What do you do when a “non-birding friend” comes to visit and you want to go birding? You take them…ahumm…birding…I mean kayaking! In my particular situation, we could surely accommodate both, still have a great time paddling AND birdwatch, too! We loaded up the kayaks (see below ordeal about me deciding NOW was the time to install new seat covers) and went down to my beloved Contentnea Creek in the lower end of Pitt County!
Why Take a “Non-Birder” Now?
You know how it goes. You intend to make a repair and then do it at the last minute. I decided nothing was going to do until both worn out kayak seat cushion bottoms and cushioned seat back covers were replaced…Like a day or two before said kayak trip. Noooo…I couldn’t have done it the PRECEDING week with cooler temps, and light breezes…Being a glutton for punishment, I had to wait until it was a sweltering 85 degrees, 100 percent humidity, and not a breeze to be felt in three neighboring counties.
It was tedious to say the least. Bolts and nuts kept falling inside the seat itself instead of where they should stay. Sweat continued to pour off of us. The continued slapping of ourselves to ward off the blood sucking mosquitoes as they persisted in dive bombing us, proved to no avail…or relief. Finally, we resorted to dousing ourselves with bug spray that made us smell of lemon and eucalyptus. Promptly we then lit a citronella candle nearby. We knew instantly a MOSQUITO wouldn’t get near us now because WE WOULDN’T get near each other from the intense smell.
With no further adieu, at last the seats were in. At that point, I didn’t even care if we even went kayaking. Frustration, aggravation and being drenched with sweat with itching whelps on me were making me miserable. The kayaks would simply have to wait until the next morning to be loaded onto the t-frame of the truck.
A Brief Stopover at Lawson’s Trail a Non-birding Friend Would Love!
The next morning, the itching had subsided and we loaded the kayaks for the short drive down to the creek. It was a balmy 80 degrees, 100 percent humidity, and no breeze. We were excited for the kayak adventure, but decided to stop at the new trail on Water Street in Grifton, Lawson’s Trail, and take a look there first.Water Street takes a sharp curve to the left and the entrance to the trail parking lot is in the curve on the right. I figured even a non-birding friend would like this adventure!
It’s very primitive, but one of my favorite places to go bird. With varying water levels during all four seasons, there’s always something of interest to see there. Keep your ears open for the sounds and eyes sharp for the movements you may see up close and at a distance. Love this place for the peace and tranquility!
What were All the Beautiful Lavender Colors in Bloom?
Immediately at the end of the first boardwalk were lots of non-native, introduced Indian Heliotropes (Heliotropium indicum) in bloom. They were about three feet tall and the tiny lavender blue flowers with minuscule golden yellow centers on the curving stems made me think of an octopus. Wouldn’t octopus tentacles look like this if they had flowers? Really a beautiful plant. This plant was way cool, no real scent that I could smell to it, however various pollinators were all over them. On other Heliotrope plants there, I could see tiny black seeds where each spent flower had been. In addition, the stems had spiky hairs all over them. (I typically leave any hairy stemmed plant alone ever since my six week absolute ordeal from one this past spring.)
The below map taken from the U. S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Plants Database shows the N. C. known locations for the Heliotrope. The location of the ones we saw are within the blue areas at the south end of Pitt County. The link provided below the photo taken from their website will give you further interesting information.
From the website of the USDA.gov, they provide this chart. You can scroll in or out to see larger areas within the United States they have been seen.
Not to be outdone by the Indian Heliotrope, was the beautiful but deadly Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense). This is POISONOUS. DO NOT EAT. This, too had hairy stems. Horse Nettle is also called a wild tomato, but DO NOT EAT IT! This plant returns each year and produces a tomato like fruit. You can learn more about this plant and its characteristics and locations.
Winged Beauties on the Fly
With all the flowers blooming, various beautiful dragonflies and damselflies were out darting from plant to plant landing on them. June is always a great month here to see them out in droves near the water in our creeks and ponds. Sometimes, they even land on you which is way cool…They seem to allow you to get fairly close to them, and should you want to get a photo with your camera or phone, you should be able to with no problem.
Bar-winged Skimmer (Libellula axilena)
Golden Winged Skimmer (Libellula auripennis) in all its fiery color. Learn more about this Skimmer and its habits.The reddish color of this beauty was striking against the greenery it landed on. Very interesting that they eat other damselflies, butterflies, horseflies and other insects.
After taking a short visit at Lawson’s Trail, we made our way down the street to the wildlife boat ramp and put in to paddle upstream to Tucker’s Cove. No sooner than we had began, we saw this beautiful Northern Water Snake basking on a downed tree limb. It didn’t seem to mind out curiosity as we paddled by. Its skin was so bright and pristine that it looked like it must have not long shed its skin. Seeing a reptile at a safe distance is always a treat especially with a “non-birder” who’s not used to being out in the wild.
Paddling along, we went under the train trestle, then under the John E. Cameron Bridge still on the way upstream to Tucker’s Cove. Each year like clockwork, Cliff Swallows return around Mother’s Day to the same huge mud puddle just off the bridge to get mud and grass to build their nests under the bridge. It’s always exciting to go under the bridge and see their babies and hear the soft tweeting sounds of the adult swallows.
Yes, the Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) is Nicknamed “Snakebird”
Anhingas are great fun to watch. Shy in that they don’t usually get very close to you. They are usually seen with their heads above water, then disappearing as they go underwater and spear their food.
- Size: 35 inches tall
- Wingspan: 45-48 inches
- Habitat: creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes. Will bask in trees.
- We see those much of the year in my area of eastern North Carolina, but migratory in other areas. Check your field guide for your area for more information.
- Called a snakebird because of its long slender neck.
So Can a Non-birding Friend Enjoy it, Too?
Of course they can! All-in-all, I think they enjoyed birding. Even though we saw a few birds, the other things we saw made it even more interesting to them. Doing a few of these things before taking your “non-birding” friend out will help them enjoy it:
- Don’t wait until the last minute to get things ready like I did. Prepare ahead if possible.
- Make sure they have adequate water for drinking, a hat, bug repellent, and sunscreen.
- Depending on the weather and time of year, make sure they have dressed appropriately for the temperature and any precipitation. If they’re uncomfortable, they will get bored and may want to leave and not continue on.
- Have them wear comfortable shoes or boots depending on your terrain.
- Take along binoculars for them, if they don’t have their own, and maybe a handy bird identification brochure for your area they can carry to refer to.
- Encourage them to take photos with their phone or camera.
- Teach them how to listen for different sounds and how to locate what is making them.
- Let THEM try to find the bird that’s making a sound rather than you point it out to them. They will be so excited!
Just remember to have fun, and pretty much your “non-birding friend” will have fun and enjoy birding with you!
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These are books I used for reference: