Swan Song Pocosin Lakes

What's a good place to go after Christmas is over? Take a trip to OBX to watch the annual bird migration.

The best time to see the black and white migration of Tundra Swans and Snow Geese is from December to late February at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. We found the biggest concentration of birds at Pugo Lake, and Pea Island this year, and this was where we spent most of our time. We found a few at Lake Mattamuskeet Wildlife Refuge,  but the majority of them were on the lake at Pungo Lake and Pea Island.

On previous trips, we arrived in mid January, and they had just arrived.  This year it seems that we needed to arrive later to see the dramatic flocks of Tundra Swans, Snow Geese, and ducks as we were told they were there but a little more scattered. For bear we discovered we were about a week late. We had one bear sighting at the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge way off in field and a black coyote hunting in a corn field. It was very exciting to see, but neither were close enough to get a good photograph. That is the way it is for wildlife photography often you come for one thing, but you often come away with another.

The Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge is 110,000 acres in Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington County. It is located six miles south of Columbia, NC off Highway 94 on the east and 18 miles south of Plymouth, NC on Highway 45 on the west. The 12,350 acre Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge winters a large numbers of waterfowl with peak numbers of well over 100,000 in December and/or January each year. Waterfowl species that winter on Pungo Lake include Tundra Swan, Snow Geese, and over 20 species of ducks including Northern Shovelers,  Wood Ducks, Teal, Mallard, and Pintail Ducks.
The Tundra Swans and Snow Geese flock together in huge groups on the ponds and in the fields and travel in massive groups back and forth which is quite breathtaking.   A small group of Sandhill Cranes were there again this year. We saw as many as 7, but others reported 11.  It appears at least one of them was a juvenile.

The North Carolina coastal regions has the highest population of black bear in North Carolina.  There are some amazing photographs from other photographers  found on the internet of huge bears which lured us to move up our normal trip timing.

This year our top shots came from Pongo Lake with the 4 Tenor Tundra Swans and a Belted King Fisher from Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The Belted King Fisher's are so fast, skittish, and don't sit long, and they do not like humans.

Our other victory was at Lake Pungo. We were photographing the Tundra Swans in some beautiful morning light when I see my husband and son take off. Without warning, the frightened Tundra Swans launch in droves, and I stumbled around to adjust to capture the chaos. Even though I was a little too close to the action, I was thrilled to catch a few flight shots with the light glistening on their wings.

Later I found that the my side kicks were chasing a family of otters, who  systematically making their rounds. They stop every so often marking territories and grooming in the canals at Lake Pungo. The Sandhill Cranes made the trip again with a few more along for the ride.

Other interesting finds on our trip were dolphins off of Jennette's Pier in Nags Head and a feeding frenzy of Seagulls. Jennette's Pier is the oldest fishing pier on the Outer Banks that has been battered by storms and rebuilt many times throughout the years. With this being our first trip to the pier, we enjoyed the exhibits, learning about the history, and checking out the fishing amenities. We met some families that were practicing for a fishing contest for the next day. But the great catch of day for us was photographing some dolphins jumping in the beautiful aqua waves.

During a walk on the beach at Nags Head, we were intrigued by the frantic seagulls dive bombing along the ocean shore. We spent some time trying to capture the action and were pleased to grab a couple of photographs of Seagulls who against all odds grabbed a fish.

No trip to Nags Head is complete without visiting our favorite local restaurants: Blue Moon Beach Grill and Tortugas Lie. They have consistent great food, service and a variety of options.

Other sites to see while on your trip are the Bodie and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.