I am in the middle of leading two trips to my favorite places in NC – Pocosin Lakes and Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuges. This is a brief visual report on the first. Last week, I had four great folks from the Raleigh area join me for a wildlife viewing trip. We started at Pocosin Lakes last Thursday and spent some time with some of the stars of the refuge this time of year – Red-winged Blackbirds, Tundra Swans, and my perennial favorites, the Black Bears.
We started and ended our day with Red-winged Backbirds. There are huge flocks of these beautiful birds at the refuge in winter which provide a visual and audible delight to observers (and meals to a variety of predators). They roll across the fields as dark clouds, often fashioned into swirls by the movements of raptors such as Northern Harriers.
They change from twisting masses of dark feathers to spiraling flashes of red depending on the light and whether you have huge numbers of male Red-winged Blackbirds in the flock (the males have bright red shoulder patches that flash in the sunlight as they twist and turn in flight). The flocks also usually contain smaller numbers of other species of black-colored birds such as Common Grackles and Brown-headed Blackbirds.
We spent time photographing Tundra Swans flying out of Pungo Lake and watching Bald Eagles patrol the area for injured or weak waterfowl. But I am always looking for the small beauties on the landscape as well….a lone swan feather in a puddle caught my eye and deserved a closer look.
The day ended walking through the woods and listening to sounds of thousands of swans and Snow Geese on the lake. As we waited for the Snow Geese to hopefully come into the field (unfortunately, they only flew over) we were kept company by a few bears, coming out for their evening saunter.
The next day was a full day spent at Mattamuskeet. Sunrise was over marshes near the Intracoastal Waterway on Hwy 94.
We were greeted at the entrance to Wildlife Drive with an expert in camouflage, an American Bittern.
Then another allowed some close viewing a few minutes later. These birds are a delight to watch and this refuge is one of the best places I know to find them.
Mattamuskeet provided great looks at a variety of waterfowl and scenery throughout the day. Clouds started to move in mid-day, providing a different perspective to the landscape.
There was still a lot of ice in the canals and swamp even as the temperatures warmed throughout the day. As the skies darkened with the promise of an upcoming storm front, we drove through the refuge one last time.
A large group of White Ibis kept our attention until one participant spotted something moving on the ground.
An unexpected January amphibian, a Green treefrog! It must have looked odd to passing cars as a group of five people squatted on the ground intently taking pictures of an unseen subject, but it was a great way to finish our experience – from birds to bears to frogs, it had been a great trip.