It is hard to get a good picture of a bird at The Dismal Swamp. The place is full of birds and bird song right now, as spring migration is in full swing. The place is also full of bird watchers! The Dismal Swamp is known nationally as a prime birding place, and people come from all over Virginia and other states to add different bird species to their “life lists” and their “year lists.”

But if you’re going to bird at The Swamp, you must learn the songs of the different birds, because you will hear far more birds than you will see. The Swamp is so dense with trees, swamps, shrubs and other foliage that most birds remain well hidden from view. I was very lucky to get the photo (above) of the White-eyed Vireo.

Bird watchers adding birds to their lists learn the birds’ songs before they ever go out into the field, and are able to recognize and “count” far more birds by voice than by sight. There are plenty of excellent tapes and CDs available on the market to help one learn bird songs; some include narrators giving helpful instruction to help you to distinguish one song from another. My favorites have always been the Peterson “Birding by Ear” and “More Birding by Ear” sets (Eastern editions); these really helped me when I moved to the east coast.

The birds are definitely there now to listen to, but since I can’t get many pictures, I will show you some of the other life that I’ve seen this month in The Swamp that’s easier to photograph!


I’ve indentified three different kinds of turtles this spring at The Swamp. The photo above is of a Yellow-bellied Slider; below are an Eastern Painted Turtle (note the red stripes on the legs; this is diagnostic), and a Spotted Turtle. This one is lightly spotted; some are much more striking.

As you know, I love getting a good picture of a dragonfly! This one is called a Painted Skimmer. Their bright gold coloring is absolutely striking against the green darkness of The Swamp.

And I can’t resist sharing one more picture of a Harlequin Darner, up close and personal. This is still by far the most common dragonfly in The Swamp right now.

Of the butterflies, the large swallowtails are the ones that most people notice. They are showy, colorful, and become active once temperatures reach about 70 degrees. One of everybody’s favorites is the gorgeous Zebra Swallowtail. They lay their eggs on the leaves of the Pawpaw tree, which is the sole food source of the caterpillar, and there are plenty of those in The Swamp.

Palamedes Swallowtails (below) are very common now, and will continue to be throughout the summer. Their main host plants are Red Bay and Sweet Bay Magnolia, which are also plentiful in The Swamp. I’ve planted these plants in my own yard to attract them, and have successfully raised their caterpillars.

Less showy is the Carolina Satyr, which is numerous now. This is a butterfly that you would never notice unless you were looking for it; they’re a small, brownish, plain-looking butterfly that stays close to the ground, but take a look at it up close; spectacular!

I end this entry with the humble Dung Beetle; actually it’s also called the Tumblebug or the Scarab Beetle. Much nicer names, so I think I’ll use Tumblebug. If you live somewhere near plentiful supplies of dung, you’ve probably seen thousand of these, but this weekend was my first opportunity to see them at work, rolling this huge ball of manure (huge compared to their own size).

It was fascinating to watch! These guys can roll up to 50 times their weight. I learned that female adults lay a single egg in each ball, then bury the ball so the egg can incubate. When the larva emerges from its egg, it eats its dung abode. The male helps the female in this whole process, and this is the only known case among insects where the male aids in providing for the young.

If you’re like me and want to put a name to everything, you need a field guide or other picture books to refer to, and the library is the place to start. Many of the animal books are in the Children’s Library, but don’t let that dissuade you from checking them out; children’s books are usually more visual, with more pictures, and provide good basic information that’s easy to grasp.

Next week I’m off to the mountains for a few days, and I hope I come back with some more photos to share with you!

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One thought on “More Critters from the Great Dismal Swamp

  1. I knew your pictures were amazing however I had no idea how difficult they were to take. My husband and I explored the swamp this weekend. Of course there were hundreds of dragonflies. I tried to get a good picture of at least one. No such luck. All was not lost, I did get a picture of a much slower animal a “turtle.” Please keep posting your pictures.

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