Saturday, May 31, 2008

D. S. Birding Festival - Part II, The Tour

Back in early May, my family and I attended the Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival. As discussed in an earlier post, our first stage of the event was the bird banding demonstration. Our second stage of the event was a narrated bus tour throughout the refuge. It may not sound to exiting, but really it wasn't that bad. Living near the refuge all my life you would think that I would know a lot about it. After the tour, I realized that I didn't know much about this wonderful refuge at all.

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, established by congress in 1974, consist of over 111,000 acres of forested wetlands. The refuge was established to protect and restore the biologically important Great Dismal Swamp ecosystem. One of its missions is to provide protected habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.

There is also a lot of American history involving the Great dismal Swamp. George Washington visited the swamp in the mid 1700s and formed the Dismal Swamp Land Company, which proceeded to drain and harvest timber from part of the area. A five-mile ditch on the west side of the current refuge there still bears his name, "The Washington Ditch". Before and during the American Civil War, the Great Dismal Swamp was a hideout for runaway slaves from the surrounding area. Some people believe there were at least a thousand slaves living in the swamp at one point.

Our tour consisted of various stops and short hikes along the way. One of the stops was to show the variety of tree life found throughout the swamp, including this large cypress tree. It supposedly is one of the oldest trees in the swamp estimated at 400 years old. As you can see, its missing its top half. It was speculated that lightning was the culprit.


Here is a beaver dam we cam across along the way. Beavers are abundant here. IMG_0902

In the center of the wetland exist Lake Drummond. Its one of only two natural lakes found here in Virginia. At 3,100 acres, it is the largest. It is open to fishermen and canoers during certain seasons.


Perched up high was a green heron (I believe...).


Go to the link below for a list of birds that were spotted during the festival weekend - its quite an impressive list:

Stay tuned for our next stop. be continued...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Special Guest

Last week I had a special visitor at the feeder - a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I have seen Rose-breasted Grosbeaks before but haven't had the pleasure of hosting one at my feeding station. He seemed to be favoring the safflower seed above anything else.


I was curious to see the breeding range for these birds. The map below (from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) shows the summer, winter and breeding range of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I'm in the migration route here in my part of VA.



..looks like he was just passing through on his way up north. He hung around for a few days before leaving.

Click here to listen to their sound:

Rose-breasted Grosbeak Call


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Saturday, May 24, 2008

PoorMan's Tripod

Here is a cheap and easy do-it-yourself alternative to the classicCamera

tripod. I heard this tip listening to The Tech Guy podcast recently and wanted to write it down so I wouldn't forget it, but at the same time share it with others.

As most know, the purpose of the tripod is to provide maximum strength and stability for the camera when taking photos. Tripods are used often by most photographers in various situations. Many photographers take their tripods with them in the field, but as many of you know, including myself, this can often be a hindrance in more ways than one. So, if you want something that's quick and easy to carry around that doesn't add on extra weight, or as a backup in case your tripod is out of reach or breaks, then this may be your answer.

First, cut a piece of string about double your height in length (example: if your 5 ft tall, cut the string about 10 ft). Take that string and tie it into one large loop. You will now need a screw that will fit into your tripod mount (located on the bottom of your camera). If you don't have an extra one or the one in your existing tripod doesn't pop out, take your camera to the nearest hardware store and buy a screw that fits. It should be a standard size. Now, tie one end of the loop to the screw and then insert the screw into your camera tripod mount on your camera. Now stand inside the loop with both feet on top of the string and pull the camera up into position. Notice that the string has now formed a rigid triangle, and when you adjust the width of your feet, it will also adjust the height of your camera. Using this makeshift tripod will allow you some of the same features that a standard tripod does; like camera shake, especially to the left and right. Now when your ready to take a photo that requires some extra stability just pull this "poor-mans tripod" out of your pocket or camera bag and you'll be set!

I know this is no substitute for a quality tripod, but in a pinch this makeshift tripod is better than nothing, and it requires virtually no extra packing and setup time. Although, you may receive some strange looks from others when using this.

Source: Tip provided by Chris Marquart on The Tech Guy podcast; show #448.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

D. S. Birding Festival - Part I, Bird Banding

BirdFest-logo Last Saturday my family and I attended the Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival, located in Suffolk, Virginia. Activities included guided bird walks, refuge tours, bird banding demonstrations, and more. My 3 year old daughter was especially excited about going to see the bird banding demonstration. All she talked about was getting close to a bird and being able to hold one. So, our first stop that morning was the bird banding station.

The the banding demonstration was located in an area known as the Jericho Ditch Trail. We enjoyed a 1/2 mile hike to it observing various wildlife on the way - this Green Heron.

Butterflies were noticeably active...


The plant life was appealing as well. Along the banks of the path were some beautiful ferns - like the one below:


Some wildflowers were still in bloom.IMG_0885


Our timing couldn't have been better. Just as we arrived at the banding station a bird crossed the path and flew right into one of the nets. It was a Gray Catbird.

IMG_0871 My daughter Morgan was so excited! The workers quickly and carefully removed the bird from the netting and did a thorough examination that included various measurements, weights, age assessment, etc. The demonstrators were employees of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). They explained everything that they were doing and were very patient in answering all our questions. They even allowed Morgan to gently stroke the bird as they held it.


After all the data was collected and the band on, they carefully placed it in Morgan's hand. She was very excited, and a little nervous at the same time! IMG_0875

Once in her hand the catbird quickly took off. Morgan was thrilled. Her purpose for coming was fulfilled!

Next stop, "The Bus Tour" be continued...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?

I came across this interesting article written by Bridget Stutchbury. Bridget is a professor of biology at York University in Toronto. In her article titled “Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?” she explains that a lot of the produce imported into the US from other countries are grown with types and amounts of pesticides that would be illegal to use in the United States. The victims are not just us humans, but mostly our birds. She goes on list examples and ways we can improve the situation. Below is a link to the article: