Date: 4/8/17 5:17 pm From: Rob Bielawski <robbielawski...> Subject: [Va-bird] 8 Apr 2017 - Great Dismal Swamp & an unexpected Upland Sandpiper Twitch
Over the past few Spring seasons, I always enjoyed reading Bob Ake's Great Dismal Swamp outing write-ups here on the listserve. Since he hasn't been making trips out there this season, I'm sure many others besides me have missed reading up on all the swamp's happenings, including which species have begun to arrive as well as which are about to depart. In the spirit of those reports, I wanted to share some of my own observations from this beautiful Saturday spent out at the swamp. I hope others make the trip soon, as it has surely sprung to life!
First, I arrived at the gate to the Washington Ditch at about 6:50 AM, with the temperature gauge in my car reading a brisk 29 degrees F. Clear skies and overnight winds allowed for the low temperatures, and frost could be seen on many of the fields along White Marsh Road. The gate, which typically opens at 7 AM, was already open upon arrival, so I headed down the gravel road eastward. A couple of *Wild Turkeys* were the first find, in the farm field that abuts the gravel roadway a half mile or so in. While viewing the pair, a *Yellow-throated Warbler* (a personal FOS bird) could be heard singing from high up in a pine, and I pulled over to snap a quick photograph. Reaching the parking lot, it was clear that no one else was around just yet, and I assume the cold morning may have kept some birders indoors, at least til after the sun had risen a bit more. A quick walk on the boardwalk yielded a singing *Hermit Thrush*, several *Ovenbirds *and a *Hooded Warbler* (another FOS) that was calling from a perch and took a few minutes for me to put eyes on. *Ruby-crowned Kinglets *were singing up a storm this morning, and like the Hermit Thrush, it was refreshing to hear them before they inevitably depart the area in the next few weeks. Surprisingly absent was the sound of *Winter Wrens* that I had expected, but never found. When I reached the Washington Ditch, I headed east, en route to the junction with Lynn Ditch roughly a mile or so away. Another pair of *Wild Turkeys *could be seen a at max 10x42 binocular range, but I never got much closer as they kept moving away. Foxes could be heard in the distance off to the south through the swamp, though they never came close enough to be seen. *Wood Ducks*, as is customary here, burst out of the ditch at several locations, trying their best to give me a heart attack, but keeping me on my toes all the same. *Swainson's Warblers, *most people's reason for visiting the swamp,* have not yet arrived,* though by next weekend that should change, as the past few years they've been pretty reliably posted along the trail by the 15th of April. *Prothonotary Warblers* on the other hand, have already set up along the ditch every hundred yards or so. Several other Hooded Warblers were heard as well, and *Common Yellowthroats* were abundant, though their song dialect caught me off guard the first few times I heard it (quite a bit different than the wichity-wichity-wichity I heard here on the immediate coast). Near the second bench, a pair of *Louisiana Waterthrush *were observed right next to the water, another FOS bird for me though I'm sure they've been at this site for a couple of weeks or more by now. When I reached the Lynn Ditch junction I checked in all directions for running turkeys, but everything was still so I headed back west. The highlight of the return trip came about midway back when I glanced at the ditch next to me, and saw a line of bubbles breaching the surface. I stopped and watched, and sure enough, a *River Otter* came popping up, but immediately hissed and dove back under. Pretty darn cool to see one so close, and it clearly was caught off guard by my presence.
After arriving back to my car just after 9 AM, I input my eBird checklist for the outing (http://ebird.org/ebird/atlasva/view/checklist/S35779762) and noticed a had an alert of an *Upland Sandpiper *found by Matt Anthony & Nick Newberry in Franklin. With that location only being a half hour or so away, I headed straight there instead of hitting the Jericho Ditch as I had planned. Upon arrival at the Pretlow Industrial Park, a quick scan of the field where the bird had been spotted didn't yield anything aside of some swallows (*Barn & Tree*) and starlings. Matt & Nick pulled up to help me get on the bird, and in doing so, a shorebird lifted out of the grass and disappeared quickly over Route 58 to the south. I thought for sure I'd missed my shot at the bird, though Nick looked up the map and noticed a farmfield was situated south of the road, so we quickly made plans to head that way and search for the bird. Walking briskly back to the cars, Matt shouted that the bird was right in front of us. Sure enough, the Upland was standing on the opposite side of our vehicles, about a hundred feet away at the edge of a ditch filled with cattails! Incredible. After having felt sure I'd lost the bird, the excitement of seeing it up close felt nothing short of amazing. I snapped a few quick photographs ( http://ebird.org/ebird/atlasva/view/checklist/S35781119) while Nick set his scope up on the bird. As we moved a bit further East along the road to get the sun behind us, the bird lifted off, flew north a couple hundred feet and then set down behind a small rise in the field, obscured from further view. Perhaps it is still out there now. After a quick jaunt over in to Southampton County with Matt & Nick to tick some county birds ( http://ebird.org/ebird/atlasva/view/checklist/S35781373), I headed back to Dismal to carry on my original plan.
About 11 AM, I reached the Jericho Lane parking area, to find only 1 other vehicle there, which quickly departed, leaving me yet again to myself at the swamp. The breeze had kicked up considerably, but it was still a beautiful day out so I decided to walk the entirety of the Hudnell Ditch trail. Immediately, *Prairie Warblers *could be heard singing. In total I had 24 of them along the trail. In the next week, that number should keep rising as I've had over 50 along this ditch before. *Gray Catbirds *were extremely abundant as well, and if I could get a true count of them all hiding in the scrub, there's no telling just how many there could be. A single *Wild Turkey* was seen after the first bend, running down the two-track gravel trail about a half mile away. Also, a shadowy shape moved onto the trail, and in raising my binoculars up to my eyes I quickly realized it was a *Bobcat! *This was only the second I have seen at the swamp (and only my 4th ever, with 2 others at Back Bay NWR last year). Unfortunately, it moved across the trail before I could focus my camera, though at the distance, the photographs wouldn't have been any more than proof shots anyway. *White-eyed Vireos* were calling along the later half of the trail, as were many *Common Yellowthroats *and a few *Prothonotary Warblers. *A small group of *Cedar Waxwings *crossed the trail and landed high up in a pine trail. Full checklist can be found here: http://ebird.org/ebird/atlasva/view/checklist/S35787093
Non-bird Species Observed: 1 Bobcat, 1 River Otter, Zebra Swallowtails, Pearl Crescents, Red Admirals, Palamedes Swallowtails, Tiger Swallowtails, half a dozen Black Racers including at least one pair mating, several Spotted Turtles and plenty of Yellow-bellied Sliders!
Overall, I finished the day with 10 warbler species, easily the most I've had so far in a day this year. 8 new year birds was also a wonderful surprise, and I never thought Upland Sandpiper would have been one of them, so thanks to Matt & Nick for that!