Retirement is not the end of the road. It is the beginning of the open highway.
I mentioned in my last post that this retirement thing is starting to feel real. To confirm it once and for all, I decided to make a trip to the coast this past week. The weather looked good, the crowds should be less, I had no real itinerary, and had the camera gear loaded in the truck, so off I went. I ended up hitting four wildlife refuges over a two day period – Pocosin Lakes, Mattamuskeet, Alligator River, and Pea Island.
After lunch, I drove over to Mattamuskeet to see what I could find. There were the usual hundreds of ducks on the impoundment, but not much else. I did find a group of tail-bobbing Palm Warblers and more Eastern Phoebes than I think I ever seen.
With only a couple of hours of daylight remaining, I decided to head towards Alligator River NWR and made the snap decision to spend the night on the Outer Banks. I didn’t take any images at Alligator River that afternoon, but did see good numbers of waterfowl and a couple of cruising Bald Eagles.
The next morning was windy and cold, typical coastal winter weather. Workers were out with their never-ending task of keeping the dunes and ocean off of Hwy 12. Pea Island had lots of birds and more variety than I had seen elsewhere, but the wind was brutal. I did stop and admire a cluster of American Avocets and some American White pelicans looking for breakfast. They were pretty far out, but I enjoyed watching their breakfast ballet as they swim and feed in unison.
The wind helped me decide to head inland so I decided to head back through Alligator River and finish the day at Pungo. Within a few minutes, I had my first bear of the trip.
I arrived at the Pungo Unit in time to eat lunch while watching the swans at Marsh A (I really never tire of spending time with the swans). The cranes were nowhere to be seen, but I did hear the Snow Geese lift off the lake once and then settle back down. One thing that surprised me was the number of people on the refuge considering it was a weekday. At one point I had two groups of what I assume were photography club folks (lots of telephoto lenses and no spotting scopes) totaling 13 car loads at Marsh A. So, I headed over to North Lake (aka Bear Road) and walked down to the far end where this year’s corn crop is planted. While there was obvious signs of bears feeding on the corn, there certainly is not as much scat as I am used to seeing here. I have to think the increase in bear hunting is having an impact on this population. Even though there is no hunting on the refuge, this hot spot for bears is only a half-mile or so from private lands where bears can be taken. I walked back through the woods and noticed a large number of trees that came down in the storms this past year. The good news is that it has given the bears a lot of new areas to play and climb as evidenced by all the claw marks on the leaning trunks. I looked for “our winter rattlesnake” in the usual hollow tree, but saw no sign of it this year. As I walked back to the car, I did see one bear at the edge of the woods across the field. But the best part of the trip was yet to come…
Late in the day, I was out of the car watching some sparrows in the brush when I heard the Snow Geese lift off. I was near the road to the old banding site and was in a good position to see the huge flock fly south, headed out for their last meal of the day. Hoping that they would stay on the refuge, I headed toward the fields near the maintenance area. When I pulled up, I could see a few hundred swans in a wheat field, but a huge flock of geese in the adjacent corn stubble. As I was getting the camera out, a military jet flew over kicking up the flock. They circled for a few minutes and finally settled back down.
The geese jumped up one more time as the late golden light flowed over the field. Only one other car shared this experience with me. We sat along the edge of the road, watching and listening to the magic of thousands of birds as the sun settled and the almost full moon became visible through the developing haze.
With daylight fading, I was surprised to hear and then see another huge group of Snow Geese drifting down from the sky. As is their usual pattern, they circled the field several times before settling in with the rest of the flock. I am guessing there were 25,000 or more in the field at this point. I stood by the road, listening to their incessant sounds, thankful to be in one of my favorite places doing what I love to do. Wandering is apparently good for the soul. I look forward to more of it.