Large grasses and sedges, including sawgrass and black needlerush, dominate the beautiful brackish marshes near the Pamlico River. These plants thrive in the salty, low-lying, water-logged area. Growing up to eight feet, they provide food and shelter for resident waterfowl. Morning glory, Crested Dwarf Iris, and rose and seashore mallows add color along the waterways.
Evergreen shrubs and trees grow in the ecotone between marsh and swamp. Shrubs include wax myrtle, red bay and groundsel tree. Red cedar and loblolly pine trees form over story. The brackish marsh gradually fades into swamp where a canopy of black gum, tupelo, red maple, bald cypress and ash reaches up to 90 feet. Wax myrtle, gallberry and red bay are abundant in the understory. Pennywort and ferns flourish in the boggy freshwater swamp. Goose Creek State Park has one of the furthest northern populations of Dwarf Palmetto, which can be found along the Pamlico River and within the marshes. Spanish moss drapes trees throughout the park but is most abundant in the swamp forests and along the creeks. Bald cypress thrives along Goose and Mallard creeks while black willows grow in the interior lowlands. Large, spreading live oak trees are found along creeks and river banks.
In upland regions of the park are impressive specimens of loblolly and longleaf pines. Some of these pines reach 100 feet. A diversity of hardwoods, including hickory and oak, compete with the pines. Shade-tolerant shrubs and ferns flourish below.
Goose Creek is a haven for birds. The brackish marshes are home to marsh wrens, waterfowl, rails and several species of herons and egrets. Barred owls and red-shouldered hawks reside in the wooded swamps and shrub thickets. Bird life at Goose Creek varies dramatically with the seasons. In the spring, year-round residents are joined by a host of aviates who arrive from the south to nest. The growing population of osprey and bald eagles is an environmental success story, considering their declining numbers years ago due to DDT.
In cooler weather, the nearby Pamlico Sound is a major wintering area for waterfowl. Ducks, including bufflehead, scaup and ruddy ducks, enjoy the open water adjacent to the park. In addition, black ducks, mallards and wood ducks inhabit the creeks and swamps. Tundra swans and Canada geese also winter in the area and have been seen on occassion at Goose Creek.
Frogs, turtles and snakes enjoy the wetlands of Goose Creek. Even though the water is slightly saline, snakes, including the banded and red-bellied water snakes and the venomous cottonmouth, are present. Minks, muskrats, raccoons and river otters enjoy the brackish marshes. A variety of other mammals, including gray squirrels, opossums and white-tailed deer, find food and protective cover throughout the park. Marsh rabbits live in moist areas, while eastern cottontails prefer the drier uplands. The tracks of elusive bobcats, black bears, gray foxes and red wolves testify to the presence of these rarely encountered creatures.