Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Weekend Trip - Part II -- Pocosin National Wildlife Refuge


 After a wonderful stay at our wilderness accommodations, we rose at 4:30 in the morning to grab a quick bite and some coffee and head out in the pitch dark to try to spot some bears at the Pocosin National Wildlife Refuge, home to 11,000 Black Bears!!  There had been reports that people saw quite a few the day before, but no guarantees were made as it was a very cool morning.  While waiting for some bears to appear (we had to stay very close to the bus as the bears can run up to 35 mph).  We spotted many flocks of Tundra Swans (seen above) and Snow Geese flying overhead.  The refuge is home to 75% of the world population of Tundra Swans in the winter and the noise carries for a long way!!


We didn't have to wait but for a few minutes at our first site to spot a bear heading for the pocosin!  You can see the sun is just coming up.  The bears hang out in the cornfields on the left side of the road but head to the pocosin when nervous about people!  According to Wikipedia, 

"Pocosin is a term for a type of palustrine wetland[1] with deep, acidic, sandy, peat soils. Groundwater saturates the soil except during brief seasonal dry spells and during prolonged droughts. Pocosin soils are nutrient deficient (oligotrophic), especially in phosphorus."


Still early we spot another bear along the edge of the cornfield.


And then we spot the Mama Bear and three cubs.  One cub is in the foreground and the Mama is the middle bear in the background.  What a treat.  Altogether we saw 22 different bears, many really off in a distance as they are wary of people which is a good thing.  We made so many sightings, that we lost count!!  This was all in a relatively short period of time although the temps were probably in the high 20s for the first part.  We spotted bear skat which showed all the corn they had been eating!!  

We also saw lots of bear tracks, raccoon tracks  and the tracks of the Red Wolf, an endangered species that has been re-introduced in this area.


In addition to the flocks of Tundra Swans, we saw huge flocks of Snow Geese flying overhead.  The have the shorter necks and the black wing tips.  They fly in a very disorganized manner as opposed to the Tundra Swans that form the classic vee shape we see in Canada Geese.


This is what those flocks of Snow Geese look like.  When the Snow Geese have all arrived (close to an estimated 70,000), they will lift off the lakes in one flock filling the sky and looking like snow,  Some of my fellow travelers had seen this and remarked that it sounded like a train coming as well as obliterating the sky completely.  They will not all arrive until later -- especially after Maryland has had some cold weather or snow.


A closeup of one of the Tundra Swans which were flying overhead in large flocks as well.


The Tundra Swans are so big, they huff and puff to take off even from the water and make an incredible flapping noise in additional to their constant calls.


I am so used to seeing Red-winged Blackbirds sitting on stalks in the marsh, it was surprising to see a very large flock fly overhead.  Evidently during the height of winter, they number in the tens of thousands as well!!



One of the coolest sights of the day was this tableau!  There were three juvenile Bald Eagles (two pictured here) and an adult Bald Eagle.  One of the juveniles had scored a snake and was taking it away when the adult decided he wanted it.  If you look closely in the bottom left of the above picture, you can see the snake dropping through the air.  The adult snatched it.





You can see the adult  has the snake here!!

You can see that there are some other hawks in the background of the picture.  

We lost count of the number of Bald Eagles we saw over the two days.  They were probably the most commonly sighted hawk!!   

We did see quite a number of Northern Harriers as well.



Another treat was seeing a flock of Wood Ducks flying overhead.

You couldn't see all their colors though.


I looked in the ditch and saw something swimming and it was identified for me as a Nutria which is  like a giant ratty muskrat.  They are an intruder from South America brought north during the days of the fur trade (I guess they made coats out of them).


Here is a closeup of the Nutria with his huge orange teeth.  You can even see the little paw which is holding vegetation which he is eating.




What a surprise to see a whole grouping of Wilson's Snipes.  There are five in this shot and there were a couple of more on the side.  Since there were so many Snipe, they were relatively easy to spot.  They blend in so well with their environment that when standing alone, they are really difficult to see.  Bitterns are the same way.  These Snipe were mixed in with Yellowlegs (I think both Lesser and Greater) and Dowitchers and some Dunlin.


This is a closeup of a Wilson's Snipe.


Have to do some guessing here but think there is a Lesser Yellowlegs and some Long-billed Dowitchers.  

This trip really exceeded my expectations and I will definitely sign up for the one that is a bit longer in January!!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Trip to Mattamuskeet and Pocosin National Wildlife Refuges Part 1 -- Mattamuskeet

The City of Wilmington Dept of Parks and Recreation sponsored this wonderful two day trip up north about three hours visit the Mattamuskeet and Pocosin National Wildlife Refuges.  It was a wonderful treat with two very full days of bird watching and Black Bear sighting.  You can see from the picture how beautiful the weather was -- we really lucked out as it is ugly out today!!  This is just a view of the habitat.  Lake Mattamuskeet is a very large very shallow lake so a nice habitat for the "puddle" ducks that just dip in to get their food rather than diving.  The first day we focused on Lake Mattamuskeet and stopped several times to do some bird watching.  There were scores of Black Ducks, Blue Wing Teals, Gadwalls, American Widgeons, Ruddy Ducks, Pied Billed Grebes, Ringneck Ducks, Green Wing Teals, American Coots,  Tundra Swans, Canada Geese as well as a few Red-headed ducks, Buffleheads and Scaup.  Somewhere in my pictures is a flock of Wood Ducks flying as well but I haven't found that one yet!!  I did see one Pin-tailed Duck but was too far away for pictures as were many of the ducks.  The light was unfortunately from the wrong
 direction a well!
This was an adult Black Crowned Night Heron.

At the pump station, there were lots of vultures and I finally can identify the difference between Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures when they are flying overhead.  They do hang out together.  These are three of the Black Vultures.  There were several others in this tree and surrounding trees and there were Turkey Vultures circling overhead as well.  I think the Black Vultures are a lot more attractive than the Turkey Vultures.  When in the air, they have much shorter tails than the Turkey Vultures and only  have white on the wing tips instead of the whole bottom of the wing like the Turkey Vultures.

A flock of Gadwalls taking off!

This is a Ringneck Duck in the rear. Not sure what the forward duck is but could be Green or Blue Winged Teal.  They were all at quite a distance and the light wasn't the best.

I think this is a flock of Ringneck Ducks very far away.

One of the Ruddy Ducks with his tail flipped up.

We saw a lot of Tundra Swans but they kept their distance.  Since this swan has some grey, he is still a bit of a juvenile.  We saw some that had a lot of grey.

We also managed to see two Grey Fox.  I had seen them only once before running through my yard here in Kure!!  This was taken through the window on the bus.

We headed to our digs for the night which was a 4H center in Columbia, NC which was really nice.  Mike Campbell who was one of our wildlife guides did an awesome presentation on the status and facts about the Black Bear which we hoped to spot the next day.  We fell into bed, setting our clocks for 4:30 so we could be on the road first thing in the morning!! Both Mike and Andy Fairbanks were super knowledgeable and wonderful guides for our trip. So far it far exceeded my expectations!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Winter is Here and More Ducks are Arriving!

Thought I would start things off with another pretty picture of the Cypress trees and Greenfield Lake Park.  The Cypress are pretty anyway but with the Spanish moss and color change, really a nice view!  


The pond behind the aquarium is beginning to fill with the winter ducks that are so familiar  These are a couple of Buffleheads which I will soon see in large numbers in the ocean but for now they are in the pond.


This is a White-winged Scoter.  There were a couple of these but very shy and they took off as soon as I got to the water edge.


Here he is taking off.  You can see where he gets his name here.


One of my very favorites is back as well and there was a good sized crowd of them -- the Hooded Mergansers with their graphic colors.  You can see their yellow eyes even though they were way on the other side of the pond.


At low tide yesterday at the boat ramp, there were a few birds.  Here is a Dunlin in the background (first one this year), a Semi-palmated Plover and two Least Sandpipers in the foreground.  They were quite a distance away.


Thought I would show progress on my winter project -- a wholecloth quilt.  I bought this preprinted top many years ago and decided it would be my winter project down here as I like to have something to do with my hands while watching tv at night.  It is coming along but don't know whether I will get it done in time for either of the quilt shows I will be in this spring.  There is a lot of quilting as it is a queen sized quilt!


I took this picture with my phone camera but I finally finished this top although I still don't like it very well.  To me it is just boring.  It was a lot of work as  you had to trim and iron seams open at almost every step.  I don't think it looks like it was that tedious.  I am a compulsive finisher though and glad to have this done so I can continue machine quilting a top I made down here last year.  It will be done for the quilt shows!!  I may also get back to making some more purses.  The slightly winter weather that we have been having encourages me to sit and work on quilts.  I can't bear to be inside on the nice days!

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Visit from My Children and Grandchild!!

My youngest daughter and my granddaughter came out from Seattle for a visit to grandma and grandpa this past week.  Unfortunately the weather was not as good as it could have been but we did have a couple of days when we got to see some of the sights around Wilmington.  This was from a visit to Greenfield Lake Park where we hoped to spot some alligators out of the water but no luck.  The Cypress trees are beginning to change color so it made for some very pretty scenery.  There were flocks of cormorants and several American Coots that had migrated down as well as some ducks of suspicious origins!

The whole family minus grandma at the end of the walk!

Amelia is 5 1/2 and likes to sew clothes for her dolls so grandma happily supplied her with some fabrics, scissors and a needle and thread so her kitty now has a new dress.

My daughter Lisa is the original family photographer and does nice portraits -- much better than I do!  This is a closeup of Amelia who does pose for the camera (although usually making some sort of silly face).

Aunt Lisa and Amelia really enjoyed each other as they both spent much time teasing each other -- a family tradition!

Amelia was particularly enraptured with her grandpa!!

We spent one afternoon at the NC Aquarium which is right down the street from the house.  Amelia really likes aquariums and this is a nice size for her.  These are the moon jellyfish which are what wash up on our beaches.  They look much prettier floating around in the tank!

Amelia posing outside on the frog with her new stuffed seal!  Lisa had given her a stuffed seal the last time she visited so now he has company.

Amelia, Suzanne and dear husband posing in front of the fish sculpture at the aquarium.


Just another view of the foliage with the Spanish moss on the cypress at Greenfield Lake Park.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Just a Few Birds


This is the sunset the other night as seen from my porch.  Lately the skies have either been too clear or too cloudy for good sunset pictures.  One of these days it will be just right and I will head down to Ft. Fisher for pictures!  Speaking of Ft. Fisher, I stumbled upon them making a new Nicholas Sparks movie the other day when down there -- there were cables everywhere so I suspect it was going to be a night scene as it was late in the afternoon.


We haven't had any good low tides lately so the birds have been sparse (although my best day was at high tide -- go figure).  My Oystercatchers are back and they are definitely going to be a quilt one of these days as they are just so graphic.


There have also been some Willets mixed in with the Oystercatchers lately.


Here you can see the distinctive wing patterns on the willet which you can't see when they are just standing there!


This is the first of my winter birds that I saw in the big pond behind the aquarium.  It is a Bufflehead and soon there will be flocks of them sitting in the ocean but this little fellow was alone and in the pond.


There were two Pied-billed Grebes there as well way off in the distance.  I didn't see the big alligator this time.


One of the Pied-billed Grebes and the Bufflehead were swimming together for a bit.


Just an update on the x's and o's quilt.  Finally I have at least got more than half together.  I have the individual units for the rest of it and will be very thankful when this quilt is done as it is far far from my favorite although hopefully it will look good on a bed when it is quilted.


For the next week my daughter and granddaughter from Seattle are visiting!  My other daughter even flew back early from Korea to join us!  I have some tired visitors though as jet lag is getting to them all!

Amelia really likes playing with the pipe cleaners and drawing.