Hatteras & Ocracoke Islands, NC  - Vacation Travel Guide

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Hatteras & Ocracoke Area Features

Birding on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

As the early morning sun rises, a red-winged blackbird calls from atop the marsh grass. His black feathers glisten as he announces to the world, “this is my home.”

In the nearby parking lot, visitors stop to admire his beauty, then quickly turn back to their tasks. These aren’t bleary-eyed travelers just making a quick stop at the comfort station. No, these visitors have risen early with a purpose in mind. They’ve come to join the guided bird-walk. They pull on caps and long-sleeved shirts to protect themselves from the sun and mosquitoes, and gather up their field guides and binoculars, then hurry off to meet their guide on the Visitor Center porch.

The guide appears precisely at 7:45am, sets up the spotting scope and begins passing out loaner binoculars and field guides to unequipped visitors. As if on cue, an osprey swoops in and lands on the nesting platform. He’s brought his mate a fish for her breakfast. Maybe this year their brood will hatch.

The volunteer finishes handing out checklists of Pea Island’s 365 species of birds and explaining that the easy walk along the North Pond Wildlife Trail is just a mile long, and the group is off.

In the shade of twisted oaks, they spot gray catbirds and rufous-sided towhees. From the overlook platform, they observe the patient fishing technique of a statuesque great egret. With field guides opened and binoculars raised, there is much discussion about how to differentiate the greater from the lesser yellowlegs. 

A black duck paddles toward the shore, her fluffy ducklings trailing behind her in a row. While a common yellowthroat sings from atop a wax myrtle shrub, the volume of his song belies his tiny stature. Wildlife here is not afraid of visitors. The trail is open every day from sunrise to sunset, and the free, guided bird-walks take place three times each week.

Finally, the group reaches the two-story viewing tower. There, they meet some serious birders who, having seen the black-necked stilt they had come in search of, are already heading back.

The volunteer guide helps a young boy from Ohio to identify a white bird with a pink curved beak as a white ibis, and assures a woman from Virginia that very few sanderlings ever get caught by the waves as they race up and down the beach. After answering a few more questions about how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the refuge ponds as wildlife habitat, the guide heads back to the Visitor Center.

Visitors, now birders, stroll the trail at their own pace. Checking their lists, they have seen 32 species on the morning’s 1 1/2-hr. walk. Now the sun is high and the air is hot as birders become swimmers and head for the beach.

The volunteer knows that they will be back. If not tomorrow, then next summer, for few can resist the Outer Banks’ premier birding spot, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Visit  www.fws.gov/refuge/Pea_Island for more information.  (For a bird-walk schedule, please call the Visitor Center at 252-987-2394.)


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