Above image of Swainson's Warbler by Dixie Sommers.
Sixteen birders brought their binoculars and love of nature on a May 6-8 weekend road trip to Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and Piney Grove Preserve in southeastern Virginia.
The early Saturday shower that caught us as we walked Jericho Ditch was soon over. The rain and some subsequent sprinkles could not dampen our spirits. We moved on to explore the Washington Ditch area and drove along the Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive. Great Dismal Swamp contains wonderful habitat for birds butterflies, turtles, frogs and plant diversity. Our guide at the Swamp was Steve Coari, Field Trip Chair of Virginia Beach Audubon Society. Our first bird of the trip was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, posing in the open for us right at the parking lot as we assembled. Other birds well-seen include White-eyed Vireo, Red headed Woodpecker, Spotted and Solitary Sandpiper, and Swainson’s Thrush. Among the warblers were Prairie, Pine, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Northern Parula, and American Redstart. Unfortunately, the skulking Swainson’s Warblers remained mostly quiet, although they were heard by some. Cedar Waxwings and Green Herons flew overhead. A flushed Chuck-will’s-widow was seen by a few.
A very special moment occurred when as Steve Coari put it, “About 100 yards from Williamson, we were caught in a stampede of River Otter. They came busting out of the west side of the road and dove into the canal on the east side. Came right through our group.
Nothing we could do but watch. Thundering Otter!”
We started early on Sunday to get to The Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve in Sussex County. There we were met by Bobby Clontz, Land Steward of Nature Conservancy properties in Southeast Virginia. Bobby explained the importance of old-growth pines to the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW), described the role of fire and prescribed burns in forest management, and told us about the history of the Preserve. Bobby also pointed out the various plants as we walked through the property. Our first stop was near several RCW nesting sites, and before long we were thrilled to see these birds. We enjoyed great views of a pair of
Wood Ducks perched in nearby trees. Yellow-breasted Chats squawked and one of them flew across the trail to land on an exposed branch. We added Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-throated Vireo, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Summer Tanager and Red headed Woodpecker.
We collectively recorded 84 bird species. Our thanks go to the trip organizer Ellen Jacobson and her co-leader (and our scribe) Dixie Sommers. We greatly appreciate our local guides Steve Coari and Bobby Clontz.
We had some rain
We had some sun
But through it all
We sure had fun!