Dawn Search For Black Bear

Mark, Jena, Michelle and I booked a private driving tour of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, located in Manteo, North Carolina, with two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists.  Our obligation was that we arrive to the Creef Cut Road Trail Head at 6:30 AM, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.


The refuge is 153,000 acres and is located immediately inland of Nags Head and Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  Alligator River Refuge is also responsible for Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, located within Cape Hatteras.


Here’s one photo from two days ago that I took of an Ibis at Pea Island, but back to Alligator River.


Alligator River is known to have the largest black bear population on the east coast, averaging between 500 and 800 bears on Refuge on any given day, as the Refuge is surrounded by military, farmland, low density residential and other natural areas.  They also have alligator and a successful red wolf reintroduction.

The flowering plant above is Virginia saltmarsh mallow (Kostrletzkya virginica), and we saw many other blooms of pink, including meadow beauty (Rhexia) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias) and yellow bladderwort (Utricularia).


Tracy, our guide, had us looking for wet footprints across the internal, and otherwise locked service roads.  In the case of this photo, we could tell that two bear had just crossed the road within the last few minutes.


We also found fresh steaming piles of bear poop, one dominated in the yellow color of corn, one in red, dominated by berries, and . . .


. . . one in brown, dominated by seed and beans.  The refuge includes extensive forested and emergent wetlands, vast areas of corn, soy and other crops, massive sweeps of old-field (prescribed burn) meadows and expansive low fields that are annually flooded for autumn migratory waterfowl.  Most of the service roads and agricultural fields included persistent perennial agricultural drainage ditches and streams.


It was not long before we began seeing bear, and I am glad that we brought along binoculars and my new Nikkor telephoto lens.


Tracy would get the refuge van as close as comfortable, so as not to spook the bear, which allowed us to get some great photos.


As we drove by, we were able to get incredibly close to the bear that just went about their business, but were always watchful of our presence.


Now for the money shot, as I got this photo from riding shotgun in the van.  A small portion of the bear are tagged for research purposes, as was this bear.


We saw a total of four different bear at various locations within the Refuge, more of which were quite weary of our presence, and made every effort to avoid being observed.  Four bear on the morning, how frickin-fantastic!


A yellow-bellied slider warms himself on a basking log.  While slowly driving along the miles of wide drainage swales, we kept a constant eye-out for the trifecta of poisonous snakes, timber rattlers, cottonmouth and copperheads, all of which occur on Refuge.  None seen, but we flushed all manner of waterfowl, while also looking for alligator and otter.


A red-tailed hawk looking for breakfast.


Once we got too close to the hawk, he bolted for other nearby meadow hunting grounds.


Parasitic mistletoe grew in the red maple and stunted oak of the forested wetlands, with the shrub layer dominated by redbay and sweet pepperbush.


This turtle, unable to find a basking log, wanted very much to warm-up in the morning sun, and just went vertical on the bank to gain some internal temperature


This rabbit felt quite confined, as he was backed by deep water, the van behind him and something out in front that he kept an eye on.  Shortly beyond we saw green heron, kingfisher, cattle egret and great white egret.

Thank you Tracy for a wonderful early morning of wildlife observation!


As we left the trail head where we all met, but still on Refuge grounds, we saw a great display of late August roadside wildflowers at peak display.


I have never seen a monoculture of zinnia used as a wildflower meadow mix before, and which was quite striking.


Well done Fish and Wildlife Service!

Thank you to Michelle, Mark and master bear-spotter Jena for coming out on this pre-dawn foray.  Thank you to Alligator River Refuge for providing us with such a private, exclusive opportunity to observe wildlife.