Monday, April 2, 2012

Great Dismal Swamp

This past weekend my wife and I made a trip down to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.  The swamp is a 112,000 acre refuge straddling the Virginia - North Carolina border.  While there are several access points including great paddling access from the east, we decided to try Jericho Ditch.  All of the trails are along old drainage ditches for the swamp and are in long straight lines. We have only been to Jericho Ditch twice before, both for guided bird walks.  Our main purpose was to bird and try to catch some of the spring migrants before the woods leaved out and you couldn't see anything any more.  That's been the problem in the past, the woods are so dense that as soon as the leaves come out you can't see more than a few feet into them. So you can hear a lot of birds but seeing them is difficult.  And our bird call skill just isn't up to it.  And while we are at least a month earlier than we have been past years, there was still enough growth to give the birds plenty of cover.  We heard much more than we saw.  Nonetheless, there was a nice list of birds that we could either identify by sound (like the Red-wing Blackbirds and Prairie Warbler)  or did manage to get a glimpse of (like the Common Yellowthroat and Wood Duck).

After a few hours the birds became quiet so we turned back to get our camera.  There were quite a few things in bloom that we wanted to capture.  Almost back to the car we starting hearing an unusual bird song from close by.  After a few minutes of inspection we finally saw a rather nondescript song bird with a bit of yellow wash on the sides, an olive green back and  either spectacles or an eye-ring.  It wouldn't stay still and in the open long enough to get a good look at the head.  It finally dropped down in the brush and stopped singing before we could agree on an identification.  It would have to remain a nice song without a name for the singer.
 After taking a water break and getting our camera gear we headed back down the ditch trail.  I stopped early on for a tree in bud while my wife continued on down for a few blooms she had seen.  As I was stowing my gear I heard that song again.  This time the bird popped out into a leafless tree close by.  I grabbed my binoculars and got a descent view.  I could see a strong yellow line leading back to the eye.  Quickly changing lens for my telephoto, I managed a few diagnostic shots.  And when it stayed out in the open singing, I hurried back to get my tripod and managed a few better shots.  It was still far off (do I need an even longer lens???) but they are descent shots.
White-eyed Vireo
 There were a number of nice flowers in bloom.  There were several of this fleabane that was along the trail side.  There were also some pretty little yellow flowers growing down close to the ground.

Fleabane (Erigeron sp?)
After a few more stops I eventually caught up with my wife who was busy taking pictures of these gorgeous native azaleas.  I was able to use my telephoto lens with an extension tube to get these rather "close-up" pictures from a distance.  I was also lucky that the far bank of the ditch was in shade giving the wonderful black background.

While photographing the azeleas, my wife pointed out the butterfly attractor.  We had been seeing a lot of butterflies since starting our walk back to get our camera in the morning.  There were dozens of Pearl Crescents, Tiger Swallowtails, Zebra Swallowtails, Palamedes Swallowtails, Little Azures and dozens of even smaller ones we didn't identify.  I eventually had at least 10 Zebra Swallowtails on the little pile (see my wife's blog to find out what the pile was).

Our eventual goal was to make it back to a Luna Moth we had seen right before turning back earlier.  It was still hanging on a little stick out over the drainage canal.  Again, the shadows in the background really helped the photography.
 And to top it off, there was this beautiful Palamedes Swallowtail sitting in the middle of the trail right next to the Luna Moth.

All in all, it was a great day out.  Perhaps not as many birds as we might have hoped for but wonderful nature and some fabulous photography opportunities.


  1. You made some lovely discoveries!

  2. Nice post with different motives, bird, flowers, butterfly..
    Happy WBW to you.
    And, - Happy Easter too!

    1. Thanks. One of the things I like best about nature watching is that there is almost always something going on to see.

  3. Great tour!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  4. Great post, that moth is very unusual!

  5. Thanks. I only remember seeing Luna moths three times and twice has been at dismal swamp.

  6. such a great place and great photos. I love all of it. You have so many awsome butterflies I´m being jelous. :)