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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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

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge & Nine Inches of Snow

Hampton Roads saw about 9-10 inches of snow. We hardly EVER get that much snow.. If it even snows at all…Anyways Brian and I went four-wheeling of course!! We didn’t want to drive to far in the snow, so we went to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge again. It’s such a beautiful area, I love the trails! The snow was an extra bonus…helping in spotting those smaller birds, we usually overlook.

Best part of snow! Dark-eyed Juncos!

When we woke up…we were so excited to see so much snow on the ground! We just couldn’t wait to take the jeep out to play in the snow! We drove to my dads house and watched the birds at his neighbors feeder. There were SO many! We saw Tuft Titmouse, House Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Juncos, Chickadees. At that moment, I got my father into birds. He was so excited, talking about what kind of feeder he should get, and asking about bird books and so on… Oh it was awesome! Hope he really gets into it! It’s just an awesome hobby not to mention CHEEP! lol After we left my dads, we drove around Virginia Beach and had Lunch at The Jewish Mother.

Robin Foraging Berries from a Red Cedar Tree
A very cold White-throated Sparrow

After Driving around checking out the pretty white snow in Virginia Beach, We headed to our original destination.

Snowy Sand Dune – Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Egret foraging in a ditch – Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Gray Catbird

I’ve never seen a Brown Thrasher, It was pretty interesting watching  it forage with its beak in the mud! Do you see the mud on it’s beak?

Brown Thrasher with Muddy Beak from foraging

Brown thrasher having a sip of melted snow

Chick-a-dee-dee-dee singing its little heart out

The snow was fun, and we ended up at a snow party with four wheelers and friends! We had a wonderful weekend!

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge & Hatteras Seashore, NC

We love going down to Hatteras. It’s only about a two hour drive.  A beautiful place to visit – even in the off-season! We have such a blast seeing all the birds and four-wheelin’ on the beach!  The weather was a bit cloudy and very windy with a few stray showers… Pretty much normal for this time of year. The sun did peek out a few times, which was so nice! We visited Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and Hatteras National Seashore on Saturday and Sunday and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on our way home Sunday. We decided to take a different route in hopes of seeing a bear or an alligator! We didn’t see either this time. DARN IT!

Very Angry Atlantic Ocean

Saturday was a windy overcast day. We stopped at Pea Island to check the birds. We knew we weren’t going to stay long the first day because it was just way too windy, too cold and too cloudy! I managed to snag a few pictures of birds I’ve never photographed before!

Green-winged Teals

Northern Pintail

I also saw a White Ibis! I was so excited! I had never seen one before!

White Ibis coming in for landing

AND American Avocets!

Our first day  on the National Seashore we wanted to go on the Ocracoke Ferry. We were five minutes late catching the four o’clock ferry. The voyage is about an hour and it would have been dark by the time we got back….we really needed to get a hotel. The ferry is right across the street from the Southern most beach access on the National Seashore so we went four-wheeling.

Sea of Seagulls

Once we got to the “tip” of Hatteras Island, there was about 50,000 seagulls…All different kinds! It was a sight! We also spotted three White tails playing in the dunes

White Tailed Deer Checking The Area

Dunlin and tattered sand bag

As always there were several fisherman on the “tip” It’s so neat to watch them tackle the huge waves and have a good ol’ time casting out, praying for that record breaker catch! But this day there was a beggar… going from truck to truck to see what he could get thrown to him.

Beach Beggar

Handsome Brown Pelican ready for take off!

We got out of the jeep for a bit and looked for sand dollars, Whelk shells, and Moon snails. While walking, we spotted a oystercatcher. I just love their bright beaks and they are really interesting to watch in action! I also snapped a quick shot of the Hatteras light.

American Oystercatcher
Hatteras Lighthouse

We stayed in an amazing hotel Called “Breakwater Inn” I’m not into hotels that have too much. But this hotel was just right. We had an amazing view of the sound and the sunset…. Also a restaurant, a grocery store less than 30 seconds up the road and it was very clean!! Great Prices and Great off-season rates!

The next morning when we woke up we decided to do some more four-wheeling on the beach and slowly make our way to back to Pea Island so I could catch the birds while the sun was out. Another storm was on the way…Once we made it to Pea Island, there must have been 30,000 or more Tundra Swans. They were literally everywhere!!

Tundra Swans Preening

I saw more Ibis. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to see these little guys… I didn’t realize they were up this way!

L to R: Blue Heron, Great Egret, & Two Ibis (one’s on a nest!)

We saw Tons of coots, Northern Shovelers, and Black Ducks. It was fun watching the coots play! While walking the trail we caught some Ruddy Ducks catching a light snooze ;)

Ruddy Ducks Sleeping

I have never seen a Tricolored Heron. Nor did I ever expect I would see one. Anyways, I happened to be looking for Black Stilts and I spotted this guy! Score!

Tricolored Heron

We took a different route home, and headed towards Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a really neat place for birders as well. Except this is a drive through refuge, rather than trail only. We saw tons of Tundra Swans, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and lots of tree swallows. I love this place, and can’t wait till the season starts so I can explore it deeper. We only skimmed the park a little, because we were on our way home and didn’t want to get home too late. We had an amazing Weekend as always! Support your local National Wildlife Refuges and National/State Parks by visiting OFTEN!! They need you!

Greater Yellowlegs