Pandemic Road Trip 3: The Outer Banks of North Carolina (April 2021)

(Click on each image to see the high-resolution version)

Oregon Inlet, the Outer Banks

Our first night was at the Oregon Inlet Campground in Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It was a windy night and we slept uneasily. But the second day (April 12), we woke up to a beautiful sunrise.

Sunrise at Oregon Inlet

Sunrise at Oregon Inlet

A Willet silhouetted against the glistening reflection of the sunrise.

Willet at Sunrise

I quite like the texture of the sand dunes along this stretch of the coast.

Sand Dunes

The Outer Banks -- from Currituck Beach to Cape Hatteras

The sunrise seemed to portend a nice day, and when we arrived at the nearby Bodie Island Lighthouse, this seemed to still hold true.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse

But it got quite cloudy as we drove north to Carrituck Beach, Currituck Beach Lighthouse was standing against a leaden sky.

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

There were some shorebirds along the beach, such as this Killdeer.


We also found a pair of nesting Brown-headed Nuthatches, the first time I had seen this species nesting. It was fun to watch the industrious and energetic little birds excavating their nesting hole. We hoped that in time they would bring up their young.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Currituck Beach would be the northern-most point we would reach on the Outer Banks. We then turned around and headed south. On the way we passed the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The cloudy sky did not make for good picture-taking, but it was appropriate for us to pay tribute to the inventors, as relied on aviation for our travels around the world (though not on this trip!).

Wright Brothers National Memorial

We made a side trip to Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, a re-constructed lighthouse on Roanoke Island wedged between the mainland and the barrier islands. At this point, the weather also improved.

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

Finally we reached Cape Hatteras and checked into our beach side cottage, where we would stay for 3 nights -- the longest stay in one place outside our home during the pandemic. We went to check out Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at sunset.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The next day (April 13, 2021), we mainly used our cottage in Buxton as a base and explored the Outer Banks up and down. The day started windy and cold. We made a stop at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Pea Island

In the afternoon we hiked the Buxton Woods Trail near the lighthouse. I quite like this trail -- it showcases the barrier island and coastal habitats of the Carolinas very nicely: Cypress "Knees" in the swamp and Dwarf Palmetto on drier grounds (South Carolina, not North, is nicknamed the Palmetto State).

Cypress Knees

Dwarf Palmetto

The sweet scent of the Swamp Jasmines drifted through the woods. This one photographed below already fell on the ground. My Chinese ancestors put jasmine in teas, and I was tempted to pick up a few to put in my drink, but I did not -- a good thing: the Swamp Jasmine is actually highly toxic.

Swamp Jasmine

We found clusters of Bear Corn, a parasitic plant, on the forest floor.

Bear Corn

Some of the trees in these woods have beautifully patterned and colored barks. I think these are American Hornbeams.

Tree Bark

In sunny areas there were a lot of dragonflies, the following are a couple of pictures I took.

(Common Baskettail (male)

Eastern Pondhawk (female)

Day trip to Ocracoke Island

This day (April 14, 2021) started with a beautiful sunrise in Buxton. We could see the sunrise through the window of our cottage.

Sunrise in Buxton

We took the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry​ from Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke. This is a free ferry service by NC DOT. I love ferries, especially free ones! In fact, the ferry serves as an extension of Highway 12, and Ocracoke Island can only be reached by ferry or boat.

Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry​

We paid a visit to Ocracoke Lighthouse, a rather uniquely shaped lighthouse.

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Around the city pier, we saw an American Oystercatcher foraging on a reef.

American Oystercatcher

Because of its relative isolation, Ocracoke Island is much less crowded than other parts of the Outer Banks. We took this opportunity to relax on the seemingly endless beach.

Beach on Ocracoke Island

Beach on Ocracoke Island

We took a hike at Hammock Hills Nature Trail. The trail was festooned with poison ivy, and we picked our steps carefully (luckily, we did not brush them). We found a Green Anole along the trail which added to the highlight of the day.

Green Anole

After catching the ferry to return to Cape Hatteras, we walked on the beach near the cape some more. From here, we got a different perspective of the lighthouse.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

On the beach, we found a shark - it was dead at this point, but not for very long. It is not clear whether it was stranded by itself, or was discarded by careless fishermen.


Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

I had long heard of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge but I had never made the trip as it is out of my day trip range. Finally I had my chance. The refuge is at the northern end of the range of American Alligator, and many people from northern locales come to see them. I have seen alligators many times before in Florida and Texas, so they are not new, but I was still delighted to find one lone 'gator at the refuge.

American Alligator

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

The refuge is also reputed to have a high density of American Black Bears, but we had no luck finding one. However, unexpectedly, we saw a North American River Otter right by the auto trail, and this was a worthy consolation prize.

River Otter

In some places Swamp Jasmines were blooming, their perfume permeated the air.

Swamp Jasmine

It seems that the refuge leased out fields to local farmers. Some of the fields have rapeseed flowers blooming, adding some colors to this cloudy day.

Rapeseed field

The refuge has installed Purple Martin houses, and they were earnestly occupied.

Purple Martins

Purple Martin

It was late when we got home. Thus we concluded another successful "pandemic road trip". It was still a pretty modest trip, but longer both in duration and distance traveled than our first trip. We felt fortunate that even during a pandemic and a politically tumultuous time, we could still find solace in natural places not too far from home.

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The Eastern Shore and Atlantic Coast of Virginia

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