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Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, at the northern tip of Hatteras Island within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, provides a concentrated area for seeing birds and other wildlife of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. In season, concentrations of ducks, geese, swans, wading birds, shore birds, raptors and neotropical migrants are abundant on the refuge, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The best birding is during the fall and winter, but we were in the area in June 2018 and decided to enjoy a short walk on the refuge’s North Pond Wildlife Trail.

The refuge has a second short nature trail we didn’t walk and, during summer, also offers guided canoe tours of Pamlico Sound. Refuge property on the other side of N.C. 12 includes 13 miles of beach on the Atlantic. There’s also a photo blind open to the public alongside the road just north of the visitors center.

Our first stop was at the refuge visitor center, which is about 5 miles south of Oregon Inlet and Bodie Island. It offers a pair of spotting scopes that look out over North Pond, local wildlife exhibits and a gift shop.

The North Pond Wildlife Trail is a half-mile easy trail that ends at a two-tier observation tower. It has several overlooks and benches along the way, and is called wheelchair accessible in refuge literature.

The trail quickly goes over a small pond where a guy was chumming for turtles to the delight of the woman and child with him. Signs say not to feed the wildlife.

It also drew seagulls and, across the pond, there was a family of geese.

The trail really gets going by heading through a copse of trees. Note the 4x4s used to train the trees as they bend over the trail.

Once out in the sun, the trail quickly crosses an observation ramp oriented toward North Pond. Additional decks look south toward the New Field Pond. The observation tower in the distance below marks the end of the trail.

Decks have observation scopes like these where Pam looks out over New Field Pond.

Here’s Pam on the lower level, then upper level of the observation tower …

Note the trail to the right below and the visitors center in the distance.

Below is the pond beyond the observation tower and Pamlico Sound. In addition to the egrets there, we saw several red-winged blackbirds, a rabbit and a few salamanders as we walked back toward the visitors center.

Though the North Pond Wildlife Trail ends at the observations tower, hikers have the option of continuing to the north around the western edge of the pond on the service road, below, back to N.C. 12 north of the visitors center. The Salt Flats Wildlife Trail, also described as accessible, is there, and is slightly less than half a mile to an observation deck.

Oh, right: the observation tower. Yeah, we forgot to get a photo of it. Here’s one downloaded from the Pea Island NWR website …

As said above, birding is better in fall and winter. We hope to get back to Pea Island.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is across Oregon Inlet south of Bodie Island. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore resumes just south of the refuge at Rodanthe.

Read about our winter birding tour at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge.


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