In the Field During Summer Solstice at Lake Drummond

Summer Solstice Sunrise at Lake Drummond in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.

Last Sunday, during the Summer Solstice, I was in the field at Lake Drummond an hour before the sunrise. Lake Drummond’s Wildlife Drive opened up early at 4:45 am for a few days during the Summer Solstice. I had never been to Lake Drummond before and found this opportunity hard to pass up. The Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive entrance gate usually opens at sunrise. The wildlife drive takes 30 minutes of driving down a gravel road to reach Lake Drummond. I thought this was an excellent opportunity for some nature photography and to capture some scenes of Lake Drummond from the wildlife drive. These views of Lake Drummond from the wildlife drive are very rarely seen and/or photographed at sunrise.

Location of Lake Drummond

Lake Drummond is a freshwater lake. The lake is within the Great Dismal Swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp is situated on the borders of Southern Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina. Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive is located within the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.  The wildlife drive is 6 miles of gravel road. This gravel wildlife drive begins at the entry gate at the Railroad Ditch entrance to Lake Drummond.

In Virginia, there are a couple of other entrance points to reach Lake Drummond. These include access through the Dismal Swamp Canal or the Feeder Ditch both located in Chesapeake, Virginia.  

Facts About Lake Drummond

Lake Drummond is a 3,100-acre natural lake and is one of two natural lakes in Virginia. This freshwater lake is circular shaped and is the largest natural lake in Virginia. Lake Drummond was discovered in 1655 by an early settler from Scotland named William Drummond; thus, the lake was named after him. No one knows how Lake Drummond was formed since there are no natural streams or tributaries that empty into the lake.

Lake Drummond is in the center of the Great Dismal Swamp. Therefore, the water in Lake Drummond is dark and acid-stained. This is because of the organic acids leaking in to the water from the surrounding swamps as well as the peat soils. Lake Drummond has limited types of fish species because of the low nutrient levels in the water.

Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive is in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge land. The swamp has a very important historical significance. The swamp was part of the Underground Railroad system where escaped slaves found refuge. The escaped slaves found the densely forested wetlands of the swamps to be an isolated area away from settlers.  

Summer Solstice Sunrise

On the morning of June 20, 2021, I arrived at 4:42 am at the entrance gate to the wildlife drive. I was excited for this special Summer Solstice early entry. We, my spouse and I, drove down this gravel road to Lake Drummond in the dark hours of the morning. I saw a potential for a lot of wildlife photography. Along the wildlife drive there were areas of long leaf pines, densely forested area and of course the swamps.

Due to a hectic schedule, I was unable to scout out the wildlife drive. I normally like to see the area and know where to set up for sunrise images. However, I did some extensive online research about Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive beforehand. I relied mainly on this research to help me during my wildlife and nature photography photo outing at Lake Drummond.

Once I arrived at the end of the wildlife drive there was a small parking area. The lake was situated right off the parking area. There was a small boat ramp and an observation pier located in this area of Lake Drummond. The observation pier had a pair of stationary binoculars to view the scenery of the lake. The views included the bald cypress trees along the edges of the lake.

Lake Drummond at the blue hour of twilight during the Summer Solstice at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.
Lake Drummond at the blue hour in the twilight period during the Summer Solstice at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.

Photographing Lake Drummond During Summer Solstice

The sunrise on this Summer Solstice morning was very nice, and it was a very peaceful morning photographing the sunrise as well as the early morning views of Lake Drummond. First, I sat up my tripod on the bank of the lake. I used my Canon 6D Mark II and my wide angle lens, a Canon 17-40mm f/4L USM Lens, to photograph the twilight and sunrise. An L-bracket was attached to my camera. This allowed easy switching between horizontal and vertical orientation of my camera on my tripod. I used my timer on the camera. This is essential to photograph in the very low light prior to and during sunrise.

While photographing sunrise, I always suggest trying different angles and positions. Try not to be static or stuck in just one place with your camera. I started off with my tripod at full height and then lowered it down to get a lower perspective. Eventually, I walked around the pier and photographed from many different spots on the pier. It is important to also observe and photograph the other areas of the sky during sunrise. Try not to always focus just towards the sky where the sun will rise. Often the skies in other directions will give the best colors of a sunrise.

Lori A Cash photographing the sunrise scene at Lake Drummond during the Summer Solstice at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.
Lori A. Cash behind the scenes photographing the sunrise during the Summer Solstice at Lake Drummond located in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.

While on the pier photographing this Summer Solstice sunrise, I was fortunate to meet three local folks. These folks had embraced the opportunity and came out to spend a very peaceful morning watching the sun rise over Lake Drummond. I enjoyed meeting and talking with these folks while I continued to take photographs. It was just great to be in such an historic area, see the wonders of nature and listen to stories of those who lived in and had grown up in the area.

Morning at Lake Drummond

After the sun had risen up over Lake Drummond, it went behind a bank of clouds. I used the very cloud-filtered lighting to photograph more of Lake Drummond. I continued to move around the area and photograph the scenery around me. In addition, I kept observing for any wildlife photography potential that morning might provide. But I did not see any wildlife at the Lake Drummond spot at the end of the wildlife Drive.

Serene Lake Drummond morning during the Summer Solstice at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.
Serene Lake Drummond morning during the Summer Solstice at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.

Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive

I spent a couple of hours photographing the beautiful morning scenery of Lake Drummond. Afterwards, we drove slowly back down the 6-mile gravel wildlife drive. We watched for wildlife photography opportunities while exploring what this area had to offer.

Unfortunately, we did not see any black bears on this particular morning. However, we did see two white-tailed deer which were in non-photographable dense vegetation off walking trails. We did stop and walk the two trails, Cypress Marsh boardwalk as well as the West Ditch Boardwalk trail.

I photographed a lot of dragonflies and some butterflies flying around the marshy grasses along the edges of the wildlife drive and the trails. After finishing up the last trail and walking back to the car, I spotted a prothonotary warbler. It was the first time I was able to photograph one of these gorgeous songbirds. I managed to get a couple of shots off before it flew away.

The prothonotary warbler’s habitat has been affected by the climate change in the recent years, and this bird is listed as a species of concern.

Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) landing in a tree on the last day of spring along the wildlife drive at Lake Drummond in Suffolk, Virginia.
Prothonotary Warbler landing in a tree on the last day of spring along the wildlife drive at Lake Drummond in Suffolk, Virginia.

Photography Opportunities

Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive offers a vast variety of habitats for wildlife. Some of the wildlife that can be found here include deer, black bears, frogs, turtles, songbirds, dragonflies, and butterflies. There are a lot more species of mammals and birds that can be found here. In addition to the wildlife, there are many opportunities for nature photography as well. This includes capturing the scenic views of Lake Drummond. As a conservation photographer, I see from the Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive that the Great Dismal Swamp NWR serves an important role in providing diverse habitats that wildlife need for shelter, food and breeding.

My in the field photo outing at Lake Drummond was a very successful photo outing. This was a morning of calmness and beauty among this gorgeous expanse of our natural world. It was very inspiring to see the wonders of our natural world and a privilege to document all its beauty. It is very meaningful to me to be able to share and inspire others to appreciate our natural world.

I will definitely return to photograph the wildlife, nature and landscapes at Lake Drummond Wildlife Drive in the future. My thoughts are of going back next spring. Especially when the horseflies are not as prevalent as they were on this hot summer day. In the spring when the marsh grasses have died back will allow me to see more of the wildlife potential.  

Blue dasher dragonfly resting on a blade of grass at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.
Blue dasher dragonfly resting on a blade of grass at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.

Thank you for reading my Field Notes blog , and I hope you will share this post with others.  

Let’s protect our wildlife and nature!

All the very best,

Lori

https://linktr.ee/LoriACash

Copyright © 2021 Lori A Cash

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