The Kayak Chronicles

by Darren Caffery


Paddling the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge & Pamlico Sound

 Tuesday May 20, 2003


Located on the north end of Hatteras Island, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1938 for the protection of wildlife, especially migratory waterfowl. Stretching twelve miles from the Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe, the refuge encompasses 6000 acres of land and 25,700 acres of boundary water of the Pamlico Sound, where hunting is off-limits. Pea Island is named for the wild pea vine which grows in abundance there.


Truly a ''birder's paradise,''  Pea Island is a haven for more than 265 species of birds such as Canada and snow geese, more than 25 species of duck, tundra swan, heron, egret, tern, and many other birds that pass through during fall and spring migrations. Several platforms are provided for free observation of the diversity of wildlife found on the refuge. Although the refuge is a great place to visit by kayak, a hiking trail is also available.  Visitors can also walk along any beach on Pea Island observe many of  the islands' shorebirds and waterfowl.


Although our first day in the OBX was rainy, our prayers were answered for our second day.  Our group of paddlers awoke to a shining sun and temperatures in the 70's. After breakfast, we headed a few miles south from our motel in Nags Head into the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and over the Oregon Inlet Bridge.  
After arranging our vehicles for our shuttle, we launched into the Pamlico Sound at the Oregon Inlet fishing center at about 10 am.  With a 10 knot wind from the North, we'd have a nice tailwind to help push us into the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and for the rest of our 13 mile paddle trek.


Conditions were excellent.  The sun was shining, the temperatures were more like summer, there were very few boats on the vast Pamlico Sound and there were brown Pelicans everywhere around us.  The water was somewhat shallow until we neared the main boat channel and paddled parallel to the bridge and across the inlet towards Pea Island. After our inlet crossing and a few miles of paddling we stopped at our first white sand beach for a quick snack and to stretch our legs a bit. The view across the vast sound is spectacular from most of the coastline as it's about 12-15 miles across.


After our break, we continued to paddle along the shore, exploring some smaller meandering creeks which were filled with crabs, fish, turtles and a host of birdlife. In one creek we interrupted a small swimming raccoon. After making its way onto the shore, it curiously peered at us from the marsh grass as we all passed by in our kayak.


After exploring Eagles Nest Bay, "the Trench", Pea Island Creek and Terrapin Creek Bay, we continued paddling southward and absorbing the brilliant sunshine as we continued on our southward course.  After exploring the creeks we made our way back into the Pamlico and sound and after paddling a mile or so. we noticed something thrashing around in the sound about 50 yards ahead of us.  It looked like a dark black wing of some sort of flailing bird.  Through binoculars, we could see it was not a bird but rather some sort of marine life.  At first we thought it might be some kind very large ray.  Maybe some kind of large turtle?  
"If it's a loggerhead sea turtle, don't get too close...they are endangered!" Joyce warned as Patrick moved up on it.  
"It looks like it could be a sea ray" Patrick called.    
"Full speed ahead then!"  I shouted, as we all moved closer towards the unidentified sea creature.
Upon closer inspection it only had one eye but it wasn't centered.  A squid maybe?  The width of this thing was close to 5 ft! After inspecting it for a good 15 minutes, we still had no idea what it was. Interestingly, we later found out from a display at the fishing pier that what we saw was a large ocean sunfish, on  its side in very shallow water.


We reached our takeout at about 3:45 pm after 13+ miles of paddling. Big thanks to Stephanie for helping us shuttle our cars and to Chuck for the raccoon and sunfish pics!  After paddle food and drink was had by all later that evening at La Fogata Mexican Restaurant in Nags Head.

Support the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society

in their efforts to build a new visitor center on Roanoke Island.


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