Nature’s notebook

How a private pond became a nationally known waterfowl refuge

Aerial photo of lakes at the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge.

On a cool January day a few years ago, I was walking with a friend on a boardwalk through a serene forested wetland, with a cool breeze blowing across the water and through the trees. I spotted a red-headed woodpecker searching for lunch on a hollowed-out standing snag. I watched as he made his way from tree to tree, enjoying the leisurely pace of the day as much as I was.

On another trip to this same location with two other friends, I saw a variety of songbirds in a restored native grassland, including indigo bunting and red-winged blackbirds. A drive along Brown Creek resulted in the sighting of several great blue herons and great egrets, followed by one quick glimpse of a muskrat. On yet another visit, I was able to see hundreds of ducks in flight over a protected wetland on the Pee Dee River. This is the same place I wrote earlier about spotting four wood storks several years ago. This special place is not somewhere private and secret, but open and available to everyone to enjoy.

This young wood stork, North America's only stork species, was spotted several years ago in Anson County's Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, thought to be out of its natural range. Photo: Crystal Cockman

We have a great resource nearby in the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge in Anson County. If you’ve never been, it’s worth a trip. You can observe a wide variety of wildlife. It’s a particularly great place to go birding, as there are thousands of waterfowl that make the refuge their home in winter. The refuge covers 8,500 acres and has a diverse landscape. The distinct habitats include bottomland hardwood forests, pine forests, mixed pine-hardwood forests, croplands, old fields, wetlands and open waters.

The story of the refuge is told on its website, part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:

“In 1934 a local farmer and goose hunter named Lockhart Gaddy retired from hunting, and decided to establish a goose refuge on his private pond. That year, nine wild Canada geese wintered on the pond. The wintering flock steadily grew each year, and by 1954, over 10,000 James Bay Canada geese were wintering on his pond. Gaddy’s Wild Goose Refuge became a popular destination for people and geese. In 1952, visitors from 47 states and 11 foreign countries signed the guest log.”

The crowds – birds and people – brought some fame to Ansonville, and the town became a destination for waterfowl hunting and wildlife observation. The website’s history continues:

“In the 1960’s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to acquire lands near Mr. Gaddy’s sanctuary. The initial goal was to expand protection of the James Bay Canada goose flock and other waterfowl in the area. Farmlands adjacent to Brown Creek and the Pee Dee River were purchased as part of the conservation effort. Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963, to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds.

“Unfortunately, James Bay Canada geese no longer flock here in large numbers. But several hundred of them might be seen in a good year. Overall, the refuge continues to be a great place for waterfowl, and over 10,000 ducks and geese winter here each year.”

According to the website, the refuge strives to manage lands for the benefit of migratory shorebirds, wading birds, marsh birds and land birds. It manages wetlands, forests, old fields and open waters and provides habitat for nearly 200 migratory bird species.

The LandTrust for Central NorthCarolina is hosting a guided birding trip at the Pee Dee Refuge Jan. 26. It’s a rare opportunity to observe migratory waterfowl making the refuge their winter home and see migratory birds such as black ducks, ring-necked ducks, mallards, and Canada geese.

Register here: https://landtrustcnc.org/2017/pee-dee-wildlife-refuge-birding-trip/ or call 704-647-0302.