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 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 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!!
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.
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!!