Sandhills Game Land
Counties: Moore, Richmond, and Scotland
Habitats: Longleaf pine forest, fields, lakes, swamp.
Key birds: Summer: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Kingbird, Wood Thrush, Yellow-throated Vireo, Ovenbird, Prothonotary Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Summer Tanager, and Indigo Bunting. Winter: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Creeper, Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Winter Wren, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-rumped Warbler. Year-round: Northern Bobwhite, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Warbler, Bachman's Sparrow.
Best times to bird: Good opportunities year-round. Birding during the breeding season (May-July) provides the best opportunity to detect Bachman's Sparrows, when they are singing. Large, mixed-species flocks of passerines are frequently encountered during winter months.
Description: The Game Land comprises approximately 58,000 acres spread over several separate parcels, and provides one of the largest examples of the longleaf pine ecosystem open to the public in North Carolina. Frequent fires help to maintain this unique ecosystem. The two largest contiguous blocks of the Game Land are located immediately north (block A) and south (block B) of route 1 near Hoffman.
Directions: Since Sandhills Game Land sprawls across 3 counties planning your trip prior to visiting the area is recommended.
To gain access to block A and Drowning Creek turn west onto Thunder Road from US 1 at the wastewater treatment plant just south of Pine Bluff. Proceed 5.8 miles to the double bridges. Where Thunder Road ends, turn left on Derby Road and you will be entering block A. The field trial grounds, with frequently burned longleaf pine stands, fields, and hedgerows, lie on the west side of the road. Block B is most easily accessed from US 1 by turning south onto School Dr near Hoffman and then turning left onto Watson Road, or by turning off of US 1 east onto Old Laurel Hill Road near Marston. Many of the dirt roads criss-crossing the Game Land are poorly marked and some require a 4-wheel drive vehicle. However, good birding opportunities are available from the state-maintained roads.
Birding Highlights: During spring and fall migration, many warblers and other birds can be detected at the bridges where Drowning Creek crosses Thunder Road. Brown-headed Nuthatches can be found year round in mature longleaf forests, particularly those with a lush herbaceous understory. Bachman's Sparrows are most abundant on block A in areas of open pine forest with a grass understory. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are most easily spotted near a cavity tree. Cavity trees are marked with 2 white bands near the base for management purposes. Care should be taken not to disturb these federally endangered birds. The drains (vegetated waterways) and fields offer good opportunities for observing concentrations of birds.
General Information: There is no visitor center or information booth at the Game Land. The Game Land is open to the public year-round. Hiking, horseback riding, and non-motorized boating are all permitted. Hunting is allowed on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday during the hunting season, generally September through February. Game Land boundaries are marked with 2 orange strips around a tree, and a small NC Wildlife Resources Commission diamond-shaped sign.
DeLorme map grid: page 72, A2
North Carolina Travel Map grid: G3
For more information: North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Sandhills Game Land, (910) 281-3917;
Sandhills Game Land maps
The Nature Conservancy http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/northcarolina/preserves/art10775.html