Cedar Point Campground in Croatan National Forest

Tideland Trail. Cedar Point Recreation Area. Croatan National Forest

I have been dying to go camping again. I love camping! I can’t get enough of it! We used to tent camp a lot, but I really hate sleeping on cold ground in the winter…so we didn’t go as often…and eventually got into the habit of not going at all. Then, this past christmas, my awesome dad let us borrow his pop-up camper. He doesn’t use it much, so he’ll probably never ask for it back. (I hope) Our first trip in the pop-up we took it to Myrtle Beach State Park in South Carolina. Wow. That is a nice campground! But back to Cedar Point…. We decided to take a Monday off and do a little exploring the last week. It was almost 80 out and we just couldn’t stand the thought of being inside doing work. Oh good lord who wants to do that?! So, we headed towards the beach and stopped and checkout some kayak landings…and then we passed a National Forest area that said it had camping! I got all excited and said…LETS STOP THERE!! I wanna check that out! Cedar Point is not huge. However, they do have quite a few(40!) campsites with electricity, bathrooms and cold showers. A LOT More than most National Forest Campgrounds…It is open year round with a boat ramp, a couple of trails including a tideland trail that is interpretive, and a small dock you may fish off of. Did I mention the campsites are $17.00 with electricity and $12.00 without?!? oh yeah, and you can book online through reserve america. bam.

Cedar Point Tideland Trail

This 1.4 mile hike features wonderful views of the salt water marshes and coastal forest. There are several boardwalks that take you through the marshes where salt water meets freshwater. You can also kayak this trail. All boardwalks are high enough for you to paddle under. I know this because I paddled it! You can see lots of birds on this trail. I also walked the trail with Brian. We spotted a bunch of tufted titmouse  red Breasted Nuthatches, Chickadees, Red Breasted Woodpeckers, Yellow Rumped Warblers, White Egrets, Blue Herons, and Belted King Fishers. Also, while I was kayaking, and not able to pull my camera out as fast as I’d hoped I saw – for the first time mind you! – a Red Headed Woodpecker!!!! I chased that little bird with my kayak as much as I could to catch up and get a shot. Oh well, better luck next time!

Tufted Titmouse

Blue Heron. Cedar Point Kayak Trail.

Belted Kingfisher

Mud Fiddler

Blue Heron in a Loblolly Pine

Red Breasted Nuthatch… with a baby!!

Anole in a Cedar Tree

Oh, and one of the most awesome parts of this trip, besides having a campfire, sleeping in a pop-up camper, making chicken marsala in one pan and making pancakes, turkey sausage and eggs in one pan as well— KAYAKING! hahaha!!! oh my, I have found my new favorite thing to do. Every time the weather is 60+ I feel like I have to be out on the water paddling. My dad got me a perception swifty 9.5 for christmas. Perception kayaks are extremely stable and move along the water pretty well.

Yaking Cedar Poing kayak trail!

Also, The Beach is not far at all. I’d say about a 10 minute drive over the Intracoastal Waterway/Bouge Sound. There are two public beach access areas near the Point on Emerald Isle — which is my favorite. YOU CAN DRIVE YOUR 4×4 VEHICLE  ON THE BEACH HERE!! WHAT!? yes. from September to April you can drive your dang 4×4 out there on the beach! I also love all of the shells that wash up here. Tons of Sand Dollars. You can view Hammocks Beach State Park from the Point as well. I’m looking forward to buying the pass to drive on the beach so I can launch my kayak there at the point and paddle over to Hammocks Beach State Park Island.

Broken Sand Dollar on the shoreline

“Come walk with me along the sea where dusks sits on the land, and search with me, for shells are free and treasures hide in the sand”

Sunset at the Point. Emerald Isle.

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Edenton Bay, North Carolina

Belt of Venus. Edenton Bay, North Carolina

We took a trip to Portsmouth, Virginia to clean up the sailboat so we can sail her down to New Bern, North Carolina. On our way up there we stopped at Edenhouse bridge in Chowan County on Edenton Bay to watch the aftermath of the sunset. It was beautiful and seemed to get better as the night sky approached. We got to the boat about 7:30 pm and settled in for the night. The next day we ran around town getting cleaning supplies and a few things for the boat. We visited the Salty Dog in Oceanview to look around. There were two dinghys, and we have been looking for a great deal on one. To our luck there was an Achilles 10ft inflatable dinghy for $175 bucks! We were so excited!! I can’t wait to take it out.

Sunset at the Marina. Nautical Boats, Portsmouth, VA

We spent the whole day on the boat scrubbing and fixing things. Summer Breeze has to be perfect before we go on this long trip! I hope everything goes smoothly and we have a safe trip. It should be fun! We are more than likely leaving the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I will be posting from the boat!

Oregon Inlet and Dolphins

Before Hurricane Irene came Brian and I visited Oregon Inlet the day the point opened. Oregon Inlet is where the sound meets the ocean in Southern Most Nags head, Outer Banks. It’s called ramp 4, and usually the end (the point) near the bridge is closed during summer months for bird nesting season. Some birds that are protected are the Skimmer, the Piping Plover, and Various Terns. I have mixed emotions on the closings in the outer banks… I’d rather not say but I believe the situation is very unfortunate, I’m torn because I love the birds and love driving on the beach. You can form your own opinion by visiting a few websites… OuterBanksBeachPreservation.com (OBPA), PreserveBeachAccess.org  or you could just watch the video “piping mad“. I don’t want to get into it because I could ramble on and on about this mess. So, back to this 4×4 only awesome beach spot called Oregon Inlet, Which is now no longer accessible because of a wash over due to Hurricane Irene……at least we got to enjoy it one last time.taken with iPhone 4We decided to take my jeep, Edith… Shes a 1994 Jeep Wrangler YJ and does very well in the sand. We drove down without the doors on… It was so fun! We spent most of the day sitting in our chairs near the shore line. taken with iPhone 4As the day came to an end we took our dog skippy for a walk and took our cameras with us. There’s always a lot of birds at the point, we even spotted a few Black Terns. I love goning to this end because of all the birds hanging out here, especially when the nesting season is over. Every year I seem to see something I’ve never seen :)

(Photo – Top left : Willet. Bottom left : Juvenile Brown Pelican. Top Right : Skimmer. Bottom Right : Marbled Godwit.)

One of my favorite birds… The Oystercatcher. A black and white wading bird with a long bright red bill. Their bill is used to break into shellfish, and each individual inherits a particular technique from its parents. Despite the name, oystercatchers are not known to eat oysters and in fact favour mussels. Oystercatchers are primarily shorebirds, although they do sometimes breed inland by rivers.

We waited until the sun started to set and headed back towards the ramp. At this time of day the Ocean was smooth as glass… and we could see dolphins playing and jumping clear out of the water. I have lived near the ocean and on the bay my entire life…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen dolphins off the shore and swimming near our boat. BUT I HAVE NEVER seen them jump out of the water the way they were this day. I enjoyed it so much! All of these shots were taken from the driver’s side of my jeep :)

Of course I had to make a sequence shot! This is my first post using my Canon Rebel T1i and my iPhone 4. I use both cameras religiously.

I made this with an app called PicFrame… but the photos were taken with my canon. If you like the beach shot and my jeep shot, I took those with my iPhone4 and used the Camera+  app. My favorite filters are Clarity, and HDR … I like this app because you can control the intensity. Here’s another shot from Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, where we usually air our tires back up and we also air down there.

“Its a sweet, sweet life…Livin’ by the salty sea” – Jimmy Buffett

P.S. If you haven’t become a fan of my photography, please do! It’s greatly appreciated.  ITS EASY!! If you have facebook, just click “LIKE”
Crystal Thornton Photography

DayTrippin’ – Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

I’m sorry Folks, I’ve been a busy bee. Brian and I have been to Key West, camping in Newport News, camping in Hatteras, day trips to Carova Beach, Oregon Inlet, First Landing Park, Munden Point and so on! Plus I work for the city of Virginia Beach Parks and Natural Areas department, so I have been neglecting the whole blog thing, which is kind of sad because I love it so much!

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Alligator river is an amazing place. It’s an 154,000 acre refuge that has tons of roads to drive and explore including a few places to to launch your kayak or canoe and also a couple of walking trails…Today, our objective is to look for bears and red wolves… We started our trip in Moyock, NC (where we  now live) and drove down 17 through Elizabeth City, Hartford, and Columbia… The Town of Columbia is a really cute older waterfront area… I recommend stopping and checking out their wildlife center for the sounds. It’s beautiful! There’s a pier-style trail to walk and who knows – you may even have a chance of spotting a bear!

We stopped and ate lunch at Mikes Kitchen in Columbia just over the bridge. This place was actually realllly good, I will definitely be looking forward to going there again! Usually when Brian and I go to Alligator River Refuge we try to just go down whatever driving trails  are open… because you never know which ones are open and if it is you should go down it, because you might not be able to go down that trail again until the following year. We drove around and spotted tons of Tree Swallows and Yellow-rumped Warblers… along with a few Sulphur butterflies fluttering around.

….And as we were driving on one of the roads, we saw a large bird fly into a tree next to the Jeep….

Originally I thought it was a hawk of some sort, but then it turned and looked at us and Brian says “Holy Shit!! — look an owl!” I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t know what to do….. I tried to hurry up and turn on my camera, but as usual when I want it to turn on quickly it takes FOREVER then I have to change the settings to manual and blah blah blah, because remember I use a Point and Shoot….ha..so I tried to get a shot before he flew off. This is the only shot I got….

Barred Owl

Honestly, I was happy with that single shot I had gotten, but then…the owl decided to fly across the road and landed on a branch…It looked back at us, not really worried about us being there.

Barred Owl checking us out

I decided to get out of the Jeep.  Figured if the owl wasn’t that worried about me, then it wouldn’t mind if i tried to get a few more shots! Well, once I got out of the Jeep the owl flew off again, but not that far. I decided I would walk down the road a little – very quietly and try once again to get another shot of this beautiful owl! It was almost impossible for me to find this amazingly camouflaged creature. I kept loosing sight every time I would have to take my eye off of the owl for a split second to raise my view finder to my eyeball. Oh man, It was insane how much it blended in with its surroundings!

Camouflaged Barred Owl

On our way out I saw a Cormorant diving in one of the “ditches”…. when Brian passed him, he was going sort of fast. I asked him to stop and reverse because there was a bird I wanted to get a shot of…. He said, “Won’t the bird fly off?” I said, “Nah, probably not this one” and sure enough, there was the Cormorant…now out of the water. He posed…. several times, and then we drove off. Oh it was great. I can’t wait to visit this place again. Every season is beautiful!

 

Cormorant Drying Plumage

Double-crested Cormorant

Beach Day – Ocracoke Island, NC

I can’t begin to explain how relaxing it is to have sand between your toes, whispers of ocean breeze play with your hair, and the sun kissing your skin. It’s my idea of a perfect summer day!

Beach go-ers and Willets relaxing on Ocracoke Beach

Have you ever been to a beach where you can drive straight down to the water? Honestly, You will never want to tote your chairs, coolers, toys and what not down a mile long trail to the beach while your feet burn in the sand EVER AGAIN! All beaches should be like this really. It would make the beach experience that much better. I feel very fortunate to live so close to the outer banks. There’s beach driving on several beaches within an hour or two of our home. I know it sounds silly for me to drive that far when I live blocks from the Chesapeake Bay Beaches and within minutes of Virginia Beach Oceanfront – seriously folks – those beaches are nothing in comparison.

Brian and I started our trip in Chesapeake; we would have gone the usual Caratoke Hwy way through Nags Head BUT– it was bumper to bumper with people heading to their beach rental homes or hotels. So, we decided to take the longer route down 17 and over to 64 through Alligator River and Manteo. We expected to get there an hour later than going the other route, but I think it may have been 20 minutes longer than taking our usual route. We stayed the night at Avon Hotel which online it’s reviews are horrible, but people need to get off their high horse, nothing is perfect! If you pay a small amount for a hotel in an area where they are all very high, chances are its not going to be what you expected. It’s an older hotel, with older TVs ect…but I love it! I love the OLD beach feel, oh and I like the price tag… because when I go somewhere the only time I spend in the hotel room is when I’m sleeping…so who cares!? Plus All the money we saved on the hotel, goes toward doing more fun stuff! whoo hoo!

Cape Hatteras Light House

In the morning we stopped at the best bakery ever. The Orange Blossom Bakery. If you happen to stop in there, you HAVE to get an Apple Ugly. They are amazingly delicious!! After getting breakfast we stopped at the Hatteras Light house ramps. We were really anxious to check out the beaches but the sand was really soft, so we turned around and went on our way to Ocracoke Island. I really wanted to be sitting in the sun!

We hopped on the ferry and scooted across the Pamlico Sound over to our destination. On the ferry ride to the island we saw lots of wildlife including dolphins, pelicans, and skimmers – one of my favorite birds!

White Ibis struttin' his stuff after catching a small mud fiddler - Taken from the Ferry

Spotted Sandpiper

Ocracoke is way too beautiful to describe. Its just miles of inhabited beach and sound. The water is absolutely Stunning! Brian and I could see our toes in the water!! The beaches I hang around have a sort of green color to them. This was simply amazing to see! we could see the shells in the water, even as the waves were breaking and huge crabs swimming by in the current. I felt like I was in Florida!

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Ocracoke turquoise colored ocean

We sat on the beach and enjoyed the day relaxing and watching the birds. Right before we left, the Skimmers kept coming by….I felt like I could sit there for hours watching them delicately skim the wave break-line hoping to catch a fish or small crustacean.

Black Skimmer delicately skimming the waves for food

Black Skimmer heading back down the break-line for more food

…and persistence pays off!

Black Skimmer with his catch!

YUM! Did you know black skimmers have webbed feet but rarely swim in the water

Brian and I spent the entire day on the beach. It’s so relaxing…I can’t imagine life with out days spent on the beach. n our way home we stopped at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to switch drivers. I asked Brian if we could walk down the trail a bit and get a picture of the sun setting….on our way down the trail I could hear the loud call from an Eastern Towhee, a bird I hear often…but hardly see.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee singing his heart out in the sunset

Pea Island Refuge Sunset

Hey rangerous! Where ya been?!

I’m definitely ashamed that I haven’t been able to write lately… And even more ashamed that I took a few iPhone pictures and a picture of a fly eating sugar while I was on a three day camping trip at Chippokes State Park…I KNOW! I better get it in gear and share my photos and travels with my internet buddies!

"Nom nom nom" a black fly enjoys sugar from a pop-tart

I downloaded a new app for my phone that does PANORAMAS! I LOVE IT! I have the 3G model of the iPhone but I bet the panos taken with the 3GS or even the new 4G are probably stunning! The app is called Pano and you can purchase it from apple iTunes for about $1.99. Here’s a couple I’ve taken:

First Pano : Mackay Island NWR...user error, but still great for an iPhone!

Oregon Inlet Beach, NC

Cobham Bay, James River - Chippokes Plantation State Park in Surry, VA

I have to say, I’m really impressed with this app. I also use Camera Plus Pro app. It’s 99 cents, but gives you more things to do with your pictures, and tons of camera features!  Enough about my phone…let’s get back to what I’ve been doing. Brian and I love to take day trips to places. A couple of weeks ago we visited Mackay Island NWR, which has got to be one of the coolest drive through wildlife refuges! This place is always well taken care of, and never crowded. We were surprised they opened a little more of the drive trail! Here’s some pictures I took, including a Panorama taken with my Nikon p90.

The Red winged Black Bird's graceful balance on thin reeds

Ruddy Duck enjoying the last golden rays of sunshine before the sun goes down

Mackay Island NWR drive trail. You definately want to click to enlarge.

I have just been so busy trying to get things in my life accomplished, personal things that is. Really I am just falling behind with the internet thing. My passion for wildlife will never fade or die out. This I promise…. I took buddy for a walk the other day to Great Bridge Locks Park. Its a cute little city park with a boat ramp, fishing areas, wildlife trails, and a play ground. There must have just been a brood of little wood satyrs because they were EVERYWHERE! Every time we took a step, two or three would flutter about. It was so beautiful! I managed to get a quick snap of one of them. I love how they have so many eye spots on the top and also on the bottom of their wings.

Little Wood Satyr Butterfly - Great Bridge Locks Park, Chesapeake VA

AND don’t worry I’ll keep posting! ALSO, If you go camping or take any kind of trips this summer, DON’T forget your camera!!!! Take pictures of wildlife you see and upload it to wildobs.com! Happy Trails!!!

Walking through Botanical Gardens

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”

Sometimes its nice to take a day and relax. Norfolk Botanical Gardens is a beautiful place to go on a hot summer day.  They have over 30 themed gardens on 155 acres!  I love just going on walks and checking out all the beautiful flowers.

They have a wonderful Butterfly Garden! You can even find your way through a butterfly shaped maze made of flowers! I enjoyed all the flowers that were starting to bloom. They daisies were my favorite…Bright white petals and sunny happy yellow centers.

Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary

Long Dash Skipper

Long Dash Skipper

While watching this long dash flutter around from daisy to daisy, I noticed a spider jumping out from under the flowers trying to catch any insect that landed on his flower….I tapped on his flower to see if he would come up…

Bold Jumper Spider

We picked a beautiful bright sunny day! Walking through the gardens was so relaxing. After visiting the butterfly gardens we headed towards the Eagle nest where the famous eagle cam is located.

Eagle fledglings

I took this photo from the Nato Tower near the tropical garden.  The sun was behind the tree so it was very difficult to get a picture, but watching them through the binoculars was awesome! The little Eagles were flapping their wings anxious to leave the nest.  Under the tower I could hear a little chickadee. It was so cute! He looked as if he was bigger than his mom.

Chickadee Fledgling

There were lots of dragonflies buzzing about in all of the gardens. The dragonfly has been a symbol of happiness, new beginnings and change for many centuries in lots of different cultures.

Painted Skimmer

Blue Dasher

“Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home….your house is on fire, and your children will burn. Except
little Nan, who sits in a pan, weaving gold laces as fast as she can!”

I’m sure you’re familiar with this cute saying… but do you know how the rhyme originated? In Medieval England, the farmers would set torches to the old hop vines after the harvest, to clear the fields for the next planting. The poem was a little warning to the aphid-eating Ladybugs, still crawling on the vines in search of aphids. The Ladybugs’ children (larvae) could get away from the flames, but the immobile pupae (Nan) remained fastened to the plants (laces) and couldn’t escape. Kinda morbid when you break it down…

Seven Spotted Lady Beetle

Seven spotted lady beetle

After having an amazing walk through the botanical gardens we headed towards sandbridge beach to watch the sunset. We had so much fun watching the ghost crabs(sand crabs) run around on the beach that we missed the sun going down!

Ghost Crab

Ghost Crab going into its home

When you come to Virginia Beach (NOT the Ocean Front, it’s touristy and they move the sand around everyday – there are many more beaches to visit) … You might notice the golfball-sized  holes scattered about…  Ghost Crabs burrow in the dry sand of the upper beach, or in the sand dunes. The burrows extend down 3-4 feet. It’s facinating to watch the clever little crabs build their homes…they bring up clawfuls of sand and tosses it 6-12 inches away from the burrow opening. Later on, the Ghost Crab tromps down the strewn-about sand, and, using its claws, smooths out the surface. The tunnel home is constructed with wet grains of sand so that it will not collapse. In the winter Ghost Crabs hibernate in their burrows, “holding their breath” for six weeks by storing oxygen in specialized sacs near their gills.