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."


No comments:

Post a Comment

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 countr...