If nothing else, it makes for good stories!
June 27th, 2012
We're back from vacation. It was a vacation of extremes, high and
On the second day after our arrival at Hatteras, Mike and I made an
hour-and-a-half trip to the mainland to Palmetto-Peartree Reserve in search of
, a rare and endangered species linked to old-growth pine
savannahs. They are unusual in a number of ways, one being that they are the
only North American woodpecker to dig their nest holes out of living wood,
using the resulting flow of sticky sap as a deterrent against tree-climbing
predators such as rat snakes.
I had no idea how off the grid PPR is. There were no outhouses, no rangers, no
cars going by, not a soul in sight other than us. We drove down a muddy,
slippery road with insufficient gravel, and ended up sliding into the ditch.
We had to walk back to the main road before we could even get a signal on the
cell phone to call a tow truck to pull us out, to the tune of $150 because he
knew he had us over a barrel. We forgot to bring any sort of food (despite
having eaten a very small breakfast), and left the sunblock in the car and
forgot about it until we'd hiked a half hour and were now under the blazing
midday sun in an unshaded wetland. Deer flies were abundant, and while the Off
more or less kept them at bay, it didn't prevent me from waking up a few hours
after our return with a tick embedded in my belly.
Lesson learned: do not trifle with mother nature. At least not in North Carolina.
For our trouble, I did not see any Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers. (Well, I may
have. But far from satisfying and not enough to lifelist it.) But there were
payoffs. It was one of the wildest places I've ever encountered, with tall,
spindly, ancient-looking Loblolly pines, rich wetlands with reed beds towering
over us, and pristine vistas over the Albemarle Sound. Green Herons
, whom I have
always thought of as shy and solitary birds that skulk around pond edges, were
abundantly visible. They constantly flew back and forth across the road
perching in those ancient pine trees. I'm sure they had a rookery up there.
For me, the greatest pleasure in encountering a bird is when it is utterly
wild. I've seen many Osprey at Outer Banks, nesting on man-made platforms on
top of man-made pylons, and paying humans little mind because they're long
used to the sight of us. The pair of Osprey we met at PPR were nesting in a
treetop, and they acted like they'd never seen a human being before in their
lives. Though we were hundreds of feet away from their nest and could not have
gotten closer without wading through knee-deep water, our presence incensed
them. They circled over us calling franticly.
The Virginia part of my vacation was extremely buggy. Not mosquitos--mosquitos
are trivial. Ticks and chiggers. The woods around and near my parents'
neighborhood are excellent for birding, but they are also heavily infested.
Over the course of the week I picked on the order of twenty ticks off my body,
ranging from tiny pinpoint-sized ones (Lyme Disease!) to big ones with spots
on them (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever!) I also got a rather nasty case of
chiggers that left oozing, furiously itching sores all over my legs and
middle, one of which is still scabbed over. However, in the very place that I
probably picked up those chiggers (Swift Creek Trail), I got a thrilling life
, a gorgeous southeastern warbler with a black cowl encircling a
vivid yellow cheek. (I didn't get any photos, so click on the link if you want
to see a picture.) Was it worth it? Yes, ten times over.
In the coming days I'll share some of my Cape Hatteras photos.