Chasing Birds at the Outer Banks

OK, the travel bug has been nibbling at me quite a bit lately, so when last week’s weather forecast predicted three consecutive days of no rain and temps in the upper 50s to lower 60s, I jumped in the truck and headed east!  I love playing tourist in my own state, so the NC Year of the Trails initiative has really helped me to fill in the months between riding season.  Now, I know that those of you in the north consider North Carolina weather to be appropriate for year-round riding, but I tend to not venture far on the bike when temps are below 60ish.  Yes, I’m OK with being considered a fair-weather rider 😉

Time was running out to get a glimpse of the hundreds of lake- and beach-nesting bird species that overwinter in the Outer Banks, NC area, so I figured I’d better get moving if I was going to catch a glimpse of them before they started heading north for the spring.  As part of the Atlanta Flyaway (the bird migration pattern that spans the east coast of North America), multiple North Carolina lakes and National Wildlife Refuges serve as a respite for the original snow birds of winter. 

These are some of my favorite physical resources for route planning and sightseeing. The blue goose passport lists and describes over 500 National Wildlife Refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the rest of the books are self-explanatory.

I based out of Kitty Hawk and travelled most of the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway for the first part of my sightseeing week.

The Outer Banks National Scenic Byway spans 138 miles of shoreline by way of roads, bridges, and ferries. I have ridden (via 2 and 4 wheels) the whole span of this iconic route that runs from the towns of Whalebone Junction near Nags Head in Dare County all the way south to Beaufort in Carteret Counter on other visits. On this trip however, I stayed within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore between Nags Head and Hatteras, where I visited Pea Island Natl Wildlife Refuge, and Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras Light Stations. The lightkeeper houses are detached from the light tower, so they are technically light stations and not light houses. (Map and info from U.S. Dept. of Transportation)
This observation deck at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is at the end of North Pond Wildlife Trail and provides a great view of both sections of the North Pond. From this vantage point, the Atlantic Ocean is just beyond NC-12 to the front, and Pamlico Sound to the back. I saw a few pairs of Tundra Swans, but it seems most of them have already headed back north.
Completed in 1872, this third version of the Bodie Island Light Station stands 156 feet tall. The first one, built in 1847 started to lean and had to be abandoned a dozen years later. The second version, completed in 1859, was blown up by retreating Confederate forces during the Civil War. Still a functioning navigational aid, mariners can tell their position along the NC shoreline in the daytime by its distinctive black and white bands, and during the night by its 2.5 second nightmark (i.e., light flashing rate). The structure is only open for climbing during the summer months, but the boardwalk and trails around it provide great views of its exterior during the off-season.
Cape Hatteras Light Station was built in 1870. The 193-foot tall light station (tallest brick lighthouse in the U.S.) was moved 2,900 feet inland to its current location in 1999 due to coastal erosion. It still protects the NC shoreline section known as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic,’ though it is currently closed for renovations. Cape Hatteras’ light station alerts mariners to their position along the coast during the day via its iconic black and white striped paint scheme, and by its nightmark of 7.5 second flash intervals during darkness. Click HERE to go to the NPS website that has a ton of fascinating information about this historic light station.

After completing the Pea Island and Hatteras Island sections of the byway, I headed back north to finish one of the days with a quick visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills (this was my fourth outing to the birthplace of flight) and to take in the sunset at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

This 60-foot tall, gray granite memorial to the Wright Brothers sits atop Kill Devil Hill, the mound from which they launched the historic first flight on December 17, 1903.
Within the tributes to aviators throughout the Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitors Center was this great quote by Amelia Earhart. This has got to be one of the best slogans ever for how I live my life!
Flying a kite and watching a sunset from the ridge was listed in my NC State Parks Passport as “bucket list” experiences for Jockey’s Ridge State Park… so I did them both at the same time. Epic!
After dinner key lime pie at the Black Pelican. The restaurant resides in the old Kitty Hawk Life Saving Station building (constructed in 1874), one of many such stations that dotted the shoreline in the late 1800s, that was manned by surfmen to rescue mariners and others who ended up in the treacherous waters off the coast. Signs in the restaurant also claim that the Wright Brothers frequented the building during their time at Kitty Hawk.
Not to be outdone by the Jockey’s Ridge sunset, sunrise under Kitty Hawk pier was spectacular!

Next up:  more state parks, history, and the continued search for migratory birds 😊

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