Tag Archives: Wildlife Refuge

Touring the Refuges (Wildlife)

Needing a break from the … everything … and having our planned Hawaii trip postponed thanks to raging COVID, we decided to fulfill one of my long-time goals – visiting the wonderfully named Great Dismal Swamp – and see a few of the many other wildlife refuges in the general neighborhood of the GDS. Virginia Beach would be our base of operations.

Note: if you believe we’re still in the midst of a pandemic (hint: we absolutely are), don’t go to Virginia Beach, Norfolk or anywhere in the vicinity. Almost no one wears a mask in any situation. Also, the Hilton Hotel, and likely others in the area, was having major staffing issues with an apparent inability to fulfill many commitments (they did reduce our bill). On the other hand, do visit Katie’s 33rd Street Café on the boardwalk for breakfast. Outstanding.

Here is breakfast at Katie’s and the outdoor seating area early on a Sunday:

Eastern Shore of Virginia Wildlife Refuge

Visited on the way down, a fortunate decision since there was relatively little to see. This refuge comprises 1,127-acres in Northampton County at the southern end of the Eastern Shore and near the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. You can skip it without missing much.

Great Dismal Swamp

As stated above, I have wanted to visit this place for years. Much of the Swamp is actually in North Carolina. Back in 2008 an unplanned fire started in the GDS as a result of logging operations and burned 4,884 acres over 121 days. Another fire was started in some of the remains in 2011. That fire covered more than 2,000 acres. We happened to be driving down I-95 at the time and recall that the road was engulfed in chocking acrid smoke for many miles. https://www.fws.gov/fire/news/va/southone_final.shtml

The Great Dismal Swamp is well-named. While there are some boardwalks to permit easy access to some of the interior, the view into the Swamp is imposing. The vegetation, alive and dead, appears to the eye as a tangled impenetrable web of many dead plants. Lots of vines and eerie-looking live things.

One of the most interesting elements of GDS is Lake Drummond, reachable on a hard-pack 6-mile road, a slow but surprisingly easy drive. Lake Drummond is unusual for several reasons. It is underlain by peat, giving the water a spooky dark look. When we were there, there was nary a ripple on the surface.

Birdsong Peanuts

After leaving the Swamp, we were startled to see a large “factory” in this place (Suffolk) and stopped briefly for a look. It was in fact a “shelling” facility. The explanation from the company:

Birdsong buys carefully selected peanuts directly from the farmers’ fields. They are then cleaned, shelled, sized and shipped in truckload lots to manufacturers who turn them into many popular food items, from peanut butter to peanut M&M’s. If you eat products made from American peanuts, chances are you’ve consumed peanuts from Birdsong.

Birdsong serves our customers from six shelling plants strategically located throughout the peanut growing area. The plants are supported by over 85 buying points and enough warehouses to store 2.4 billion pounds of Farmers Stock in the shell. We also have enough cold storage, usually ranging from 38° to 42°F, to keep 250 million pounds of shelled peanuts in a controlled environment for our manufacturer customers. [https://www.birdsongpeanuts.com/locations]

Imagine that: 2.4 billion pounds of peanuts.

Back Bay & False Cape

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established on June 6, 1938 as a 4,589-acre refuge to provide feeding and resting habitat for migratory birds. It is a critical segment in the Atlantic Flyway. As the metropolitan area of Virginia Beach began to grow in the 1980’s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pursued a land acquisition program to double the size of Back Bay NWR [to over 9,250 acres] in order to protect the watershed from harmful development.

Back Bay NWR includes a thin strip of barrier island coastline typical of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as upland areas on the west bank of Back Bay. Habitats include beach, dunes, woodlands, agricultural fields, and emergent freshwater marshes. The majority of refuge marshes are on islands within the waters of Back Bay.

Thousands of tundra swans, snow and Canada geese and a large variety of ducks visit the refuge during the fall/winter migration. Refuge waterfowl populations usually peak during December and January. [we missed this]

False Cape State Park, comprised of 3,844 acres, sits between Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, The Park is one of the last remaining undeveloped areas along the Atlantic coast.

False Cape is unusual in that the park is accessible only by foot, bicycle, tram or boat. Public vehicular access is not allowed at any time.

False Cape features guided kayak trips, primitive camping, interpretive programs, hiking and biking trails, and 6 miles of pristine Atlantic Ocean beach.

The beach extends all the way to North Carolina.

The park operates a tram that leaves from the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge from April 1 through October 31. The tram runs through the Park’s Barbour Hill area and Wash Woods historic site. Most of the photos that follow were taken from the tram.

First Landing

First Landing is also a Virginia State Park consisting of 2,888 acres. https://bit.ly/3r8zvNg

The Park’s name derives from its remarkable history:

The park is where English colonists first landed in 1607. Native American canoes, Colonial settlers, 20th-century schooners and modern cargo ships have navigated the park’s waterways. Its cypress swamps were a source of fresh water for merchant mariners, pirates and military ships during the War of 1812. Legend has it that Blackbeard hid in the Narrows area of the park, and interior waterways were used by Union and Confederate patrols during the Civil War. Built in part by an all African-American Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933-1940, the park is a National Natural Landmark and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

We were surprised that First Landing is Virginia’s most-visited state park, partly because it’s within the boundary of urban Virginia Beach. Despite the ease of access, the park sports 20 miles of trails and 1.5 miles of Chesapeake Bay beach frontage. It includes bald cypress swamps, lagoons and maritime forest, as well as rare plants and wildlife. It even offers cabins and yurts for overnights.

The Park website has this note:

The park is located beside a military training center that operates year-round in any weather at any time of day or night. Park guests may experience unusual sights and loudness. Nighttime training may last even beyond midnight. The activities pose no risk to park guests.

We did not notice this while at the Park, but it was different story in Virginia Beach proper. More on that shortly.

Norfolk Botanical Garden

The last major stop on our tour, these gardens, in many ways, turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. The gardens are vast, with a huge variety of plants, many stunning flower plots, a nice tram ride around the major elements and generally a carefully planned and well-tended diverse display of plant life and some other features we did not expect.

The sculptures are made of materials dredged from the ocean, evidence of the catastrophic impact that humans are having by allowing plastic to enter the water.

The pictures speak for themselves. We highly recommend this place if you’re in the area.

Ocean View Pier [Comic Relief]

As our touring wound down, we were more than a little hungry. We somewhat randomly ended up at the Ocean View Pier . It was, to say the least, an interesting place. The food was surprisingly good but be aware that they allow smoking on the top deck.  These photos also speak for themselves.

Virginia Beach

Our story cannot end without a closing comment or two about Virginia Beach.

I mentioned the warning at First Landing about the military base. At our hotel in Virginia Beach, we were periodically stunned into silence by the truly ear-splitting roar of jet fighters coming and going. They apparently needed to attain altitude as fast as possible, resulting in deafeningly loud jet blasts that overwhelmed every other sound. A bit unreal. Not sure how the locals can stand it, but they do.

We were also “treated” to a crazy storm that swept down the length of the beach our last evening. The photo does not do it justice. It led to an evening of torrential downpours, defeating our plan to eat dinner outside and, well, it’s not a good story.

Overall, we saw many interesting sights on this trip, not including Virginia Beach itself, which was largely deserted, especially at night. We recommend the parts of it noted above. There is nothing more to say about that.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The End.



ICYMI – Part 3

Such a cornucopia of Trumpian gems, it’s hard to choose.

Ignoring the ongoing slaughter of Americans at the hands of COVID-19, Trump has decided that the path to his re-election requires doubling-down on racially divisive themes of grievance. This will motivate his diminishing political base but seems destined to alienate many former supporters and entire classes of ethnic voting groups. https://wapo.st/3f6LG4f: “Never in our lifetimes has the Independence Day holiday been used for such divisive and personal ends.”

In a stunning move against the environment, the Democrat-led House Armed Services Committee voted to yield 800,000 acres (one-half) of southern Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the Air Force for training activities at the already enormous Nellis Air Force Base (more than 3.2 million acres of land next to the refuge). Less surprisingly, the move was led by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who thinks it a good idea to convert public lands to private use. https://bit.ly/2VUE1yp The move is consistent with the Trump administration policy of repurposing national parkland and other natural treasures for commercial exploitation. Until, to repurpose the great line from Kismet, “no one but me is left.”

Coronavirus infections set a new record on Independence Day, with the 7-day rolling average at a new high for the 27th day in a row, testimony to the gross mismanagement of the crisis by the Trump administration. https://wapo.st/2O6OBhb Indeed, Trump seems to have thrown in the towel to the virus and moved on to other issues, mainly centered on retaining racially motivated monuments. Republican-led states whose governors accepted/adopted Trump’s phantasmagorical thinking about the imminent disappearance of the virus are now backtracking on premature re-openings and “do your own thing” policies on masking and social distancing.

Trump is holding up funding for the military (that he claims to love) – a  $740 billion defense authorization bill — to stop the renaming of Army bases named after Confederate generals. https://wapo.st/2ZJLSQd The president has now firmly and openly aligned himself and the Republican Party with the white supremacy element of American society.

In perhaps the most ludicrous act of his bizarre presidency thus far, Trump signed an executive order calling for creation of a national monument park to contain new statues of the “greatest Americans to ever live.” If the list didn’t reflect the insane thinking of the Trump administration, it would make a great comedy skit. Defending against what he called an “assault on our collective national memory,” Trump named Billy Graham, Davey Crockett, Antonin Scalia, Daniel Boone and, wait for it, Audie Murphy. Excluded were Democratic presidents – so no Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson – Native Americans (no “heroes” there – we killed them all; Trump doesn’t like dead people, even though he’s responsible for killing some 130,000 so far). General George Patton was ‘in’ but Dwight Eisenhower was not. You can see the full list here: https://wapo.st/38Cnh43

After much struggle, the Trump Administration finally gave the SBA permission to disclose the recipients of at least the largest loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. https://wapo.st/2ZJqLO4 Not surprisingly, ethical considerations appear to have had no role in the decision-making. Thus, significant loan money was given to businesses owned by or closely connected with members of Congress, Trump’s personal lawyers, tenants of Trump’s real estate company, as well as,

private schools catering to elite clientele, firms owned by foreign companies and large chains backed by well-heeled Wall Street firms. Nearly 90,000 companies in the program took the aid without promising on their applications they would rehire workers or create jobs.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s (wife of #MoscowMitch, Republican Senate Majority Leader) family’s shipping business was a beneficiary. And many others too numerous to mention separately. One must wonder, of course, how much of the Trump tenants’ relief money will end up in Trump’s pocket as rent. Grifting by Trump and his Republican enablers is nothing new, certainly. In keeping with established practice,  Yeezy, owned by Trump sycophant and supremely wealthy alleged musician Kanye West, was awarded between $2 million and $5 million. https://bit.ly/300UMcz

Of course, the program was intended to help workers stay off unemployment, but there are some real curiosities in that regard. Among recipients, for example,

48,922 reported zero as the number of jobs they would retain with the money, and 40,506 applicants appeared to leave that section blank. It appeared that 10 other companies received between $5 million and $10 million but reported retaining only one job with the money they received.

Also curiously, the SBA ordered affiliates of Planned Parenthood, a favorite target of Trumppublican “pro-lifers,” to return their loans.

And so it goes. More gems soon.

Join the We the People March – Sept. 21

I know, I know. A whole lot of marching going on. This is just the beginning, I suspect, as massive waves of people afraid for the future for themselves, their children and grandchildren take to the streets to send a message to the politicians. On September 21, the We the People March will take off in Washington DC with “solidarity” marches around the country and in some other countries. A solidarity march will kick off from Columbus Circle in New York City at noon on Saturday. I will be there to photograph it, participate in it and write about it.

My wife and I have participated in several marches in both Washington DC and now in New York City. They are not easy on the feet, but they’re good for the head and the heart. If you participate, you are offering your time and energy to support a better future for everyone.

The Trump administration follows the “principle” that the Earth was “put here” to be exploited by humans however they choose and that unrestrained capitalism is the God-given right of people to take what they will from the planet without regard to the consequences for future generations. Those beliefs, along with a mindless refusal to believe in science, are behind the decisions to roll back regulations that protect the national water and air supply. Those beliefs are the foundation for the decision to allow drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, which is described this way on the Department of Interior website:

The Mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

In Alaska, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages 16 national wildlife refuges that are part of this network, totaling 76,774,229 acres.  Alaska refuges are some of the nation’s last true wild places on earth, ranging in size from the 303,094 acres Izembek Refuge at the end of the Alaska Peninsula, to the 19.6 million-acre Arctic Refuge stretching from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean.

The Trump administration looks at these open spaces and sees only an opportunity to dig for oil and minerals regardless of the impact. They just don’t care about preserving the planet for future generations. The only voices they hear are the ones looking for licenses to exploit the planet and make more money from its increasingly scarce natural resources.

One way to resist these forces of destruction is to take to the streets, send a message to the politicians and raise the awareness of other citizens who are either not paying attention or are “too busy” to be concerned about these things. They will eventually be forced to pay attention but then it may be too late. So, set aside a few hours of your Saturday to help make a statement about the kind of future world you demand for yourself and your heirs.

More information about the We the People March can be found at https://www.wethepeoplemarch2019.org/ Talk a little walk for your future.