My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Visit to Mattamuskeet NWR

Soon after I got to North Carolina, I started visiting some of the other refuges in the area.  One of those is Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge.  It is about an hour and a half away and I wanted to be there as soon after sunrise as I could, so started off in the dark.Thus I was able to enjoy both the setting moon and the sunrise.

Moon setting at dawn

I was in a lucky place at sunrise

Mattamuskeet is the largest natural  lake in North Carolina and is in the kind of wetland known as Pocosin. This is a kind of acid, sandy, peaty soil that holds water most of the year. These lands, include grasses, trees, and shrubs, often growing together in an impenetrable fashion.  I put the map in to show that no streams drain into the lake.  Indian lore has it that was formed by a fire that burned the peaty soil for thirteen moons.

Of course, man has tried to drain the lake, three times in fact, before bowing to the superior forces of nature.  But one company build a huge pumping station, that looks a little like a lighthouse.  On my first trip, I saw this before I knew what it was and was enchanted at the beautiful view it made with a pond in front of it.  This old pumping station became a lodge and operated 1937 until 1974. Now the building is used by a research group.

The lake was originally over 110,000 acres but today is only 40,000 acres.  It is the winter home to thousands of waterfowl and is advertised to have 50,000 wintering tundra swans.  However, this year, we have only a fraction of the normal number of swans, and I've only been able to count and estimate less than one thousand.

The pumping station 

A great blue heron on a pipe in front of the pumping station

I found a little trail and enjoyed walking it in the morning light. I wasn't able to capture any birds with my camera but did see and hear lots of little woods birds like chickadees, woodpeckers and the ever present yellow-rumped warblers. I discovered this trail was mostly for fisherman and crabbers, although I was the only one using it.

View from the little trail in front of the pumping station

These roosting vultures, warming up in the early sun, seem to be guarding the refuge entrance

Ooo, it feels SO good to get warm.

There were few birds about the refuge roads but I did find a lot of birds on the lake, past where the boat launch is. However, they were too far away for pictures. (The refuge stays closed to boaters until March 3 to give the ducks and swans a safe place to feed during the winter. ) Several species of ducks and tundra swans were busily feeding.

A distant view of Canada geese among cypress 

A great white heron hunting from a tree

I also walked the trails there and explored the bird blind. Sadly, it had Phragmites growing completely around it, blocking any possible views.

These colors caught my eye along one of the trails. 

Trail to the bird blind
I also walked a little designated hiking trail. I saw several boxes for wood ducks and heard them go screeching off the little ponds in the area. I also heard and saw some woodpeckers, chickadees, and yellow-rumped warblers.

Hiking trail through a swamp - heard wood ducks screeching as they flew off

It was a very peaceful place in the morning light

I was disappointed in not seeing many birds. I did go back for the Christmas count and found more, but still not as many species or numbers of each species as we expected. However there is at least one Trumpeter swan there but I haven't gotten to see it yet.