O.B.X. 30 Year Laters Vacation

It was coming up on Troy's 51st birthday, so the Bakers decided take a trip to celebrate the "national holiday" with 10 days at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My husband has lived in North Carolina for more than 30 years, and by some small happenstance neither of us had ever been to the Outer Banks. It seemed everyone else from outside NC has been there! It was the perfect time for a visit now that the birding photography bug has bitten the family.  And that it was! The Snow Geese and the Tundra Swans had completed their annual migration down the Atlantic Flyway to North Carolina, often called the Black and White Migration, just before we arrived.

The adventure was spent hunting for birds and wildlife to photograph and taking in some interesting tourist sites at Nags Head, North Carolina and some of the surrounding areas as well as some awesome local food.  Nags Head is a mixture of old and new, a bustling beach town with everything you could ever need.

At Nags Head, climbing the massive dunes of Jockey's Ridge State Park, the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States, is a must do excursion. The park is marked by its towering 100' sand dunes and look more at home in a vast dessert than in a coastal beach town. These dunes are barren and are made up of nothing but Outer Banks sand, providing an incredible playground for hang gliders, sand boarders, and anyone who doesn't mind a long hike and some incredible island-spanning views. It was simply amazing. For those not interested in hang gliding, there are some breathtaking views and opportunities for some great photographs.

If you are planning an Outer Banks birding photography adventure, be sure to take a few minutes away from photographing birds on the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge to visit the nearby beaches. The pristine rolling sand dunes and crystal clear water are just picturesque.  It can be rather windy this time of year, so be sure to layer up. Windy weather was actually perfect for birding photography as it blew away the noisy tourists that often scatter the birds. Also, the birds conveniently huddled together in tight knit groups. These conditions are spectacular for photographing birds in flight as their take off is slowed quite a bit as they fight the wind.

While visiting Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, a stop at Bodie Lighthouse is a must see as well. Self-guided tours with its 214 step climb to the top of the lighthouse, are open from the third Friday in April to Columbus Day in October. In the off season, the museum and gift shop were open and had a lot of great information.  The lighthouse is surrounded by marshland, and plethora of ducks such as the American Coot, Mallard and Pintail Ducks to name a few, can be found a short stroll down the boardwalk, making a great photography opportunity. The original lighthouse was commissioned in 1937, which has now been rebuilt, and was chosen to be located on Pea Island because it was said at the time more vessels are lost there than on any other part of our coast.  The 156' ft. lighthouse still shines a beam 19 miles offshore, making full rotations at 27.5 seconds.

When you are at the Outer Banks seashore, you must eat seafood! We found two restaurants we highly recommend. If you are looking for a classy casual restaurant with fresh gourmet seafood, superior service, and reasonable prices in the Outer Banks, Steamer's Restaurant in Southern Shores, NC is the place.  Steamer's raw oyster special with a sweet vinegar cucumber sauce and spicy cocktail sauce that complimented the oysters perfectly can win over even the most skeptical oyster eater.  Equally as good was the king crab leg special with its generous portions, crab cakes with the amazing dipping sauce, and fried shrimp and scallops.  They are open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, and they also offer catering.

Blue Moon Beach Grill in Nags Head, NC is another awesome choice.  When you go...and you must go, you will wholeheartedly agree that the food is out of if this world, and the service is awesome. Don't be fooled by the humble strip shopping center in which is sits. This favorite hot spot among locals is run by a professional trained chef whose creativity and skill are showcased in each dish and is paired with an outstanding wait staff. Their fish and chips, which are touted as the best of the beach and are made with very large pieces of Mahi Mahi, did not disappoint, even after we ate it two days in a row. The blackened Mahi Mahi fish tacos with cilantro citrus cream were equally has fabulous.

The salmon special was perfectly seasoned and melted in your mouth, and the Seaside Buccatini, a shrimp and scallop pasta, was bursting with flavor.  For appetizers, we recommend tuna buffalo bites, Oysters Rockefeller and crab cakes that were simply deli-sh.  Be sure to order the Hershey Bar Cake with simply divine frosting which was a cross between marshmallow fluff and cool whip frosting. It is to die for. Blue Moon Beach Grill is open daily for lunch and dinner.

If you are looking to prepare your own seafood, O'Neal's Sea Harvest in Wanchese, NC in the Roanoke Island area is a good choice. We bought some crab and oysters in the shell and made our own seafood feast one night.  It was pretty darn good. O'Neal's Sea Harvest has great prices on seafood to prepare yourself, and they also serve lunch. They are open Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 4 PM.

A visit to Swan Quarter to photograph some charming shrimp boats at Hobo Seafood in Hyde County, North Carolina is a nice change of scenery on any birding photography adventure.  When you see the boats up close and personal, you realize those boats take a beating and keep on fishing. It was amazing the ingenuity of these folks. They had up cycled old boat pieces and parts to keep them all fishing. And you thought they just fish all day. Many thanks to those super hardworking fishermen crabbing, shrimping, and clamming. The Bakers love them some seafood.

During our Outer Banks vacation, we stayed in a quaint three bedroom house in Roper, North Carolina on the Albemarle Sound called Serenity On the Sound. It was a little over an hour from our birding destinations Pea Island, Pungo Lake in the Pocosin Wildlife Refuge, and Lake Mattamuskeet. The owners of the house, Kari and Chris Cahoon, were very accommodating hosts, and the home which appeared to be newly renovated provided all we needed and more with a fully stocked kitchen, washer and dryer, dishwasher, internet, great views, ping pong table and satellite TV.