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A few years ago something happened that shut down a U.S. Military airfield. No, it wasn’t a blast of two missiles from Iranians. Nor was it a threatening advertisement from a North Korean leader with bad video editing skills.
No, this was a bunch of birds.
Each year around this time the northern coastal area of North Carolina and inland through the Pocosin Lakes region that includes Lake Phelps, Pungo Lake, Alligator Lake and even Mattamuskeet becomes home to two specific species of migratory visitors from the north.
The snow geese are smaller than the common Canadian goose, are white and have black markings on their wingtips. They fly by the thousands and can fill up the sky. I remember on one hunt for another, we were looking across a field and saw a blurry swarm of white rising from Pungo Lake that looked almost like a living tornado.
They swirled and swayed in a mesmerizing pattern from where something spooked them. It was an incredible sight as it filled the horizon upwards, and this was seen from approximately five miles away. One of the things I have not done yet but wish to one day (maybe this year?) is to go on a hunt for them.
The other species I am mentioning is the tundra swan. This is the largest North American waterfowl than can be hunted and the second largest waterfowl behind the trumpeter swan. The bird is an incredible vision of beautiful white feathers and massive size.
The sector of swans that call North Carolina and neighboring Atlantic states home during the winter originate from the Arctic Ocean and fly south over the Great Lakes. They have been know to fly as high as five miles altitude in their V formations during the migrations.
Mating for life, if one partner dies, the other may not mate again for three to five years if ever at all. Even when they return to their nesting grounds, it has been found that offspring will often make home nearby to parents, keeping family units close.
They are also a hearty bunch, able to fight off most predators while on nesting grounds, with brown bears and occasionally arctic foxes only taking young offspring. The adults have no natural predators.
As you may see at times when studying various game animals, humans account for the largest predation. The group that migrates towards the Atlantic Coast is estimated around 150,000 in number. Hunters take roughly 4,000 each year on hunts, and another 6,000 is estimated to be taken by poachers or self-sustenance hunters.
Tundra swan are limited for hunts, with lottery draws for permits available in a few states. In North Carolina, the draw is in September to get permitted to hunt during the winter months with a limit of one bird. This seems to keep a nice balance, as the swan population has increased over the decades.
There is also another group that nests in western Alaska and migrates towards California and neighboring areas. This group is actually losing population. While they can be hunted in Montana, Utah and Nevada, California does not permit hunting swans.
Whether you hunt or not, it is definitely a sight to experience by taking a weekend to the Pocosin Lakes region during the next couple of months.
Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.