Birding festival another success

Published 8:35 pm Monday, May 14, 2012

This year’s birding festival at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge appeared to be a success.

Birders from all over the eastern United States descended upon the swamp, much of which lies in Suffolk, hoping to get a glimpse of hard-to-spot birds as they migrate to or through the swamp. The refuge provides an ideal place for birds to nest and raise their young because it is so spread out, refuge official Deloras Freeman told me last week. It also is a nice little rest stop on the migration pattern for many birds.

As many as 100 species of birds are nesting in or migrating through the swamp this time of year, Freeman said. It makes the birding festival an excellent idea that encourages eco-tourism, provides opportunities for family activities and, best of all for the city’s taxpayers, brings money into Suffolk’s tax coffers that would otherwise have to be filled by residents.

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I’m no National Audubon Society member, but even I enjoyed a couple hours at the swamp on Saturday, talking to birders and watching how they do things. During the field portion of a photography workshop, I got to talk to birders who were spotting some of their favorite species, such as a summer tanager.

A list of species spotted was reaching the dozens by the end of Saturday.

Another of my favorite activities at the birding festival is always watching children pick apart owl pellets, which are the regurgitated remains — essentially bones and fur — of small animals owls have eaten. Children dissecting the pellets pick away all the fur and attempt to make a full skeleton of a mouse, mole or whatever other rodent the bird has eaten.

I had a bit of my own birding festival on Sunday, when I visited my grandmother and we enjoyed the show at her window bird feeder that I got her for Christmas. We saw mostly Carolina chickadees, which banged the safflower seeds against the plastic feeder in an attempt to open them. My dad and I then checked on the robin’s nest in a bush at my parents’ house, but all the babies were gone and only the nest remained.

It’s good to learn about nature from time to time. Now that warm weather is here to stay, make some plans to get outside this spring and summer. It will be well worth it.