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OBX Kayak/Camping #3: Lookout, Shack, Cedar

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

This year’s OBX paddle/camping trip took me and a friend to Cape Lookout and Cedar Island (again), but with a slightly different flavor. It was really productive for photography (for me) and fishing (for my friend), and I even added a life bird (#308)! Our trip was slightly less hardcore than last year, when we loaded all of our gear in kayaks and made the 2-mile trek to Cape Lookout. This year, we took my friend’s truck and trailer over to the island via ferry, which dramatically increased our mobility and comfort (warm food, cold beer).


Friday: Leaving the Jordan Lake area around 3AM, we got to the Davis ferry around 6:30, and an hour later began exploring the northern reaches of South Core Banks, first on foot, then by car, then by kayak. An abandoned building offered a surreal scene, and the north end of the beach (approaching Ophelia Inlet) had some good birds, including Harrier, Merlin, Piping Plover, and a variety of other shorebirds. The tide was coming out, and paddling around the inlet was literally impossible (think treadmill, but in a kayak), so we eventually headed back south by car. The marshes around the Great Island cabins offered good scenery and decent afternoon birding, and my friend caught a huge Red Drum (too big to keep) while I was off chasing birds. We camped on the beach a mile or two north of the cabins, where Nighthawks emerged around dusk.


Saturday started with a sunrise paddle around the Great Island marshes. Marsh-dwelling sparrows were abundant (not much wind), and I managed to get decent photos of Seaside, Nelson’s, and Sharp-tailed Sparrows (the trifecta!). Flyover Glossy Ibis, too. In the afternoon, after exploring the abandoned/historic village at Cape Lookout, I paddled over to Shackleford while my friend did some surf fishing. He caught a massive Bluefish, and I saw some good birds in the tidal creek and oyster beds on the east end of Shackleford, including Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Plover, American Oystercatcher, and a huge flock of Red Knot. Settling into our soundside campsite near the lighthouse, we had a few Chuck-Will’s Widow singing.


Sunday: Our pre-dawn paddling plans were sidelined by strong winds, but we eventually braved the rough seas and crossed over to Shackleford in what amounted to a harrowing journey. Lots of the same good birds as yesterday, with some excellent photo opportunities. By late morning, we returned to Cape Lookout and spent the rest of the day enjoying the beach the old-fashioned way. We left the Core Banks via the Davis Ferry towards evening, and dropped by Don’s Soundside Grill (at the Morris Ferry) for a much-needed meal before arriving at the Cedar Creek Campground for a sunset/moonrise paddle, and then sleep.


Monday: We hit the water at Cedar Island NWR just before sunrise, and spent a solid half day paddling and relaxing around the bay across from the John Day ditch. The Eastern Diamondback Terrapins weren’t as prolific as last year, but a few stuck their heads out. Notable birds included tons of Tricolored Heron streaming over, flyby Northern Harrier and Glossy Ibis, a late Horned Grebe, lots of Seaside and one Saltmarsh Sparrow, and excellent (but brief) looks at a Least Bittern, who didn’t hang around for a portrait. The journey back to civilization and the return to work that followed was a little deflating, but overall this year’s OBX paddle/camping trip was an invigorating experience.


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