Once in a while I get pulled away to do something outside of the realm of nature. I do, after all, have a degree in American history, as well as a side career as a writer and historian (go ahead, Google me – you have my permission). And so it was that on May 4 I headed south on historian duty, helping to arrange a future Coast Guard history conference in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina and thence to Pensacola, Florida, to speak at the joint North American Society for Oceanic History and Council of American Maritime Museums conference. But hey, wildlife is everywhere.
In North Carolina, thanks to the kindness of my hosts Gary and Judy, I visited Southport and Beaufort, Bald Head Island and Oak Island, staying for a few days in the old life-saving station at Caswell Beach. From Gary and Judy’s deck I watched the brown pelicans retreating at sunset, and the red knots resting on the beach as the sun rose. Laughing gulls overwhelmed the area, hanging around store parking lots as much as they did the beach. Boat-tailed grackles made sure there was never a quiet moment.
I added a handful of life birds to my list over those few days. White ibises dominate the scene, and there’s even a feeding area that goes from green to white during the day because of their presence in the thousands, a place known as "ibis island." A solitary wood stork surprised me as we crossed the bridge to Caswell Beach. A flight of six black-necked stilts loped along by Judy and Gary’s deck as he and I prepared to take a walk to look for potential loggerhead turtle nesting sites (instead we found plenty of fiddler crab holes and tracks). A Carolina chickadee called from the woods as we awaited the ferry to Bald Head Island, where a red fox jaunted past us on our golf cart. And a summer tanager twisted my head briefly until a pileated woodpecker spun me the other way round. That bird was not a lifer.
In four short days I visited two North Carolina Maritime Museums, two lighthouses, two Coast Guard stations, old Fort Caswell, two Life-Saving Service stations, and more. In Pensacola, I gave my talk on the history of the Louisville floating life-saving station (only one other life-saving station built by the United States Life-Saving Service was a floater, and that was off City Point in Dorchester) and its uniqueness in search and rescue history. Other than that, I sat back, enjoyed the rest of the lectures, visited the Naval Air Museum, and enjoyed a few days in the sun. I only added one lifer down there, an Eurasian collared dove.
It all had to end, of course. I came back on the 12th, and on the 13th, was back at work finding our local wildlife.