Monday, February 15, 2010

Peter's fantastic mid-Atlantic trip. Day 1, part 1.

Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters (Columbia, NC) in the snow

A Friday in the reading rooms of the Library of Congress; the weekend exploring the IBAs of the mid-Atlantic. That was the plan. I would drive down to Chesapeake, VA after my research day, spend Saturday in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina, and then Sunday driving back up through the Eastern Shore of Virgina and Maryland.

Pungo Lake would be my first stop. Please view this movie trailer to see why. But I had concerns. Pungo Lake was notoriously difficult to find, the surrounding roads were often closed, often flooded. With my little underpowered Chevy Cobalt rental, I had no business challenging muddy hazardous roads. If there were the least bit risk of precipitation, I would call it off. Still, I was in love with the idea of catching the flight of the snow geese at dawn, one of nature's greatest spectacles.

All week the weather reports for the region showed clear or partly cloudy skies for Saturday. When I went to bed, the prediction had changed--a little snow in the early morning but nothing would stick, nothing would accumulate. When I got up at 4:30 to beat the sun to Pungo Lake I was greeted with snow--sticking and accumulating. (Some parts, not far from Pungo, would get 9 inches by the end of the day). But those are the risks of birding adventures in the winter. Pungo Lake would have to be sacrificed. There were plenty of other places--much safer places given the weather--to be explored.

The alternate stop would be ultra convenient, ultra accessible Pocosin Lakes Headquarters (Pungo is officially part of this NWR), good for a short walk in the North Carolina woods. Made a little more difficult, but a whole lot more beautiful, by two inches of virgin snow on the trail.

It was cold, windy, and dark, not good bird photography conditions. I had hoped to catch a couple of relatively easy locals--Carolina chickadee and brown-headed nuthatch. I heard the chickadee right away but couldn't find it (this is officially a "lifer" for me, but I used to live in Baltimore and I must have seen these birds on a daily basis). The bird of the hour (in fact the most common passerine the whole weekend) yellow-rumped warblers--absolutely everywhere. I managed some feeble low light shots.

The next destination would be more promising: Lake Mattamuskeet (which has its own movie trailer!)to see the wintering tundra swans.

Day 1, Part 2

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