Outer Banks 2018: Unbirds

My impulse was to wait until I’d identified all my photos from this trip – or as many as I’m going to – before writing this post. Now that I’ve realized just how silly that is… well, here we are! Our fantastic vacation to the Outer Banks is still with me. I’ve already written about the bird life I encountered, but what else did I see in sandy paradise?

Strikingly, the plant life of the Outer Banks is completely different from the what I’m used to. Whether it’s the sea oats, the beach grasses and sedges, or the wildflowers and vines, I’m always noticing plants I don’t see very often. This year I tried to snap a photo or two of as many plants as I could, since I’m not too well-versed in what grows on the islands. I do know a few on sight – common yucca, Indian blanket, and trumpet vine, for example – but others I know only by feature or not at all. Here are a few snaps of what I saw on this trip (click image to expand).

That’s a tiny sample of the native flora and fauna one wouldn’t see in in-shore environments. As barrier islands, and with the influence of the Gulf Stream, the Outer Banks are ecologically different from many other beaches on the East Coast. I’ll spare the details but there exists a plethora of further reading that can do the job better than I can.

I couldn’t possibly have gone to Hatteras Island without at least one fishing trip aboard the Miss Hatteras. My dad and I set out on Wednesday morning for an all-day trip. The fishing itself is always fun, and the success rate of this particular boat is frankly incredible, but the trip alone is worth the price of a seat. It’s a lovely ride out into the Gulf Stream which offers a great opportunity to see things like pelagic birds and flying fish. In many trips spanning more than two decades I’ve spotted dolphins, squid, a sea turtle or two, and more. I relish the feeling of expansive freedom which comes over me that far from land.

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And sometimes: rainbows!

Learning about the fish that are reeled up can be quite interesting, too. This year almost all the fish caught on the boat were grey triggerfish – a funky-looking but delicious bottom feeder. I did see one guy land a red snapper, and another hauled up a remora. The remora is not a desired game fish, but it was the first I’d ever seen. On previous trips, red snapper and black sea bass were pretty common, and the catch has often been peppered with all manner of interesting species, both edible and otherwise. This year our personal catch was a tad light, but it was still enough to feed four with a bit left over.

We spent our last couple of nights on Ocracoke Island. I can’t recommend this place highly enough to anyone seeking a real “get away from it all” vacation. The island is quite small, and accessible only by ferry. (It’s free! You can take your vehicle!) There are miles of out-of-the-way beaches, plus a tiny village with good food and shops, an operational lighthouse, and more. Lodging options include a primitive campground with beach access and several motels, hotels, etc. It’s a popular destination that seems to never feel over-crowded.

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Some least terns on one of those empty Ocracoke beaches

Near the campground is a lovely and very accessible nature trail, the Hammock Hills Nature Trail. I hiked it alone one afternoon at a leisurely place, and had the whole trail to myself. This was quite an experience. Birdsong filled the air. Butterflies and dragonflies galore flitted about among the less pleasant insects (yes, bug spray is a must). Toads hopped aside at seemingly every third step. About halfway through, I nearly trod upon an eastern hognose snake. Even as someone pretty experienced with nature, this was a somewhat startling experience. The snake displayed quite emphatically – it flattened its head to resemble a venomous snake, hissed loudly, and threw in some mock strikes for good measure. All of this is why I’m confident in the species ID. Unfortunately it took a few moments to recover from my initial caution and subsequent marveling until after the snake had progressed to hiding, so my photos are post-display. Oddly, I seem to collect sightings of one species of snake on each visit to the Outer Banks. I’ve photographed a cottonmouth and copperhead on my previous two visits, and I remember a blacksnake and a northern water snake from separate childhood vacations.

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This trip also allowed me to personally confirm an odd little fact I wasn’t quite sure I believed. You see, I’d read somewhere that eyes as small as a spider’s can reflect a flashlight beam at night. I don’t recall the source, but kudos to whoever you are because they unequivocally can. I first noticed it while walking one of the dogs. I saw a tiny green fleck on the pavement of the campground loop road. Assuming it was a tiny shard of glass from the sand, I took a closer look anyway and found this handsome lady carrying her babies:

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Later I sat reading at the campsite and noticed several of these tiny green specks at the edge of a patch of vegetation. I followed them several times, and each time I found a spider at the exact point. The very first one leapt from its cover and snagged a June bug just after I got close. For what it’s worth, June bugs’ eyes reflect reddish-orange pinpoints of light.

I don’t have any pithy observations to tie the whole thing together, so I will just say that Outer Banks wildlife is cool and leave you with a few more photos.

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