Seeing Beauty in a Historic Swamp

For 20 years, photographer-author Waverley Traylor has chronicled the sights, sounds, and stories of the Great Dismal Swamp, a historic wilderness covering large parts of Virginia and North Carolina.

A floating island on Lake Drummond (Island of the Swamp Fairies), in the center of the Great Dismal Swamp/ Waverley Traylor

The swamp’s human occupation timeline goes back thousands of years to about 12,000 B.C.E. with Native peoples. In the 1700s, famous visitors like William Byrd  and George Washington came there.

Enslaved African-Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries sought freedom within its waterways and shadowed interiors. This May 12-14, the swamp’s history, natural wonders, and especially the hundreds of bird species seen there will be celebrated at the Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival.

Born in Chesterfield County on a farm worked by his family from the mid-17th century until 1985, Traylor began taking photographs as a boy. He continued shooting pictures through high school, military service, and since 1990, his transition to professional photography.

Winter sunrise on Lake Drummond/ Waverley Traylor

Having specialized in underwater and wildlife photography since his Navy days, Traylor found himself focusing on the Dismal Swamp’s flora and fauna, amassing images of 387 different species.  Although it once covered over 2200 square miles in Virginia and North Carolina, 118,000 acres of the  swamp is now officially protected as the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, home to an incredible array of vegetation, mammals, and birds.

The last category is of special interest to Traylor, who shares his special interest in the Dismal Swamp with bird watchers who observe and study birds.  Traylor said, “Most birders pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons, unlike ornithologists, who engage in the study of birds using more formal scientific methods such as capturing, logging statistics, and banding the birds.”

What brings international birdwatchers as well as American birders to the Dismal Swamp each spring, and why is there an annual birding festival held at the Refuge each May? First, the swamp’s location is special. The Dismal Swamp lies on the southern boundary for northern species, and on the northern boundary for southern species. “This provides perfect habitat for both,” Traylor said. ” In addition, the swamp lies directly on the east coast migration flyway. Migrating flocks heading north and flocks heading south use the swamp as a stopover point and an interim feeding ground,” he noted.

Traylor will be on hand at the Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival, signing copies of his most recent book, “The Great Dismal Swamp in Myth and Legend.” Information on Traylor’s photography and books is available on his website, More information about the Great Dismal Swamp’s Birding Festival can be found at


3 responses to “Seeing Beauty in a Historic Swamp

  1. felice Hancock

    I heard the author at the Festival of the Book in Charlottesville earlier this year, what a privledge. The Dismal is anything but dismal…it is the green line that prevents total urbanizationfrom occurring in the Tidewater area. Thank goodness folks like Traylor are area to bring its importance to our attention.

  2. This is the 4th post, of urs I checked out. Yet I personally like this particular one,
    “Seeing Beauty in a Historic Swamp | vahistoryonline” the most.
    Take care ,Howard

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