A walk around Patsy Pond Nature Trail is a foray into eastern North Carolina’s past. The easily accessed portion of the Croatan National Forest is a showcase for unique plants and animals that inhabit the longleaf pine savannah ecosystem.
Much of the surrounding forest is now gone due to development, so Patsy Pond offers birders one of the best opportunities in the Tar Heel State to observe habitat specialists like the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow. Three hiking trails range in distance from 0.75 to 1.9 miles and are well marked and maintained by volunteers from the North Carolina Coastal Federation. Two trails lead to the site’s namesake, Patsy Pond. The shallow, sandy-bottomed pond can be as large as seven acres or as small as a glorified puddle, but no matter its size, it always attracts birds.
Fall brings mixed feeding flocks of neotropical migrants to the pine savannah. And Patsy Pond is worth visiting in winter and early spring for the chance to see all of the Southeast’s woodpeckers – Downy, Hairy, Red-headed, Red-bellied, Red-cockaded, Pileated, Northern Flicker, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – during the course of a short walk. — Jamie Cameron
Jamie Cameron is a writer and birding guide from Stella, North Carolina.
Longleaf pine savannah. Understory dominated by wiregrass and forbs with scattered turkey oaks. Depending on season, pond is either open or covered in lilypads.
Flat and gently sloping trails of loosely packed sand. Pond edges can be soft and muddy.
Resident: Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Pine Warbler, Carolina Chickadee, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Northern Bobwhite. Breeding: Bachman’s Sparrow, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Barn Swallow, Common Nighthawk, White-eyed Vireo, Chipping Sparrow. Migratory: Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, Scarlet Tanager, Cooper’s Hawk, Osprey, Black-and-white Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Winter: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Creeper, Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Wood Duck.
When to go
Spring for Bachman’s Sparrow, when it’s singing. Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Brown-headed Nuthatch present year-round. My favorite time is fall, when any and all neotropical migrants are possible and the pond serves as a way station for shorebirds and waterfowl.
Map available at kiosk next to parking lot.
National forest. Free admission daily.
Many of my best discoveries have come at the pond’s edge. Learn the Red-cockaded Woodpecker’s call, and the bird will be hard to miss. Stay out of the grassy areas in summer to avoid picking up chiggers.