Habitats: Pine forests, mixed pine/hardwood, non-riverine swamp forest, bordered by the Albemarle Sound and Alligator River
Key birds: Summer: Green Heron, Eastern Kingbird, warblers, including Prothonotary, Worm-eating, and Swainson's. Year-round: Bald Eagle and Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
Best times to bird: breeding season, from April through early June; fall migration.
Description: Palmetto-Peartree Preserve consists of 9,732 acres primarily of pine forest, transected by both paved and unimproved roads.
Directions: If traveling east on US 64 set your odometer at the light in Columbia and continue East on 64. At 5.3 miles take a left onto State Road 1229, which is old US64. Continue for just over 2 miles and take a left on 1221 (Ft. Landing Road). Proceed Northward on 1221 until you reach the end. You are now at S.R.1209, Soundside Road. The bulk of the preserve lies to the north of this road. There are no signs, but note the orange gates denoting preserve property. Follow Soundside road to the right for approximately 3 miles to Goat Neck Road on the left.
Another section of the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve (P3) is conveniently accessible from US 64. If driving from the west on US 64, set your odometer at the light in Columbia and continue east on Highway 64 for 10.9 miles. From the east, set your odometer at the west end of the Alligator River Bridge. Proceed west for 3.1 miles. Pull over at the orange gate on the north side of the highway without blocking the gate. This dirt road, State Road 1222, will take you to the Little Alligator River after a hike of about 1.5 miles.
Birding Highlights: This newly formed preserve is excellent for finding the federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. There are well over 100 cavity trees with an estimated 100 birds in over 20 active clusters. Also on the preserve are 6 other breeding woodpeckers: Pileated, Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Red-headed (breeding season only) and Northern Flicker.
The section of Goat Neck Road beginning approximately 1/2 mile past the junction with Pledger Road (1225) is a good area during the breeding season for a nice variety of birds, including all the woodpeckers. The best strategy is to drive along this road slowly making frequent stops. Listen for warblers, White-eyed Vireo, several woodpeckers, Great Crested Flycatcher and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. During fall migration the variety of birds is often greater. Eventually you will come to a gate across Goat Neck Road itself. Park off to one side and walk the rest of Goat Neck Road. This is a hike of about 4 miles roundtrip, disregarding the side roads. Species you may encounter along this route include: Green Heron, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Eastern Kingbird, numerous warblers as well as other passerines; all seven species of breeding woodpeckers are also possible. There are several Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity trees near the end of this road. Also, watch for Worm-eating and Hooded Warblers.
Another, much shorter hike that has many of the same birds as on Goat Neck Road is near the P3 section of the preserve. The P3 is also home to an assortment of breeding warblers with Swainson's Warbler scattered throughout the site. State road 1222, along US 64, is probably the most convenient place to listen for Swainson's Warblers. During the summer Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting and Common Yellowthroat are possible in the field on the left. In winter, this is a good area for Swamp Sparrow and House Wren. As you proceed, look for White-eyed Vireo, Prairie and Prothonotary Warblers. Listen for Swainson's Warbler in the distance.
Another couple of hundred yards in will bring you into a more mature forest. Look for Downy, Hairy, Northern Flicker and Pileated Woodpeckers year-round. Red-headed Woodpeckers are often seen in this area during spring and summer. This area is also good for Eastern Wood-Pewee, Ovenbird, and Great Crested Flycatcher. Listen for Worm-eating Warbler. During the winter, look for White-throated Sparrows, both kinglets, and Eastern Phoebe. At about one mile, note the vegetated road to your left. In the summer listen for Black-throated Green Warbler. After another half mile or so you will come to the Little Alligator River. This is an excellent spot for Green Heron. Also watch for Osprey, Double-crested Cormorant and Bald Eagle.
General Information: While birding on the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve, you will almost certainly be alone. There are no facilities. The nearest gas stations and restrooms are in Columbia and at the foot of the Alligator River Bridge. Bring plenty of drinking water and be mindful of muddy roads. Also, be aware that deer hunting is popular on the preserve in season. Brochures of the preserve are available at the Rest Area Information Center on US 64 in Columbia. Maps are available through The Conservation Fund and are a great aid in distinguishing preserve property from private property.
DeLorme map grid: page 48, B2
North Carolina Travel Map grid: K2
For more information: The Conservation Fund, (252) 796-1677, (919) 967-2223; http://www.conservationfund.org/projects/palmetto-peartree-preserve