By Donna Campbell Smith
My daughter and greatgrandchildren were excited at the prospect of seeing a bear at Pungo National Wildlife Refuge in northeast North Carolina. Last year, we packed our cameras and road snacks and drove from Williamston, NC — an hour or so from our destination. A Unit of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, the Pungo refuge is located in Hyde and Washington Counties. Originally it was established as Pungo National Wildlife Refuge in 1963.
We entered the refuge and turned down a tree-lined gravel road. No more than ten minutes after arriving Julia, my daughter who was driving, stopped the SUV and said, “Look, Mom! Right there, it’s a bear!” She pointed out her window.
Sure, enough we saw our first bear of the day. It was standing in the middle of a tractor path that teed into the road where we were stopped. It apparently intended to cross the road, but we were in its way. It stood there, frozen in place. It was a small bear, maybe a yearling.
We started snapping picture from inside the vehicle. I, being on the passenger side, was not getting clear shots. With the car between the bear and my side of the road, I got out to take more pictures. The bear was clearly trying to make up its mind whether to pass or wait. He took a few steps, then stopped. Finally, he decided on turning and ambling a few feet further along the field, crossed the ditch and made his way across the road a good ways in front of us, then crossed the field on the other side of the road and into the woods.
We spent the rest of the day driving up and down the roads that crisscross the 12,350 acres of refuge land and leads around the 2,800-acre Pungo Lake. We stopped at observation decks where we saw some of the water birds that make their homes on the lake. The refuge is home to a large variety of birds (200 species), deer and small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. (One of the many reptiles you may encounter on your visit to the refuge is a snapping turtle.)
Refuge rules should be followed carefully for safety and welfare of the animals:
Taking, possessing, injuring, disturbing, damaging, destroying, or collecting any plant or animal, or attempting these actions is forbidden as is feeding or baiting wildlife, or using a spotlight, automotive headlight, or other artificial light to spot, observe, locate, or take any animal. Keep your distance and use a zoom lens for photographs for safety and so you do not disturb the subject of your pictures. At least fifty yards is recommended.
To plan your visit to Pungo National Wildlife Refuge, go to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge website at www.fws.gov/refuge/pocosin_lakes. If you love wildlife-watching and photography, you won’t be disappointed.
Ed. Note: The refuge is open-to-the-public at this point, despite closures of National Wildlife Refuge facilities/buildings for safety due to the coronavirus.