Saturday, February 25, 2017

The (Swamp) Path Less Taken?

I had Friday off, and I wanted to scout out one more hike in the Great Dismal Swamp.  I am leading a hike there next weekend, and there was one more route in the northwest part of the swamp

that I could check out.  It must be the path less taken, because I saw not a soul during the entire 9.7 mile hike.  I didn't see any spectacular wildlife, but there were lots of turtles, and I tabulated 14 species of bird on eBird (wood duck, great blue heron, turkey vulture, red-shouldered hawk, mourning dove, barred owl, red-bellied woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, blue jay, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, American robin, gray catbird, and eastern towhee).

Here is the track, essentially a big rectangle with an out and back portion.  I hiked the rectangle counter-clockwise, starting and ending at the Jericho Ditch parking area (red circle).  The first leg of the rectangle, and the out and back portion, is the Hudnell Ditch Trail.  The short leg going north is the New Ditch Trail, and the top of the rectangle heading west is the Williamson Ditch Trail.  The final short leg, heading south, is the Jericho Ditch Trail.

I've marked the distances of each leg.  The out and back portion was actually 1.65 miles but I rounded up.  At that point, the trail is no longer maintained, and it becomes thick with vegetation.  Can you spell "ticks?"  So I turned back.  You could do a hike of just over six miles by just walking the rectangle.

Hiking in the Great Dismal Swamp is always fascinating.  But for this route, there is almost always thick vegetation between the pathway and the water that lines both sides of the track.  So you usually can't see the water.  You can hear turtles, ducks, and other wildlife diving into the water or taking flight as you walk along, but you can't see them (usually).  So that was one thing I didn't like about this hike.

One of the first things that I saw was these four turtles, yellow bellied sliders or red cooters, I think, catching rays on this very spring-like February day.

Speaking of spring, here is one more sign.  Spring has come very early to these parts of Virginia.  It is actually kind of crazy.  We have had 8 days this month in Richmond where the temperatures have gotten above 70, which is unheard of.

On each side of the pathway is a strip of water, but at least in this part of the swamp, the vegetation is so thick that you can hardly ever see it.

Along the way, I saw some butterflies, like this question mark, and this tiny hairstreak:

Remember that 1.65 mile out-and-back spur?  Here is what the trail looks like as you walk along:

and here is what the trail looks like at the turn-around point.

I reversed course and got back to the southeast corner of the rectangle, and had a lunch break.  While there, I spotted a log in the water with six turtles on it, and crept up for a photo.  All of them plopped into the water except this one brave one.  I am having trouble identifying him:

Another creature I found was this salamander, which I think is a southern dusky salamander.  I found a total of three salamanders on the hike.

When I got to the junction of the Williamson Ditch and Jericho Lane trails, with less than a mile to go, I got a surprise.  The trail was totally cut out.  At first I thought I would have to wade through the muddy ditch, but there was one dry area, so I slide down, walked across, and clambered up the other side.

Beats wading across something like this, eh?

This is the first hike (out of five total) that I've done in the Great Dismal Swamp where I didn't see at least one of these - otter, bobcat, or black bear - although I did see lots of bear and coyote scat.  But I still saw plenty of wildlife, and enjoyed a gorgeous spring day well away from the office.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Scouting the Swamp

I want to lead another hike into the Great Dismal Swamp, and so my first hike of 2017 was a scouting trip to find a good route.  Alas, the hike I took is not one I would lead a group on.  After 3.6 miles, the route was flooded and overgrown, and I turned back.  But I still had a good day outside, and even saw an otter early in the hike.

The last time I was here, I started the hike from the same point.  But two months ago, I was hiking on Lynn Ditch, and this time I went down Jericho Ditch.  Here is a map showing the location, in the Northwest part of the Swamp.

And this shows my track along Jericho Ditch, starting and returning to the blue arrow.  If you venture off the path, you are going to get soaked, tied up in dense vegetation, and possibly lost.  I did not venture off the path.

My hike was not very eventful, but it was good to be outside.  I did see the otter, and a couple of birds, and lots of bear scat.  I walked down the pathway, encountered the flooded area, and gave up and turned back.  I was walking about 3 hours, or maybe a bit less.  Most of the time, the path looks like this, with water on each side.

Less than a mile into the hike was this little structure, which reminded me of a bus stop. I wonder if it were some kind of bird banding station?  There is a big birding festival here in April.  I saw the otter very close to this point.

At my turnaround point was this old abandoned fire tower.

At that point was a large group of turkey vultures.

There was bear scat like this all along the trail.  Clearly, bears were not hibernating in this part of the world.  Unlike my last trip here, I didn't see a bear.

I've ruled out taking a group on this hike.  It was too short.  But I do have another area to scout out on my next foray in this area, so we will see what that is like soon enough.  It sure felt good to be out in the woods again.