Friday, October 15, 2021

The Lowdown of the Lowcountry

On Wednesday, we moved from a very overcast and wet Southeastern Virginia to a sunny southeastern North Carolina.  We reached the Low country, set up camp and went to look around.  I had spent three days trying to get a photo of a red-cockaded woodpecker up in Virginia and all we found were mushrooms, and it was nice to get out of the darkness and into the light.  We did see a woodpecker, never got the camera on it...story of my life some times.

There were lots of butterflies still flying around.  

long-tailed skipper

salt marsh skipper (lifer)

Ocola skipper (lifer)

Gulf Fritillary always a colorful favorite
Huntington Beach State park has some good boardwalks for birding and I finally got into some decent birding.  They say this park is one of the best birding sites in South Carolina.  It was hot and crowded, and at low tide, only a couple of sandpipers were flying around, but I saw a few birds.

black throated blue warbler

Clapper rail

Belted kingfisher

Tricolored heron
seaside sparrow
We went across the street to the Brookgreen Garden, another part of the Archer and Anna Huntington estate, set up to feature his wife Anna's sculpture.  Despite throwing his enormous wealth around (he was the son of one of the wealthiest Americans, a railroad tycoon, one of California's big four) getting exhibitions and literally buying museums, Anna was a remarkable sculptor, many should just come here to see her work.
We walked the huge garden and saw many of hers and others sculptors.

After all of the walking around, I sat down to take a quick nap. 

Some other views:

 A Coastal plains cooter

So that is a little taste of what is going on around here.  This is a nice part of the Carolinas and we have a few more days here.  We anticipate finding more neat spots and cool critters.  We have a swamp, a winery, and a pelegic/ fishing trip on the schedule....more on that later.


Saturday, October 9, 2021

A Great and Dismal Swamp

My wife and I have some rules of travelling.  One important one, is that we only visit one battlefield maximum per trip.  After a Bornholm, Denmark trip in which in an attempt to unlock the secrets of hidden Templar treasure, we visited all of the Templar churches of that island in the Baltic.  Now, one castle or church per trip has been added to the rulebook for harmonious travel (make it a good one, hun!).  Luckily, birding has had no restrictions, (yet) but again, I need to remember that I cannot over do it, or what happened on Bornholm, will happen again.  Bornholm is not one of those places to say "what happened in Bornholm stays in Bornholm."  It set a seriously dangerous precedent.

So, after Cowpens, and Biltmore (a "castle," per Silja), as we drove up and into Virginia, places like Petersburg, Williamsburg, famous Civil and Revolutionary War sites are not on the menu.  So, what is a guy to do?  

Oddly, (to some) a place I have seen on a map that I always wanted to visit has been the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia...because with a name like has GOT to be good.  I am reminded of an old Saturday Night Live skit where they parodied the Smuckers slogan, with a "name like Smuckers, it has got to be good jam."  The classic SNL players invented all sorts of vile names for jams using this theme.  I seem to recall Dan Ackroyd's, "With a name like painful rectal itch, it has really got to be good jam."  John Belushi added the name of his jam, "Hundreds of nuns and orphans..." when asked by one of them why would that be so bad...he replied, "they were all eaten by rats!"  Jane Curtain, Ackroyd, and Gilda Radner, all mumbled..."Good jam, really good jam."  So a great dismal swamp, has to be a good place.

So off we went to visit, the Great and Dismal Swamp of Virginia.

The place was named by Drummond, an early Governor of Virginia but it took George Washington to see the potential to the area.  He among others formed the Dismal Swamp Canal Company, which was the first canal built and operated in America and connected the waters of the Chesapeake to the Albemarle Sound, he even approved the government paying for it.  At the state line between Virginia and North Carolina, the Dismal Swamp Hotel was built, which had the state line go right through the salon.  It became a popular place for duels, lover's trysts, gambling, and all sorts of nefarious activity as whatever illegal or immoral happened, it would happen in one state and you would stay in the other.  Many would simply move the poker game to the other side of the room if authorities arrived.  The hotel is now long gone.  It would have been cool to see.  The Civil War battle of South Mills was fought over control in 1862.  It is still part of the Intercostal Waterway.

The swamp itself has been exploited and severely abused over the years.  The land eventually became owned by the Camp family business, Camp Manufacturing of Franklin, Virginia.  Six brothers bought a sawmill in 1887, and created the family motto, "Can't is not in the Camp vocabulary."  The area prospered and then during WWI, the company the community boomed.  The next generation of the colorful Camp family converted the company to pulp and paper production in the Thirties, mostly paper bags and largely deforested the area and the swamp.  In 1956, the company merged with the larger Union Bag Corporation, which after a transition with the cumbersome name on the 1956 stock certificate below, became the Union Camp Corporation.

With the swamp unable to provide any more profit to the company, Union Camp donated the land 43,000 acres to the government in 1973 and it became the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in August 1974 by the Dismal Swamp Act.  A law passed in the middle of the Watergate Hearings, it was one of the first items signed by new President Gerald Ford, after taking over when Nixon resigned.

The center of the Dismal Swamp is Lake Drummond, a bit of an oddity and one of only two natural lakes in the state of Virginia and created by a meteorite impact recently enough to for Native Americans to have a legend about the creation via a "flaming thunderbird landing in the swamp."  It has neither an inlet nor an outlet.
Lake Drummond

An update of our travels so far....

I had no idea of what to expect in terms of birdlife, but to be fair, it was ..."Dismal."

The somewhat pathetic list, 
5 wood ducks
3 Black vultures
1 Great blue heron
1 pileated woodpecker (heard only)
2 Red bellied woodpeckers (heard only)
a tufted titmouse
2 American crows and a sparrow that was never identified.

Drummond Lake was totally devoid of birdlife, no gulls, no terns, no cormorants, and no ducks, just nothing.  I did see I guy come with two kayaks....but we left before he put them on the lake, if he even did.  

But, we did find butterflies, including two lifers   

Great purple hairstreak, a lifer and a really neat looking bug

Yehl skipper, another lifer

Sleepy Orange (winter form)

                                         Twin spot skipper

Eastern painted turtles, the most common critter on the "wildlife drive"

So that was that, as they say, "Been there, done that..."  Would I recommend it for your travel itinerary, I don't know, at least the mosquitoes weren't too bad.  As Dismal places go, it wasn't so bad....  but will I go again.......?   You never know where a rare bird report might take you.  Never say "never."


Thursday, October 7, 2021

Operation Ostrich

We were planning on visiting Silja's, my wife's, cousin, his wife, and her aunt in Sanford, North Carolina on our way from Chesnee, South Carolina to the Dismal Swamp of Southeastern Virginia.  We were last out here during my big year in 2016, stopping by after Hatteras pelagics.  I have not seen Silja's aunt Mary Ann in a decade.  I looked at some ideas and then on Harvest Host, a site for more intriguing camping options, I saw the Misty Morning Ranch near Robbins NC.  It was an Ostrich Farm.  When the cousins heard we were camping at an Ostrich farm, they volunteered to drive over to see us.  I guess we were more interesting then their backyard in the pines.  How often do you get to have a picnic on the side of a road at an Ostrich farm?

A quick review of how we got here...this is day 12 of our 2021 epic RV tour

So, we pulled into the farm on the outskirts of the little town and set up shop right next to "Ed," one of the male ostriches.  Ed was an interesting neighbor and provided something to watch while we caught up old family stories and I "slaved" on the BBQ.

I have seen wild ostriches in Africa but I have never heard one, the deep almost frog like sound the male woke me up with this morning was a highlight of the day.  His little dance was also good for amusement many times. 


They even entertained the kids, Silja's cousin's two grandsons.

They have well over 100 birds here and they are mostly a meat and leather operation.  The family that runs this moved here from California a few years ago looking for cheaper land, and got into ostriches of all things.

After the tour of the operation, saw the hoard of chicks, we petted the farm cats, saw two pot-belly pigs that had just been dropped off. We bought some ostrich meat for later, and we got to camp for free for the evening.  I am not sure on a cost benefit model if the prices on the sustainable ostrich meat was worth the night of camping, but well, it was something to do.

Anyhow, as the trip turns more into birding, this was a bird that won't count for anything, but well, it was interesting


Tuesday, October 5, 2021


Well, the report from South Carolina and our RV trip continues.  We did the tourist things, we drove up to Asheville and saw the Biltmore, George Washington Vanderbilt's impressive mansion, brother of CNN Anderson Cooper's Great Grandfather.  This is the largest privately owned house in America.  It was over the top, in a kind of Mad king Ludwig of Bavaria sort of way, but with more planning.  Just imagining the costs of keeping that house is astounding.  What that generation of Vanderbilts were thinking between this, The Breakers in Newport, or the Marble House or the Petit Chateau in NYC, just makes me scratch my head.  It cost the equivalent of 200 million to build this one.  They funded this for a decade by selling 83,000 acres in the Thirties with the old legacy money largely spent to the US Government to start the National Forest here in the Smoky Mountains.  The builder, died in his 50s from an appendicitis and really never even enjoyed this.  Vanderbilt was scheduled to go on the "Titanic" but demurred and sailed on the "Olympic" sending a servant with his luggage in 1912, who drowned.  His nephew died on the "Lusitania" when it was torpedoed in 1915.   

The indoor pool was cool

In my opinion, Olmstead, who laid out the gardens made a mistake in putting them where they can't be seen from the house.  In 2021, they had butterflies, so I guess that is okay.  The waiting line was long, and it was $160 to tour it, with proceeds going to the Vanderbilt heirs, but, I would recommend it

Clouded Skipper, a lifer

Dusted skipper

Cloudless Sulphur 

Fiery skipper, 

We drove a few miles to walk along the Cowpens National Battlefield, where much maligned British Colonel Tarleton's army was largely destroyed and set the stage for Cornwallis to chase Generals Morgan and Greene all the way to Yorktown, Virginia to his surrender the end of the Revolutionary War.  The movie "Patriot" was based largely around here, Mel Gibson played Francis Marion who led the local resistance, the local rebel leader, nicknamed the Swamp Fox was the bane of Tarleton.  They really took two battles and wove them together in a fictional movie, that seems real, we did win the battle.  Mel's big speech was sort of correct, except it was Morgan who gave it, well, sort of gave it.
History is Hollywood, correct?  Morgan was a master tactician, and in here at the Cowpens, Tarleton wandered into a trap after overplaying the event.  I doubt he was as much of an asshole as the man who played him in the movie, but who knows?   

It is hard to believe more battles of the Revolutionary War were fought in South Carolina than any other state.  A trivia question for later.

We went up in the Mountains

We went to Devil's Kitchen at Caesars Head State Park, Legend and local lore, however, say that early Scottish-Irish immigrants who made their own alcohol allowed the Devil to make his own and one drop split the rocks.  Must have been some strong stuff.

We walked over Poinsett Bridge, the oldest Bridge in the state made in 1820, and by the same guy that made the Washington Monument.  It is also hard thinking Model T's bounced up this road between Asheville and Greenville 100 years ago, and then this bridge was 100 years old. 

We went to Spartanburg, and saw the monuments to Daniel Morgan, Revolutionary War hero who if not for his exploits, we'd be British citizens.  Few know his great story. 

Fewer still know about Chaser, a border collie who knew 1000 words and the research dog at Wofford who amazed, considered the smartest dog of all time.  Then we ate Mexican food after looking at an Indie book store.


We skipped the huge Peachoid (water tower) in Gaffney, and more and more battlefields. We skipped the corn maze but not the ice cream, which as it turned out was filled with MSG, (sorry Silja). Tomorrow, we head off to North Carolina, on our way to Virginia, with cousins, ostriches, and red-cockaded woodpeckers are in our future, rain is expected, so we will see what we see and how it goes.  

The only RV issue is a cracked sewage hose, but nothing the rain didn't clear up for us.


Golden dreams and memories

  Today brings me to the north suburbs of Chicago.  Although not for a bird even though a lifer bird had been flying tantalizingly close to ...