North Carolina county #97 Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge
This past week I went on a day trip to Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge with Mecklenburg Audubon. Mecklenburg Audubon is my local birding organization and I occasionally go on walks with them nearby, but this yearly trip in late November I have not missed for the last three years. The first year I went was truly spectacular as we saw upwards of ten thousand waterfowl. This year it was considerably slower but it was still a fun day out as usual.
In years past, Pee Dee has been my go to place when I wanted to do a full day birding out. It is only an hour from me and roughly eight thousand acres with many different habitats. It covers both Anson and Richmond counties, but I usually spend most of my time in Anson. In fact, I have seen more bird species in Anson than my home county of Union because of Pee Dee. However, this year, due to my quest for all counties, I have held off going, knowing I would hit it during this yearly trip.
Once again, I had a great day out with the crowd of folks. It is always more fun birding with a group. My photo documentation did suffer quite a bit though, as I wasn’t too focused on getting bird or landscape photos.
Even though it was broadly considered a slow day for birds, I still saw forty-four species, which is not bad at all. The waterfowl had not really come down from the north in numbers yet, probably due to the relatively warm weather so far. In Anson, I did see a few Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, American Wigeons and three Bufflehead. Most were at a considerable distance but viewable with my spotting scope, although the Bufflehead were close by and the male was very striking with his black and white contrasty head.
The most numerous duck I saw were Wood Duck, but they are year-long residents. There were almost certainly a number of waterfowl I did not identify, as several times I saw distant flocks flying one way or another. The most surprising find was a single immature Tundra Swan, which is very out-of-place at Pee Dee NWR.
One of the amazing sights to find at this time of year at Pee Dee is the massive flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds. The banner I have on the website is from photos I took of them last year. This year we estimated about three thousand blackbirds, but it could have been more. When they rise up and fly around as a group, it is very impressive.
For the trip, we actually went to Anson County first, then Richmond County, and then back to Anson County in the afternoon. We were hoping for some Vesper Sparrows at the end of the day but didn’t have any luck. I did see some Swamp Sparrows and a Savannah Sparrow, my first of the season. On the boardwalk near Wildlife Drive, there were quite a number of Eastern Towhees and at least five Red-headed Woodpeckers. They seem to be doing really well in North Carolina lately.
As usual, I had a great time at Pee Dee, and as my quest starts to wind down, I am looking forward to exploring it many times again.