RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – The James River in Richmond is teeming with life -- and in one hidden section downtown the proof is right in front of your eyes.
The Great Blue Heron rookery is in full view from the Pipeline Rapids Walkway. It's only a few blocks from the Virginia State Capitol but it feels like you are a world away.
Pipeline is a treat for bird lovers, especially when you like to see the action up close.
"It's a really unique experience to be right here in the middle of the city, and to see all this natural activity going on," said Lewis Barnett, president of the Richmond Audubon Society.
He took me on a tour and you have to do a little work: Climb down a ladder and a short walk along the pipeline catwalk.
Then you are rewarded with a close-up look at a heron rookery. It's a funny word for a place where great blue herons gather to raise their young.
"They try to find a place to nest that has the trees, the fish, the water, in a protected area from predators," Barnett said.
It wasn't always this way. The water was too dirty, and there weren't enough fish. But that's all changed in the past few years.
"A tribute to some things that Richmond has done right, in terms of cleaning up the river... And preserving natural space along the river corridor," he said.
Forty pairs of herons built their nests out of sticks in February & laid eggs in March. They chose this island to keep those eggs safe.
"I don't know a way it could be better," Barnett said.
If you visit, you'll likely see what we saw: An expert hunter in action. Herons use their beaks to stab fish, then take a few seconds to maneuver the prey into their mouth -- all that work to feed their babies.
"It's kind of gross, they regurgitate food for their young," he said.
The young are almost ready to start flying. So you'll need to hurry down to catch the show. The herons will leave soon, spreading out across the state for the summer. But they'll likely be back here next year -- enjoying their prime downtown Richmond real estate.
Pipeline runs along the river at the Riverside on the James condominiums, is easy to access from the Canal Walk at South 12th and Byrd streets or from the east end of Brown's Island. There is a parking lot for about eight cars between the old Reynolds Building and the old Power Station building at Riverside on the James.