If you ever visit Bald Head Island though, you can’t help but become interested in the small, remote island around you. Once you take that ferry from the mainland and land in the port, it’s such a unique place that you can’t help but become intrigued at the inner-workings of this magical place and the things that inhabit it.
The best place to learn about the delicate ecosystem is at the Bald Head Island Conservancy and Barrier Island Study Center. This gorgeous facility, situated around a beautiful Live Oak tree, is eco-friendly with timer lights, rainwater in the toilets, and dryer lint in the acoustics of the Media Room. Students, teachers, and visitors come to both share and learn because the aim at the conservancy is transparency- to share knowledge with the community around them.
Exploration is the only way you can get a taste of this beautiful place and the best way to do that is on the Eco-Tour, guided by a passionate, knowledgeable, Conservation Biologist. I was able to experience the diversity of this island that houses 243 different species from the comfort of our golf-cart (we did get out of the cart when we arrived at various locations), taught by Environmental Educator, Kendyll Collins.
Two Yellow Bellied Sliders perch on a branch to get some sun. © 2014 Audra L. Gibson
There are several key spots to tour. After a quick lesson on starfish, crabs, and other sea creatures at the touch tank area in the Barrier Island Study Center, we headed outdoors to the Wildlife Overlook. This is apparently where “Stumpy”, the alligator, lives. Although we didn’t get to see him, we learned that there are usually not more than twelve alligators on the island as they are territorial and like to claim their own separate ponds. If an alligator ever gets too aggressive it is removed from its environment and relocated elsewhere. While at the overlook, we also witnessed two yellow-bellied sliders doing what seemed to be some sort of turtle flirting- it was hilarious when one of them was rejected!
The Salt-Marsh Island or Tree Island was our next stop. As we walked across the wooden bridge, we could see that what we were walking over was largely influenced by the tides and was not diverse in plantlife. Once on the island however, the view was breathtaking, as we saw a Painted Bunting, Egrets, and even an Osprey’s nest in the distance. Additionally, we could see where the Fiddler Crabs live and the mullet fish jumping in the water behind them.
In complete opposition of the view you see from the island, is the Bald Head Island Woods, a 193 acre preserved Maritime Forest that Bald Head Island maintains. We were only able to hike a little ways, as the trail is three to four miles long, but we did get far enough in to see Timmons Oak. This Live Oak is not nearly as old as the Angel Oak in Charleston, but it has been dated between 200-300 years old and seems to be a grand heart of this forest, as the breadth of its branches match the root system below. The oak was named in honor of Dr. Bob Timmons, a man who has volunteered years of his life with the conservancy championing land preservation on Bald Head.
Amidst all of these animal rich areas, we were able to stop and take in the beautiful views of Cape Fear, with its changing sandbars and currents. Then we headed to Middle Island, which is part of the Bald Head Island Conservancy’s domain, but is separate from Bald Head Island. We made a brief stop to see some Tricolored Herons, as well as Snowy Egrets.
A Tricolored Heron at the Ibis Lake Sanctuary. © 2014 Audra L. Gibson
The last leg of the tour was my favorite. From Middle Island, you can see Bluff Island, which is state-owned. From a prime spot on Middle Island, our guide set up the bird scope, and we got to see EAGLES!! And we didn’t just get to admire ones flying across the sky, but rather a family of eagles in their nest. The baby eagles were eating and receiving flying lessons. The scope made them seem so close, it was amazing! While we were there, we also watched hundreds of Fiddler Crabs do their little dance in and out of their holes. They looked as though they were waving at us, but Kendyll explained they were trying to show their supremacy to other fiddler crabs. Apparently they raise and lower their large claw in something of a crabby duel until one of them gives up and retreats.
A Fiddler Crab trying to prove once and for all his claw is the biggest. @ 2014 Audra L. Gibson
As if anything could top the eagle’s nest, we made our final stop at the Ibis Lake Sanctuary. This lake is home to “Fluffy”, the fourteen foot American Alligator, which we were able to spot from our scope. Despite his name, none of us tried to cuddle with him. The most breathtaking view though was the many Ibises that were preening, eating, and flying across from us. Combined with Tricolored Herons and Yellow-Bellied Sliders, it was perhaps the most amazing thing to know that all of these animals co-exist in one area.
A gang of Ibis hang out perched above "Fluffy" the alligator's reach. © 2014 Audra L. Gibson
Even if you aren’t particularly outdoorsy or a nature lover, you can find something to love about this island. Taking an Eco-tour and seeing all that it has to offer, just might help you decide what that something is. It certainly did for me.