Sunday, June 30, 2013

Leaving Shackleford Banks

Catching up here...
Monday, June 10
After being thrilled to see Shackleford Banks' wild horses yet again, I went to bed about 8:30 Sunday night.  I was really tired, but had a hard time getting to sleep, as the wind kept buffeting my little tent.  But eventually, I did sleep pretty well, and woke up in time to see one more sunrise over the dunes.

I walked for a while on the beach, seeing if I could find more shells, and just enjoying the nice morning.  A flock of pelicans coasted effortlessly above like a squadron of fighter planes:

I ran into Carl, who told me he had been up since 4AM, and that he was going to pack up early and hike back down the beach.  Even though our boat was not until 1:20, he remembered there being more shade at that end of the island.  And he desperately wanted some shade, having received a good burn from the sun's rays.  So after he and I ate breakfast - and I had a cup of hot tea - I took a walk on the beach again while he was packing up.  When I got back, Carl was gone and Hawkeye (Chris) was up and about, and announced that he was going to pack up, too.  Hawkeye, having started a partial through-hike, can pack in a jiffy, and he was gone while I was still packing up.  But in about 20 minutes, I was packed up and heading the three miles back to the western end of Shackleford Banks.  The tide was coming in, but for a while, I had plenty of beach to hike on.

Then, I started to run out of beach...
until, I totally ran out of beach to hike on - and the tide was not yet fully high!
At that point, I clambered over the low dunes and picked by way through the scrubby vegetation.  With only three pounds of water instead of the 28 I had started with, my pack was a lot lighter - although I did have at least a dozen pounds of shells.  Why, these are the ones that I picked up just for my granddaughter - the pocket knife is there so you can get an idea how big some of them are:

Suddenly, there were people coming the other way - a few at first, and then lots of them.  They were arrivals on the 9AM boat from Beaufort.  Then I spotted Hawkeye standing at the boat and waving to me, motioning me to come on.  So I did, and it turned out that he had spotted me hiking down the beach and persuaded the captain to wait a few minutes so we could get off the island at 9:20.  We had all had a great time, but were ready to get back to civilization.  I really appreciated her waiting the five extra minutes, and tipped her $10.  We got back to the car, changed our shirts and shoes, stowed our packs, and then, do you know what we did?  Why, we found an ice cream place, and at 10 in the morning, we each ate a bowl of ice cream while sitting in chairs - in the shade!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Dutch Gap Wildlife

I had the day off, and lots to do, but I made the time for a leisurely five mile hike at the Dutch Gap Conservation Area oxbow.  I've posted about hikes there several times before, such as this one about seven months ago.  My goal was to see wildlife, and I did see a fair amount of wildlife, especially at the start of the hike.  Plus, I had a nice walk in a pretty area where the riverine and wetland environments are seldom far away.  I didn't get all the things done later that I had hoped to do, but definitely do not regret taking this hike today.

Here are some photos.

I think this is a brown snake, but am not sure. 

The great blue heron fishes with patience and ambush from the water,
while the osprey is death from the sky for fish.  In a span of about 45 seconds, three osprey dove into the water here after fish.
The hike around the oxbow is 4.4 miles (longer if you take the many side trails, as I did) and passes by river areas,
through forests,
and ponds and wetlands.
 This large aquatic turtle has dug a hole to lay her eggs in.  I stayed my distance, as I didn't want to interfere with her bringing the next generation into the world.

Shackleford Horses and Sunsets

Sunday June 9.
My second day on Shackleford Banks had been a long one.  My pedometer had over 40,000 steps on it by the time we ate our cold dinner on the beach.  Chris and Carl were looking for more shells and I just sat down to get the load off my feet.  The rain had somehow missed us, but the wind was blowing strongly (and would most of the night).  It felt so good to sit down and not have the sun beating down from directly overhead.  When Chris and Carl returned, it was something like 7:00, and Chris suggested looking for horses again, and so we set off to the interior of the island.  Before long, Chris (who's trail name is "Hawkeye") thought he spotted a few in the distance.  All the little sandy hills make it difficult to see far, but we set out, and sure enough, there they were - six this time.  They were very tolerant of our presence, a couple of them walking within 20 feet of me.  Naturally, I didn't have my camera, having left it back at my tent.  We watched them for a good 20 minutes or so, then walked back to camp.  Even though it was still light, Carl and Chris went to bed.  We all were tired.

I sat there, aware of really tired legs.  I surely had over 20 miles on my feet that day.  And then I thought "When is the next time I will see wild horses?"  I grabbed my camera and headed back in the gathering dusk to find the little band of horses.  I took some photos and watched them for a while, then headed back to camp before it got too dark to see well.

Although the light looks good in the photos above, I think it was the camera compensating somehow, as it was quite dusky by now.  I sat on the beach and enjoyed an unusual sunset.  Because it was so cloudy, it was more shades of blues than last night's pinks and oranges.  It was really pretty, and I must have snapped 15 photos from different perspectives.  Here are a few of them.

It was dark now.  I sat alone on the beach and gazed at the Cape Lookout Lighthouse winking at me every 15 seconds from seven or eight miles away.  I reflected on the past two days and what a fun adventure they had been.  Even though it was just 8:30, I realized how tired I was.  My pedometer showed over 47,000 steps for the day.  I watched the lighthouse blink four more times, then went to bed. Tomorrow at some point - clean and dry clothes, and a hot shower!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Day Two on Shackleford Banks

Sunday, June 9
After the nice sunrise, I ate a Pro-bar and a handful of prunes for breakfast, and drank a cup of hot tea while sitting on the beach.  Even though it was so warm that I slept most of the night lying on top of my flimsy sleeping bag liner, the hot tea with honey hit the spot.  The sun was already warm, and my clothing was still totally damp in the humid salt air.  It was pretty clear that my next dry clothing would be in about 36 hours.

After doing several miles of beach combing, I decided that I would spend a good bit of the day hiking.  Chris and Carl decided to spend the day around camp and maybe get in their tents for some shade (that later proved impossible, as it was like 120 degrees in the tents in the peak of the day).  I went back to camp, packed my lunch, some emergency gear, and three liters of water, and started walking east.  My goals were to (1) find some great shells (2) see some wildlife and (3) reach the east end of Shackleford Banks where it should only be about a mile for the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.  The map at the end of this post shows where I walked.

I had already found some good shells the day before and in the early morning, but I wanted more.

I didn't keep every nice shell.  This large whelk had several organisms living in it, including the tiny crab you can see in the photo.  He was about the size of a thumbnail.

While I was finishing getting my pack, Chris told me that he would walk about a mile up with me and started out ahead.  He ended up finding the prize shell of the trip, this large queen's helmet.

Right after that point, Chris returned to camp and I kept heading east.  I had the beach to myself.  The sun was beating down and it was already getting warm, so I took my time.  I sipped water every few minutes from my three liter camelbak.  I saw a fair number of shore birds and a few pelicans, but no people.  I also saw several animals that will be mystery "What Am I?" subjects when I have time to think up verse to go with their photos.

It is a wild and beautiful beach there.

I also found this "ladder to nowhere,"

and every now and then, a ghost crab patrolled the beach.

After four miles of walking, with about two more to go to the end of the island, I was really warm.  The sun was bright, and a heavy fog was rolling in with maybe a quarter of mile visibility.  I pondered whether I wanted to walk 4 more miles (turn around) or eight more (go to the end of the island).  Given that the fog would prevent a view of the Cape Lookout Light, I decided to turn around.  I did take a detour to cut across the island for views of this ibis, a small brackish pond, and this wetland on the sound side.

I also liked these flowers.  I saw relatively few flowers on the island.
I ate my lunch (including practically drinking my chocolate bar) and continued walking back.  At times, the beach was coated in shells - there are a few pebbles in here but most of this is small shells, believe it or not.

When I got back, I found that my ingenious campmates had rigged a shelter using stuff salvaged on the beach, and a poncho.  I spent most of the rest of the afternoon resting in the shade, with frequent breaks to do more beachcombing.

I enjoyed seeing this boat sailing along.  It made me think of my days as a sailor long ago off the coast of Maine.

As the afternoon moved on, it got very cloudy and the winds - which had been very light all day and thus not very cooling - picked up tremendously.  A storm seemed to be coming.  Carl's tent was blowing away so we re-staked it.  It was too windy to light the stove, so we all ate cold dinners - a Pro-bar, prunes, and mixed nuts for me.  The rain never came, and we did some more exploration on the beach.  By now, it was about 7:00, the sun was behind clouds - oh, what a relief! - and Chris suggested walking inland to look for horses again.  My legs were really tired, but hey, when will I be here again?  I have all night to rest!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Can I Reach 5 Million?

Last summer, a few days after my birthday, I thought it would be cool to see how many steps I take by the time I hit my next birthday - or, to be fair, until a few days after my upcoming birthday, which will be #62.  Since I started counting on July 19, 2012, I will end my count at the end of the day on July 18, 2013.  That gives me 30 more days, including today (which was a good day with over 21,000 steps as of 8:30) to see how many steps I can take.

So it is cool to report that I am within striking range of 5 million steps in my 62nd year.  In fact, as of the end of yesterday, I am only 375,000 steps short of the 5 million mark.  If I average 12,507 steps a day for today and the next 29 days, I will reach that mark.

I am sure I will do it, barring illness or injury.  In fact, I am going to see if I can reach it by my actual 62nd birthday, which would mean averaging about 13,900 steps a day, including today.

I am excited about my next birthday because I will be able to get a lifetime National Parks pass for just $10!  That is the best bargain going.  So I'd like to qualify for that by hitting the 5 million step count.  As I told a friend today, I am OK with being an old person, as it far beats the alternative.  But I don't want to move like an old person!

5 Million, here I come!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Shackleford Sunrise

Sunday June 9.
After seeing the wild horses the evening before, we had dinner at our campsites - mine was a commercial backpacking meal in a bag, no clean-up, just pack the trash out - we went back down to the beach.  There was a really nice sunset, but my camera was back in camp.  If I get photos from Chris or Carl, I will post them.  The air felt great with the sun down.  I took off my still-damp shirt for a while and enjoyed the breeze.  There were a lot of clouds but we could see some stars later.

On Sunday morning, I was awake by 5:30 and left my tent to walk on the beach.  This time I took my camera and got some shots of the sun coming up over the island's east end.  It was wonderful being on the beach at this time of day.  After the sun was up, I did a couple of miles beachcombing and found some shells.

Here are some photos of the sunrise.

 If you look carefully, lower dead center, you will see the Cape Lookout Lighthouse - about seven miles away.  Click on any photo to enlarge it.


As I arrived  back at camp from my walk on Saturday (June 8), I saw Carl standing on a hummock motioning to me.  As I got closer, I realized that he was telling me that he found wild horses.  We climbed a hummock, and there they were - to the west of us.  I had covered the other three major points on the compass on my hike.  When I first saw them, they were several hundred feet away, and the sun was behind them, so the first pictures I took did not turn out well.  But I very slowly circled around them - getting stuck by small cacti several times - and got closer and closer.

These horses are wild, but they are used to people.  Deer would have run away, but the horses stayed.  Even so, they are wild animals, and are believed to be descendants of Spanish horses that were shipwrecked in the 1600's.  People are injured every year when they do stupid things, like trying to ride them.  The boat captain told us that five people have been kicked this year, so far.  So we kept our distance, and enjoyed being so close to large wild animals.

Here are some photos.  You can see that the National Park Service brands them to keep track of them.  This was a band of five horses - a stallion and four mares.  At the first point, I had gotten north of the herd, and you can see the ocean to the south.  By the last photo, I was to their west, with the declining sun behind me.  These animals were all within a few hundred meters of our camp, but with all the little sandy hills, they could be totally hidden until you came right up on them.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I Stand Corrected!

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about encountering two copperheads, among other animals, while hiking in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

It turns out that I was wrong about that.  At least two people made comments that the snakes that I saw were cottonmouths, not copperheads.  They looked different than the cottonmouths that I saw elsewhere in the refuge, but one person in particular said that the snake I photographed had the classic defensive pose of a water moccasin.

So, thanks for the comments and the corrections.  I stand corrected.

Day One on Shackleford Banks

It is taking me a bit longer than I hoped to get things posted about last weekends backpacking trip on Shackleford Banks, but I will gradually get it done.

Saturday, June 8.  We got off the boat by about 10:20, looked around a bit, shouldered our heavy packs, and started walking up the beach.  There were lots of people out and about on this uninhabited island who had taken boats over to look for shells.  But we didn't see anyone else backpacking.  Our loads were heavy, but bearable.  I cannot imagine the weights that soldiers carry in places like Afghanistan.

I marvelled at how beautiful and remote the beach was.  Not too far from here, there would be beaches with thousands of people, but once we had walked a half mile from where the shell seekers were, we hardly saw anyone.  A couple did come down the beach with a large bucket full of shells.  They must have come over at 9:00 and headed straight up the beach for a few miles, determined to get the shells washed up by the storm, and they had cleaned up!  Here is a view of the beach, with the tide going out.

We decided at some point to only hike 3 miles (instead of 4) before setting up camp.  So on our second or third pack-off break, we had come nearly that far, and Carl and I started doing a little scouting.  Most of the time, the dunes were too high to climb over easily, but in a quarter mile, we came to a spot with low dunes.  We started exploring.  The land on the other side of the dunes was more dunes and sand hills, all covered with low grasses.  There were paths made by the wild horses, and small cacti that hurt like hell when you got one jabbed into a leg.  In between the grassy dunes were low, flat areas covered with short and thick grass:

We followed some pathways through the dunes and found what looked like a good camping spot.  It was close enough to the ocean to get a breeze, but partially protected by dunes, plus our tents would not the highest things around in the event of a thunder storm.  We returned and got Chris, and came back, had lunch on the beach, and set up our tents.  We took care to not pitch our tents in the middle of a horse trail or on the lowest ground.  We also put them 20 to 30 feet apart so that if we got lightening, one bolt wouldn't be likely to get all of us at once.  Here is my little tent, all set up.  It was already hot enough that I was anticipating lying in there in relatively cool darkness:

 Carl set his tent up close to a dune, with another small one to its right that partially hid it.
 Here is a longer range view of our home for the next two nights.  Chris's and my tents are to the left, Carl's in partially out of view on the right.
It felt so good to have the heavy packs off.  We lazed on the beach, and took turns fishing.  The other two guys caught one small fish each, but my traditional fishing luck held.  Without firewood, we released any fish caught.  I explored for shells and found a few good ones.  After a few hours of this, it was getting on in the afternoon, and I decided to explore a bit before dinner, so I took a short hike over the interior of the island.  Here is the route, shown in blue (our campsite is indicated with the little campfire icon, even though we didn't have a fire), of my 1.5 mile hike.  I went roughly clockwise, and the ocean is to the south, and the sound to the north.

It gave me a chance, unsuccessful, to look for horses, and to see what other parts of the island away from the beach were like.  A dominant feature all around us were these interior dunes.  They were not more than 15 - 25 feet tall, but were steep and gave interesting relief to the land so close to the flat beach.

There were also a few trees scattered about, and sometimes, little clumps of trees.

As I approached the north side of the island, the trees suddenly turned into a thick maritime forest.  The shade looked inviting, but it was so thick that I would have had to force myself through it, and I didn't like the thought of all the ticks I would likely pick up.  So I admired it from a little distance.

Even this close to the forest, I was not far from the ocean, and by hiking up a little hill, I could see it behind me.

I kept exploring, and found a clear path through the forest,

and followed it to the sound:

I could see boats out and about, and civilization across the sound on the mainland.  I retraced my steps, left the forest in a short time, and followed the path to the ocean.  Along the way, I found evidence of when people actually lived here.  It must have been a difficult life, just surviving, but tranquil all the same.

I had meandered slowly and quietly, and had not seen a sign of a horse (well, OK, I saw plenty of signs that horses were there, but I didn't see the animal, just what they were leaving behind).  At this point, I returned to camp, wondering what Chris and Carl were up to.  As I approached camp, I saw Carl standing on a high spot.  He motioned for me to come join him, but to be quiet.  He had found the "bankers" - the wild horses of Shackleford Banks!