Sentinel Landscapes Partnership Benefits Eastern NC

sentinellandscapespartnershipAn exciting collaboration of federal, state and private partnerships have joined forces to conserve landscapes and wildlife, bolster rural economies and ensure military preparedness. According to a news release last week, “The Departments of Interior, Agriculture and Defense have united with state and federal partners today to announce the designation of three new Sentinel Landscapes to benefit working lands, wildlife conservation and military readiness.”

This year’s Sentinel Landscapes were chosen for Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida, Camp Ripley in Minnesota and military bases in Eastern North Carolina. “The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership is an important conservation tool benefiting some of the nation’s most significant working landscapes and wildlife habitat,” said Michael Bean, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at Interior.

The news release reported that military-related activity is the second largest economic driver behind agriculture in Eastern North Carolina — a region that is home to significant wildlife habitat and 29 federally-listed threatened or endangered species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker. The Eastern North Carolina Sentinel Landscapes has 20 federal, state and local partners that have committed nearly $11 million to protect or enhance nearly 43,000 acres. For a detailed overview of the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership including a map of eastern NC’s military mission footprint, check out this fact sheet.



 Three Military Bases, Ranges Added to Sentinel Landscapes Partnership

Shared priorities for conservation and land preservation converge to strengthen national defense

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2016—The U.S. Departments of Defense (DoD), Agriculture and the Interior today announced the addition of three military bases to the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, a conservation effort begun in 2013 to improve military readiness, protect at-risk and endangered species, enhance critical wildlife habitat and restore working agricultural and natural lands in the Southeast and Midwest. Read more…



Edenton National Fish Hatchery & Aquarium

Striped Bass at Edenton National Fish Hatchery

NC boasts one of the nation’s best striped bass fisheries

Last week, I spent a leisurely afternoon strolling around the Edenton National Fish Hatchery & Aquarium (ENFH). The facility is operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and serves as one of the oldest in the nation. For more than a century, the Edenton Fish Hatchery has been raising warm water fish for public use and restoration.

Some visitors are surprised to discover that the hatchery includes a small aquarium, which features various aquatic species living in Eastern NC. The aquarium has a number of interesting interpretive displays, a 700-gallon tank and three smaller tanks.

Visitors are also invited to walk around the rearing ponds and enjoy the scenic wetland boardwalk, which overlooks Pembroke Creek. The raised boardwalk is an ideal wildlife observation area. During my tour, I spotted a variety of woodland birds, several species of waterfowl and a Bald Eagle perched in a towering cypress.

Edenton National Fish Hatchery boardwalk

The Edenton National Fish Hatchery plays an important role in our state’s concerted efforts to maintain healthy fish populations in the region’s waters. According to their brochure, the ENFH “produces more than 200,000 striped bass for interjurisdictional restoration each year.” Naturally, fish migrate across various state boundaries and waters. Some of the fish raised and tagged at Edenton have been caught as far away as Cape Hatteras to New England.

From Restoration to Recreation

The hatchery currently provides restoration efforts for American Shad, repopulates or restores fish species impacted by natural or manmade disasters and assists in fishery management to other National Wildlife Refuges in the Carolinas and Virginia.

From a recreational perspective, North Carolina anglers are very appreciative of all of the fish hatchery projects around the Tar Heel State. Results from a 2011 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Participation Survey revealed that 1.5 million NC residents and non-residents fished our state’s waters. And thanks to the ENFH’s historic conservation, preservation and enhancement efforts, they continue to provide great angling opportunities for our region.

The fish hatchery is located at 1102 W. Queen St., Edenton, NC and is open to the public year round, weekdays from 7:00 am – 3:30 pm.


Tenkara Fly Fishing along the Albemarle Sound

tenkara fly fishing albemarle soundA gentleman fishing one of the local creeks last fall quickly caught my attention. I was returning from an afternoon of paddling and fishing on Queen Anne Creek. When I returned to the dock, the angler was enjoying one of many catches using a traditional fly rod. Colin introduced himself and then laughed as he joked that he had come out to test some of his hand tied flies. The combination of the angler’s joy, art and skill intrigued me. A few weeks later, I tried my own luck with fly fishing albeit a centuries old technique called Tenkara.

This simple form of fly fishing originated from Japan over two hundred years ago and is still one of the most popular Japanese fresh water angling today. Simple is fine with me especially when it comes to gear and equipment — think rod, line and fly – no reel! Here’s a quick Tenkara lesson for fishing fresh water streams on the fly along the Albemarle Sound.

Tenkara beginnings

Traditional Japanese rods are made from solid bamboo. Modern tenkara rods are constructed from ultra light, high-tech carbon fiber. Rods vary in length from 8.5 feet to 13 feet and anglers can easily cast lines from 12’–30′ or longer. One of the great advantages of the tenkara rods is that they are telescopic and conveniently break down into the rod’s butt section. The rod “telescopes” out of the largest section of the rod and quickly sets up in seconds. My Patagonia rod’s length is 10’6” but packs into its 20.5” base section. I can easily carry my rod and fishing kit with me while cycling or walking to local creeks.

Tenkara 101

Tenkara rods have a tag of line called a lilian that adjoins the tip of the rod. A level line (fly line) of various lengths (twenty-foot, twelve-foot, eight-foot) is slipped over and hitched to the lilian utilizing a turle knot. This allows quick transition to longer/shorter lines in the field. Finally, a 4’–6’ tippet is tied to the fly line and the fly. Lately, I’ve been averaging about 20-24 feet of total casting line.

Once I arrive at the stream, I simply unwind my desired length of line, gently pull out the tip section, seat with the adjoining section until I’ve properly set the entire rod. I chose the 10’6” model for it’s springy action and all-around length for fishing coastal creeks with dry flies, soft hackles and streamers.

Fly Fishing on Queen Anne Creek

Different strokes

Most folks who experience the rhythm of Tenkara use words like “intuitive, FUN and instinctive” when describing the feel of casting and setting the hook. I prefer to move the rod quickly back to a vertical point then release the rod forward to approximately 10 o’clock. This allows your line to move forward and present the fly toward your target. I place my index finger on top of the handle for better control. Instead of moving my wrist to create a twitching motion on the fly, I gently squeeze my smallest two fingers on the cork handle. The flexible tip gently reacts to the squeeze and transfers a subtle motion to the fly. The majority of my strikes emerge while I’m retrieving the line to make another cast.

Tenkara fishing Albemarle SoundCompared to conventional fly fishing, the tip of the rod is held relatively high after the cast. This keeps a tighter line making it easier to set the hook. When I land a fish, I casually raise the rod up higher and calmly reach for the line. Fishing with longer line requires one to tilt the rod back, keeping your arm low and close to the body when recovering the line. With larger catches, use the line versus the rod to lift the fish out of the water. After securing the line, I often lay the rod down on the ground or dock and use both hands to reel the line in. Again, this technique seems fairly natural after a couple of successful landings. Since November, I’ve been routinely catching bluegill, black perch and yellow perch in the shallow, grassy waters of Queen Anne Creek and Pembroke Creek.

While some traditionalists or fisher elitists may scoff at the Tenkara fly fishing method, I’ve found it very exciting and effective for anglers of all ages and abilities. When you combine elegance, art and recreation, it’s all good! Some guides are finding it to be a great introduction and teaching tool to fly fishing. Regardless of your preference, share the love of fishing and fish on!




Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge

tundra swans at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

waveLINKS birding category

A visit to North Carolina’s largest natural lake has been on my ‘to-do’ list for nearly twenty-five years. I’ve read about the history of the lodge, the world-class birding and wildlife as well as the excellent outdoor recreation options. Last month, my wife and I took a day-trip to Lake Mattamuskeet and we instantly discovered it was well worth the wait.

Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula and encompasses 50,180 acres of water, forest, marsh, and open fields. The shallow lake, which averages a depth of only two feet, covers approximately 40,000 acres. The surrounding marshes and woodlands provide habitat, cover and food for more than 200 species of birds. November through January is the prime season for bird watching considering the fact that over 12,000 ducks, geese, swans, herons, bitterns and other waterfowl winter on the refuge’s grounds.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has a comprehensive conservation and resource management plan for the refuge that includes water management for waterfowl, shorebirds and fisheries; cooperative farming; prescribed burning and deer management with public hunting. Through the preservation of wetlands and habitat, they also protect and conserve migratory birds and other wildlife. Education, interpretation and community partnerships are also vital strategies that the refuge implements. The Annual Wings Over Water Festival in October is a stellar example of how our national wildlife refuges successfully collaborate with local communities.

Great Egret Mattamuskeet NWR

Great Egret observed along the Wildlife Drive

 Seasonal activities

Whether you’re walking or driving, a number of trails, roads and levies provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. During the winter, the refuge management restricts access to some roads and levees from November 1 – February 28. However, approximately eight miles of levees and 12 miles of road are open year-round. Boating, canoeing and kayaking are not allowed during the winter. Check with management at the refuge headquarters for additional information about refuge regulations, restricted areas and permitted hunts.

The Hwy 94 causeway, Wildlife Drive and the refuge entrance road offer premier birding opportunities. The observation platform along Hwy 94 affords a panoramic view over the lake. The New Holland Boardwalk Trail along East Canal Drive provides convenient access to a cypress swamp and marshland. Also, there’s a trailhead kiosk, photo blind and benches for photography and observation.

Mattamuskeet Lodge

Mattamuskeet Lodge – originally a pump station

My wife and I took advantage of a beautiful January day and visited the refuge. We enjoyed the exhibits inside the Visitors Center and the grounds adjacent to the Mattamuskeet Lodge. This facility was originally built as a pumping station designed to drain the lake into productive farmland. Eventually, the project proved to be too costly and impractical. Three decades later the U.S. Government acquired the land and the refuge was established in 1934. The lodge and surrounding acres have been transferred to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. Efforts to secure funding and restore the lodge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, are currently being planned.

American coots at Mattamuskeet NWR

American Coots – Mattamuskeet NWR

Further adventures

While touring Wildlife Drive, we stopped at several locations to observe Tundra Swans, Great Egrets, Northern Pintails, American Coots and White Ibises probing for food in the shallow waters. Several groups of birders and photographers were lined along the banks taking advantage of the splendid views.

Our first exploration to Lake Mattamuskeet turned out to be a sneak peek but a real treat and a good overview of the refuge, trails, facilities and access points. With spring in the forecast, we plan to return and explore the refuge in our canoe, skiff or on our bikes – maybe all of the above!

map of Mattamuskeet NWR

Map data by ©OpenStreetMap & contributors

Directions: Mattamuskeet NWR is located approximately 70 miles east of Washington in Hyde County, North Carolina. The headquarters entrance road is located off Hwy 94 1.5 miles north of U.S. 264 between Swan Quarter and Engelhard.


Queen Anne Creek – Jewel along the Albemarle


Queen Anne Creek might be one of the shortest paddling trails among the Paths of Chowan but it may also be the sweetest. I’ve lived in the Piedmont of Georgia, the Southern Appalachians and now on the Albemarle Sound in eastern North Carolina. I’ve always adopted a hometown river, stream or creek to soothe the soul. Most recently, Queen Anne has quickly become one of my favorite local outings along the Albemarle!

The creek gently flows from the east of Edenton in Chowan County and empties into Edenton Bay. Meandering from the northern and western regions of the county, Pembroke Creek enters the west side of the bay. This land along the bay has experienced centuries of history, heritage and transformation originating from the native trading village of the Weapemeoc. European settlers established settlements along the Albemarle Sound including the 17th century Town on Queen Anne Creek. In 1722, the town was incorporated and the colony’s first capital was renamed Edenton in honor of the state’s first governor, Charles Eden.


Let’s quickly paddle forward from the era of dugout canoes to the sleek modern world of rotomolded polyethylene and Kevlar.  Chowan County offers miles of paddling trails, convenient boating access and a network of camping platforms. Highlights along the four-mile Queen Anne Creek Trail include a historic waterfront, an expansive bay, colonial architecture, a historic plantation, mysterious wetlands and hours of solitude.

The trail originates from the floating dock a few hundred feet west of the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse. There’s plenty of convenient parking along the Downtown Waterfront Park. Once on the water, paddlers are immediately greeted with views of the open bay and Edenton’s quaint town harbor as they hug the north shore and travel east. A wonderful collection of 18th and 19th century homes overlook the bay along Water St. Queen Anne Park and a handicap accessible small craft landing are located on the northern shore just before crossing under the Hayes Plantation’s iconic wooden bridge which spans over the mouth of Queen Anne Creek.


Upstream, stands of cypress and tupelo trees dominate the forested banks. A few creek side homes can be observed before the landscape quickly transitions into an intimate natural waterway. Wildlife sightings along this 1.5-mile stretch include a variety of turtles, waterfowl, herons and birds of prey. Winter and spring sightings of Bald Eagles are frequently reported along the creek.

The trail continues upstream to the bridge and intersection of Hwy. 32, which is the turnaround on the 4-mile out-and-back trail. Late afternoon excursions often reward boaters with spectacular sunsets while approaching the bay. Please show respect and allow a wide berth to the local anglers fishing from the bridge and along Queen Anne Park.


The trail can be enjoyed year round by paddlers of all levels of experience. Full-day options include extended routes along the east side of the bay, west around John’s Island and Pembroke Creek. If the bay is choppy or exposed to the wind, an alternate launch is recommended at Queen Anne Park near the wooden bridge. For directions and more info about Queen Anne Creek and other paddling trails along the Albemarle Sound visit Paths of Chowan.


Autumn Solitude on Bodie Island


We’re still on our fall discovery tour and taking advantage of good weather and fewer crowds. I call this the “edge effect” which occurs between two seasons. I’ve sneaked in some of my best adventures during these opportunistic times. I’m back on the road and trail and this time I’m exploring Cape Hatteras National Seashore. In 1953, Congress protected this coastal resource, which was designated as being natural and recreational significant to preserve forever. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is administered by the National Park Service, which preserves and protects the windswept seacoast stretching nearly 80 miles. The seashore spans north to south across three islands – Bodie, Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Seasonal Notes

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is open year-round although facilities, programs and activities change with the seasons. For example, the three lighthouses along these islands are not open for climbing after Columbus Day and don’t reopen until the third Friday in April 2016. Cape Point Campground located on Cape Hatteras, is the only National Park Service campground open during the fall through the end of November.

So during the off-season, I’ve personally found you give up a few perks offered during summer’s peak season including interpretive programs but you end up with rewarding self-guided and intimate adventures.

Editor’s note: The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is not open for climbing year round. Only base tours are available during the summer.


Accessible Adventures

One of the first points of interest on the northern section of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the Bodie Island Visitor Center & Lighthouse. It is located off of NC 12 between Nags Head and the Oregon Inlet approximately eight miles south of Whalebone Junction (US 158 and US 64 intersection).

From the parking lot in front of the lighthouse, visitors can conveniently discover a variety of habitats including open fields, remote wetlands, maritime forests, salt marshes, beaches and dunes. During a recent trip, the only visitors I observed were wildlife photographers, birders and birds. According to the NC Birding Trail, late fall and early winter is the perfect time to observe wading birds and numerous waterfowl species which migrate and/or winter along Hatteras.

The wildlife trail from the parking area leads visitors along a half-mile boardwalk to an observation deck that overlooks an expansive freshwater pond. The last day of October, I observed Horned Grebes, Northern Shovelors, several Black Scoters, and a Tri-colored Heron feeding among the cordgrass.


American Black Ducks – Bodie Island

Another wildlife area to explore begins at the gravel road near the south end of the parking lot. A gated service road extends out to a tidal creek and a dock owned by a private hunting club. Anglers are often seen fishing this local creek from the dock and small skiffs. I enjoyed watching two fly fisherman or “water whippers” roll casting along the edge of the bank.

Visitors often see marsh rabbits, turtles, crabs along the creek and marshlands. Occasionally, one can hear the short series of clacking sounds from the Clapper Rail but seldom do hikers get a chance to view this large rail species– one that locals refer to as a marsh hen or mud chicken. Both of the walks reward the hiker with wide open vistas, wildlife viewing and of course, strategic views of the 170’ lighthouse.

Bodie Island can be enjoyed as a brief stopover or a half-day excursion. Binoculars are recommended to get up close and personal with our feathered friends. Also, be sure to check the local hunting season scheduled during the fall/winter. The Bodie Island Lighthouse is open daily, 9am to 5pm, September – May; 9am to 6pm. Oh yeah, act like a local and be sure to pronounce Bodie correctly (Body).






Roanoke Island Paddling Excursion


break along Roanoke IslandSugar sand beaches, calm waters and Carolina blue skies welcomed us on our paddling group’s first summer outing. Allan, our trip leader, had sent us three wonderful options along the Albemarle Sound corridor. The group’s top choice was a half-day circuit on the southern shores of Roanoke Island. The paddle trail description showcased a variety of interesting features including views of Jockey’s Ridge, open waters, beaches, tidal creeks and numerous areas to observe wildlife. Boaters often see dolphins playfully swimming and feeding around the Roanoke Sound Channel.

We put in at the convenient Washington Baum Bridge landing east of Manteo which dropped us directly onto the channel. Since the wind was light, we opted to paddle the open water section first then complete the loop through a series (maze) of tidal creeks, ditches and cuts. The total distance was approximately seven miles.

The five of us never saw any dolphins in the sound. However, as we paddled around Broad Creek Point, we spotted a sweet little sandbar perfect for our first snack break. The water was so clear that we observed several crabs in the shallow waters. Blue Herons and Great Egrets were feeding in the marshes and we sighted an armadillo scurrying along the banks.

We looked over the large creek and noticed the secluded fishing village of Wanchese, NC. Allan said he had heard of paddlers who paddled directly up to the marina for cold beer and delicious fresh seafood. But today it was P & J sandwiches, a banana and lots of water. The first summer heat wave had come early this year and today’s forecast predicted mid-90’s. With this on all of our minds (and cold beer) and the fact that we would have zero shade for the rest of the day, our group packed up and launched the boats back into the water.

Using a primitive map of Roanoke Island, we navigated our way up a diminishing creek. I’d been stranded at low tide on tidal creeks before so I was a bit anxious about finding the correct cut through the island. The map revealed several dead-end waterways so I continuously checked the map and looked for telltale landmarks. Unfortunately, there were no trail markers so we were now on a discovery tour – or scavenger hunt as it turned out.

Most of the land surrounding the creek is managed and owned by the NC Wildlife Resource Commission. According to the Nature Conservancy, this tract of 1,766 acres includes one of the most undisturbed black needlerush marshes remaining in North Carolina. Smooth cordwood grass is also common along the brackish waters. The marshlands and associated waters offer a rich biological soup of nutrients and habitat for wading birds, shorebirds, mammals, fish and crustaceans.

After a few hours in direct sunlight, some in our party were beginning to second guess our current route and the “biological soup” metaphor wasn’t exactly the best choice of words since we were slowly starting to “stew” ourselves in the blazing sun. We ventured into a couple of smaller creeks only to have to turn around and search for another outlet. This created a chain reaction of boats having to reverse their course, sweep their paddles wide and turn back toward the larger opening. Finally, just when we were getting close to a modern day mutiny of the bounty, we found the opening to John’s Ditch. More importantly, a motorboat full of enthusiastic teenagers assured us that we were back on track. Allan and I knew it all the time. Sure thing!

The final couple of miles of paddling turned out to be some of the best as we meandered through the waters of Sand Beach Creek to the beautiful beaches at Johns Creek along the Roanoke Sound. Just beyond the point we discovered safe haven and the expansive bridge above the take out. A few of us took a break on the sandbar and I finally ate my delicious sandwich, swam in the refreshingly clear water then tanked up on more water for the last section of the trip.

Back again on the sound, the wind was still light but the increased afternoon motor boating around the landing created lots of chop within the wake zone. Tough day out in the sun but a great trip and one which I’ll do again and again!


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