Jack and I awoke at 5A to do the stargazing we’d postponed — actually, Jack had arisen early over the past few days to go outside to see what could be seen. Me? I stayed in bed.
But on Wednesday, we got up and the morning was considerably more mild than on the previous pre-dawns. We both had our binoculars, and it was going to be a trifecta: the Quadrantids Meteors, the Catalina Comet, and a pass of the International Space Station.
I was in the restroom when Jack saw the space station, but together we saw the Catalina Comet near Arcturus, and as we were looking at it, through the binos, a Quadrantids meteor shot past and it was incredibly bright and startling with the magnification. We saw 3-4 other meteors while we were out there, leaned against Roomba for steadying support, and enjoying the quiet.
But it actually wasn’t so quiet. We heard an owl and some dogs or (more likely) coyotes in the night, too.
After breakfast, we realized we might not have enough propone to heat another night, so Jack resolved to take the bottle and get it refilled. Mike, Barbara and I wanted to take a walk to another end of Phelps Lake to see what birds we could see. The path, that Mike & Barbara had ridden on their bikes about 10 years ago, started right near the ranger’s station and was a 2.8 mile, one-way trek. One of the hurricanes that had passed through the area in the intervening years, however, had likely obliterated the trail they’d ridden. The Park Service had changed it into a straighter, easier-to-access “fire road” type of path running along a canal and a small road that devolved into sand/gravel after about a mile.
They were kind of disappointed that we were not right in the woods, as they had remembered. But it was still an excellent walk, through arbor-like tunnels in two places, and with lovely “front yard” areas, presumably maintained by the homeowners across the road (in cooperation with the Park Service, we suspect).
At one of those mown areas, we saw our first hooded mergansers, floating out on the lake. After enjoying some blue sky in the morning, the clouds came roaring back, lending a gray cast to everything, but actually adding an interesting light element to the photos.
Anyway, along the path we saw many overturned trees: assumed victims of hurricanes or too much wet weather or whatever. We were interested to see the “insides” of a cypress tree by looking at its upturned base. And we saw a small live oak trying to live in the embrace of a cypress. We thought, given the ages of the cypress trees we saw, that the oak’s acorn had made a faulty decision to sprout just there.
We arrived at Moccosin Point and the boardwalk over the cypress knees and thin water to the “dock” which Mike and Barbara remembered from before. It was an excellent respite and there were hundreds of duck-like creatures out on the water. In fact, we popped out of the trees onto the viewing platform so quickly, we chased a bunch of them away. Which made identification so much more difficult. Next time, be cautious about arrival on the platform and see what you can see.
But we were able to identify additional birds we had been told to expect, but had not specifically identified yet: canvas back ducks and buffleheads, in addition to more mergansers. I think the majority of those black fellas out there in the line were American coots, but we were unable to get a solid ID on them. There were also cormorants, seagulls, and mallards out there, likely in addition to other less-identify-able critters.
With the Spanis moss hanging everywhere, and the low cloud cover, being on the point was a bit like experiencing another country. The wind began to come up, but for about a half hour while we enjoyed a small nosh and some water (and birdwatching, of course) it was lovely.
It was definitely time for lunch, the wind was rising and the clouds were lowering, and we figured Jack would be back from his adventure, so we sort of beat a retreat.
Once back at the campsites, we had a lunch and Jack wanted to walk a different path closer to the campsites, but still along the water, heading toward the nearby plantation, closed for the season. I took a quick nap.
The after-lunch time for both camps was partially devoted to departure prep. Then, Mike and Barbara took the same walk Jack had explored, while Jack and I set up for building and enjoying a campfire. We moved our activities toward the end of the campground, where we hoped for a bit of a wind break and to keep the smoke farther away from our living spaces. We had a roaring fire bu the time full dusk set in and M&B returned from their walk. Our activities disturbed many songbirds who were scolding us — and then we heard a strange, strangled bark in the trees — a cross between a goose honk and a deer snort. It got a little closer, and then we saw the silhouette of an owl flying away. Our conclusion was that it was a barred owl, whom we had disturbed from its roosting or hunting ground.
Earlier, while up close to the ranger station and restrooms, I’d heard a great horned owl expressing itself in typical hooty great horned style.
We ate our dinners around the campfire and listened to music over the bluetooth speaker, and just enjoyed our final evening together for this adventure. Additional departure preps for us preceded tucking into bed, as we planned to try to be rolling by 7A.
As I write this, we’re rolling, and it’s 8:11AM — with goodbyes and final pack-up and stowing (plus a cup or two of tea/coffee) we didn’t actually leave the site until 7:30. Close enough.
The drive is revealing thick overcast and a heavy dampness in the air — not quite fog, and not quite misty rain. We’re stopping for breakfast in about an hour and trying to get home in time to hit Dogtown Happy Hour in Floyd. But we might not make it this time.