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lmSA84

If you go down to the woods today you're in for a big surprise...

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lmSA84

I've been meaning to write this trip report since June - but still better late then never! So here goes. 

 

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The title is inspired by my three year old who joined us on one our two game drives and celebrated seeing her first bear by trying to sing to it. 

 

There are some excellent reports on Safaritalk and elsewhere detailing how you can see Bears – Polar Bears in Churchill or Svalbard - Brown Bears in Alaska, Canada, Finland and elsewhere - Sloth Bears in India and Sri Lanka and even Spectacled Bears in Ecuador. But there isn’t really much on the world’s most numerous bear - the North American Black Bear.

 

Certainly, it seems that Yellowstone is a good option to see them with great sightings in several trip reports but I would suggest that maybe the most reliable destination for Black Bears  - is the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Alligator River is a ~153,000 acre reserve near North Carolina’s Outer Banks coastline, which is itself famous with numerous attractions including the site of the Wright Brothers first flight, the Lost Colony, Pea Island National Refuge and Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The 153,000 acres of the refuge are comprised of a mix of thick forest habitats, swamps and marshland with Pond Pine Shrub Pocosin being the most prominent habitat covering nearly a third of the reserve. Interspersed into these natural habitats are blocks of nearly 3,500 acres of cropland and it’s these croplands which are so useful from a wildlife viewing perspective.  

 

It seems odd to single out the cropland as being critical but they are the only open expanses in which one would have any hope of possibly being able to see a bear or really any animals.

My understanding is that the cropland was originally cleared by a farm called Prulean Farms, but their use of the land was challenged and today the land is actively maintained by the US FWS to provide food for resident and migratory wildlife. I share this last sentence with a bit of trepidation as like many US reserves hunting is permitted so whilst they claim it’s primarily to provide food it could also serve the hunters needs. :blink:

 

Still putting this aside what really makes Alligator River special is it’s wildlife including 145 species of birds and 40 species of mammal of which the two most prominent are the Black Bears and Red Wolves. The Red Wolves are a highly endangered species which the FWS are trying to re-establish in North Carolina. To date they have had mixed success and the probability of seeing them is very low.

 

The bears are another matter though! In total there are an estimated 230 bears on the reserve or one for ever ~650 acres and it’s not unusual to see 5 or more on a single game drive. I’ve even seen several trip reports with 12 or more!

 

The map on the below link does a great job of laying out the reserve. All of the roads marked with a solid line are accessible but the ones in red, particularly the Sawyer Lake Road are the hotspots. We saw 5 bears along this road in two short game drives.

 

https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pubs/All_river_tearsheet.pdf#a

 

The roads marked with a dashed lines are also accessible but only on special Ranger guided tours which leave every Wednesday evening. We didn’t have the chance to do one of these but I got the impression it would really helpful as many of the Bears which we saw were located near the Twiford Road which you can see marked on the map.

 

Drive 1

 

To be continued....

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Kitsafari

Love the title!!

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Atravelynn

Bears and gators.  What more can you ask for!

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lmSA84
On 11/19/2019 at 3:24 AM, Atravelynn said:

Bears and gators.  What more can you ask for!

 @Atravelynn - I couldn't agree more! Although, funny enough Aligators are not easily seen on the reserve.

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lmSA84

Drive 1

 

Our first of two drives was in the afternoon of June 7th. I couldn't find many trip reports focused on Alligator River but those that I could find suggested that the normal rules apply - late afternoon and dawn are best. 

 

I didn't take many landscape shots on the afternoon drive so I'm going to borrow some from the following morning to illustrate the scene. Much of the reserve, is as below, with impenetrable swamp and forest closely hugging each one of the roads that traverse the park.

 

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The roads are then often flanked by small canals....

 

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...which contain wonderful collections of aquatic plants, insects and frogs.

 

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The reserve is a playground for snakes and the occasional alligator but we had no luck with those.

 

The only open areas of the reserves are created by the land cleared for crops and it was in this exact spot below that we saw our first bear!

 

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It seemed to be a young bear, hiding and munching the long grass in the field below the road. We never got a true clear view of him but my daughter loved seeing him and that's all that really counts.

 

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We carried on, going further down Sawyer Lake Road and in total saw another three bears. These bears appeared to be far bigger then the first bear but in each case they were far off near the Twiford Road - which is only accessible on the game ranger led drives.

 

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Our fourth bear would run right across the road in front of us but the moment it crossed the road it melted into the swamp.

 

As great as this day was, tomorrow would bring so much more.

 

Drive 2....

 

Edited by lmSA84

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