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Springtime at the Heronry


By Nick Kotula, JRA Guest Contributor

Spring is in the air.  Flowers are blooming, cars have turned that beautiful shade of pollen yellow, and the deciduous trees have started getting their leaves back.  While I love spring, and anxiously await the return of the color green, it does not make for optimal heronry viewing.

So what IS going on in the heronry?  We will have to do a little bit of educated guess work.  Time for some CSI: Richmond!
Here’s what we know:  The herons started showing up at the heronry sometime in late January.  Early February showed stick bringing and beak locking courtships.  Around late February and early March there were some definite signs of more “amorous” activities.  An active nest can hold anywhere from three to six eggs, and they have an average incubation rate of twenty-eight days.  That would mean that chick hatching should be starting… right about now!
This theory is substantiated by the huge number of the normally solitary hunters that I found wading through the river looking for dinner.  Once a chick has been hatched both mom and dad will take turns hunting for food to regurgitate back to their young.  During this time a heron will consume up to four times the amount of food that they normally would!  I’ll keep my eyes on the few nests that are still partially visible and report back as soon as I see my first baby heron.

While not Capistrano, Richmond has its own swallows that return in the spring and summer.  The Northern Rough-winged Swallow can be found on the banks of the James darting around and eating various bugs.  They have also been known to use man-made holes for their nests, and I am pretty sure I found a nesting pair using one of the drainage holes for just such a purpose.
 Another, more colorful, visitor that I found this week was the Red-winged Blackbird.  With their bright red and yellow badges these birds love to hang out near aquatic plants looking for bugs.  Yum!
Publisher: James River Association on Apr 13, 2012