May 17: If you have ever wondered where to go to reliably find a Swainson’s Warbler, Suffolk, Virginia, and the Great Dismal Swamp is your place. Just off Virginia route 58, at the southwestern margin of the greater Norfolk area, this 112,000 acre refuge, with Lake Drummond at its center, is the nesting home of nearly 100 species of birds.
This then was the birding stopover on this year’s annual springtime drive from Florida back up to Connecticut. I arrived at 6:30 AM and began with a slow open-window drive along the Jericho Ditch Lane, prepared with bug repellant as the mosquitoes and yellow flies are ubiquitous here. About a half mile along, the loud song of Swainson’s Warbler pealed out from both sides of the road, and a Hooded Warbler joined in. At the very same spot two Acadian Flycatchers were calling and chasing each other through the tree branches overhead. Prothonotary Warblers are almost unbelievably common throughout the swamp and it is easy to hear one or more in most places. They are far from shy and many are easily seen, but Swainson’s is much more secretive and it takes patient observation and persistence to eventually spot one through the maze of branches. Fortunately the bird sings loudly and often reasonably close to the road, otherwise the chances of spotting it would be small. Among the many other species found here: lots of Prairie Warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Pileated and Red-headed Woodpeckers, and Barred Owl.