After spotting the elusive Swainson’s warbler earlier, Eve Gaige and Janet Paisley, friends from the Monticello Bird Club, look out for other interesting birds Saturday, during an annual birding festival at the Great Dismal Swamp. (MATTHEW A. WARD/SUFFOLK NEWS-HERALD)
After spotting the elusive Swainson’s warbler earlier, Eve Gaige and Janet Paisley, friends from the Monticello Bird Club, look out for other interesting birds Saturday, during an annual birding festival at the Great Dismal Swamp. (MATTHEW A. WARD/SUFFOLK NEWS-HERALD)

Warblers wow birders

Published 12:26am Sunday, April 27, 2014

Two friends from Charlottesville, Eve Gaige and Janet Paisley, visited the Great Dismal Swamp the past three days to see something rare and special — a Swainson’s warbler.

When it comes to the songbirds that have been winging their way to the Suffolk wilderness during recent weeks, the Swainson’s is arguably the most ardently admired.

The Charlottesville visitors were in town for the swamp’s annual birding festival, which has involved guided walks, workshops and various other activities. Saturday was its third and final day.

The Swainson is elusive, Gaige said, “and this is one of the few places you can see it.”

The friends looked for the bird all day Friday. They heard it singing quite a bit, but they never saw one until Saturday.

“We had to be patient and keep looking,” Gaige said.

She and Paisley arrived Saturday at 7 a.m. and searched fruitlessly for about half an hour. Later in the morning, Gaige said, “It decided to make an appearance.”

Sitting on a sapling about 20 feet away, the Swainson’s warbler “sang out in the open, where it wasn’t hidden,” Paisley said. “It was a very exciting moment. We made sure everyone in the group saw it.”

Gaige said, “We were very concerned that every person got to see the bird. It’s a cooperative. Birders respect each other.”

Deloras Freeman, visitor services specialist at the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge, said many of those who saw the bird were finally able to add it to their “life list” — a birder’s tally of species they’ve spotted throughout their lives.

Though activities were shut down early Friday for a strong storm, the guided tours this year attracted twice as many participants as usual, according to Freeman. “It think we had 40-something people for the (Saturday) morning walk at Washington Ditch, and another 47 at Jericho Ditch.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Don Schwab listed the prothonotary warbler, worm-eating warbler and summer tanager among some of the other elusive species spotted by birders at this year’s festival.

“We average around 60 species, which is good,” he said.

Species spotted were added to a work-in-progress list outside the refuge headquarters building, with “Cheeseburger warbler” and “The Crippled warbler” proving birders have a sense of humor or had some subversives secreted in their ranks.

The annual meeting of the Virginia Society of Ornithology was held at the swamp in concert with the birding festival. About 80 society members attended, Paisley said.

“We are also learning about nature, history and the swamp, and it’s really one of the gems of the commonwealth of Virginia,” she said.

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