Birding festival flies in today

Published 6:56 pm Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Children paint birdhouses at an activity tent during last year’s Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival.

Bird enthusiasts will come from far and wide this week to see the wonders of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge is hosting its fifth annual Birding Festival. The annual pilgrimage to see some of the country’s most rarely-spotted and remarkable bird species lasts today through Saturday.

“It’s such a great place to go birding because we have so many species of warblers that are either passing through here or nesting here for the summer,” said Deloras Freeman, who works at the refuge.

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The festival is strategically scheduled to fall during the height of the area’s songbird migration. Bird lovers can catch a peep of Swainson’s warbler and Wayne’s warbler, two of the most secretive and least observed of all North American birds.

More than 220 species of birds make the swamp their home, at least temporarily, at this time of year.

“This is an available site for them to nest or to feed if they’re still going to migrate further north,” Freeman said. “It’s just so large. There’s plenty of room for them to spread out, so there’s not territorial problems.”

The swamp began holding a birding festival to provide organized activities, tours and workshops for the birders who are coming to the swamp anyway, Freeman said.

“A lot of times they were just coming to the trails and we as staff never had any contact with them,” Freeman said.

The first year, about 150 people registered for the events. Last year, more than 550 came.

“Each year, it has grown,” Freeman said.

This weekend’s events are providing opportunities for beginners to get acquainted with the swamp and the art of bird watching and for experts to see their favorite birds.

Registration is required for some of the events, but all of them are free.

Four different workshops will be offered throughout the weekend. Mike Brown will present a workshop on photographing nature. Stacey Sutton will discuss the role the Great Dismal Swamp played in the Underground Railroad that shepherded thousands of slaves to freedom in the South’s antebellum years. Chris Lowie, the refuge manager, will discuss how last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has affected the migratory patterns of birds. And Donna Burnett will present on backyard bird watching and feeder care.

Other events throughout the weekend include bird-banding demonstrations, guided bird walks, bus tours to Lake Drummond and other swamp locations, owl prowls, a learning tent on Saturday. Entertainment will include musician bobby Plough.

Freeman said she has talked to people from Canada, New York and South Carolina who are coming to Suffolk specifically for the birding festival.

For more information on the festival, call 986-3705. For a full schedule, visit