OBX – The Outer Banks, NC – Part 1

Finally, after living in North Carolina for four years, Princess Gail got to see the Outer Banks! We used our few days to the best advantage!

Our room was a nice surprise. We had made reservations only a few weeks ahead of time, so our rental choices were limited. We stayed at an older hotel in Kill Devil Hills, but our 5th floor room had a glorious ocean view!

Hi, Gail!

Welcome to the OBX

Everyone knows the OBX is a great place for watching the sunrise. This photo from our room’s balcony shows that our sunsets were beautiful, too, despite the definite fall chill in the air and the very stiff winds.

View from the deck

The Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills was a short walk from our hotel. The newer boards on the pier were evidence of the damage and repair after last year’s Hurricane Sandy.

AvalonPier AvalonPier2

Besides enjoying our dramatically lovely surroundings, we are of course always aware of the birds around us. We won’t talk about the usual gulls and sandpipers (though telling apart the numerous species is still a challenge), or the evil Boat-tailed Grackles like this one,

Boat-tailed Grackle

but there were interesting birdy moments right from our balcony, like these Brown Pelicans coming…

Brown Pelicans coming

… and going!

Brown Pelicans going

Most people come the the OBX for the beach life, and that is just fine! But when Gail and I travel, we like exploring as many local habitats as we can, always looking for different birds. Just a few blocks from our hotel was the Nag’s Head Nature Conservancy. Beautiful!

Nag's Head Nature Preserve

And besides all the bird stuff, in the same general area is the Wight Brothers National Memorial. I think because we are from Ohio and live in North Carolina, we felt a special awe and pride as we learned the details of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s great work. If you are ever in the OBX, a visit to this memorial is a must!

Wright Brothers National Memorial

A few short miles south, in Nag’s Head, is Jockey’s Ridge State Park. It is the site of the tallest dune system on the east coast, at about 90 to 100 feet. At the base of the dunes is a habitat of maritime thicket consisting of live oaks, persimmons, red cedar, wax myrtle, bayberry, sweet gum, red oaks, and pines. To the east is the Roanoke Sound, providing the park with an estuary habitat.

Jockey's Ridge State Park1

Gail was like a kid, climbing and enjoying the dunes! 🙂

Gail dune1

She gave her bum hip a pretty good workout!

Gail dune2

We spotted a flock of about 200 Tree Swallows, at the peak of their southward migration.

TreeSwallows OBX 9.29.2013 TreeSwallows2 OBX 9.29.2013

In the thickets, we saw a Nashville Warbler, and this sneaky Pine Warbler.

Yellow-throated Vireo

As you can see, the area right around Kill Devil Hills, Nag’s Head and Kitty Hawk is chock full of fun and interesting stuff! But the goal of this visit was to see as much of the OBX as we could in two and a half short days. In Part 2 I’ll talk about our day trip south to Pea Island and Hatteras, and then in Part 3 I’ll talk about our trip north to Corolla/Currituck and a special visit to a great friend! 🙂


Cape May water birds

Just to add to the previous two posts on Cape May, I thought I’d share a few pictures of some of the water birds we saw.

The most common gull by far was the Laughing Gull:

Laughing Gulls

We often saw Laughing Gulls and Forster’s Terns together:

Laughing Gulls and Forster's Terns

These Forster’s Terns were doing a courtship thing, with the male offering the female a fish, to show he is a good hunter. (She seemed disinterested.)

Forster's Terns courting

I thought this Herring Gull was a beautiful specimen:

Herring Gull

There were also a good number of Great Black-backed Gulls:

Great Black-backed Gull

Because of the Horseshoe Crab spawning, there were hundreds of thousands of sandpipers and other shorebirds. In this picture, the largest bird is a Laughing Gull, the medium sized birds in the foreground with the black bibs are Ruddy Turnstones, and the smaller birds are Semipalmated Sandpipers. There were several other species besides these.


Here is a Piping Plover. It is endangered and closely watched at this time. When one lays eggs on the beach, conservationists quickly build a fence around the nest to keep out predators like Fish Crows.

Piping Plover

A Short-billed Dowitcher:

Short-billed Dowitcher

An American Oystercatcher (sitting on its nest, right in the middle of the beach):

American Oystercatcher

In inland ponds, we saw a number of ducks and geese, including the ever-present Mallards and Canada Geese. We also saw Ruddy Ducks, and these Gadwall:


And these Mute Swans:



We saw a number of raptors, including Bald Eagles, Red-talied Hawks and a Red-shouldered Hawk. But by far the most visible raptor was the Osprey. Check out the talons!


Here’s an Osprey carrying a fish meal back to the nest:

Osprey with fish

Marsh habitats were active, too. There were countless Great Egrets and Double-crested Cormorants. We saw a few Black-crowned Night Herons and Snowy Egrets, and a random Green Heron. This Tricolored Heron was a life bird for Gail and me:

Tricolored Heron

Other life birds included the Marsh Wren and this stealthy Clapper Rail:

Clapper Rail

This is by no means a complete photo record of all we saw. Like I mentioned a few posts back, in the four days we spent in Cape May we saw or heard 120 different species. It was an awesome trip!

I’m happy to share these pics with you, and truly blessed to always share these experiences with Princess Gail! 🙂

Gail observing



Cape May land birds

Cape May was not all about shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. There is quite a variety of habitats on this little peninsula, making the spring migration a veritable paradise for birders. During our four days in Cape May we saw or heard 120 different species of birds.

Gail in Cape May

We stopped at several places to look for warblers and other migrants. Several gave us photo ops!

For me, my favorite bird of this trip was the Prairie Warbler. We had several very good looks at this bird, probably because it’s not just passing through. It actually nests in this area. Here is a nice pic:

Prairie Warbler

Here are a few of the birds who cooperated for pictures:

Blackburnian Warbler:

Blackburnian Warbler

Summer Tanager:

Scarlet Tanager

Eastern Kingbird:

Eastern Kingbird

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in its beautiful, camouflaged nest:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in nest

And the winner of the Most Cooperative Bird Award was the Great-crested Flycatcher. We saw and heard it a lot! Here are several pics:

Great-crested Flycatcher1 Great-crested Flycatcher.2 Great-crested Flycatcher.3 Great-crested Flycatcher.4

We also saw or heard a number of birds, including Indigo Bunting, in the open grassy fields.

Your basic Field Sparrow:

Field Sparrow

And a beautiful Blue Grosbeak in its full breeding plumage:

Blue Grosbeak

This is but a small fraction of what we saw or heard. Cape May is not the easiest place to get to, but I’d say it’s definitely worth the trip, especially in the spring during migration. I understand that the fall migration, especially hawk/raptor watching is also spectacular here. We might just have to make a fall trip here one of these years! 🙂


Big Fun along the Blue Ridge Parkway!

Princes Gail and I headed out a few days ago from our home in Winston-Salem, up Hwy 421, and 80 short miles later we were on the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, close to Boone and Blowing Rock, NC! We headed south, with an open-ended plan, intending to take a few days to travel to the south end of the Parkway at the gate of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We stopped briefly at the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, walked a short trail, saw a few birds, but didn’t linger as we had been to this beautiful place before and had so many new things to explore.

Our next stop was at the Julian Price Memorial Park. We decided to hike around Price Lake, supposedly a 2.7 mile jaunt. Well, first of all, it seemed like 4 miles. The terrain was difficult at times. And we got the wet end of the “10-20% chance of rain” when we were at the opposite end of the lake! We finished soaking wet but feeling hearty! The place is a nice stop for campers, and the lake is open to canoes and kayaks; no motor craft. Pretty.

We stopped at many of the overlooks to take in the awesome sights. At the Rough Ridge overlook, we got onto the Tanawha Trail up to the ridge itself.

It was a steep and very rough/rocky trail, but the views were worth it!

We drove over the famous Linn Cove Viaduct. We drove past Grandfather Mountain and Linville Falls because we have been to those places before. We spent the rest of the afternoon stopping at overlooks and taking in sights like this.

Our first night was at the Little Switzerland Inn, right on the Parkway itself. The main advantage was that we didn’t have to drive way down to a small town in one of the valleys to find a place to stay. There aren’t too many hotels on the Parkway, and Princess Gail and I aren’t really the camping sort. We’ve done it before and enjoyed it, but we much prefer a bed and a shower!

We were up early the following morning to catch the morning light and the first birds at the nearby Orchard at Altapass. This little video says it all:

Besides the spectacular mountain vistas, the Parkway offers many other treats for the eyes.

It is common to see wildlife and not-so-wildlife all along the Parkway.

Our next stop was a hike down to Crabtree Falls. This was a long and strenuous hike. Along the way, we helped an older lady in tennis shoes who had fallen and broken her ankle. But for us, the hike was well worth it! Again, a video:

Later, we stopped at a few more overlooks,

…and then continued on our merry way past Mount Mitchell, Asheville, and on to Mount Pisgah. We stayed at the Pisgah Inn for dinner, a beautiful evening, and our second night. What a pleasant surprise to find this view from our room:

We woke up the following morning to this glorious view!

Another video? … Okay!

Of course, we couldn’t let an early morning in the mountains go by without birding, so we took a stroll  on the grounds around the Pisgah Inn. We had a fittingly “blue” morning on the Blue Ridge: we spotted a Blue-headed Vireo, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and a Black-throated Blue Warbler!

And then it was back on the road. We stopped at several overlooks, and then at one of our planned destinations, the Devil’s Courthouse. It is one of the higher elevations on the Blue Ridge.

We decided to hike to the summit, and… we made it!

Of course, the views were dramatic, and… another video!

And after that, as all good things must pass, we knew our beautiful trip was sadly coming to an end. In the last 30 miles, we enjoyed our final vistas, like this one:

We talked about the many wonders we had seen, which included wildflowers and butterflies,

…Wild Turkeys, bears,

…(I actually did see a bear, from the safety of our car, dart across the road right in front of me,) and of course, our many beautiful birds, including this Pine Warbler:

The road finished it’s final windings

…and we said goodbye to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Goodbye “for now,” as we are certain to be back soon! 😀

Plantations around Charleston, SC

During our recent trip to Charleston, SC, Gail was interested in visiting some of the nearby old southern plantations that have been preserved and are open to the public. We planned to see four of them but only had time for three. Each was interesting in its own right.

Our first one was the Drayton Plantation. We liked it because it has been kept as close to original as possible. Some of it needs repair, and the current owners, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, plans to do it right. But overall it is in very good shape, especially considering it was built in 1738. It is completely empty inside, which actually helped us imagine what it must have been like way back when, better than the other plantations that have furniture and other items inside, not all of which date back to the origins of the plantations. Imagine what it has survived: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the end of slavery, hurricanes, earthquakes, and the general ravages of time. The life and business in this plantation successfully changed with the times. Seven generations of Draytons lived here until they sold it to the historical preservation group.

The property in front of the plantation has changed drastically over the nearly 300 years of the plantation’s existence. Where there is now a small forest of trees there used to be acres of rice paddies, and later cotton fields. The property in the back of the mansion abuts the Ashley River, a low country tidal river that was used to ride the tides in and out of Charleston, carrying people and cargo. That in itself was very interesting to me.

Our next stop was our favorite of the three plantations, the Magnolia Plantation, which also lies along the Ashley River. The enormous property includes not only the beautiful mansion, but also spectacular gardens, a shrubbery maze, canals with bridges, walking trails, and a really great unexpected bonus for Gail and me: the Audubon Swamp Garden! I’ll have bird pictures from the Swamp Garden on the next post.

The following day we had time to visit the Boone Plantation. The impressive entrance drive is lined by giant oak trees that were planted in 1743. It leads to the elegant mansion and to the rest of the large property. A wedding was going on in one part of the plantation during our visit. A segment of “Army Wives” was being filmed at another part. Acres and acres were actively growing various crops, as has been done on this plantation for 320 continuous years. In the earliest years, the plantation produced many of the bricks that built Charleston. The small houses that can been seen off to the side of the main entrance are slave houses, still standing because they were made of brick, an advertisement for the product and the skilled labor that could be purchased from this plantation.

It was interesting and educational to see how people lived and worked during the earliest days of the settlement of this part of the country, even before we were a country. People risked everything to cross the ocean for the opportunities that might be found here. And they had to be very creative and resourceful. Some were very successful, and some of that has been historically preserved in these truly awesome plantations. And we should always note that these things were made possible only through an economy of forced slave labor. The fact of slavery is a terrible part of our history. But all of us, black or white, can take pride in what our ancestors accomplished through their hard work and ingenuity. All of it, the good and the bad, is part of our history, and therefore a part of who we are.

I’m glad Princess Gail wanted to see these plantations. I didn’t expect to be touched by them the way I was. If you are in the area, I suggest you take a little time to visit these interesting sites.

Coming up next… images from our walk in Magnolia Plantation’s Audubon Swamp Garden! 😀