Eco Trips & Trails
Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge
Read any history of the Outer Banks, and you’ll discover there was a time when ducks, geese and other waterfowl were so plentiful here, they literally darkened the winter skies.The shotguns of men like the Duponts and the Rockefellers – as well as shifting migratory and weather patterns – may have altered our winter skyscapes somewhat.
But fortunately, there’s still a place that gives nature lovers a glimpse of an older, gentler time: the Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1964 by the Migratory Bird Conservation Act for use as an inviolate sanctuary for migratory birds, the Refuge has since grown to contain 14,480 acres – 11,000 of which consist of irregularly-flooded brackish marsh, and the remainder of pocosin and woodland habitat.
It is now one of the best locations in the nation to observe wintering waterfowl. In fact, more than 270 species of birds can be observed here each year.
Come during the peak time of year, and you’re likely to see concentrations of diving ducks (including canvasbacks, buffleheads, redheads and lesser scaups), plus flotillas of American black ducks, sea ducks, and black rails.
Permanent residents include the little blue heron, the green heron, cattle egret, marsh hawks, belted kingfishers, and long-billed marsh wrens – as well as minks, otters, black bears, deer, raccoons, rabbits and squirrels.
What makes Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge such an attractive place to so many different species? "Brackish marshes like Cedar Island’s are among the most productive habitats in the world," write Stanley R. Bigg and Dirk Frankenburg in their excellent book Exploring North Carolina’s Natural Areas. "Wind- and storm-tide flooding carry nutrients into the marsh and sweep dead plant material into the estuaries and adjacent ocean shelf waters. This organic detritus forms the basis of many food chains for marine organisms."
So come. Bring your binoculars. And enjoy one of those rare chances to peer back through history over a hundred years.
added: July 24, 2009
updated: July 31, 2009