The trees are alive …Published 10:31pm Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Since about last week, according to Deloras Freeman of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, migratory songbirds have begun awakening lighter sleepers at the break of day.
“It’s not just in the forest,” the refuge’s visitor services specialist said. “Anywhere there is a group of trees or brush, you are going to hear that this time of the year.”
For folks like those who will flock to the refuge next week for the annual birding festival April 24-26, it’s music to the ears.
Technically speaking, the songbirds, Swainson’s Warbler among the most admired, are known as neotropical migratory birds.
They breed in the United States and Canada during our summer, before wintering in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
“The first big waves of them were noticeable early last week,” Freeman said. “They are tiny birds; they will be in loosely-grouped flocks. What’s most noticeable (are) their songs.”
However, the music won’t last much longer. Freeman says the males sing their songs only as they try to attract female to mate with, establish their territory and build a nest.
Once this biological imperative has been taken care of, “They don’t want to bring attention to themselves once they have eggs in their nest,” Freeman said. “Right now, they are bickering over their territory.”
Judging from the number of many people who have registered for the various events and activities, including guided tours, children’s activities, photography workshops and “owl prowls,” this year’s eighth annual festival will be the biggest yet, Freeman said.
“We say that it’s about as big as we can handle right now, but of course, we keep finding ways to make it bigger,” she said.
Registrations have already come from as far away as San Francisco and Connecticut, Freeman added.
“One thing that draws a lot of people is that it’s completely free. A lot of the birding festivals are expensive, (but) because this is federal land, that’s just part of our mission.”
But the Suffolk and Chesapeake tourism offices and the Great Dismal Swamp Coalition, a friends’ group, also support the festival, Freeman said.
In turn, the festival supports the local economy.
“Most people have to stay somewhere,” Freeman said. “We work closely with the Hilton Garden Inn, which I believe has packages, and the (Marriott) SpringHill Suites in Chesapeake,” Freeman added.
One special opportunity for birders is a banding station that will commence with the festival and operate through August at the Jericho entrance.
Between 7 and 11 a.m., licensed volunteers with specialized training capture migratory birds with fine “mist nets,” Freeman said. Birds that already have a leg band have their information recorded, while those without one receive a band. All birds undergo “a little physical” and are sexed, she added.
“They (birders) can get very close,” she said.
For more information on the festival, including the schedule, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/Great_Dismal_Swamp and follow the links.