Thankful for Public Lands

Life wants you to have gratitude for the gift of living.  Treasure every second.

~ Bryant McGill

I am a believer in the value of our public lands. I worked for the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation the first 8 years of my career and am still a supporter of that fine organization and what they do to preserve the best of the wild places in our state. And, as readers of this blog know, my favorite place to visit is Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park. I usually vacation in areas with public lands and my guided trips are usually to public lands, especially our wildlife refuges. Recently I gave two programs to local photography groups on our national wildlife refuges, highlighting Mattamuskeet and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges (NWR), in the hopes that the audience will become visitors and supporters of the refuge system. So, of course, when I recently decided to take a few days and travel to some interesting places, it made sense for me to visit national wildlife refuges. I was debating whether to go south or north, but with the recent warm weather and rains, I decided south (where temperatures were predicted to be in the 80’s) might not be to my liking and the mosquitoes would have to feed on someone else, so north I went.

Chincoteague sunset

Chincoteague sunset (click photos to enlarge)

I drove first to Chincoteague NWR. I reported on some of the birds I saw in two previous posts, but there were several other species as well as some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Double-crested Cormorant resting

Double-crested Cormorant resting on tree limb

Great egret in shade

Great Egret with morning sun and shade

Great egret preening 1

Great Egret scratching an itch

Great egret preening 3

Great Egret preening

Great Egrets and Double-crested Cormorants provided some photographic subjects as they rested and preened a;long roadside canals. But, there were not that many waterfowl as yet, so I headed further afield and drove over to Blackwater NWR one afternoon from Chincoteague.

Mallards at Blackwater NEWR

Mallards at Blackwater NWR

Birds were not very common there either, but I did see a few ducks, lots of Canada Geese, and the soon-to-be de-listed Delmarva Fox Squirrel.

Delmarva Fox Squirrel at Blackwater NWR

Delmarva Fox Squirrel

While on the trip, I heard this huge tree squirrel will be taken off the endangered species list next month due to the recovery of its population. Good news!

Blackwater VC

Visitor Center at Blackwater NWR

One thing that really impressed me at Blackwater NWR were the facilities. The visitor center is beautiful, complete with a well-interpreted native plant garden out back. I had a chance to chat with two of the people in the gift shop (both volunteers) and learned that much of what I saw was donated by the efforts of the Friends of Blackwater NWR, a non-profit support group. They have been very creative in fund-raising and support for the refuge and it really has paid off. I encourage everyone to consider joining a Friends group for any of the refuges that you regularly visit. Your voice and your financial support go a long way, especially in these tough budget times.

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook

At last, Snow Geese!

Driving farther north, I had planned to spend a night in the vicinity of Bombay Hook NWR, figuring there should be some Snow Geese and other waterfowl. There were finally some Snow Geese, maybe 5000, but much of the refuge was closed for the weekend for one of their annual deer hunts. Unfortunately, I had missed that information when I checked the web site (it was posted at the bottom of the first page of the web site and I missed it going through the tabs at the top of the page). Lesson learned – when planning a visit to a wildlife refuge, be sure to check for restrictions and closures during hunting seasons. With limited access, at refuges up north I decided to head back to my home state and see what might be happening.

Dunlin at Pea Island

Dunlin at Pea Island NWR

Dowitcher at Pea Island

Short-billed Dowitcher grabs a minnow for breakfast

Sunrise at Pea Island NWR had a beautiful 6-point buck crossing north pond (and me with my camera still packed in the back, oh well, it was still beautiful to see). A flock of Dunlins and Dowitchers were feeding along the edge of the pond and allowed me some shots from the roadside.

American Bittern at Mattamuskeet

American Bittern near Mattamuskeet NWR

Gray fox on wildlife driver

Gray Fox on Wildlife Drive

On to Mattamuskeet which had some Tundra Swans and a few ducks, along with the eagle I posted about earlier. There was also an American Bittern out in the open in someone’s front yard right next to the road…not your usual spot for a bittern. And, it looks as though it will be another good year for Gray Foxes along Wildlife Drive as I saw two in my short time on the refuge.

Bear road

Bears coming out at sunset on an overcast day

My last stop on my way home was my old favorite, Pocosin Lakes NWR. A few swans flying, some ducks at sunset, and, of course, a few bears along “bear road”. Looks like another busy winter coming up. If you have a chance, get out this week to some public lands near you, and be thankful for the vision of those that helped establish these wonderful wildlife habitats and sanctuaries for our spirits, and for those that work to maintain them for us all.



11 thoughts on “Thankful for Public Lands

  1. We are indeed lucky to have our wonderful Public lands…haven’t made my winter trips yet…but theTundra Swan and Snow geese are waiting! I too am grateful for our public lands.

  2. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for all the awesome posts again this year! I can’t seem to get the photos to enlarge by clicking on them, either in the emails or on the website. I don’t know if it’s the links or something with my computer. Any thoughts? Thanks.

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