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OBX Kayak/Camping #1: Ocracoke, Portsmouth

Updated: May 4, 2021

Three long days, 96 bird species, and 4 life birds, with 23 miles traveled by kayak in the Ocracoke, Portsmouth, and Alligator River areas. This was the first of what would become a kayaking/camping tradition for me and a friend (me birding, him fishing).

Friday 5/27/16: Mattamuskeet, Pea Island, Big Foot Island Paddle

I Started with some land birding at the Mattamuskeet lake landing impoundments, where highlights included: three Gull-billed Tern (life birds), good numbers of Glossy Ibis, and a good mix of passerines (total of 46 species). Notable non-avian fauna included a lifer Yellow Rat Snake and a Spotted Turtle. Following a great drive on one of my favorite roads (the section of hwy 264 between Mattamuskeet NWR and Alligator River NWR is fantastic), I got on the OBX and headed south. I made two very quick stops on Pea Island, where highlights included: three Piping Plover (life birds—finally!), three Black-Necked Stilt (year birds, and one of my favorites), and a late female Bufflehead. Arriving on Ocracoke, I immediately put in my kayak and headed out from the village towards Big Foot Island, a ~25 acre dredge spoil island about 1.75 miles into the Pamlico sound. It was nearing low tide, and the exposed sandbars in the slough made for a good collection of waders and shorebirds as I neared the island. The undeniable highlight (probably of the whole trip) was a REDDISH EGRET that landed about 30 feet from my beached kayak—this life bird is a fairly uncommon visitor to the NC coast. Other waders were abundant in the slough, including Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and White Ibis. Big Foot Island held some treasures of its own, as hundreds (maybe thousands) of birds were nesting on the island (I estimated roughly 500 Brown Pelican, hundreds of Royal Tern, and good numbers of Great Black-Backed and Herring Gulls). I circled the island in my kayak, keeping a respectful distance from the breeding birds. Finally, arriving back at my campsite on Ocracoke, I was greeted by a Chuck-Will’s-Widow calling from almost right behind my tent (life bird #4 for the day).


Saturday 5/28: Ocracoke-Portsmouth Paddle

Starting early Saturday morning, a friend and I began what would become a 14-mile, 13-hour paddling adventure from Ocracoke to Portsmouth (and back). Highlights along the sound side of Ocracoke included: three Common Nighthawks (year birds that I’ve never seen in daylight) flying close by, a Clapper Rail out in the open, a Whimbrel, and another Gull-billed Tern. Portsmouth Island was even better—exploring the beach, abandoned historic village (google it), and surrounding marshes was really surreal. Highlights on Portsmouth included Red Knot, two more Gull-Billed Tern, a Common Loon, a Marbled Godwit, a Wilson’s Plover, and tons of American Oystercatcher. A notable non-avian species was a beautiful Red Drum, hooked by my friend in a marsh creek behind the village. The paddle back to Ocracoke was grueling, but the weather held out. Tip for next time: hug the shoreline, even if it adds a mile; paddling open water can be miserable!


Sunday 5/29: Alligator River NWR Paddle

Sunday featured a change of scenery, and we drove to Alligator River NWR to paddle about 5 more miles through some nice calm blackwater through some great swampland. Highlights included a Jurassic-looking array of flora (cypress, ferns, lilies, etc), tons of dragonflies and Palamedes Swallowtails, at least 42 Prothonotary Warblers (they were everywhere!)—including two harassing a small snake (unidentified) that was raiding their nest cavity (5 other birds of 4 other species also joined in mobbing the snake; it was quite a scene)—a Wood Duck perched about 50 feet up a tree, and a Red-Headed Woodpecker. As we were heading back to the car, we paddled alongside a 6ft alligator, which was a good send-off for the weekend (and the northernmost gator I've ever seen).

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