I went to the Pungo unit of Pocosin Lakes NWR in eastern North Carolina on Saturday. Had initially planned to take my one-man camper and stay overnight at a nearby campground, but the weather forecast for Sunday was not very favorable. So I decided to make it a day trip instead and awoke at 3:00 am to take the 2 1/2 hour drive to the refuge. A number of years ago, I would make several trips each January and February, but I hadn’t been in several years due to increasing restrictions on access. It had reached the point that the only photography possible was from the edge of the main road. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind the restrictions; the refuge is not heavily visited. On this visit I met a tour group from the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, passed several vehicles driving the refuge road , and saw a pair of photographers with tripods and long lenses photographing in another area. Those are the only visitors I saw in a full day. Unfortunately the other two photographers had entered a restricted area to photograph tundra swans in a field. They were at the edge of a tree line by the field. The tundra swans weren’t affected at all by their presence (the tree line serves as a kind of natural blind) and I personally feel that the restricted area sign should be moved down that closed road a short distance to the tree line . Where the sign is now, photography is impossible and even decent viewing with binoculars is difficult. That doesn’t excuse the photographers’ behavior. Their actions are just creating potential problems for other photographers and visitors. Certainly those who break the rules should be reprimanded or fined, however it is my hope that access decisions are evidence-based (on wildlife impact) and not just arbitrary decisions by management.
Fortunately, access had improved some since my last visit and I had an enjoyable day. One of the best areas for photography, the road on the north side of Pungo Lake, had been reopened—allowing wildlife watchers and photographers to hike down it. The thousands of snow geese and tundra swans are the main attractions at Pungo, but redwinged blackbirds, black bear, deer, northern harriers and occasional eagles can also be photographed there. I’ve even seen a bobcat there on several occasions, but not close enough to photograph. Below are a few images from Saturday.