What are tundra swans doing in North Carolina? Why migrating, of course!! After reading an article in the 2012 “Our Coast” magazine that is put out by the North Carolina Coastal Federation, I was excited to go and see these beautiful creatures in their winter home.
Just a little background on what they are doing here, I came upon these words written on the Friends of Pocosin Lake NWR website: “Pocosin Lakes NWR is one of over 550 national wildlife refuges and units, which together cover over 150 million acres in the United States, creating the world’s largest system of nature preserves. Teeming with wildlife, this refuge, located in eastern North Carolina on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula, provides winter sanctuary for tens of thousands of tundra swans, snow geese, a variety of duck species and other birds with peak numbers well in excess of 100,000. It is also home to two endangered species, the red wolf and the red-cockaded woodpecker, and one of the largest populations of American black bears in North America.”
We decided to start our journey in Columbia at the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge because we wanted to go to Pungo Lake and thought it might be a good to have a map and some local knowledge, as the area is riddled with dirt roads. Unfortunately, the visitor center was closed so we were unable to talk with anyone. We took a nice walk around the boardwalk that leads to the waters edge behind the center.
If you follow the boardwalk towards town, it goes under the roadway and leads to downtown Columbia.
We walked back to the visitor center and checked the map that was posted. It showed Pungo Lake but no roads going to it. I knew that roads were there from reading about it, but we decided not to tackle those roads until we had some local knowledge. Looking at the map, we noticed that there appeared to be a road that ran quite a way around Lake Mattamuskeet and decided to head that way in our swan quest. We headed down Route 94 and traveled through a lot of farm country, most of which was well below sea level according to our GPS. It was very flat and you could see a long way off. We came to a bridge repair that had a temporary stop light set up. Just as we were slowing down, this mama and baby bear decided to use the light (ok, it was actually our slowing down probably 😉 ), to cross the road. Mama bear doesn’t look too big in this photo because she is in the ditch but she was actually quite large. We knew that this was bear country and that there is a very healthy population of bears in the area but never thought we would be lucky enough to see any in the day time. Sorry for the blurry photo – I took it through the car windshield.
Before long we were traveling along the shore of Lake Mattamuskeet. We hadn’t gone too far before we saw egrets, herons, ducks and geese but still no swans.By now I thought that we probably were not going to see any swans. It seemed like we were going to be starting to move away from the lake when we saw a dirt road to our left with a large sign post that I forgot to take a photo of and for the life of me, I can’t remember exactly what it said, but basically it showed that by following the dirt road, the road continued around the lake where you could view the habitat. Sooooo…off we drove. We hadn’t gone far when we found this guy.
We soon saw a LOT of Canadian geese and many different ducks but still no swans. Finally, when I was just about to give up hope on seeing the swans, we were ready to turn the corner onto another side road and there they were. I took something like a gazillion pictures and here are just a few.
An almost magical moment happened next. Something spooked the birds and all of a sudden there was a raucous sound as they lifted into the air. In just a few minutes, most of the swans, ducks and geese in that particular area had flown away. It is hard to describe but it gave me goose bumps (no pun intended) to see it. It was a truly amazing sight and sound.
We left the lake and started the long drive back home. The side of the road had a large drainage ditch and as we drove along, there were turtles everywhere soaking up the sun. I never realized that turtles could see so well but each time I would get out of the car to try to take a photo of them, they would slide into the water and disappear. I was finally able to get the ones below but about a second after I snapped, they were gone too.
This was a farm field that we passed shortly after we left the lake. The swans were enjoying whatever was planted there.The day was wonderful and it was a great opportunity for me to photograph the wildlife. We will definitely go back but the next time I hope to find a place to spend the night so we have more time. This is a great place and I highly recommend visiting it if you get the opportunity. It is worth the drive.
I would like to leave you with a video that I found on YouTube. It is not swans but it is of snow geese and I’m hoping to see something like this when we go the next time.