We went a little later than normal for the winter birding season at Lake Mattamuskeet Wildlife Refuge, near Swan Quarter, NC. This is a popular birding hotspot due to its importance as an Atlantic Flyway stopover for many wintering waterfowl. Tucked away in a remote (think: no cell reception) section of eastern coastal North Carolina, Lake Mattamuskeet is the largest natural-turned-man-made lake in the state, at 40,000 surface acres. It is a very shallow lake at an average depth of 3 feet. Lake Mattamuskeet is also very popular among duck hunters and fishermen.
To visit Lake Mattamuskeet, you have got to have some plan of where you want to birdwatch, as the Refuge itself is not very “user-friendly”. It lacks clearly marked trails, information boards, or rangers, although this year it has shown some progress in attempts at development towards naturalists. Late December and early January are probably the best times to visit, and you will be rewarded with sights of abundant tundra swans, snow geese (one of the only places to see them in the area), and many other varied duck species…especially if its been a cold winter.
This winter proved to be rather mild, and therefore there were not as many waterfowl as when I first visited the Lake in 2007 – which was a cold winter, and birds covered the lake. The tundra swans could be heard honking from far away.
Still always worth a visit every winter, below the jump here is our species list from Sunday, January 8th, 2012:
Great Blue Heron
That’s a grand total of ~49 species…not bad for about 5 hours of birding! This year was a very different assemblage than last year. Lots of pintails and black ducks, which I did not see at all last year. Not as many mergansers, and not any snow geese to be seen.
Oh, and one piece of equipment that is essential is a spotting scope. These birds are all pretty shy, and most of them stick to as far from shore as possible. Binoculars themselves just won’t cut it if you want to check all those individuals in a far-off flotilla of ducks.