Eastern North Carolina, or as it is also known, depending on who you talk to, the Coastal Plain, Sandhills, Downeast, or Tidewater. (Area shown in blue on map to the right )
It is that part of the state where the land, soil, trees and nature begin a gradual transformation from what you would find in the Piedmont region to that usually associated with an area closer to the ocean. Pines become more dominant and the soil begins to take on a darker, humus rich, and sandy consistency.
And the closer you get to the ocean and sounds the darker you will find the streams, rivers, and lakes will get.
There will be subtle changes in wildlife you might see. But, it is still an area rich in natural areas and the opportunities to enjoy that very nature.
By virtue of its status as the State Bird of North Carolina, the Northern Cardinal is included. With its numbers of lakes and waterways of varying descriptions in this area, one must think of certain migratory birds, and waterfowl, like the Canada Goose and Tundra Swan to name a few.
Birds that may not show up quite as often can include: Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Canada Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Painted Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak
Birds you can see here include:
Ring-billed Gull, Tundra Swan, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Tree Swallow, European Starling, Snow Goose, Bufflehead, Brown-headed Cowbird, Turkey Vulture, Black Skimmer, Razorbill, American Coot
Wildlife in Eastern North Carolina can be reasonably expected to consist of Deer, Bears, Alligators, squirrels, rabbits, and certain fur-bearing animals to name a few. If you are interested in a certain species, try the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission website where you are sure to find a wealth of information.
History and Use
North Carolina’s nickname is the “Tarheel State”, and while the term Tarheel once may have been intended as a derogatory term, it’s now one that is embraced by many of its residents and others. The term “Tarheels” is the nickname used to denote the students, graduates, and others associated with one of its more prominent schools, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
But, where did this “Tarheel” term come from? While no one can be absolutely certain, it’s thought to refer to an industry and the people working in it, long held to be a significant part of the State’s economy in general and of Eastern North Carolina in particular. That industry, from some of the earliest times in this part of the state, involves the production of products such as pitch, tar, turpentine, etc. that would have figured into ships, shipbuilding and shipping. The large number, and size, of pine forests in the area, certainly supported it in the beginning. And forestry is still a large influence even today.
This “tar” industry, along with certain historic and continuing agricultural pursuits played a large part in defining North Carolina both historically and currently.
The management of these resources has had a large influence in the creating and maintaining certain "natural" resources we have for birds and birding today.
A number of indigenous people have called this part of the state their home, as some still do to this day.
Taking into account all this, and more, it’s easy to see how Eastern North Carolina has always figured prominently into what makes the state what it is today.
Areas of Interest
National Parks, Forests, Refuges, and Preserves
Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
[Map 2]Lake Mattamuskeet and Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge are the largest wintering ground for Tundra Swan on the east coast. You can see THOUSANDS at one time!!!! Also Snow Goose are especially prevalent, you may see 10,000 or more at once!! Ducks are very common too. You can see 20 species on a day out with little trouble.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
[Map 1]Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge ( Alligator River NWR), is a wildlife reserve situated in the far-eastern, coastal plain of North Carolina close to the Outer Banks. There you will find many types of habitat, terrain, birds, and wildlife for your enjoyment.
Alligator River will afford you to visit a protected, natural, great birding area. On their website, you can find a dedicated “bird area” under Wildlife & Habitat with a lot of Refuge specific bird information including a downloadable Refuge Bird List. There are too many species you might see to list here.
Birds are not the only wildlife you might see here. Other possibilities range from black bear, deer, and wolves to certain endangered species, and other native wildlife spread out over their wide range of habitat.
There is so much to see, and experience, you will be best served by visiting their website and spend some time there to see what you have to choose from.
North Carolina State Parks, Forests, Trails and Reserves
The North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve is part of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Coastal Management Division. It encompasses 10 National and State Reserve Sites preserving more than 44,000 acres of naturally occurring habitat, spread throughout the Outer Banks and Eastern North Carolina area. It’s managed by them for purposes of research, preservation and education and for the benefit and enjoyment of the public, nation, and state.
The individual sites found in Eastern North Carolina are the [Map 4]Rachel Carson Reserve (National Reserve), [Map 5]Masonboro Island Reserve (National Reserve), [Map 6]Emily and Richardson Preyer Buckridge Reserve (North Carolina State Reserve), [Map 7]Zeke’s Island Reserve (National Reserve), [Map 8]Bald Head Woods Coastal Reserve (North Carolina State Reserve), [Map 9]Permuda Island Reserve (North Carolina State Reserve), and the [Map 10]Bird Island Reserve (North Carolina State Reserve).
Among the many, and varied, habitats found among the sites of this reserve, you can find endangered species of plants, animals, and birds. Some of these areas are utilized by certain migratory birds as well as species that could be considered rare.
Many of these sites afford a variety of environments and habitats that are complimentary to birding, while others are, by description of their habitat, natural inhabitants and suggestion, best enjoyed while in a boat, shallow draft craft, canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddle board as opposed to actually going ashore.
To best enjoy your venture into your choice, or choices, of the sites represented here, it’s suggested you consult the individual site’s website for up-to-date information, availability, and access and photos.
[Map 3]Medoc Mountain State Park in Halifax County offers a stream of approximately 2 ½ miles in length and approximately 10 miles of trails, some of which are for equestrian use, mountain biking, and some for hiking. This combined with the natural areas in the park combine to afford you a good spot in this part of the state to pursue your birding interests.
Other amenities combine to make this a nice spot for a day, or days. Check their website for more specific details and availability.
Mountains to Sea Trail
The North Carolina State Parks, State Trails section has an interesting possibility for potential birding sites now in the Mountains to Sea Trail. This trail, when completed, will cover approximately 1175 miles through all regions of the state beginning from Clingman’s Dome in Western North Carolina, traveling through the Piedmont Region of North Carolina before winding through Eastern North Carolina and ending at Jockey’s Ridge on the state’s Outer Banks. Consult the State Trails and Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail for further details.
Access and Facilities
Commercial air service to Eastern North Carolina is much like that to the Outer Banks, but with a few more options. The closest commercial airports are Norfolk International Airport (ORF) in Virginia, Raleigh-Durham International (RDU) in Morrisville, North Carolina, as well as, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT) in Charlotte, Piedmont-Triad International Airport (PTI) in Greensboro, and Concord-Padgett Regional Airport (JQF) in Concord coming into play, depending on the portion of Eastern North Carolina you want to get to. Driving to your destination from these, to your chosen location, is certainly possible hampered only by time and desire.
Driving in this area will be aided by Interstate Highways I-95 and I-40 as well as some highways in the transition to Interstate roadways plus a generally good system of state and federal highways. North Carolina has begun to institute some toll roads in a few areas. Consult your favorite motoring agency prior to making plans to ensure you are up-to-date on the latest highway status.
- eBird. 2017. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Available: http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: Date June 26, 2020).
- Rudersdorf, Amy. 2010. "NC County Maps." Government & Heritage Library, State Library of North Carolina.
- Wikimedia Public Domain Usage by permission of author David Benbennick, Map of North Carolina highlighting Lincoln County, The coloring and notations contained within. by sbarnhardt, CC0 1.0
- North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
- BirdForum Opus contributors. (2023) Eastern North Carolina. In: BirdForum, the forum for wild birds and birding. Retrieved 3 October 2023 from https://www.birdforum.net/opus/Eastern_North_Carolina
- Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
- Lake Mattamuskeet by Mattamuskeet Foundation
- Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge by Mattamuskeet Foundation
- Mattasmuskeet National Wildlife Refuge - US Fish & Wildlife
- Medoc Mountain State Park
- Rachel Carson Reserve
- Masonboro Island Reserve
- Emily and Richardson Preyer Buckridge Reserve
- Zeke's Island Reserve
- Bald Head Woods Coastal Reserve
- Permuda Island Reserve
- Bird Island Reserve
- North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
- Lake Waccamaw State Park
- Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on Google Maps
- Lake Mattamuskeet on Google Maps
- Medoc Mountain State Park on Google Maps
- Rachel Carson Reserve on Google Maps
- Masonboro Island Reserve on Google Maps
- Emily & Richardson Preyer Buckridge Reserve on Google Maps
- Zeke's Island Reserve on Google Maps
- Bald Head Woods Coastal Reserve on Google Maps
- Permuda Island Reserve on Google Maps
- Bird Island Reserve on Google Maps
- Lake Waccamaw State Park on Google Maps