Sunday, March 2, 2014

Pocosin Lakes NWR

After seeing the Band-tailed Pigeon and eating lunch in Manteo, my dad and I head back west to the Pungo unit of Pocosin Lakes NWR.  Pungo is most notable for its waterfowl, especially the hordes of Snow Geese and Tundra Swans that flock there in winter.   On the drive back from the Pigeon stakeout, I glimpsed a promising duck flock in a pond just off US-64.  We turned the car around and pulled over on the shoulder.  To my surprise, there were five Common Mergansers in the pond, along with a few grebes and more common ducks.  Common Mergs are uncommon in North Carolina, and though they are more easily found near the coast, this was still a good find.  There was even one male - making it my first male Common Merganser in NC.  It was a nice little stop on the way to Pungo.
Common Mergansers
We finally arrived in the refuge in the early afternoon, and immediately spied an extensive flock of Tundra Swans, with more than a thousand birds in it.  They were feeding a long distance away, and the heat shimmer made scoping for the more rare (and previously reported) Trumpeter Swan nearly impossible.  Nonetheless, it was still an impressive sight.  The dirt road was a mud-boggin' mess in some places, and I had fun splashing through it in my Outback.  My dad was a little leery of my "off-roading" abilities - but hey! We didn't get stuck...

Along the drive, we spotted a Harrier, Merlin, and several duck species, including a few Green-winged Teal and Gadwall.  There was also a flock of over a thousand Red-winged Blackbirds flying over the fields - it's always cool to watch a flock's undulating, rhythmic motions in flight.  Another mile or so down the road, we decided to embark on a short quarter-mile walk to a duck blind on the shore of Pungo.  Much to our surprise, an Eastern Screech Owl began calling - it was mid-afternoon!  This was the first Screech Owl I've heard without using playback, and it gave the experience a more "natural" feel.  But I still couldn't manage to spot the little guy - I still have yet to actually see a Screecher.  The duck blind yielded few actual ducks, with the exception of a flock or two of American Wigeon.  The entryway to the blind also had dangerously low planks of wood along the top, which I had to duck to walk under (how fitting). The rest of the drive was relatively uneventful, seeing a few more common species.

Our next stop was a trip to Pettigrew State Park, on the shore of Lake Phelps, to listen for a mysterious owl that was heard calling there.  We pulled up to Somerset Place about half an hour before sunset, in place for the action.  A random cat emerged from the woods and proceeded to jump on my lap and start purring - definitely the first time anything like this has happened to me on a birding trip!  As the sun finally went down, the area came alive.  Huge flocks of Snow Geese, which had evaded us the entire day, began pouring overhead.  A dozen or so Woodcocks started displaying from the surrounding fields - a sight I always enjoy.  The mystery owl began calling right on schedule - a weird, nasally call like nothing I've ever heard.  Originally, it was thought to be a Long-eared Owl, but now the evidence points more in favor toward a messed-up Great Horned Owl.  I guess we'll probably never really know what this bird was - but it was still interesting to hear.
Snow Geese flying in to roost on Lake Phelps

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