Birdwatching or birding is a hobby sometimes stereotyped as nerdy, but for Joey Herron, it's a way to educate others and help preserve West Virginia.

Herron is a birder with over 52 years experience. He also is a licensed bird bander, and a renowned photographer whose photographs have featured in magazines and has published six photography books.

After seeing a screech owl in an old woodpecker hole inside of a dead tree with his best friend, Herron became interested in birdwatching. His friend saw the owl while delivering newspapers on his route and the two watched it all day, as it hunted in the woods at night. Herron is able to identify a large variety of birds just by hearing their call. 

"It's more than a hobby, to me. I've done it all my life. It's been like a lifelong passion. I worked for the federal government for almost 25 years in a cubicle, but I always did outdoor work. I always did birding on the side and I always did research," Herron said. 

When banding birds, Herron places a piece of engraved metal around the bird's ankle. The identifying information on the band can then be found in a database. Banding the birds documents where they go and how long they live. Herron said he branded a cardinal in Prickett's Fort in 2013 that he still sees often while at the fort. Most cardinals live three to five years.

Herron spends a lot of time at Prickett's Fort finding species of birds that are not native to the area. Herron's work banding birds was instrumental in the installation of the fort's observation deck, according to Prickett's Fort Executive Director Greg Bray said.

On May 13, Herron began his term as the first Artist-in-Residence of the year at the fort. He spent the day at the park answering any questions and selling his books and photographs. Bray said they like to get as many visitors to the park as possible and bringing master naturalist programs to the park is one way they do it. He said the fact that birding is a hobby for people of all ages makes it even more attractive.

"It's always good to have master naturalists, like people that do birding. We try to get as many people to use the park as we can — that's our purpose here, to bring people into the park," Bray said. 

Throughout April and May, Herron has served as a guide for a two-hour long bird watch at Prickett's Fort. He used to attend the bird walks, but after the guide retired, he took over. Tours in April were held on Saturdays and in May they are held on Wednesday. Participants see nearly 50 bird species and learn a lot.

"We actually got to see a bald eagle on our bird walk, which was really special. Herron told us that their heads don't become fully white until they're around four or five years old. The one we saw was probably around four because it was still spotted.

"Herron was a great guide because you could tell he was really passionate about what he was doing. He was excited to answer any questions, interacted with everyone and even shared resources on how to better identify birds in your own birdwatching," Sydney Keener, who attended an April Bird Walk, said.

Keener said birdwatching was something she hadn't done before, but would do again. She said it was fun to try something new and learn from someone with so much experience. 

But Herron isn't just active at Prickett's Fort. He established the Northern saw-whet owl banding station at Valley Falls State Park in 2004 and is still active at it. He is the instructor for the annual Elderhostel Birding program at Jackson's Mill in West Virginia and co-leader of the annual Warbler Birdwalk at Black Water Falls Sate Park, among other duties.

He graduated from Glenville State College in 1980 with a degree in biology and a minor in art. He serves as an assistant coach to Fairmont State women's basketball team and has coached junior high and high school women's basketball. In 2005, he ran the Boston Marathon and runs several times weekly, despite having heart surgery last year.

Herron said above all, he's an educator. His favorite part about being a birder is sharing what he learns or sees with others and he does it every chance he gets. Over the years, Herron has seen birds travel from the Arctic Circle to Prickett's Fort, which is rare and special.

When he sees a rare bird, there is a community he texts that he knows will come to see. He recounted times when individuals have driven from as far as the Bronx in New York to see birds passing through Prickett's Fort during migration.

Herron spotted the fourth Sabine's Gull to be seen in West Virginia at Prickett's Fort. During its 10,000 miles of migration, the bird stayed at the fort for around a week. They breed in the Arctic Circle and spend winter at the tip of South America. While the bird is plain with white coloring, it floated like a butterfly.

The bird drew a crowd of people from all over. Herron said the exciting part about birding is never knowing what you'll discover.

"When I look at birding, some people don't quite understand it. 'You go out see birds, what's the big deal and this and that,' but I look at it as almost a treasure hunt. You don't know what you're gonna find," Herron said.

Herron posts his photographs on Facebook at Herron Birding and Twitter at WVsawwhet for people who might not be able to get out and go birding as often as he can.

Reach me at or 304-367-2549.

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