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Stop looking at me Swan!

January 15, 2008


Have you ever had one of those days where wherever you go, whatever you’re looking for, you keep finding one particular bird. It’s not as if that bird is boring or not great in its own right, you may even be excited when you first run into it, but after a while it’s just as if it’s enough already. Like you’re Bill Murray in Groundhog Day constantly rehashing the same sighting over and over again. I had this sort of day yesterday as I headed afield to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

Pocosin Lakes is often overlooked in eastern Carolina. It’s the least flashy and least accessible of the several refuges that are all clumped together out there. I decided to go there today because its slightly closer and noted for its sparrows and its large blackbird and Snow Goose flocks. I missed the sparrows and the Snow Geese (60,000 of them! Where do they go?!), not for lack of trying though. I drove so many backroads that I got lost a couple (lots of) times. I did consistently run into Tundra Swans though.

The first group was an enormous flock of a several hundred just off of the highway. I had to pull over, there were just too many. In the midst of the swans was a small group of Canada-type Geese. I originally thought I might have noticed the stubby bills of some Cacklers. Only When the geese flew up to the levee did I realize that the geese only looked small because the swans were so big. So there you have it, the reason why the Navy OLF would never have worked right there.

The problem with the Pocosin Lakes is that while there is no shortage of open water, there aren’t many good access points to that water, so you end up driving around in circles looking for that spot where you can get a good view. At one point, though I came out onto a fishing pier to find a small flock of Canvasbacks. Those are one of my favorite ducks and one I only got once last year, so a good Big Year bird that can be too easy to miss some years.

In case you were wondering, a “pocosin” is a depression in the sandy soil that is saturated with groundwater. They’re some of the few natural lakes in North Carolina. Typically you’ll find a pocosin lake surrounded by savanna or palmetto pine forest with Atlantic White Cypress and Loblolly Pine. It’s the type of habitat where you’d have found Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Bachman’s Sparrows in times when they were more common. The pocosin area now has been turned into North Carolina’s agricultural belt. The sandy soil is apparently good for tobacco and cotton and fallow fields of both surround the refuge.

As you might imagine, these fallow fields support lots of blackbirds. I saw at least 10 flocks of upwards of 20,000 birds. You can see what I’m talking about to the left, that’s only half of that particular flock. They consisted of primarily Red-wings, with good numbers of Grackles and Cowbirds. It seems every year that someone picks a Yellow-headed Blackbird out of one of these mixed flocks. I thought that with the birds in the air I might pick out those white-wings but it was not to be.

But the day wasn’t about blackbirds, it was about swans. Thousands of them, everywhere I turned around there was another flock of 500 swans. Sitting in the fields, tooling around the lakes, bugling in the air. They were by far the most populace waterfowl out today, and what’s amazing is that it’s the same way at all of the refuges in eastern Carolina. I have read that upwards of one-third of the world’s population of Tundra Swans winters in out here. It’s pretty amazing to think about and certainly amazing to see. So while I didn’t see all the birds I certainly hoped for yesterday morning, the swans gave me a show at every single place I went. But I guess that’s winter in Carolina.

One Comment
  1. Patrick Belardo permalink
    January 15, 2008 9:14 am

    100 bonus points for an awesome title for your post. Shampoo is good. Conditioner is better.

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