by Judith Bailey on the Hidden Gem of the Inner Banks
Some people like to refer to the mainland areas near the Outer Banks as the "Inner Banks." And for those who live on the OBX the mainland has always been a source of sustenance. In the old days people always had to go inland to find things they couldn't get on our sandy, windy islands.
In my earlier days, before the big box stores were built, I spent many a day in the car driving to Norfolk to get this or that. One old-time Outer Banker told me a story of how his grandfather got on a boat for Elizabeth City to look for a bride! Lots of good things can be found in Hyde and Currituck NC counties.
Pea Island is a great place to find wintering migratory birds but another great place is Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County. This large lake is natural but very shallow. Since colonial days farmers have eyed the rich loam under the water and dreamed of ways to drain it and a few groups were even slightly successful. But all those efforts failed and it has been set aside for a National Wildlife Refuge and sanctuary for migratory waterfowl with fields planted for feed and marsh areas kept flooded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife.
I recently took a drive over that way, about a 1 1/2 hour trek from Kill Devil Hills, NC, to see the many flocks of birds. I found that the refuge has a semi-circular drive on a dirt road that you can take to view the wildlife.
The birds are accustomed to people driving slowly and taking photos. I had better luck with photos in the car than on foot as they are not used to walkers and will flare at the least approach. I am not, by any means, a wildlife photographer.
I like to take pictures of boats. They have this tendency to stand still, especially at the dock. But birds are in constant motion. I can take wonderful pictures of where the birds just were, in other words, a picture of perfectly blue sky with nothing in it, but otherwise I leave the animals to those with better equipment and more patience than I have. A few of them stood still for me and I have included them in the photos. If you are vacationing on the Outer Banks in winter, it is worth the drive to see the birds (who are here on vacation, too!), whether you go to Pea Island on Hwy. 12 toward Rodanthe or to Lake Mattamuskeet near Engelhard, NC on the Inner Banks. We had a snowstorm the day I went there so the white stuff you see in the pictures is snow and ice.
From Manteo take 64 to 264 and then turn right onto Hwy. 94. In a short distance you will see a large sign for the Wildlife Refuge. The road is dirt, so be warned. A wash job will be needed for your vehicle afterward. Also note, there were no amenities along the wildlife route so buy food and find rest rooms in Engelhard before you get there.