Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, brunch and mimosas, just about anything and wine… It’s always a pleasure to combine things that I love. That’s what makes Pipeline Rapids such a special place for me. It combines the James River with birds. Birds, you say?
For those of you who have not been, Pipeline Rapids is a series of Class IV rapids that stretch for an eighth of a mile on the fall-line of the James. The Pipeline walkway is probably the easiest way to get to these rapids, but you will probably see paddlers in just about all types of weather looking to test themselves on the challenging rapids. The real treat (for me at least) is the active heronry located on nearby Bailey’s Island.
Fun Fact #1: A heronry is a rookery for herons. A rookery is a colony of breeding birds, but the term can actually be used more specifically for a colony of breeding rooks. (Think a crow, only in Europe and parts of Asia.) Heronry is the specific term for a colony of breeding herons.
Fun Fact #2: A group of herons is known as a siege.
Fun Fact #3: Myself, and many others, have described the heronry as being on Vauxhall Island. Heck, even Ralph White described the island as such on his Heronry Tours. However, according to the Richmond Parcel Mapper Vauxhall Island is one island east of Bailey’s Island, which is listed as being owned by the City of Richmond Parks and Recreation. Vauxhall is located underneath the railroad spur that crosses the river, and is currently home to a small tent-city. Vauxhall has it’s own history that I’ll talk about at another time.
Things are just getting started at the heronry. I was there on January 22nd (happy birthday to me!) and there was nothing to report. I saw one heron, but he wasn’t nesting… he was generally just being scared. I came back the following week and suddenly there are at least 27 birds in the trees! I heard reports on Saturday January 26 of at least 21 birds, so within less than a week the gathering started!
Every year since at least 2011 the herons have been camping out here. It is rare to have such a large congregation of these birds within sight of a major city, as they usually prefer to be alone. The abundance of fish in the area, especially when the shad are running, is one of the reasons they seem to tolerate us. By the end of the season there will most likely be anywhere from 80 – 100 birds on the island, and perhaps some Egrets as well.
Check out Pipeline Rapids and the Walkway by going to the end of 12th Street where the Canal Walk begins. You will see a large cross statue. (I’ll talk about all these things, too!) Head to the left (east) and the entrance will be on the right with a brand new sign courtesy of Phil Riggan! (The word heronry is not on that sign!)
I will be posting weekly updates (in addition to exploring the rest of RVA, I promise) which will include numbers, pairings, nesting behaviors, and anything else that strike my fancy! I’ll also (of course) have pictures. This week we had 27 birds, mainly in the trees. No sign of nest repairs/making. There were at least 3 pairs, one of which was engaging in courtship rituals (we’ll talk about that next week), and one pair was engaging in… more amorous activities. (We will not be talking about that one.)
View Great Blue Heronry in a larger map