Adventure Series Blog Posts
Posted on October 25, 2011
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It’s my favorite time of year – fall – and my favorite month – October – and that means my birthday, cooler temperatures and great weather for adventures out of doors. For the last three years it’s also meant the North Carolina Wine and Food Weekend on Bald Head Island.
On Saturday, October 15, I headed out to the open-air market at the 2011 Wine and Food Festival, tried a little wine, a little food and prepared myself for the Childress Wine Dinner that evening.
The open-air market was busy when I arrived. A dozen vendors had set up booths, and crowds of people were milling around. I made my way to the table to pay for my tasting glass and made a beeline for the nearest winery’s booth. Actually, that’s not true.
I did get my wine glass, but I made a beeline for Cross Valley Farms’ booth. They grow sweet potatoes and they know how to use them. They had sweet potato pie, sweet potato snickerdoodles, sweet potato muffins, sweet potato chocolate éclairs and more delicious things made from sweet potatoes than I’d ever seen. Stuffed full of sweet potatoes, I made my rounds. Artists with stained glass and homemade jewelry, exotic-wood cutting boards and whimsical pottery were mixed in with the wineries, but one piece of pottery, a bowl with an octopus on it, caught my eye. The bowl was made by Fred Johnston, a potter from Seagrove, the North Carolina town famed for its pottery. His wife Carol Gentithes was at the festival with a table full of their beautiful pottery. My wife, Lauren, and I struck up a conversation and learned that Fred recently became interested in the illustrations on the sides of ancient Greek pots, which inspired the octopus (and the crab, which you can see part of in the picture). We made sure they were coming to the Childress Wine Dinner that evening and went on our way. Walking by Bullard Farm’s table, I noticed a bottle of Bald Head Island Blueberry Wine. I was intrigued.
The woman at the booth poured a glass and I took a sip. Far less sweet than I thought (in wine you call that “dry”), it was actually quite good. I finished my sample and wished secretly that she’d pour me another. Everyone at the market, from the wineries – Noni Bacca, Childress, Silver Coast Winery, Bullard Farm, and Hinnant Family Vineyards – to the food folks to the artists had full tables and lines of people waiting to look, taste and try. Lauren and I retired to Mojo’s (if you’re confused, it’s the new restaurant that took the place of Eb and Flo’s, but since you read the blog, you know that) for a late lunch (it was great, the chicken wings are out of this world) before going to rest and get dressed for the Wine Dinner at the Shoals Club. Chef John Turner designed his five-course menu to include as many North Carolina ingredients as possible, so combined with the wine from Childress Vineyards, the dinner showcased North Carolina in the plate and the glass.
The first course – fried goat cheese, lemon micro greens and a shrimp succotash drizzled with an arugula coulis – set the pace for the evening with a simple but pretty plating, and great flavors. The arugula coulis held some of the spicy/peppery arugula flavor without allowing it to overwhelm the other flavors. It went well with the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.
The second and third courses emphasized local seafood with a Carolina Gumbo and 2009 Chardonnay (which was good, and I’m not a Chardonnay kind of guy), and Crispy Fried Elizabeth City Oysters served with a 2008 Riesling. I think the oysters and Riesling were my favorite course. Maybe because I enjoy a Riesling (this one was dry and easy to drink); maybe because I love fried oysters (they remind me of my mom who fries up a batch for every holiday); maybe because it was delicious. I will say that the fourth course, pork tenderloin and trout served tapas style, was a contender for favorite dish of the night. The fish – pecan and Parmesan crusted North Carolina trout – was well prepared and the basil butter sauce rounded it out; the pork was accompanied by some great cider-braised greens and a bourbon barbecue sauce. Which brings me to the final course: North Carolina Sweet Potato Brioche Bread Pudding. You may recall from my beeline to Cross Valley Farms’ spread that I love sweet potatoes. This dessert was one of the best I’ve had. And with a glass of the 2009 Late Harvest Viognier it was perfection. The serving was just enough and the caramelized sweet potato on top really brought out the flavor of the key ingredient.
The wine dinner was a hit. Chef Turner and his Sous Chef came out for a round of well-deserved applause, as did Shoals Club General Manager Jens Fisker and his staff. Childress’ Winemaker, Mark Firszolowski, took the time to speak to everyone and even gave out a few bottles of wine. So next summer, check back to see when the Fourth-Annual North Carolina Wine and Food Weekend will be held and make your reservations, you won’t regret it. In the meantime, check with your local wine seller and grab a bottle or two of North Carolina wine.
Posted on August 31, 2011
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A few years ago I had the good fortune of seeing a giant Loggerhead sea turtle lay her clutch of eggs in the dunes on East Beach. Everyone was quiet and all we could hear was her breath, the gentle plop of eggs in the hole she’d dug and her flippers beating the sand tight around them. She turned and crept back into the ocean, leaving her nest under the watchful eye of the Bald Head Island Conservancy (BHIC).
In the years since, I’ve been to several nests that were on target to “boil” – the eggs hatching and turtles crawling around cause the sand to oscillate like it’s boiling – but I’ve never been fortunate enough to see one or to watch the newborn turtles struggle into the surf and into their lives. Until now.
With the threat that Hurricane Irene could come close to the shores of Bald Head Island, the Sea Turtle Interns at the BHIC excavated 14 nests, releasing any hatchlings mature enough to go out on their own and keeping the rest safe and sound (and warm) until they could be released. On Monday, August 29, more than 80 green and loggerhead turtles were released in front of a crowd of nearly 100 onlookers. BHIC Sea Turtle Interns and Staff, along with a half-dozen volunteers, packed coolers and trays filled with the baby hatchlings to the edge of the surf and released the turtles onto the beach where they crawled and swam, making their way into the ocean. The turtles are as tiny as their mothers are large. Adults can grow to the size of an adult human, and the hatchlings will fit in the palm of your hand. In their first year or two of life they’ll grow a lot, but only to the size of a dinner plate. They gain the rest of their size over the next two decades, until they’re impressively huge. Getting to see the completion of the sea turtle birth cycle was exciting for me, and for the rest of the crowd, and we all cheered when the first turtles made their way into the water. The turtles will swim nonstop until they reach the Gulf Stream, around 40 miles offshore. From there they’ll travel up and down the east coast, into the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico until they reach sexual maturity in 25 years or so, then they’ll return to their birth beach to breed and lay their own clutch of eggs and start the whole thing over.
Posted on July 22, 2011
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It seems like all of my Bald Head Island adventures have me on the water. Of course, they all start on the water with the ferry ride over, but I seem to be drawn to kayaking, sailing, paddleboarding and looking for birds (and alligators) in, on and near the water. This time I wanted to do something different, something that would let me appreciate the rest of the island. Luckily, Riverside Adventure Company began renting electric bicycles this year.
Wait, did he say electric bicycles?
Yes, I did. They’re beach cruisers with big, comfy seats, a motorcycle-like throttle, a battery and a little motor. Start off pedaling, twist your wrist and you’re off. They’re easy to use – just like riding a bike, in fact – and in no time you’ll have the hang of the throttle and brake situation and you’ll be like me and Mrs. Adventure Blogger zipping around the island, exploring it in a whole new way. The throttle is right on the handlebars, making the transition from peddling to motoring a breeze.
We started in the harbor, cruising the streets and looking at houses. From there we headed down South Beach and the bikes easily pulled the hill where South Beach and Federal Road split. We stopped at the Shoals Club for a rest then continued our tour of the island. One of my favorite things about the electric bikes is that they’re fast, faster than most of the golf carts on the island (the electric bikes will go around 20 mph, so watch your speed). I loved the look on the faces of the people in the first cart I passed. I rang the bell on the bike, hit the throttle and scooted past, waving as I went. They all watched, open mouthed, as a guy on a beach cruiser he wasn’t even pedaling sped by. On that note, the electric bikes are fast and they are classified as a moped by the Village of Bald Head Island, requiring you to wear a helmet. While bike helmets aren’t the most fashionable of helmets, they do protect your noggin, and they’re a good idea for an electric or other bike.
If you’re ready to take one of these electric bikes out for a spin, contact Riverside Adventure Company at 910-457-6844. You have to be 18 with a valid drivers’ license to rent them, so keep that in mind. Rentals are $25 the first hour, $10 per hour after that, or $50 for the day.
Posted on July 18, 2011
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Looking for something to do after dark on Bald Head Island? You’ll want to check out the new Ghost Walk tours – just as long as you don’t scare too easily, that is.
The family friendly (but still decidedly spooky) Ghost Walk, led by the nefarious pirate Colonel Dread with help from the lovely (and musical) Darcy Ladare, walks you though the colorful history and folklore of Bald Head Island. The island’s history as an infamous pirate hangout, Civil War fort and lifesaving station all play a part in the ghostly legends told by the Ghost Walk crew, who take turns telling creepy stories and singing haunting songs with Old Baldy and the Cape Fear River as backdrop.
The cast of ghostly characters include pirates Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet as well as Theodosia Burr, Bald Head Island’s most famous ghost. Theodosia, daughter of Aaron Burr, mysteriously disappeared when traveling by ship from Charleston to New York. Her ship was found off the coast of Nag’s Head, but many believe that BHI was Theodosia’s final resting place. Tales of lesser known ghosts, such as the beautiful red haired woman who supposedly haunted Captain Charlies II and the young boy who’s image shows up in photos, also make an appearance. Ghost Walks, offered through Riverside Adventure Company, happen at 7:45 p.m. every Monday through Wednesday and Friday evenings and at 8:30 p.m. every Thursday. Tickets are available at the Sail Shop at 96 Keelson Row in Harbour Village. For more information, call 910-457-6844.
Posted on June 03, 2011
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Heading off to the Americana Music Festival this past Memorial Day Weekend, I had no idea what to expect. The event was in its first year, so I had nothing to go on. But, as a long-time music lover (and avid festival-goer) I was excited to check out some new bands and looking forward to spending a gorgeous summer day on Bald Head Island.
As soon as I arrived on the island, I knew I was in for a good time. Everything was bustling - folks were zipping up to the ferry landing in their golf carts to greet friends, families were flying by on their bikes, and the marina was full of some pretty sweet boats. Pretty much, everyone who was anyone was on BHI that weekend! When I got to the tent pavilion, singer and songwriter Catesby Jones had just taken the stage, and though the crowd was still growing when I got there, he had them all grooving in their seats. I was thoroughly impressed by his guitar skills and twangy country voice. Turns out, Catesby’s got an impressive country music pedigree, having written songs for many serious Nashville singers including Travis Tritt. He co-wrote Tritt’s hit song “Country Club,” which he performed during his set. Next up was Susan Savia, who delivered a solid set of Americana favorites. Her clear, sweet voice and harmonica (I’m a fool for some harmonica) were a welcome addition to the festival. She sang a touching song inspired by Kirsten Holmstedt’s book Band of Sisters, which profiles female veterans and tells their stories. It was such a clear, blue-skied kind of day that I wandered out behind the pavilion to see if anyone was taking advantage of what I believe was perfect standup paddleboarding weather. Turns out, there were quite a few people who were on my wavelength. I sat and watched some kids master the paddleboard in no time. I headed back to the tent just in time to catch Big Al Hall and John Fonvielle, who not only sounded great but who were rocking a very cool light-up banjo. I didn’t get a photo of it because I was too busy having fun, but I did snap one of them with their guitars. Jeanne Jolly was next, and she surprised me with her country/folky/jazzy voice (she’s not easy to pin down, which was what made her so interesting and fun to watch) and energetic stage presence. By now the crowd was really warmed up and by the time the Red Clay Ramblers took the stage, they were ready to dance. The Ramblers, a talented group I hadn’t seen before but have wanted to see for a while, gave us a set of great music that showed their range. They sang old time songs, folk tunes, dixeland-jazz inspired songs (that reminded me of those cartoon of Droopy Dog and Pee Wee Runt’s All-Flea Dixeland Band – you can watch the cartoon here, skip to 3:20 to get to the flea band), and gospel tunes. At times they had the crowd rocking and swaying, then for the next song they had the crowd leaning in close, hanging on every word. All in all, the Americana Music Festival was a hit and I enjoyed every minute of it, from watching a handful of kids dancing carefree in the grass beside the tent to seeing some fantastic musicians. I enjoyed the 15 minute break I took after Big Al Hall and John Fonvielle’s set to take one of the paddleboards out for a quick spin on the marsh. And I really enjoyed dashing around the harbor on one of Riverside Adventure Company’s electric bikes between Jeanne Jolly and the Red Clay Ramblers (and stay tuned, a day on the electric bike is definitely going to be an upcoming adventure).
Posted on May 23, 2011
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If you were on Bald Head Island on May 17 and were near East Beach around moonrise, you may have heard me and about 100 other people howling at the moon.
See, the Maritime Market and Café’s new owners, the Pope family, have been throwing a monthly Howl at the Moon party. They bring a pot of chili, soup, chowder or stew to share and guests bring appetizers. Then you just hang out, eat great food, socialize and watch the sun go down and the moon come up. And when the moon rises, everyone howls like a wolf.
The Howl at the Moon parties have been a big hit with island residents and visitors (and adventure bloggers) alike. In January they held the first one, drawing 42 people out on a cold evening with only 12 hours’ notice. Word got around and in February 100 people showed up. In March it grew again to 150 and April, which had fantastic weather and a full island, saw more than 350 people on the beach, eating soup and howling at the moon. I arrived at Beach Access 39 about an hour before sunset to find Claude Pope, his son-in-law Chef Greg and a few of the kitchen brigade setting up tables and heating huge vats of delicious smelling soup. They’d spent the morning making two fantastic soups – corn chowder and cioppino, an Italian seafood stew. They ladled out bowls of soup and as soon as the steam and aroma hit the air, the line was 15 people deep. I went with the cioppino first, enticed by the mussels peeking over the top of the bowl. Now I’m a fool for mussels and having them in a stew like this is one of my favorite ways to enjoy them. But it wasn’t just mussels, it was shrimp, fish, roasted tomatoes, crab and a rich broth that had just a hint of spice and tied everything together. After one bit I decided it was my favorite.
As soon as I finished my cioppino I got back in line for the corn chowder. I’ll admit it, I was kind of piggish, but both soups looked too good to pass up. The corn, potatoes and bacon in a sweet, velvety, creamy liquid came together to make this chowder something great. But now I had a dilemma, because now this was my favorite.
By the time I finished my second bowl of chowder, the sun, close to setting, ducked behind a bank of clouds. All eyes turned toward the east. There, another bank of clouds far off on the horizon meant that our view of the moon’s true rise would be blocked, but we’d see it a few minutes later as it climbed above the clouds.
We waited. People were taking pictures, enjoying their wine and watching a kite surfer show off on the waves in the lengthening shadows. Our group of 100 began to fracture, forming into small clumps – ten friends, a multi-generational family, residents, couples, trios, and quartets – and as it grew darker, our anticipation rose. Then, finally, a glow to the east, the moon was on its way up.
And that’s when it started. First one or two people in the back by the dunes began to howl, low and long. Then a few more joined in. Deep voices, high voices, fair and gravely voices all began to howl. A few dogs joined in, sending a collective chuckle through the group. Then, the moon broke free of the clouds and the howls intensified. Some folks started clapping and cheering, I just howled. It felt right; somehow primal and playful all at once.
The next full moon is Wednesday, June 15. If I were you, I wouldn’t miss the next Howl at the Moon party. I know this much – if Chef Greg is bringing soup that good out to a beach party, I can’t wait to see what lunch at the Market is like.
Posted on May 02, 2011
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Most of my adventures put me on Bald Head Island during the day, but on my most recent adventure things didn’t even start to get interesting until 8:30 p.m. The sun was setting and the first stars were showing themselves when my wife and I met Andy at the Fleming Environmental Center at the Bald Head Island Conservancy to take part in their new Stargazing program.
I’ve always wanted to know more about astronomy, but I’ve never taken the time to learn all the constellations and major stars. Sure, I can find the Big and Little Dippers, and Orion, but beyond that I’m pretty much lost. This was going to be a learning experience for me.
As we stood outside Turtle Central waiting for the sky to darken enough for proper stargazing, we were joined by two more adventurers – Clay and his seven-year-old son Blake, on the island as part of the Wounded Warriors Project. Andy gave out binoculars and star charts (called planispheres) and we headed to the beach in front of Captain Charlie’s.
On the beach, Andy showed us how to use the star charts and we oriented ourselves and began to point out constellations and asterisms. Asterisms are identified groupings of stars that don’t necessarily form a constellation. The Big Dipper and Little Dipper are probably the most well known asterisms. The Big Dipper makes up the hindquarter of the bear in the constellation Ursa Major, while the Little Dipper is part of Ursa Minor. To me, these asterisms are a little easier to picture—it takes quite a bit of imagination to picture the bears in Ursa Major and Minor, the crab in Cancer or the twins in Gemini. Orion is a bit more obvious, but as Andy told us the story of each constellation they started to come to life. For the more difficult constellations like Draco (the dragon), Hercules, and Bootes (the herder or bear driver, pronounced “booties”) Andy had a super-powerful laser pointer that let him trace their outlines as he told us about them. Ancient Greeks and Romans pictured Bootes as a bearded man who was a shepherd, but now he’s known as the bear driver because he follows the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
There were a few constellations we couldn’t see because of the glow on the horizon from Southport, Wilmington and Carolina Beach. Andy told us that light pollution is a problem in most places, even a relatively dark-at-night spot like Bald Head Island.
Fortunately, light pollution can be an easy fix. With hoods to shield and direct street lights and lights in parking lots down rather than up, we can eliminate quite a bit of light pollution. Other solutions, like turning off unneeded exterior (or interior) lights, have further reaching environmental impacts by reducing both the cost and energy output required to operate lights.
For Bald Head Island, light pollution can present an unusual problem. Once nesting loggerhead sea turtles have laid their eggs, they navigate back to the sea by looking for the glow of the moon and stars as well as the sound and vibration of the surf. Newly hatched turtles also navigate to the sea using the glow of the moon and stars. If bright lights on houses or distant towns catch the eye of these turtles, they can wander away from the ocean and into the dunes. Thanks to a village ordinance banning artificial exterior lighting on beachfront homes on the island, this threat has been greatly diminished.
Stargazing with the Bald Head Island Conservancy is ongoing throughout the summer, check their online calendar or call them at 910-457-0089 ext. 13 or 16 for times and reservations. The cost is $15 or $20 per person, depending on your level of Conservancy membership.
If you’d like a preview of the night sky over Bald Head Island or your home, go to skymaps.com to print a copy of a map of the sky with notable constellations, stars and planets highlighted for you. Another great resource is skyandtelescope.com which includes an interactive sky map, amateur astronomer’s photos, an astronomy podcast and more. Kidsastronomy.com offers great learning and teaching tools for beginners. For stunning images of deep space and distant galaxies, head over to hubblesite.org, home of the Hubble Telescope. And one last thing. Download Google Sky Map, a smartphone app that identifies constellations, planets and asterisms overhead. It’s available on Android only. For an iPhone or iPad app, try Star Walk.
Posted on April 04, 2011
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On my most recent adventure excursion to Bald Head Island, I joined the Bald Head Island Conservancy for a wildlife tour. When I arrived at Deep Point to catch an early ferry over, I found BHIC’s Environmental Educator Andy Gould with our four tour mates – Neil and Kathie, and Debbie and Mike – already talking about the flora and fauna of the island.
The ferry ride over gave Andy a great opportunity to introduce Bald Head Island to our four visitors from Connecticut. They’d been to the island before, but it was years ago and as Andy pointed out the prominent features and landmarks of the island – Old Baldy standing above the maritime forest, the expanse of marsh – I saw excitement at their return. After the ferry docked we took a quick tram ride to the Conservancy and started our tour in earnest. I was looking forward to a beautiful day exploring and learning, and I was not disappointed.
The thing I love about exploring the island with the Conservancy or Old Baldy Foundation or anyone, for that matter, is learning new things. It seems that no matter how much of Bald Head Island I see, how many tours I take or how many people I talk to, there is always more to be learned. And this tour was no exception.
We started by taking our cart to the high dune ridge by the Shoals Club where Andy pointed out Frying Pan Shoals. The tide was high and the waves crashed over the shoals, violent and loud even from a distance. Andy pointed out the shrubs on the dunes and they way they grow at an angle. Turns out the shrubs are actually red cedar trees, like you’ll find in the maritime forest (only taller). They grow at an angle because the airborne salt stunts them and the front takes the brunt of the beating. As the back grows they get their distinct shape. They also create a “salt shadow” on the lee side (that’s the side away from the wind) where other species of plants can grow, which is why you’ll find some vines, flowers and little trees growing behind them. And then I learned the most interesting fact of the day (for me anyway): sea oats have incredibly long and complex root systems. Their taproot can reach upwards of 15’ and their network of fibrous roots can double that, stretching down through the dune to the fresh water table below. They’re one of the most important plants when it comes to stabilizing or establishing a dune system.
From the dune ridge, Andy took us to Middle Island, the, well, middle island of the Smith Island Complex. On our trip I chatted up my adventure mates and learned that Neil works in construction and restores old and historic homes in Connecticut. My father-in-law was a cabinetmaker in Connecticut, so we talked woodworking. Then I learned that Mike is the rugby coach at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, my brother-in-law’s alma mater. And I played rugby in college. As it turned out, everyone in our group had played rugby at one point. But we weren’t here to talk rugby or New England, we were here to explore and learn about Bald Head Island and Andy knew right where to take us.
On Middle Island there are several great spots to stop and check out the marsh birds. We saw several of the usual early-season suspects: hawks or harriers hunting the tree line and creeks, egrets, herons and a few others.
But Andy saved the piece de resistance for the end of our trip – Ibis Roost Pond.
Ibis Roost Pond is on Middle Island and has been dedicated to the Conservancy. It is truly one of the most serene spots Bald Head Island has to offer. Access is granted to Middle Island residents and Conservancy trips only, so be sure to play by the rules if you want to go.
At Ibis Roost Pond the trees were filled, and I mean filled, with ibises. Snowy white adults and the dingy brown juveniles packed the branches overlooking the pond. The pond itself was an incredible green and sports a 12’-14’ alligator in the warmer weather. We were lucky enough to be there for two things: tons of black-crowned night herons in the trees, and the alligator floating outside his den.
My Connecticutonian adventure mates were thrilled to see one of our more common birds, the yellow-rumped warbler, commonly called the “butter butt” after the bright yellow patch above his tail.
For me, the best moment came as we were turning to leave. A cry overhead – kyew; kyew; kyew; kyew; kyew – from an osprey looking for something to eat. As it flew overhead the black and white pattern on its wings stood out and aimed my camera and shot. I took a couple of great pictures of the sky through the trees, of the trees themselves, and then the prize – the osprey, wings extended, pattern visible, framed by trees on either side. I liked it so much I made it my desktop background when I got home. If you’re interested in joining the Bald Head Island Conservancy on a Wildlife Tour, contact Andy or Maureen at 910.457.0089 x 16. Or email them at email@example.com
. The cost for the tour is $50 per participant and includes ferry passage to and from the island (price adjustments can be made for folks already on the island). The tour starts at 10:00 a.m., so you’ll take a 9:00 a.m. ferry to the island and Andy, Maureen or one of the other Conservancy volunteers or interns will have you back for a 1:30 p.m. ferry back to the mainland. Groups of 4-16 can be accommodated. Take a look at a more detailed tour itinerary here
or call or email Andy or Maureen for more information.
Posted on March 02, 2011
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This post is part of a series titled Haven: Behind the Scenes, which delves deeper into some of our favorite stories from the most recent issue of Haven magazine.
When I wrote my essay on sounds and silence on Bald Head Island for the current issue of haven, I wanted desperately to be able to make you hear the island as I heard it. To hear the lapping of water against rocks, the chirping of frogs in the marsh and crinkling of leaves in the forest. As it turns out, I got lucky – recordings of some of the very sounds I’d written about already existed.
After the jump, you’ll find seven tracks that walk you through a day around Bald Head Island. Just click on each to play it. Before you listen, I encourage you to go back to your copy of haven or visit the online version here and read Silence to learn more about a different take on that term, then listen to the sounds that inspired me to write it. I hope they inspire you as well.
Posted on January 01, 2011
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During my many adventures on Bald Head Island last year I noticed something – birds. Lots of them. From my first adventure going bird watching with the Bald Head Island Conservancy to watching three osprey circle overhead during a summer-ending kayak trip, birds were everywhere. Over time, I learned that Bald Head Island is a pretty important place for a lot of birds. It serves as a seasonal breeding ground, a year-round home and a migratory stopover, and the types and numbers of birds change with every season. Wanting to learn more about the birds that frequent the island, I contacted the National Audubon Society, a group best known for their work in bird and bird habitat conservation, about the 110th Annual Christmas Bird Count. I made arrangements to join a group of experienced birders and help out. The Christmas Bird Count started in 1900, when ornithologist Frank Chapman, an officer in the fledgling Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition to replace what was known in many areas as the Christmas Side Hunt. During the Side Hunt, people would choose sides, head into the fields and woods with their guns, and return at a designated time. Whichever group brought back the biggest pile of furred and feathered trophies was declared the winner. Chapman, a forerunner of the conservation movement, proposed a new tradition – counting birds rather than killing them.
I joined Alan Reyner, Ed Toone and Jane Oliver, under the guidance of Bruce Smithson, as the Bald Head Island counters. We met in the harbor early in the morning and headed out to the Point to count shorebirds. When we arrived we found two things – birds and fog. Unfortunately, fog is not conducive to bird counting, but we stayed there, huddled behind the Christmas-New Year’s Tree, watching, counting and hoping the fog would burn off. Soon we left the Point for Middle Island, where Ibis Roost Pond and the expanse of marsh and creeks promised better birding.
At Ibis Roost Pond we found a few ibis in the trees and several other birds – including yellow-rumped warblers (which everyone called “butter butts”), cardinals, robins and woodpeckers – in the surrounding trees. On the marsh we watched brown pelicans, clapper rails and a pair of northern harriers. We traipsed all over the island for the next six hours, nearly draining our golf cart batteries dry. We paid visits to several birdfeeders, every bush, vine and tree that had berries on it, and even the Bald Head Island Club’s golf course ponds to find birds. Our last stop was at the Bald Head Island Conservancy’s pond on Stede Bonnet Wynd. There we saw several herons in the brush across the pond and a rare sight, the anhinga on a tree close to our viewing platform. The anhinga, also known as the snakebird due to its long neck, sunned itself on a tree a few feet away. We watched it for a while, until it jumped from its perch, swam to shore and walked away. After a long (and chilly) day of bird counting, we tallied our numbers: 59. Just then we heard a cry and turned to see a juvenile hawk in a tree across the way. 60. We saw 60 species of birds numbering upwards of 825 in only a few hours. Bird count groups across the area, from Fort Fisher to Southport to Oak Island, saw 170 bird species and more than 90,000 birds in one day. To find out more about the National Audubon Society, including information on the Christmas Bird Count and other activities in your area, visit http://www.audubon.org.