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OBX Kayak/Camping #3.2: Shackleford

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

A spur of the minute overnight kayak camping trip down east led me to Shackleford Banks and featured some great birds, including two Reddish Egrets and a Long-Billed Curlew.

Leaving the piedmont mid-morning Sunday, I arrived at the far end of Harker’s Island around noon and set off for a leisurely 3-mile paddle to East Shackleford Banks, passing by a few bird-covered islands on the way. With the tide low, sandflats and oyster beds provided a lot of good habitat for scattered shorebirds and waders, and I stumbled across TWO Reddish Egrets, an uncommon bird for the state. After paddling around the islands and oyster beds, and then to a soundside tidal creek, I made my way back to the eastern edge of the island as the tide came in. Large groups of Marbled Godwits (one flock had >125 birds!) temporarily occupied some fast-sinking islands, and one of these groups held a Long-billed Curlew (another really good bird for the state, and a lifer for me!). Photography conditions were excellent during this late afternoon/early evening period, and the kayak got me close to the birds without disturbing them.

Once high tide came around and the sun started sinking, I quickly checked the bight-side beach, where all the shorebirds congregate, and added a Piping Plover to the day’s list. Then I settled down at my campsite for the night, miles away from the nearest human. (Although there were undoubtedly a few homo sapiens at Cape Lookout, I am fairly sure I was the lone member of our species residing on the east end of Shackleford that night.)

I learned a few things that night: One, it’s not very comfortable to sleep outside when humidity causes the heat index to reach 87 degrees at bedtime. Two, perhaps not surprisingly, Black-crowned Night-Herons are indeed active all night, as they repeatedly reminded me with their calls. Third, somewhat more surprisingly, the feral horses that call Shackleford home are also quite active at night, stomping and snorting nearby in a manner most disconcerting to the weary traveler.

The morning finally arrived, and with it wind. After checking the beach at high tide and reacquainting myself with the pair of Reddish Egrets and hundreds of other shorebirds (no godwits or curlew to be found, unfortunately), I began my sojourn back to Harker’s Island. It was a brutal two-hour paddle against a NE wind, but I eventually made it back to civilization safe and sound (but fairly wet) and started my road trip back home.

Here's a gallery of the Reddish Egrets:

Here's another with a collection of shorebirds:

Another gallery of various other birds:

One final gallery with some non-avian photos:

Postscript: During my trip, I also encountered some unidentified tree frogs and a Fowler's Toad, which caused me to wonder how these creatures arrived on this remote barrier island. Did they swim? Did they hitchhike? Did their ancestors travel across some sort of land bridge in recent geologic history? While I don’t know the answer to these questions, I presume that someone does. One day, I hope to be more like him or her.

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