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Beaufort/Croatan Coastal Overnighter

My coastal itch drew me down to Carteret County for an overnight camping trip in early June. I split my time between the water (the Rachel Carson Reserve, across from Beaufort) and the woods (the Croatan National Forest). This was a combo birding, fishing, and general outdoors trip, although it was most successful from the birding perspective.

I left home early enough to arrive at Fort Macon by 8:45, where I spent an hour looking for recently reported Roseate Terns in the inlet. I didn’t have any luck with terns, but I did see two Wilson’s Storm-Petrels—the first I’ve ever seen from shore. Other interesting birds included a very late Common Loon and a Wilson’s Plover. It was also nice to see the ever-present Marsh Rabbits around the fort. Maybe next time I’ll time my trip around the emergence of the endemic Crystal Skipper; I never seem to visit their home range at the right time of year.

I spent the rest of the day motor kayaking and hanging out around the Rachel Carson Reserve, just across from Beaufort. The first part of the journey wasn’t particularly pleasant. I encountered choppy seas as I motored counterclockwise around the western and southern end of the island. And although the island is ostensibly a wildlife reserve, summer brings countless boats, people, and (prohibited) dogs to the island. My only consolation during my circumnavigation of the island was another Wilson’s Storm-Petrel flying around the inlet.

After reaching a marshy mini-inlet near the east end of the island, things got better. Birds and feral horses found enough room to coexist with the boats, people, and dogs, and so did I.

The shorebird diversity was unexpectedly good for early summer. Of the 14 taxa present, many were lingering winter birds or migrants that don’t breed in NC. The most interesting shorbs included Whimbrel, Red Knot, and White-rumped Sandpiper. It was also interesting to see both Western (wintering) and Eastern (breeding) Willets side-by-side.

The best bird of the day was a lone Roseate Tern that briefly roosted near my hangout spot. This was a new state bird for me, and one of the motivators for my trip (though no one has ever reported one from this island before).

Lots of other terns were also present, including some photogenic Least Terns and Forster’s Terns.

The most unexpected birds of the day were a flock of 6 Mute Swans that I saw flying over Jack’s Creek.

I spent much of the afternoon fishing, or at least trying to fish. I didn’t catch anything big—just a half dozen Atlantic Croaker, a tiny Southern Flounder, a couple Inshore Lizardfish, a few mullet, and a few Atlantic Blue Crabs. I also saw a searobin or batfish, but I couldn’t get good enough looks to ID this bizarre fish. Other marine life abounded, including thousands of Eastern Mudsnails, hundreds of Eastern Oysters, Marsh Periwinkles, and Atlantic Sand Fiddler Crabs, a few Thinstripe Hermit Crabs, a couple Cannonball Jellyfish, and a Knobbed Whelk. My favorite nonavian sighting was a pair of Diamondback Terrapins, which I encountered on my journey back through in the marshy flats.

After getting my fill of the coast, I headed inland to Croatan NF. I set up camp by a small creek running through the longleaf pine savannah, greeted by a Red-cockaded Woodpecker, a Northern Bobwhite, and some Common Nighhawks.

My sleep was periodically interrupted by a variable chorus of animals. Birds dominated, with Chuck-will’s-widows, Eastern Whip-poor-wills, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and Common Nighthawks taking turns. Even more exciting, I heard my first ever Pine Woods Treefrog around dawn and dusk. It’s always great to get a lifer herp, even if it’s heard-only. Less exciting were the unnerving nocturnal snorts of White-tailed Deer.

In the morning, I stretched my legs around the campsite, soaking in the birds and the bugs. Notable birds included Bachman’s Sparrow, more Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, another Bobwhite, and good looks at the juvenile Great Horned Owls. Of the invertebrates present, I saw four new species: Apiomerus crassipes (an assassin bug), Spotted-winged Grasshopper, Exoproposa fascipennis (a fly), and Yellow-legged Mud-dauber Wasp. I also saw a handful of previously seen or unidentified species of invertebrates enjoying the early morning heat.

My last stop before heading home was the Patsy Pond area of Croatan NF.

I spent the late morning looking for odonates around partially dried-up limesink ponds. I saw 17 species; none were new, but many were interesting, including Red-veined Pennant, Comet Darner, Southern Spreadwing, Lilypad Forktail, and Cherry Bluet.

I also saw a handful of birds (including more RC Woodpeckers), lots of Six-lined Racerunners, a new beetle (Carolina Metallic Tiger Beetle), and a bizarre new insect (Ascaloptynx appendiculata, a species of owlfly).

That’s it—Short trips make for short blog posts!

Summary by the Numbers:

I covered about 400 miles by car, 7 by kayak, and 6 on foot. 83 species of birds was a pretty good tally for an overnight trip to Carteret County in June. I added 1 new bird to my NC list (bringing me to 349 species), plus 4 more for my Carteret Co. list (bringing me to 166). I also saw 20 species of odonates on the trip, plus 34 other species of animals, of which 8 were lifers.


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