Naturalist Journeys, LLC - Small Group Birding and Natural History Tours

Winter Birding Tour: Outer Banks North Carolina
Birding and Nature Tour with Naturalist Journeys
Jan. 18-24, 2014

Guide: Doug Pratt
Press Release Aug. 31, 2012:
Nature Tour Leader Describes His Love for the Outer Banks in Winter - full press release here!

Tundra SwanNorth Carolina’s fabled Outer Banks (OBX) are one of America’s prime tourist destinations, greeting throngs of beachgoers during the warmer months. But when the weather turns cold, the tourists depart and much of the infrastructure that supports them shuts down for the season.  It is then that vast numbers of swans, geese and ducks migrate to OBX and the adjacent mainland, and birders, waterfowl hunters, and fishermen become the main human visitors.

The banks are actually a long chain of narrow barrier islands separating the Atlantic Ocean from three large shallow saltwater sounds, Currituck, Albemarle, and Pamlico. The sounds, and several large natural lakes on the nearby mainland, provide prime habitat for wintering waterfowl. Nearly all species of North American ducks have been seen at OBX. But the real stars of the show are the thousands of Snow Geese and Currituck LighthouseTundra Swans that descend upon the area every winter. Imagine sitting at the edge of an open field with 100K Snow Geese (with a few Ross’s and Cackling geese mixed in) as the flocks “roll” across the field with a rush of wings.

Nearly deserted winter beaches are a beachcomber’s and birder’s delight, with large populations of shorebirds, gulls, and terns on both sides of the barrier islands. Offshore, vast numbers of Northern Gannets, all three scoters, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common and Red-throated loons, Horned Grebes, and occasionally Razorbills and Dovekie entertain observers with spotting scopes on the beach.

Winter is also a great time to learn the area’s history without having to fight the crowds.  The Lost Colony, Blackbeard’s lair, man’s first flight, the Graveyard of the Atlantic: are all phrases that evoke the rich history of the North Carolina coast. All of the main historic sites are open year round, and history there is to see.  Roanoke Island, which lies in the sound between the barrier islands and the mainland, was the site of Sir Walter Raleigh’s failed attempt to establish the first English settlement in North America.  Later, the area became the hideout of Blackbeard, the notorious pirate.  OBX played a prominent role in the Civil CanvasbackWar, including the sinking of the Monitor off Cape Hatteras.  As the closest point of land to the Gulf Stream, Hatteras is the dividing point between cold northern waters and warmer southern ones so it is a crossroads for birds, but a serious hazard to navigation, and Diamond Shoals just off the cape justly deserve their graveyard nickname.  Numerous shipwrecks dot OBX.  The region’s most prominent landmarks include three historic lighthouses (Currituck Light, Bodie Island Light, and Cape Hatteras Light) as well as the monument that commemorates the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kill Devil Hills.

winter landscape from Lake Mattamuskeet

During our week-long winter adventure, along with general birding and beachcombing, we will visit:
Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education
Pine Island Preserve
Wright Brothers National Memorial
The North Carolina Aquarium
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and Elizabethan Gardens
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
Palmetto-Peartree Preserve

Dunes and Sea Oats - North Carolina

The exact order of our visits must remain flexible so we can respond to possible winter weather events in the most efficient way.  So, in the following itinerary, the days are units that can be rearranged at the last minute, but because we are staying at the same hotel, that will not be a problem.

White PelicanSat., Jan. 18 Arrive in Raleigh-Durham, NC
Our adventure begins at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, a 3-hour drive from the Outer Banks.  Once everyone has arrived, we will head east, with good birding beginning right away.  We will make a side trip to Pungo Lake to search for huge feeding flocks of Snow Geese in the afteroon, and then arrive just at dinner time at  the comfort Inn South at Nag’s Head, where we will stay for the entire trip. The hotel’s ocean view rooms are ideal for scoping the ocean in relative comfort, and Jenette’s Fishing Pier next door will gain us a closer vantage point.  Loons, grebes, scoters, gannets, gulls (including Lesser Black-backed), pelicans, cormorants, Red-breasted Mergansers, and maybe even Dovekies and Razorbills could be seen from your room. Enjoy a good meal, nice ambiance and a chance to get to know your guide and travelling companions.
Accommodations at Comfort Inn South, Nag’s Head (D)

SanderlingSun., Jan. 19 Cape Hatteras National Seashore / Hatteras Island / Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Our first full day at OBX will take us south along the banks into Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  Our first stop will be the newly refurbished Bodie (pronounced like body) Island Lighthouse.  The nearby pond and marsh are a magnet for wintering waterfowl and shorebirds, often including Eurasian Wigeon and American Avocet.  Next, we will stop at the marina at Oregon Inlet for some birding, then cross the Herbert Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet to Hatteras Island.  Here, we will walk the rock jetty to look for Purple Sandpipers and American Oystercatchers, and search for rare Great Cormorants in the inlet.  Further south, we will visit Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. North Pond, which is slowly recovering after being breached by hurricanes, should offer huge flocks of ducks as well as American White Pelicans.  The area offshore frequently, but unpredictably, produces Razorbill and Dovekie.
Accommodations at Comfort Inn South, Nag’s Head (B,L)

ShovelerMon., Jan. 20 Roanoke Island / North Carolina Museum in Manteo
We will spend most of today on Roanoke Island where we will search for winter land birds as well as those of marsh and sound.  Our day will include a visit to the North Carolina Aquarium in Manteo (pronounced MAN-tee-o) which has a replica of the Civil War ship Monitor and exhibits of aquatic life of OBX, Fort Raleigh and the nearby Elizabethan Gardens, and Roanoke Island Marsh Game Lands, and Wanchese Harbor.  After dinner, we will offer an optional  trip to the road into Bodie Island Light, where rare owls, such as Saw-whet and Long-eared, have been found.
Accommodations at Comfort Inn South, Nag’s Head (B,L,D)

Outer Banks dunesTues., Jan. 21 Cape Hatteras National Seashore / Hatteras Island
Today we head south again, but passing fairly quickly through places we visited on Sunday so we can spend most of the day on the southern part of Hatteras Island.  We will visit the iconic lighthouse and hike out to Cape Point, a place that has a long history of producing rarities.  We will also visit Buxton Woods to look for land birds. 
Accommodations at Comfort Inn South, Nag’s Head (B,L)

Wed., Jan. 22 Alligator River NWR / Palmetto-Peartree Preserve
For a change of pace, today will be spent on the NC mainland.  Our main focus will be Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, which is site of the Red Wolf Recovery Program.  We probably won’t see any wolves, but we may hear their howls at dusk.  The area is rich in other wildlife, including black bears, otters, Bald Eagles, and large numbers of smaller raptors. Short-eared Owls are fairly regular here in winter. The area has a reputation for producing rare birds of all kinds.  Further inland, we will visit the private Palmetto-Peartree Preserve which harbors a large resident population of Endangered Greater YellowlegsRed-cockaded Woodpeckers.  They can be hard to find in winter when they roam about in small flocks rather than staying near nest trees, but we have a good chance of finding them.  We will also visit Lake Phelps in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge to look for Common Mergansers, rare in NC, and search the sparrow-rich nearby fields.
Accommodations at Comfort Inn South, Nag’s Head (B,L,D)

Thurs., Jan. 23 Wright Brothers National Memorial / Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education / Pine Island Preserve
We will start today with a visit to Jockey’s Ridge State Park and the Wright Brothers National Memorial, then head north toward the town of Corolla.  Near the red brick Currituck Lighthouse, the road ends.  Near the terminus we will visit the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, where we will learn of the rich history of waterfowl hunting in the area. and the Audubon Society’s Pine Island Preserve. Boardwalks at several places provide access to the soundside marsh, where we might find Clapper Rails.
Accommodations at Comfort Inn South, Nag’s Head (B,L)

Tundra SwansFri., Jan 24 Mattamuskeet NWR
We check out early and head inland, turning south from Manteo to reach Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge.  Lake Mattamuskeet is home to thousands of Tundra Swans as well as large numbers of other waterfowl, and is a good place to look for unusual land birds as well.  American Bitterns are frequent.  We will cross the lake on a paved causeway, then head northwest through farmlands with large flocks of Tundra Swans and tie into Hwy. 64, which will take us back to Raleigh for our evening departures. 


Ring-necked Duck

Green-winged Teal



Protect yourself with Allianz Travel Insurance (formerly Access America).

Offset your Carbon Footprint. Show us the receipt and we'll take 50% - up to $50.00 - of your carbon offset fee off your final payment.

Your guide for the journey will be Doug Pratt.

Cost of the journey is $1995.00 per person, based on double occupancy. This cost includes all accommodations for 7 nights, meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), professional guide services, other park and program entrance fees and miscellaneous program expenses.

Tour cost does not include: round-trip transportation from your home city to Raleigh-Durham, optional activities or, items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone charges, maid gratuities or beverages from the bar. Single supplement, as available, is $375.00.

Group Size: This is a birding and wildlife trip. Maximum of 8, minimum of 4 persons.

Tour price is based on 4 persons. With fewer than 4, you will have the option to do the tour at a surcharge to be determined for 1-3 persons..

Pace of the tour: Moderate, with moderate to leisurely walking.  We host full days of exploring so you are in and out of the vehicles.  There are no hotel changes. 

Plan to arrive in Raleigh-Durham, at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) no later than 2 PM on the tour start date. We plan to return to meet flights out from 5 PM onwards. A number of flights on American, United, and other airlines go out after this time, making connections even to western cities by midnight. We want to be birding this last morning, and then do our drive back to the airport, so please honor this time. We should be at the airport by 3:30 PM. If you have any questions about booking travel, please let us know, and make sure that we have the minimum number of persons (4) needed for travel ahead of making reservations.

Naturalist Journeys, LLC is an equal opportunity service provider and committed to the goal of ensuring equal opportunity for all in employment and program delivery.

Photo Credits:
Tundra Swan and Lake Mattamuskeet, H. Douglas Pratt; Canvasback, Pintail, Ring-necked Duck, Green-winged Teal and Shoveler, Tom Dove; White Pelican, Sanderling, large group of Tundra Swans, Greater Yellowlegs and Willet, Lynn Feryus; all other images by Peg Abbott.

Naturalist Journeys LLC, a top birding and nature tour company, offers specialty small group travel to many of the best nature destinations worldwide. Naturalist Journeys’ expert guides have decades of experience leading guided nature and birding tours as well as travel photography tours, all with a focus on responsible travel and eco-tourism. Naturalist Journeys also offer Utah hiking adventure tours and adventure travel in national parks and wildlife reserves ranging from in-depth Alaska wildlife tours to guided Texas and Florida birding tours. Costa Rica nature and birding tours are among our top-rated as are our Panama nature tours and African wildlife safari tours. Our many repeat clients enjoy dependable and diverse holidays on Galapagos nature tours, Arctic and Antarctica nature cruises, and birding and wildlife tours from Arizona to the Amazon and beyond.