Pungo Lake and Lake Mattamuskeet Travels to Pocosin Lakes and Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuges

In January, I went with a group of twelve from the Sandhills Photography Club to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in North Eastern North Carolina. This is an area famed for the populations of Tundra Swans and Snow Geese in the winter. The US Fish and Wildlife Service provides the following statistics about Pocosin Lakes NWR on their website.

Anonymous Photographers at the Marsh Pond

Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is 110,000 acres in Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington Counties.

The 12,350 acre Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was originally established in the early 1960s to provide wintering habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds. In the early 1990s, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was established to conserve some of the unique wetlands found in the southeast known as “pocosin”; it included lands immediately adjacent to Pungo so the two refuges were merged. Pungo’s waterfowl purpose remains with those lands; we manage it primarily to provide natural wetlands, moist soil habitat, and supplemental grain (from farming) for waterfowl. Large numbers of waterfowl concentrate on this relatively small area in the winter with peak numbers of well over 100,000 in December and/or January each year. Waterfowl species that winter on Pungo include tundra swan, snow goose, and over 20 species of ducks including wood duck, teal, mallard, and pintail. Conservation efforts on the rest of Pocosin Lakes include restoring the highly altered hydrology of the system and managing water (from rainfall) in the system, as well as managing fire on the landscape (both naturally-occurring wildfires and prescribed fire). The large contiguous forested wetlands in the area support neotropical migratory birds, including many species with declining populations. It is the home to only population of wild, free roaming red wolves in the world and supports several clusters of endangered red cockaded woodpeckers (though the habitat is very different from the longleaf pine savannas where these birds are normally found). And the pocosin supports one of the densest populations of American black bear reported anywhere in the scientific literature.

Backlit Snow Geese
Scene at Pocosin Lakes NWR
Pocosin Lakes NWR, Pungo Unit

Visiting Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was the high point of the trip. Everyone wanted to see the Snow Geese and hopefully the Black Bear. The bear shown here were on North Lake Road (Bear Rd) and were before the rest of the SPC members arrived. We did see the Snow Geese lift off of the lake and in the corn fields. We saw Tundra Swans on the corn fields and in the marsh pond on South Lake Road. We shot sunrise here and watched as the Snow Geese lifted of of the lake. One morning we walked down to the blind and watched the lift off on the lake. Several visits to North Lake Road failed to turn up bears but the weather had turned very cold by then.

Sunrise at the Marsh Pond on South Lake Road
Basking in the Sun
Pocosin Lakes NWR, Pungo Unit
Tundra Swans on the Marsh Pond

Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge

Double Crested Comorants at Lake Mattamuskeet

After the morning at Pungo Lake, we traveled to Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. Here, we expected Egrets, Herons, Ducks, and Tundra Swans as well as viewing the old pump station and the wooden wildlife walk. The US Fish & Wildlife Service provides the following information on it's website.

In the early 20th century, farmers and developers attempted to drain Lake Mattamuskeet, building the world’s largest pumping plant at the time. The lake was drained for certain periods to convert the lake bottom to farmland. Eventually, the effort was abandoned as impractical and too expensive.

Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula in Hyde County, North Carolina. Established in 1934, the 50,180-acre Refuge consists of open water, marsh, forest and croplands. The centerpiece of the Refuge is the shallow Lake Mattamuskeet. At 40,100 acres, it is North Carolina’s largest natural lake.

The Refuge’s strategic location along the Atlantic Flyway makes it a vitally important stopover for wintering waterfowl. Over the past 35 years, up to 80 percent of the Northern Pintail and up to 30 percent of Green-wing Teal that annually migrate along the Flyway utilize Mattamuskeet. In total, the Refuge attracts more than 200,000 ducks, geese and swans from November through February.

About 58,000 visitors use the Refuge annually to hunt, fish, and observe and photograph wildlife.

Great Blue Heron at Lake Mattamuskeet
Taken along the Wildlife Walk in a Cypress Swamp at Lake Mattamuskeet
Taken along the Wildlife Walk in a Cypress Swamp at Lake Mattamuskeet
American Bittern at the entrance to Lake Mattamuskeet
Scenes from Lake Mattamuskeet
Cypress Trees at the Observation Platform

Cypress Trees in lake Mattamuskeet

Probably the most photographed scene at Lake Mattamuskeet

The owners of Osprey Nest Campground were kind enough to let us photograph the sunset on Lake Mattamuskeet on their property on Piney Grove Road on the north shore of Lake Mattamuskeet.

Sunset at Osprey Nest Campground
View from Osprey Nest Campground
View from Osprey Nest Campground

One more look at the Snow Geese at Pungo Lake

Snow Geese
Snow Geese
Backlit Snow Geese
How do they not run into each other!
Coming in!
Blue Morphs
Snow Geese
Sunset at the Marsh Pond

Great trip despite the cold and mud at Pungo Lake. I would like to go back in May or June and try and see more bears. I am always amazed at the Snow Geese and remember them from the Kuralt broadcasts many years ago. It's probably worth mentioning that there are few restaurants or gas stations in this area of NC. Fill up often and take snacks along with you.

Created By
John German
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All photography by JohnRgerman

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