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The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge holds its annual Birding Festival in April. The festival strategically falls during the height of the spring Neotropical songbird migration, when the greatest diversity of species are on the fly.
Bird lovers delighted in catching a glimpse of the Swainson's warbler and the Wayne's warbler (a race of the Black-throated Green warbler), two of the most secretive and least observed of all North American birds. Lucky visitors most likely caught a "peep" of the white-throated sparrow, the graceful great egret and even the regal bald eagle. Other birds of interest in the area include the wood duck, barred owl, pileated woodpecker and prothonotary warbler.
The festival is part of International Migratory Bird Day. International Migratory Bird Day celebrates the incredible journeys of migratory birds between breeding grounds in North America and their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America.
The FREE annual Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival is open to the public and offers family-fun activities, such as guided bird walks, owl prowls, bus tours and photography workshops. Bird walks and bus tours require reservations, which can be made by calling the Refuge Headquarters at (757) 986-3705. For more information about the festival, visit the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge Site.
Since the 17th century, Chesapeake's Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge has provided sanctuary to birds and bird watchers alike. The Swamp's wooded swamplands and canebrakes create lovely living conditions for the 213 species of birds that nest in or near the refuge. In fact, more than 200 species have been identified on the refuge since its establishment.
Find out more about Chesapeake's fine feathered friends on our Chesapeake Birding page.
Why are birders from around the country and overseas flocking to Chesapeake?
In addition to the many long-term migratory birds that pass through Chesapeake in late April and early May, a large number of Neotropical migratory songbirds call the Refuge's more than 112,000 acres of unbroken forest home. "Serious birders want to see birds in their natural habitat," says Deloras Freeman, visitor professional with the Refuge, "so they seek areas with vast stretches of unbroken woods."
An eight-year veteran at the Refuge, Deloras offers insider tips to bird enthusiasts:
Rule #1- Always wear comfortable shoes. "We aren't hiking the Appalachians," she says, "but our birding tours are more rigorous than most people expect. Also be sure to bring insect repellent, sunscreen and a light long-sleeved top to cover bare skin."
Freeman also encourages birders to come equipped with a high-grade pair of binoculars. She suggests that serious bird watchers, "Do your homework and be sure that binoculars provide sharp, bright, and high-contrast images before investing," she recommends. "For outdoor activities, look for binoculars that are fully waterproof and fog-proof." While mid-to-high-quality binoculars cost a little more, they are worth the investment and usually come with a lifetime guarantee.