Tuesday, February 5, 2008

ROADTRIP: Lake Mattamuskeet & Swanquarter NWR

On Sunday, my husband and I took a road trip to one of North Carolina's hottest spots for winter birds: Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. Lake Mattamuskeet, located about 200 miles east of the Triangle in Hyde County, is North Carolina's largest natural lake. It is very shallow and nutrient rich, providing food for the thousands of waterfowl that overwinter on the lake.

We arrived to Lake Mattamuskeet at around eight in the morning, and were immediately greeted by the cheery squaking and babbling of hundreds of tundra swans, northern pintails, American coots, pied-billed grebes, plus green winged teals, northern shovelers, redheads, and mallards. Most of our birding was done from the car, and as we drove towards the historic lodge, we also discovered long tailed muskrats with young swimming in the dark canals. Behind the old lodge, we found basking double crested cormorants and one noisy black crowned night heron.

Tundra swans and American coots at Lake Mattamuskeet

Tundra swan and American coot at Lake Mattamuskeet

After visiting the old lodge, we took a hike on a short boardwalk that went through cypress and wetlands. This trail yielded several warblers and vireos, and we watched several different flocks of ducks rise up out of the marsh. Back on the road, driving further out across the lake, we saw numerous great blue herons, great egrets, tundra swans, American wigeons, white ibises, and hooded mergansers. All the while, northern flickers and tree swallows flitted across the road.

View of Lake Mattamuskeet

Tundra swans at Lake Mattamuskeet

Our next stop was Swanquarter NWR, a refuge of coastal marsh established in 1932. Here, we walked along the boardwalk jutting out over the marsh and spied great blue herons, brown pelicans, great black-backed gulls, herring gulls, and ruddy ducks!

Driving around this region in winter, towards Pungo Lake, birders are likely to see large flocks of red-winged blackbirds being harangued by low soaring northern harriers, as well as vultures, killdeer, crows, herons, and kestrels.

Red winged black birds near Pungo Lake

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