Pocosin Lakes NWR: The Hidden Gem of the Inner Banks

Author: NCWRC blogger/Friday, February 9, 2018/Categories: Blog, Conservation

Manisit Das 1Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is a hidden gem on North Carolina's Inner Banks. This gorgeous expanse of rich, diverse, dynamic habitat offers a multitude of birding, hiking and wildlife photography opportunities. During the winter, migratory waterfowl create magical scenes as the air fills with tens of thousands of Tundra Swans and Snow Geese every morning and at sunset as they travel to and from foraging areas. It is a moment no true birder should miss.

The refuge is located on the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula with portions of its banks along the Scuppernong and Alligator Rivers and includes land in Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties. This 110,106-acre refuge was founded in 1990 and provides numerous recreation opportunities. The unique habitats and diverse wildlife can be enjoyed from land or water. You can also access the Scuppernong River Interpretive Trail from the visitor center in Columbia, NC. Matthew Molt 1The vast array of habitats in this refuge include pocosin, bay forest, peatland Atlantic white cedar forest, mixed pine flatwoods, hardwood swamp forest, cypress/gum swamp, freshwater marsh, xeric sandhill scrub, cropland, moist soil units (managed wetlands), natural lake shoreline and open water. These habitats support 200 bird species, 40 mammal species, 40 reptile species and 36 amphibian species.

The Pungo Lake unit within the refuge offers excellent waterfowl-viewing opportunities. This unit was established to provide habitat for migratory, wintering waterfowl. Waterfowl in this unit are protected from hunting and disturbance. Migratory waterfowl typically start to arrive at Pungo Lake in October, with much larger numbers showing up in November. Numbers continue to increase until their peak in December or January. Well over 100,000 waterfowl occupy the Pungo unit each year. The habitat in this unit mostly consists of pocosin wetlands, which are characterized by peat soils and southeastern shrub bog vegetation.

PoMatthew Molt 3bcosins are also excellent habitat for American black bears, with the Pungo unit hosting one of the densest populations. Natural wetlands are an extremely valuable resource that provides essential habitat for native plant and animal life.  The landscapes created by this particular habitat are gorgeous and striking throughout the seasons. Fall in particular brings a lot of delightfully unexpected color that tends to be absent in many other coastal areas. Delicate white flowers adorn olive-green shrubs while bright bursts of reds and oranges embellish the trees above. On a clear winter day, the deep blue of the lake and sky are interrupted only by honey-colored grasses and a few sparse, scrubby trees. The white of the Tundra Swans and Snow Geese is a brilliant contrast to the blue of the water and sky. Keep an eye out for herons and turtles in the roadside ditches along the highway on your way to the refuge as well.

Some of the waterfowl species you are likely to see at Pocosin Lakes are Tundra Swans, Snow Geese and many species of ducks including Mallard, American Black Duck, Blue-winged and Green-winged teal, Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Wood Ducks.

You can view waterfowl from pretty much any area along the shore, but there are five designated observation areas that provide particularly excellent views:

Hyde Park Observation Point is a good spot for viewing large concentrations of ducks attracted by the planting of millet as part of the soil management program.

Pungo Lake Observation Platform and Charles Kuralt Trail Site is an elevated platform on the southern tip of the lake. provides unobstructed views of the lake and surrounding pocosin habitat. Southerly winds typically yield the highest concentration of waterfowl in this area.

Pungo Lake Observation Point can be reached on a half-mile trail leading to the observation/photo blind. This is a great spot for photographing waterfowl. The largest concentrations occur between November and February. When approaching the blind, be careful to be as quiet as possible to avoid scaring away birds.

West Lake Road Observation Point is a wonderful place to watch for huge flocks of waterfowl that are flying back and forth between Pungo Lake and the nearby foraging areas. Early morning and late afternoon will give you the best chance of catching one of these breathtaking scenes.

North Lake Woods Observation Area is a wooded area that allows visitors to remain hidden while viewing large groups of waterfowl on the lake.


Written by: 
Malorey Henderson
N.C. Birding Trail Technician



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