limit)
  • Audio-visual needs (e.g. laptop and LCD projector, overhead projector, slide projector)

The board will review submissions and applicants will be notified of their acceptance and time slot by March 31.


Field Trips:

Field trips for the 2017 VSO Annual Meeting will visit the best spring birding sites in the Richmond area.  Most of the trips will focus on riparian forest and wetland habitat along the James River as it flows through and below Richmond.  Spring migrants will be filling the forests and species like Prothonotary Warblers will be defending their territories.  Several of the locations have restricted access (Curles Neck and Belmead) and are being made available specifically for the VSO field trips.  And boat trips down the James will provide spectacular views of bald eagles and other species along the river.

Trips will be offered Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday morning.  All trips will depart from the meeting hotel except the Bald Eagle Tours, which will meet at the boat dock at the start time noted on the schedule.  Carpooling is highly encouraged and for some trips, to locations with limited parking space, a necessity.  The number of participants for each trip is limited.  Paths at the sites, none of which are particularly strenuous, may be wet so wear appropriate footwear.  Bathroom facilities at most sites are limited.  Trip leaders will have water and some snacks.  All field trips are subject to last minute changes depending on weather and number of participants (so register early).

All sites are ebird hotspots – get more information on site locations and expected species on the ebird web site (www.ebird.org).

All field trips are free with registration for the Annual Meeting except for a $45 per person cost for the Discover the James Bald Eagle Tours.

Field Trip Locations:

Discover the James Bald Eagle Tour (35 minutes, 27 miles to boat dock)
Ride along with Capt. Mike Ostrander aboard the Discovery Barge II, a comfortable 24-foot covered pontoon boat for this unique 2-hour, 5-mile trip on the tidal James River.  This is a great opportunity to get up close to numerous resident bald eagles and other birds along the river.  Experience this ecosystem rich with wildlife, abundant history and beautiful scenery.  This trip provides great photography opportunities.  See more information at http://www.discoverthejames.com/?q=eagle-tour.

Capt. Mike has reserved five trips just for the VSO meeting.  Cost per person is $45.  Maximum of 6 people per trip (minimum of 4 people registered per trip required by April 25 or trip will be cancelled).  Departs from Deep Bottom park boat dock (for directions to the dock, see http://discoverthejames.com/?q=Discover-the-James-Directions#DBBL.  To reserve a spot on one of the VSO Eagle Tours, please call Captain Mike Ostrander directly at (804) 938-2350.

Curles Neck Farm (35 minutes; 31 miles)
This 5500 acre, privately owned working farm was one of the original great James River plantations and has been in continual operation for nearly 400 years.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Located along the north bank of the James River in eastern Henrico County, it has a wide variety of habitat, including nearly 2000 acres of both wetland and fields, 1000 acres of forest, and a number of ponds.  Bird life is diverse at all times of the year.

Powhatan State Park (50 minutes; 40 miles)
Powhatan State Park includes 1500 acres of open field and mature forests, located along the James River in Powhatan County.  We will slowly walk ~2 miles of trails in these habitats and hope to see any number of spring migrant songbirds as well as breeding yellow-breasted chat, grasshopper sparrow, wood thrush, summer and scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, and orchard oriole.

James River Park (all sites about 25 minutes; 15 miles)
The premier birding location within the city of Richmond, the James River Park system runs along both sides of the James River at the Fall Line between Virginia’s Piedmont and Coastal Plain.  Here the rapid drop in elevation of the river makes Richmond the only city in the country with Class IV white water rapids in the middle of downtown.  The park’s 550 acres are primarily riparian woodland, prime habitat for migrating birds and the best location in the Richmond area for spring warblers.  Three separate locations in the park are scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday.  The JRP-42nd St. and JRP-Reedy Creek trips cover the same areas of the park, but start from different locations.  An elevated walkway near the 42nd St. entrance provides treetop birding.  The JRP-Wetlands trip covers a different area of the park.

Henricus Historical Park-Dutch Gap Conservation Area (40 minutes; 30 miles)
Henricus and Dutch Gap Conservation Area include an extensive area of forest, river, wetlands, meadows, oxbow lakes, ponds and a tidal lagoon in Chesterfield County to the southeast of Richmond.  Henricus Historical Park, with open woodland, is the site of the Citie of Henricus, founded in 1611 as the second successful English settlement in the New World.  The variety of habitats provide for great birding.

Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery (40 minutes; 36 miles)
Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery is a 444-acre U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service facility located east of Richmond in Virginia’s historic tidewater plantation country.  The hatchery plays a key role in the efforts to restore declining and imperiled populations of migratory fish and other aquatic species of the Atlantic coast. The facility includes extensive forest, field, stream and lake habitat that support a wide variety of bird species.

Brown’s Island-Potterfield Memorial Bridge-James River Floodwall (20 minutes; 14 miles)
Brown’s Island, on the south bank of the James River in downtown Richmond is the jumping off point to walk across the river – on the newly opened Potterfield Memorial Bridge.  This pedestrian bridge, linking the north and south shores of the river, crosses over an extensive area of rapids and allows an excellent opportunity to observe birds on and along the river.  The trail along the Floodwall also provides easy observations of birds on the river and in its riparian areas.

Ashland Trolley Line
The Ashland Trolley Line runs along a portion of the former Richmond-Ashland Electric Line, which linked the two communities for 31 years until its closure in 1938.  The 0.5-mile grass and gravel trail now runs through dense forest, a favorite birding location for locals. Over the years, 150+ avian species have been seen in this area, including but not limited to 29 warblers.  Limited parking is available at the Ashland Trolley Line’s southern trailhead on Gwathmey Church Road/State Route 707 in Hanover County.

The Diamond (15 minutes; 9 miles)
Do you want to see nighthawks?  Visit the Diamond in the evening.  Located in the heart of the city, the Diamond is the city’s stadium for minor league baseball. Each evening in the summer nighthawks can be readily seen flycatching overhead from the stadium’s parking lot.  This is a fun trip to end a day of birding.

Workshop:  From Field Trip to Checklist – A How-To Workshop for the VABBA2

After a fun morning of field trips and hopefully excellent sightings, come learn how your observations can contribute to the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas Project.  We’ll be demonstrating tips for reporting your observations, discussing interesting breeding codes, as well as highlighting priority species or regions in need of extra attention in 2017.  Please bring along your laptops (if possible) and plenty of Atlas questions.  We’ll have time for questions and discussion right up into the cocktail hour.  You can even grab a glass while we continue our talk of Virginia’s fascinating breeding birds.  Whether you are an Atlas veteran bursting with questions from your first season or a birder interested in volunteering this season, please join us for this workshop and discussion of our favorite topic, Virginia’s birds!

Field Trip Schedule:

Friday Afternoon
Discover the James Bald Eagle Tour – 1:00-3:00.  Trip Leader – Mike Ostrander
Harrison Lake Fish Hatchery – depart at 1:00.  Trip Leader – TBD
Henricus-Dutch Gap – depart at 1:00.  Trip Leader – John Coe
Brown’s Island-Potterfield Memorial Bridge-James River Floodwall – depart at 1:30.  Trip Leader – Ellison Orcutt

Friday Evening
Diamond – depart at 8:00.  Trip Leader – Wes Teets

Saturday Morning
Discover the James Bald Eagle Tour – 7:00-9:00.  Trip Leader – Mike Ostrander
Powhatan State Park – depart at 6:30.    Trip Leader – Leslie Bulluck
James River Park – Reedy Creek – depart at 6:30.  Carpooling highly encouraged.  Trip Leader – Arun Bose
James River Park – Wetlands – depart at 7:00. Carpooling highly encouraged.  Trip Leader – Lewis Barnett
James River Park – 42nd St. – depart at 7:00.  Carpooling highly encouraged.  Trip Leader – Wes Teets
Ashland Trolley Line – depart at 7:00.  Trip Leader – Linda Cole
Curles Neck Farm – depart at 7:30.  Carpooling required.  Trip Leader – Ellison Orcutt
Henricus-Dutch Gap – depart at 7:30.  Trip Leader – John Ditto

Saturday Afternoon
Discover the James Bald Eagle Tour – 12:00-2:00.  Trip Leader – Mike Ostrander
Henricus-Dutch Gap – depart at 1:00.  Trip Leader – TBD
Hollywood Cemetery – depart at 1:30.   Trip Leader – John Coe
Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery – depart at 1:30.   Trip Leader – TBD
Workshop: VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2 Workshop – Wyndham Crossings – 4:15 p.m. Workshop Leader – Ashley Peele

Sunday Morning
Discover the James Bald Eagle Tour – 7:00-9:00.  Trip Leader – Mike Ostrander
Discover the James Bald Eagle Tour – 9:30-11:30.  Trip Leader – Mike Ostrander
Powhatan State Park – depart 6:30. Trip Leader – Ben Nickley
James River Park – Reedy Creek – depart at 6:30.  Trip Leader – Arun Bose
James River Park – Wetlands – depart at 7:00.  Trip Leader – Lewis Barnett
James River Park – 42nd St. – depart at 7:00.  Trip Leader – Wes Teets
Henricus-Dutch Gap – depart at 7:00.  Trip Leader – John Ditto
Curles Neck Farm – depart at 7:30.  Carpooling required.  Trip Leader – Ellison Orcutt


Silent Auction:

What’s your superpower? And, can you share it with your fellow bird lovers? Richmond Audubon is planning an exciting silent auction, plus raffles and door prizes for the VSO’s annual meeting. We have some great surprises, but need your help to make this the best auction ever!

Your donations of bird- and nature-themed equipment, art, etc. are always very welcome, as are gift certificates to related businesses. Some of our popular favorites are the things money can’t always buy – except at the auction! Unique experiences have been best sellers at our past RAS auctions; are there some you can provide?

Maybe it’s a walk with a local expert to access a special spot, or it could be a kayak, canoe, or other boat trip with beautiful scenery, wildlife, and a guide who can help us get out there. Perhaps it’s a stay at a lodge, inn, or home in one of those places we’ve always wanted to visit. Are you a researcher who’d like to share what you do with interested amateurs? (Would people really pay to tromp around with a biologist in briery insect-infested woods searching for radio-tagged rattlesnakes in 98-degree heat? I did! It was great!) Wildlife photography trek? Or something more relaxing? You make the rules.

Contact Kim Harrell or Lori Schamerhorn, and let us know what you can share to make this an auction to remember. As always, proceeds benefit local Virginia conservation projects.

Kim Harrell         flyingfish1@erols.com
Lori Schamerhorn   lorischamerhorn@gmail.com



Vendors and exhibitors interested in participating should contact Bob Schamerhorn by e-mail: bob@iPhotoBirds.com or by phone: (804) 477-3433 for details and availability.

Tentative Schedule:

Check the VSO and Richmond Audubon Society websites for updates as we get closer to the Annual Meeting, but the tentative schedule for the weekend is as follows:


Afternoon (Various) – Field Trips

3:00 p.m. – Registration begins.  Vendor/Exhibitor area opens.

6:00-7:00 p.m. – Reception with hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar

7:00 p.m. – Program with Ashley Peele


Morning (Various) – Field Trips

11:00 a.m. – Registration continues. Vendor/Exhibitor area open.

2:00-4:00 p.m. – Paper sessions

4:15 p.m. – Workshop with Ashley Peele

6:00-7:00 p.m. – Reception with a cash bar

7:00 p.m. – Banquet dinner and program with Jennifer Ackerman


Morning (Various) – Field Trips

Noon – Conference ends