Swamp tour anything but dismal

Published 10:09 pm Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A group of Palamedes swallowtails gather around a damp spot on the ground during the 2010 butterfly count at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. An upcoming tour will enable visitors to see butterflies and many other kinds of wildlife in the swamp.

A group of Palamedes swallowtails gather around a damp spot on the ground during the 2010 butterfly count at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. An upcoming tour will enable visitors to see butterflies and many other kinds of wildlife in the swamp.

Yet to experience the Great Dismal Swamp, or been there but like to learn more about it? This Saturday represents a prime opportunity to do so, with a narrated bus tour into the wilderness.

The Great Dismal Swamp is home to 200 species of birds, yellow-bellied and spotted turtles, lizards, salamanders, frogs and toads.

And according to Deloras Freeman, visitor services specialist at the national wildlife refuge, with migratory birds still calling the swamp their temporary home, now is a great time to see some wildlife.

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The three-day Great Dismal Swamp National Birding Festival was held late last month, and though the hundreds of birders have left, their feathered friends have yet to take flight.

“Lots of birds are setting up nests now,” Freeman said. “Woodpeckers are very active now.”

Meanwhile, she said, “Butterflies are becoming more abundant every day, and the otter are getting very active.”

The Great Dismal Swamp Safari tours have been running several times a year since about 2004, said Freeman, who led the tours before the city began enlisting the services of a biologist specializing in the swamp’s unique habitat.

In an announcement of the tour, city officials describe the swamp as “the largest intact remnant of a vast habitat that once covered more than one million acres of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.”

“Despite its impressive size and age, the Great Dismal Swamp remains a mystery to most people. Its thick forests protect its wildlife and wards off intruders.”

The four-hour tour fills up quickly, and teaches about “history, lore, vegetation and wildlife,” while participants also enjoy a brief walk to Lake Drummond.

Sunscreen, insect repellent, and comfortable shoes and clothing are recommended. A small snack and beverage is provided.

Departing from the Suffolk Visitor Center at 9:30 a.m. and returning at 1:30 p.m., the tour costs $10 for adults and $8 for seniors ages 60 and over, military and children ages 3 to 12. Additional tours are set for June 1 and 15. Very small children are not recommended for the tour.

The tours are very successful, Freeman said, and folks often have to put their names on a waiting list.

Asked about the chances of seeing wildlife, Freeman replied, “The wildlife is here. I always hate to say you can expect to see a lot, because it’s such a large place. It’s hard to promise that you are going to see a lot.”

For more information about the tours, contact the Suffolk Visitor Center at 514-4130.