November Treat

Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.

~John Muir

It’s been awhile since I posted. Not sure where the time goes, but here we are. Last week I had a last minute idea to run down to my favorite wildlife refuges for a wildlife observation and photography fix. The weather was supposed to be nice and cold on Friday, so I thought whatever birds have arrived this early might be active as would the bears. I didn’t get out as early as planned but arrived at the Pungo Unit about 9 a.m. I went straight to “Bear Road” and there were 4 cars there so I headed elsewhere. As I approached the impoundment, I could see two trucks and several photographers out in the vicinity of last year’s Eastern Screech Owl roost so I figured it was still there. Several people were getting back into their vehicle as I drove up, so I just slowed down and stopped for a second to take a photo – yup, still there!

This beautiful Eastern Screech Owl (red color morph) is still using the same roost as last year (click photos to enlarge)

It is always nice to spend time with the swans on Marsh A, so I pulled up and sat for awhile, window down, listening to their soothing sounds and watching them preen, bathe, feed, and interact.

Tundra Swans have arrived on the Pungo Unit

I scanned the back side of the water and saw what I had hoped for, a few Sandhill Cranes preening amongst the swans.

The gray colors of the Sandhill Cranes separate them from the mostly white Tundra Swans

The light was pretty bright, the water in the canals is low, and the vegetation along the canals high (making it difficult to see anything in the canals), so I decided to head over to Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge for a couple of hours to see what was happening there. The deterioration of the water quality in the lake the past several years means that now there is almost never anything to see on the causeway road across the lake (I used to see plenty of swans and other waterfowl feeding or resting on the lake near the causeway, but not now).

As I approached Wildlife Drive I saw movement along side the shrubs lining the road – a Virginia Opossum! It was grubbing through the short grass out from the shrubs, pausing every now and then to munch on something it found. I pulled a U-turn and stopped near it. It scurried to the cover of the shrubs, but soon came out and started feeding again. It gradually came closer and I took a few photos before it headed back to the edge of the cover and stared grooming itself.

I noticed that it had a tooth exposed on both sides of its mouth. I don’t know if this is typical for an opossum to be snaggle-toothed, but I think it is a good look.

You’ve got to admit, opossums are just cute

At the lodge, I saw one Great Blue Heron in the usual roosting spot grove of trees across the canal. There are some ducks, but not much else yet and water levels are low in the impoundment.

A Great Blue Heron surveying its world

After talking with a friend I saw near the lodge, I headed back to Pungo for the remainder of the afternoon. Driving near Marsh A, I stopped to take a couple of photos of the screech owl since no one else was around. The little guy seems oblivious to any admirers and just sits in the late day sun, soaking it all in.

A couple of quick photos and then I moved on, leaving his little guy to its peace and quiet

I had seen three bears near the entrance when I first drove in, so I figured I might as well head over to “Bear Road” and see what I could see. There were 5 cars already there and I could see a group of a dozen or so photographers at the far end of the field. Oh well…I walked down and then slipped into the woods for some quiet time before I reached the crowd. I sat down on a log to enjoy the golden light flooding the forest and soon heard the tell-tale heavy tapping of a large woodpecker behind me. I eased around and saw a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away at a vine encrusted tree trunk.

— A Pileated Woodpecker hammers on a tree snag looking for dinner

After watching it for a few minutes, it suddenly flew off and landed in a tree above me, frozen against the trunk. Did it see something I had missed – a predator like a hawk or owl? It remained motionless for a minute or two before finally moving up and around the tree.

This view clearly shows the toe placement (like an X) and stiff tail spines that are woodpecker adaptations for clinging to vertical surfaces

I eased out of the woods as the crowd was headed back to their cars, excitedly talking about the bears they had seen and sharing images from their cameras. Out in the field were three bears, a sow and two cubs, grazing in the light of a setting sun. Swans returning to the lake were highlighted in the golden light as they called their soothing ou, ou sounds. As I walked by one of the people on the road, he asked if I had any good shots of the bears. I responded that I hadn’t really tried, I just wanted to be out there with the sights and sounds of the refuge. I’m not sure he understood…but every time I am there, I just want to sit quietly and take it all in. I do love to take photos, but I am realizing that I love the quiet, solitude, and the memories even more.

A sow and one of her cubs feeding in a field along “Bear Road”

17 thoughts on “November Treat

  1. Hi,
    I’m going down to the Pungo Unit next weekend. Can you tell me where the screech owl can be seen?

    Chris Frandock
    Sent from my iPhone

    • Hi Chris…I hesitate to give its exact location as I don’t want people to harass it in any way (not saying you would, but thers who see this might). It seems as though a lot of people already know, so keep an eye out for photographers along the road. But, please, always be respectful of the bird or any other wildlife. Hope you understand. Good luck.

  2. Ahhhh. The quiet solitude – the best. Good for you. Plus some nice animal sightings with fine photos to share with the rest of us.

    Thanks. Laurie

  3. That is the cutest screech owl I have ever seen!
    No swans near Atlantic yet but I did see some white pelicans which is a first for me.
    I totally understand getting quiet and being. Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. Hello Mike, Awesome work as usual. Susan and I are visiting Hyde County in January. My former colleague, mentor, and principal is the new Superintendent of Schools. We desire to visit places with similar views as your post today. Susan has had double full knee replacement along with an arthritic hip. This along with age has limited our mobility. Would you have any suggestions for us? Thank you and we hope you and Melissa are well.

  5. Hello,

    Having attended a talk by you at the NCBG a few years ago, I now thoroughly enjoy your posts, philosophies and photos.

    Our nighttime motion camera in our back yard in Chapel Hill shows frequent visits by deer, raccoons. Opposum and the occasional fox and rabbit. A frequent opposum has dark fur. Is that the common possum or Virginia possum?

    Sent from my iPhone


  6. I get it, Mike. It’s like being transported to a different world there. I just love listening and looking and taking it all in. Happy holidays to you and Melissa.

  7. As you, I just like the quiet which seems to advance the possibilities of surprise. Living in Fearrington our back windows have yielded a Pileated Woodpecker, Red Shouldered Hawk and some Carolina Wrens nesting on a gutter leader.

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