The Four-Day Weekend, Part 1

I picked up Debra at 3:55 AM on Friday morning, and we headed for Lugoff. Lex was waiting when we got there, and we started loading his car with all our equipment. We were on the road again before 5:00, heading to Florida. The three of us were taking our best shot to see the Greater Sandplover, a stray bird that normally lives in Asia and Africa. This individual is only the second ever recorded in North America, and we hoped it would still be there. Storms with gale-force winds and abundant rain earlier in the week had made finding the bird difficult for some other birders, and rainy, windy weather was still partly in the forecast.

At 10:15 we pulled into Hugenot Memorial Park and found a place to leave the car. (This is located east of Jacksonville, out on the coast of Duval County.) We grabbed our scopes, binoculars, raincoats, and started walking. Other birders were standing around a large group of mixed shorebirds, and we knew we were in the right spot. The bird had been cooperative all morning for those who were there earlier, so we had good hope. We didn’t have to wait. It was among several hundred plovers and sandpipers, but with a little pointing and scanning, we all picked it out and had leisurely, upclose scope views. That was nice. Here’s a picture of the scene (the Greater Sandplover is in this group, but too far for the camera to show detail):

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We continued there for a few more hours, enjoying the bird and the people who came long distances to see it. One gentleman had just flown in from Rhode Island to see it; he liked watching the bird through the scope. As we stood there searching the birds for something different, a Red-necked Phalarope flew in, and we got great scope views of this normally pelagic species. That, also was a new one for me.

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Lex

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Debra

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Lex and me

On the walk back to the car after noon, rain started, and wind pelted us with sand. We were gritty and soaked on the way to find something to eat. Not knowing the area, we solicited recommendations from the locals. Both people we asked said the Sandollar was the place to go. We did, and it was worth it. Debra tried the cashew-crusted curry grouper; Lex and I had grilled mahi with dill and caper sauce…all of it very good food!

I saw two guys come to the buffet line and recognized them as birders from Tampa who had shared part of the morning with us. I walked over to see what else they had found after we parted, and they told about finding Leach’s Storm-Petrels over the surf at Little Talbot State Park. That is another pelagic species not normally seen from land. So after finishing at the restaruant, we headed up A1A to Little Talbot.

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I find it hard to take unblurred photos of armadillos; they’re deceptively quick.

If you are ever in the area, pay the small entrance fee and just drive through this unspoiled fragment of coastal Florida. It is a beautiful place. We parked and walked up onto one of the boardwalks so we could scan the ocean. After a little while I found dark slivers of movement cutting over the waves. As they came closer, even flying over the beach itself, we were able to get positive identification as Leach’s Storm-Petrels, my third new bird for the day. It has been a long time since I got three new birds in a single day east of Texas.

It was mid-afternoon, and we had seen what we came to see. So we drove back home. I only had two-and-a-half hours of sleep the previous night, but the adrenaline kept me going all day. We made the vehicle transfer back at Lex’s house, drove to Lancaster, dropped Debra off, transcribed my bird records, and I was in bed by 12:15. That was a great way to spend a Friday!

Published in: on May 28, 2009 at 10:02 am  Comments (1)  

Monday — The Rest of the Way

August 25, 2008 — Long Island Lake to takeout.

From our campsite on Long Island Lake, we continued to Lower George Lake… Rib Lake… Cross Bay Lake… Ham Lake… plus two unnamed small lakes. There were six portages totalling 243 rods.

Here are some scenes from our final day of paddling.

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Some men are barrel-chested. We were barrel-backed.
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Finishing strong
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A cool shot just as Phil was beaming back up to the mothership:
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The day had been truly beautiful. A morning that was born in the mist matured into an autumn-like freshness of air. There were lily pads and grasses around us much of the day, and we encountered ducks on the water and rocks — Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, Wood Ducks.

We made it to the takeout by our 3:00 appointment, and the Suburban and trailer were waiting for us. At the outfitter we were given cold drinks and clean towels, and everyone eventually found their way to the showers. Hot water is a wonderful thing!

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On the way back to Duluth, we stopped in Grand Marias for supper at The Angry Trout. After that, the two-hour drive back to the hotel gave good time to process our week together.

Thanks, guys! Peace in your journey’s next leg.

Published in: on September 8, 2008 at 9:36 am  Comments (4)  

Sunday Afternoon at Brookgreen Gardens

I have lived in South Carolina for 44 years and never visited this premier showplace of sculpture displayed within nature. My priorities have always been otherly determined when in the area, usually by the birds at nearly Huntington Beach State Park. A visit here was severely overdue.

But it was a bird, in fact, that brought me to the gardens this first time. A Western Kingbird (a stray flycatcher from Texas and beyond) was found there the middle of last week by a woman from Michigan. She contacted the birding community, and many people at the Carolina Bird Club meeting were able to go to Brookgreen Gardens and locate it…Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I was occupied leading field trips to other exciting locations, and could not get away until Sunday. This is another species I’ve never found in South Carolina, and I really wanted it.

Before heading to the gardens, I went to church, worshipping in the very full, large congregation at Belin UMC in Murrell’s Inlet. The pastor is a friend of mine, but it turned out that he was in Israel on a tour, so the associate pastor delivered the sermon. It’s a nice and rare opportunity whenever I get to hear colleagues preach, and he did it well. I went to Creek Ratz for lunch, and then made my way down US 17 to the entrance.

I arrived at the boat dock where the bird had been appearing, and four other birders were there, sitting on the wooden deck benches. They had been waiting since the gates opened, and no Western Kingbird had been seen. That was not good news. It was after 1:00, and the bird should have been there by now. The five of us talked a long time as we waited, until they all had to go elsewhere. I continued by myself, making some observations while I waited:

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Fox Squirrels are cool.

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Fingernails float.

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Not all sculpture is bronze.

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Wood and light are old friends.

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Getting stood-up by a flycatcher doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a Yellow-throated Warbler.

Published in: on February 5, 2008 at 10:10 pm  Comments (4)  

Ocracoke Vacation — Day Eight, October 31

After a morning of running, buying a small step ladder, and getting breakfast, I decided it was time to kayak. Conditions were finally right for me to attempt a paddle in unfamiliar waters. The step ladder was to assist me in loading the boat onto the Titan, something not necessary with the Frontier since it’s not as tall. I have always enlisted help from someone else when loading to or unloading from the Titan, but I learned before leaving home that I could do it by myself if I stood on something. Thankfully the Q700X is not a very heavy kayak (44 pounds), but the 18-foot length makes it somewhat awkward to maneuver while holding it above your head, especially in the wind.

Wave action at the landing was chaotic, but low. I cautiously moved away from the docks and faced the wind, holding position near the shore until I determined the feel of the water underneath me. Satisfied, I carved out left, into the sound, and arced fully downwind, heading toward the ferry channel and the entrance to Silver Lake. It was lively, and the rudder became necessary to hold me on course.

Silver Lake is not actually a lake but a jettied natural harbor where ferries terminal and the village of Ocracoke crescents from its edge. I entered the space between the jetties, those lines of rocks moderating the flow of waves and wind for those who travel the water. In a tiny vessel like mine, the difference was clear; the surface was more stable between the rocks. Paddling leisurely in the harbor, I strolled past docks and tethered boats and came to the shallow landing at the Surf Shop, where I got out and went to the door. Since I was wet, I didn’t go inside, but had one of the guys meet me on the porch to give me suggestions for where to paddle from here. They rent kayaks, so I figured they would know, and I got some helpful advice.

Back out past the seafood company and the ferry berths, I exited into the sound again and turned left, toward Springer’s Point. I covered distance quickly, moving past some homes and then the point into a broad cove where some tidal creeks reached into the island. I chose what seemed to be the main creek and started in. For the narrower channel, and since I was sitting below grass level and the wind wasn’t a big factor, I raised the rudder and reverted to hip/torso steering. The creek went a long way back through marsh, with several streams branching off. After a while I was paddling essentially through the backyards of some homes, and the creek became very narrow and blocked with tree branches. I turned around, probably pleasing the small group of Mallards and one Green-winged Teal hen that I kept flushing.

When I arrived back near the mouth of the creek, I explored a few more creeks, briefly, before entering the sound and turning left again. I could see the long sandy conclusion of the island in the distance, near where Michael and I had driven on Sunday. I moved in that direction, resting on the water really, and let the breeze coming off the island catch me from the side and push me for a few hundred feet. From there I paddled some more toward the distant sand, but not intending to go all the way. At a selected spot past a stand of trees, I turned and started back.

Along the way a boat wake caught me from behind at an angle, and I noticed how, in that situation, you can tell what is about to happen behind you by what you see the surface doing to your left front. Everything the water does means something. It is a language unto itself, with a vocabulary embedded in the seasons, accented by the depth of the land which rides below. And sometimes the language is a song, with hypnotizing rhythm, or recitative so convincing I nod my assent to things it says are true. When I’ve gone back to shore, what will I miss that is never sung again?

The distance passed, and I came to the ferry cut again, the “Ditch” as it’s called locally. As I emerged from the lee of the jetties, the wind met me head on, unchecked across the open miles of Pamlico Sound. The waves were a batallion of white-haired gnomes, marching out to sea with me in their way. By glancing to my right for relative shore speed, I could tell the wind had slowed me, but the relative water speed was still blazing as the waves took their shots. Some broke across the bow and some crashed beside the cockpit, getting me wet. So I began to time my stroke so the blade sliced into each crest, attacking them, and the ride smoothed-out considerably. Active waves are fun!

I was only out for a little more than two hours, but it was packed with enough distance and sensation and interior openings that it seemed like half a day. Sliding back into the landing, I was tired and ready for something to eat. Here’s a photo of the 700 after takeout, with the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferries in the background having just met each other.

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After getting a shower I headed over to The Pelican Restaurant for lunch. Then I washed some clothes, did some writing, and took a nap. Around 4:30 I drove to the upper end of the island to enjoy the evening outside, my last night here.

About the time I was getting to the ferry landing, my phone rang, and it was Andrea, my traveling-nurse sister in Arizona. She was watching some birds outside her apartment and, in addition to sharing the joy of the observation, was asking for some identification tips. What she had was a Black-crowned Night-Heron and a Least Bittern, cool birds, the latter of which I don’t have on my Hyde County list. Here are some shots from the drive.

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Some of the clouds look like willow seeds blowing.

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And some clouds look like jetties, moderating the flow of color and hope for those who travel the night.
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Published in: on November 8, 2007 at 8:09 pm  Comments (7)  

Ocracoke Vacation — Day Seven, October 30

While walking in the evening of my seventh day on Ocracoke, I came to a fork in the road. So I took it, heeding Mr. Berra’s advice. It was scratched and mashed free of its curve from its time in traffic, making it more accurately depictive of its moniker, “flatware”. Something good will come of it, surely.

Earlier in the day, around 7:30 in the morning, Michael headed home. It was really nice spending the time with him the last few days. As the morning went by, I decided to go up the island and explore the other beach ramps and roads to the sound that I had not tried yet. Here are some shots from the easternmost soundside entrance.

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Ramp 59 is the easternmost oceanside access.

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I found three more roads to the sound. Two of them were for “Authorized Vehicles Only”, but the other one turned out to be a wonderfully narrow and long path full of deep holes of brown water. At the end of it, I set up the spotting scope and looked around the sound for a bit.

As I moved back down the island, I began to see several people on bicycles. I guessed they were folks staying in Ocracoke who had rented them for the day. When I arrived at the Pony Pasture parking area, I took the boardwalk to the beach for a look. One of the cyclists was there, and I asked her about the group. They were about fifteen women from all over the country who had signed up for a six-day bicycle trip of the entire Outer Banks, starting up at Corolla and coming south. They could each go at their own pace, stopping to examine what particularly interested them. This woman was from New Hampshire. Back at the parking lot I met another one who was from Maryland. She was a birder, and I had seen her earlier, stopping with binoculars to identify some birds. They were to spend the night in Ocracoke and have the next day to relax.

I had lunch at Howard’s Pub, my first time at the popular eatery…conch fritters and a half-pound burger. The afternoon involved visiting two shops which had not been open previously, including an active pottery. That’s where I found the stack of decals which included the elusive Ramp 72 sticker; all other locations had been out of them. The rest of the day was spent just taking it easy around the house, until I went for my walk to the sound at sunset.

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Published in: on November 7, 2007 at 6:55 pm  Comments (5)  

Ocracoke Vacation — Day Six, October 29

Perhaps you read my slight posting entitled “Hello from Ocracoke.” Well, this is when I wrote it, at breakfast using Michael’s laptop computer and the wireless internet connection at Ocracoke Coffee. I spent some time there five different mornings, conveniently located as it was just down the road from my house. No, I don’t like coffee, but there were other items worth drinking, like protein smoothies and orange juice. There was also a selection of teas, but none were marked as decaffeinated; requesting help in determining such met with willing assistance one day and resistance the next (there was some variety in the friendliness of the personnel). Also, one day, my orange juice arrived in a cup completely filled with ice — you don’t do that!

For part of the morning we visited a few of the shops Michael had not seen yet. As we approached the door to one place, a woman exiting paused slightly and looked me in the face before continuing. A minute or so later I noticed the woman was back in the store talking to the clerk, and she seemed to be indicating something about me. I was moving in their direction at that point, and she must have thought I had overheard, because she explained that she was trying to determine if I was someone on television…that I looked like someone she might have seen on TV. I kind of laughed a little, and said I hoped it was someone good. She said it wasn’t someone she could name, but I just looked like I might be famous. Michael is beside himself at this point trying not to laugh out loud, and I was probably blushing a little bit. I assured her that I was not famous. But then Michael, ever ready to prolong such a moment, added, “You know, that’s exactly what a famous person would say!” When she left again, she seemed a little excited and embarrassed, and not really sure whether I was unfamous or not.

After lunch we took advantage of the nice weather and walked the Hammock Hills trail. Beautiful stands of old pines grew out of tall dunes, while myrtle and bay and cedar created thick dark patches of shelter for wildlife. There were not many bird species evident that day, but lots of individuals, mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers. Some others were Eastern Phoebe, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Dark-eyed Junco, and Song Sparrow. And there was an Eastern Mud Turtle in the grass beside the trail. This is the same kind of turtle that bit my sister Karen on her lip when, as a toddler, she inspected it a little too closely.

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After the walk, we took the beach back toward town. The blue sky was a welcome feature.

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It was back to the Back Porch Restaurant for dinner where the people were friendly and the food was delicious. TV and conversation took up the rest of the night…a good day.

Published in: on November 6, 2007 at 7:59 pm  Comments (5)  

Ocracoke Vacation — Day Five, October 28

So this is what Sunday is like for normal people.

I woke up feeling rested, but not having any unreasonable need to exert myself, I lay there enjoying that fact. But eventually I became mobile. I washed the dishes, went running, and had breakfast. Sometime during all that, Michael found his way out of his room and began to appear conscious. It was still just 9:00, two full hours before church would start…huh, I could have slept some more. I got a shower and journaled a little while waiting for that perfect time to leave: you know, so you don’t walk in late and feel disrespectful, but also so you don’t get there too early and look like some kind of hayseed tourist.

I think we hit it about right. The day was considerably cooler than my previous days there. It felt the way I expect October on the Outer Banks to feel. It was quite windy too. And so we went inside for worship.

Going to church when I’m on vacation is an exciting thing for me. I get to sit among strangers while feeling quite at home. I once was a very good church member before God saw fit to turn me into a passable pastor, and to slip back into a congregation as an expectant worshipper is comforting, now. It has been over twenty-two years since I abandoned the pew to face the crowd and face the music on a weekly basis. I have long since learned to love the pulpit and my task there. But it is nice, on occasion, to not need my title, to sit near the middle, pick up a hymnal, and belong with the unsuspecting faithful.

Of course, if certain family members are with me, I’ll be outed before the prelude is through. Michael was generous, though, in that he waited until the service was over — and in natural discreet conversation with the pastor — to inform her that I am a UM pastor. We talked for a while, and several members made us welcome, including some of the musicians from Thursday night. They suggested the Flying Melon as a good lunch location, and we saw some of them there, later.

With no administrative church meetings to attend (ahhhh!), it was a good afternoon to spend on the beach. So after changing clothes, Michael and I went to Ramp 70, deflated, and started southwest through the sand. [For the sake of any readers who are familiar with Ocracoke enough to wonder why I kept using Ramp 70 instead of the much more interesting and challenging Ramp 72, let me assure you it was not because of fear or intimidation. My first visit to the beach on Thursday used Ramp 72, and it was a fun, rugged road with lots of deep water holes…three miles of it, according to one map. But it closed the next day and never did reopen while I was there.]

In church we heard of a sailboat that had gounded the previous day, and we began looking.

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Not exactly where you want your boat! We speculated as to how they might recover it…a large crane? Or is this a job for the insurance adjustors?

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Here’s Michael, thoughtfully calling his wife to tell her, “I’m on the beach, and you’re not!”

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The day ended watching Game 4 of the World Series, which Boston won, sweeping the Colorado Rockies for their 7th World Series title. That also moved the Red Sox into fourth place for all-time WS wins, behind the Yankees (26), the Cardinals (10), and the Athletics (9). Now it’s only four months until spring training!

Published in: on November 5, 2007 at 4:55 pm  Comments (2)