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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

So Long, and Thanks For All the Birds!

While our time on the Ocracoke had ended, James and I still needed to make our way back home. And, being an island, the only way to get off it was by ferry. Anybody who's ever taken a ferry, especially during peak season, knows that there's a lot of waiting involved. You wait in line to get your ticket. You wait in line to get on the ferry. You even wait while they tell you what lane to get in once you're on the boat! So, to kill time, I did a little exploring around the terminal, and found a nice little spot with a good view of the Pamlico Sound. Immediately, I noticed something big and brown in the sand next to the water's edge - a Horseshoe Crab!

He must've been 2 - 2½ ft long, pretty sizeable!

I'd never seen one this intact in the wild before. Unfortunately, as is often the case with these cool beach finds, he was dead. He'd buried himself pretty good in the sand before he died, so digging him out wasn't really an option, but I've studied these guys in Bio lab before. Underneath is an amalgam of primitive claws and legs, and in fact they're not really related to crabs at all, but rather they're members of the clade Chelicerata, which also happens to include things like spiders and scorpions (crabs and other crustaceans are more closely related to insects). Oh, and another reason you don't want to dig him up? He's pretty darn spiny!

How do I know? I er, kind of tried to dig him up.

Looking back over the sound, there were few birds. A few Spotted Sandpipers on the jetty, a couple of Royal Terns rollicking on the sea breeze. I was actually about to turn back when I heard an odd shrieking whistle, and then a reply from along the jetty. Looking right, I watched as a vocalizing American Oystercatcher flew past to join its friend on the rocks, which was pretty cool to see. Along the shore, the lapping waves brought small fish close to the sand. I still haven't figured out what they are, so if you have any ideas, let me know!

While we're on the subject, anchovies are the worst pizza topping. Ever.

After having a decent amount of fun watching the little fishes, I made my way back to the local establishment known as SMacnally's to have a beer or two while the ferry made its way into port. Lucky for James and I, some guys had just finished their chartered fishing trip and were cleaning their catch, throwing the remains into the harbor. Where there's a free lunch to be had, there are always birds that follow, in this case Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls.

He was really putting on quite a show, catching fishy bits in midair!

And that was that. The ferry was arriving and James and I had to get on the boat. As we turned to leave, one of the Brown Pelicans flew up onto a nearby pylon, and James took the opportunity to photograph the bird at close range - and what a pic! He couldn't even fit the whole bird in the frame! Looking at it again, I'm almost ashamed that I wrote off pelicans the whole trip, instead focusing my attention on shorebirds and ibises - they really are nice-looking birds.

He sat there passing judgement on me for a good ten minutes!

Well, we had a ferry to catch, a mainland to get to, and apparently some Reddish Egrets to see. If I could just say one thing to the island that had been my home for those four days, I think it'd be: so long, and thanks for all the birds!


  1. Looks like Striped Killifish to me.
    I'll let you know how my trip went soon, stuck in Florida from the hurricane.

  2. Thanks for the fish ID Vin. Looking forward to hearing about your lifers!