Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Pea Island - This Trail is for the Birds

the coastline along Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
I mean that in the most affectionate way! If I were gettin' my nest on, I'd want my privacy as well.

The past 4 days, I have hiked 50 miles, a good deal of it on the beach, however a greater deal of it along Route 12. This is largely because of the swaths of beach that have been closed down for the nesting birds. Several times I left the road and traversed tall sand dunes covered in all plants spikey to get back on the beach only to find more signs and strings blocking my entry. Back to the road I went.

However, it was on Pea Island that I was graced with the birds themselves. What an abundance! And how amazing to see the beach as it naturally would be if it weren't for all of our beach blankets and beach houses and beach chairs and all-terrain beach vehicles. I had to cross this to get there...

The 2.5 mile Herbert C. Bonner bridge that carried me across the Oregon Inlet to Pea Island. Beautiful vistas in all directions, but I must say, a lil unnerving when seeing the 4-wheel truck and camper barreling towards you!
But here on these 13 miles of undisturbed coast that has been deemed a Wildlife Refuge were flocks and flocks of birds, each in their own group, but all together fishing the open waters and enjoying the shoreline...
I had to do some research at the Pea Island Visitor Center to see if I could gather the names of some of the birds I had seen. If you look at the picture at the top, the most obvious, and in my opinion most striking, were the Brown Pelican. They sat all in a line, anywhere from 5-10 of them, gazing out at the ocean waves, with beaks down against their chests in perfect posture. I kept trying to approach them quietly to get a close-up pic, but alas they would always take off in descending order, and then landing in the water a ways out, take to bobbing  and waiting for a good catch.
It was nice also to put a name to the little fellows I had been chasing on the beach not only at Pea Island but also at Nag's Head. The Plover. What kind of plover I am not sure. But these little guys are only about 6-8 inches tall and run around on 2 tiny legs. When the waves are out they will dash towards the water, eagerly searching the sand for insects or litter critters. If they catch wind of you trying to follow, they will run with their two little legs in a diagonal fashion away from  you as fast as they can. When the waves begin to come back in, they turn and run as fast as they can back up the beach, always just missing the tide. Again, I was just trying to get a picture, however these lil guys want nothing to do with the camera.
Also at Pea Island - oh the shells! The sands were either black and compact or tan and deep and piled with shells. Beautiful...but no barefoot hiking here!
One thing passing back and forth atop the dunes afforded me was a look at the plant life! I've seen lots of Pennywort as well as crabgrass, but this Mustard family member was a lovely white little flower amidst lots of greens and browns. Although this one, standing alone was the only one in flower, there were large clusters of them just nearby, soon to flower I'm assuming.
Sea Rocket (Cakile edentula). A tell-tale sign that you have a member of the Mustard family (Brassicaceae) are the regular 4-petaled flowers bearing 4 stamen (two long and two short) at their centers. Notice how their petals are also arranged like a cross or an "x".

Leaves were alternate with wavy margins, most all of them yellowing towards the base. Both leaves and stem were thick and succulent, with a rubbery texture.
Most mustards are edible, however because I am unfamiliar with this one, I am hesitant to speak definitively on this species. I would assume that in the very least the flowers are edible. However, always best to do your homework before simply popping a plant in your mouth. Do any of my readers know more about this plant? If so please comment.
Unknown mushroom
Here's another one for the readers...I had yet to see a mushroom growing on the beach until now! I am sure I've past dozens before, but my senses hadn't been finely tuned enough to the ground to notice them. Please someone tell me what this lil fungi is!
Coming up: I did not mean to speak so blasé about Pennywort before...I do plan to do a little feature on this lovely edible. So please do stay tuned for that...it simply deserves a spotlight all its own!
A walkway to the beach in Rodanthe
Also...this House is now carrying the whole house on her back! 8 miles down today, and 50 miles total and not feeling too shabby! I may have some blisters, I may have some sunburn, and my bottom lip was inexplicably swollen for 2 days (this is true and bizarre) but hey, I'm spending everyday outside moving my body and taking in all the little details of my surroundings that most people simply whizz by in their vehicles. I'll take the pain. The beauty and the awareness of the present moment it grants you...it's damn worth it...maybe the trail is for me too.



  1. Let me know if you find out what that mushroom is :-)miss u<3

    1. Look below lady - seems like it may be Melanoleuca maritime aka Dune Cavalier! Not known to be edible though :(

  2. Merriwether over at Foraging Texas states: "The flowers are edible as are the spicy seed pods which follow. As the plants matures the edible succulent leaves become more and more pungent. Sea rockets can be eaten raw and are good with anything you would normally use mustard or horseradish." http://www.foragingtexas.com/2006/02/sea-rocket.html He's author of Merriwether's Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Texas and the Southwest. The sea rocket entry has some great pix, distribution maps, etc. I, by the way, have beach envy! Will search around for dune srooms .. wonder what lies beneath this little guy - decaying driftwood, a soil pocket?

  3. mushroom is possibly Melanoleuca maritima http://www.dpr.ncparks.gov/photos/fromNRID.php?pid=6154

    This interesting description from the UK notes associated grass Marram Grass which may explain the required decaying matter for the average mushroom: "Later in the day we had a look at the outer sand dunes, not an ecosystem we look at very often. We found four species within ten minutes, all associated with Ammophila (Marram Grass). The star was a Melanoleuca (Cavalier) that I eventually identified as Melanoleuca cinereifolia. The one we found was a very light brown. There is a lighter coloured variation named maritima, now incorporated into cinereifolia. The spores, microscopic features and substrate are right and no other species fits." http://naturalistsnotebook.mnapage.info/2013/09/25/formby-nature-reserve-22nd-september-2013/ general description http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melanoleuca a thorough treatment of the mushroom aka "Dune Cavalier" here: http://www.first-nature.com/fungi/melanoleuca-cinereifolia "Synonyms of Melanoleuca cinereifolia include Melanoleuca strictipes var. cinereifolia Bon, Melanoleuca cinereifolia var. maritima Huijsman ex Bon, and Melanoleuca maritima Huijsman." Don't think I'd add this to a stew without a spore examination! Melanoleuca strictipes is reported to be slightly toxic sez wiki

  4. Cornell Lab of Ornithology
    http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Piping_Plover/id (threatened/endangered) with links to similar species Semipalmated Plover, Wilson's Plover, & Killdeer. Audio for all of the above here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/browse_tax/16/

    1. WOW! Awesome, Jane! I'm gonna get to munching on some Sea Rocket, but alas I'll have to steer clear of the Dune Cavalier. How cool. As for the birds, those lil guys move too damn fast to get a good look at 'em!

  5. hey there, I tried to comment and it seemed to been lost…so you may get a redundant response. Quickly, the shroom looked like and Agaricus sp. to me with chocolate brown gills (an indicator of spore color but not always.) May look into Enteloma too with its umbo. THe Melanolueca has reportedly white to yellowish spore color.

  6. also any advice on hiking the trail portion from Grandfather mountain toward Asheville Blue Ridge pkwy as I am contemplating a botanical/myco hike