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Wrightsville/Holly Shelter day trip

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

Being stuck at home all winter was really wearing on me, so I was eager to escape to the coast as soon as I saw a good weather forecast. I spent a Friday off work paddling around Wrightsville and hiking around Holly Shelter GL.

I left home before dawn and arrived at the public boat ramps in Wrightsville just after sunrise, snagging the last non-trailer parking spot. Score! Then began a nice 3-mile paddle along the intracoastal and through some marsh creeks, aided by a light tailwind. It was high tide, so not terribly interesting from a wildlife perspective, and I didn’t detect any interesting sparrows in the salt marshes. However, the moment I arrived at my intended destination, Mason Inlet (north end of Wrightsville), basically the first bird I saw was a (the) Black-headed Gull, a lifer! This bird has been seen on and off for the last few winters here, but this species is usually found in either Europe or the far northeastern US and Canada. Anyway, a great start to the day!

As the tide began falling, I piddled (paddled?) around the emerging sandflats and enjoyed watching and photographing a diverse array of shorebirds (11 sp.), including a couple of Wilson’s Plovers. I then headed across the inlet for a picnic on a large dredge spoil island that features a fairly large freshwater pond. Well, the pond is apparently infested with a toxic algae bloom, and was relatively devoid of life. Shotgun shells and a some 9mm casings littered the sandy ground, apparently a popular place for target practice. It was still a cool place for a lunch break.

My journey back to the boat ramp was classic: paddling against the falling tide, against a headwind, and in fairly choppy intracoastal waters (the tidal marsh creeks were too shallow at this point). It wasn’t a real problem, but as I neared the end of my 9-mile journey I began wishing I had a motor on my kayak. So, once I got home, I began planning. And a few weeks later, no kidding—I rigged up a trolling motor on my kayak. See this blog post.

After Wrightsville, I headed over to Holly Shelter Game Land in hopes of finding some interesting frogs, etc. Although the entrance gate was supposed to be open, it wasn’t, so I had to hike in, severely restricting my mobility (a bike is pretty much necessary to cover any ground when the gate is closed). Well, using satellite imagery, I planned out a nice 3-mile loop trail based on existing trails, dirt roads, and a powerline cut. It might not be perfectly logical, but I try to avoid there-and-back trails; without a full loop, I feel cheated of half an experience. The problem was, by the time I go to the power cut, it was actually a marsh. I thought about wading through in my sneakers, went for it, and covered about 100 yards. But the power cut/marsh was at least half a mile long, so that really wasn’t really a viable option, and I turned around. I next tried to bushwhack through the shrubby, thorny, swampy vegetation on the margins. That was even worse; before I made it 50 yards, I was bleeding from a few of the three dozen cuts crisscrossing my legs. So, as much as I wanted to complete my loop, I had to double back and return to my car the way I came.

Blood and sweat aside, this was still an interesting trip. A singing Bachman’s Sparrow signaled the beginning of spring, and I managed to see my first odes of the year (Fragile Forktails and a Citrine Forktail), some leps, a few herps (no new frogs, unfortunately), and tons of American Bird Grasshoppers. I also stumbled across a nice cluster of Venus Flytraps (probably the most exciting encounter other than the new gull) and some Sundews. And really, it’s hard to beat hiking through longleaf pine savannahs. All in all, a day well spent exploring the coast.


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