My brother recently bought a rental business in Hatteras Village (Slash Creek Outfitters). He rents everything from golf carts to clam rakes. He does a lot of kayak and paddleboard rentals as well, and he asked if I’d like to do nature tours for him. For the past month I’ve been taking groups of tourists through the creeks that wind through Hatteras Village and out into the Pamlico Sound. We cruise through the salt marsh and end up in a bay where we kayak to a remote beach.
This winter I studied salt marsh and coastal ecology in preparation for my tours. I bought a fantastic book called “Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast” that taught me about all the different kinds of wildlife we have on the soundside here. While most of us can identify a crab or a skate, the book took it a step further and provided me with some more detailed info to use in my tours. For example, did you know that blue crabs go through 7 larval stages? Or that blue herons have an oil gland and one long toenail that they use to spread the oil through their feathers?
I spent a lot of time learning to identify birds. Everybody knows what a seagull looks like, but there are several different species of gulls that live or nest here at different times of the year. Hatteras Island is a major nesting site for terns as well, and terns are a controversial bird around here because their nests result in beach closures during tourist season. I learned about pelicans, cormorants, egrets, herons, terns, ibis, plovers and sandpipers. One of the most interesting things I learned is that several of the shorebird species that are on the island in the winter migrate to the Arctic in the spring to nest. It’s a journey of thousands of miles that they make every year. This winter I witnessed a massive cormorant migration, literally thousands of birds flying over the beach. I’ve never seen that many birds in one place in my life. They were headed even further south. Thanks to my bird research I was able to identify them and I had an idea of where they were going.
People don’t come to Hatteras for the salt marsh; they come for the ocean. But what I tell people in my tours is that the salt marsh is vitally important to the ecosystem of the ocean as well. Most of the things that you eat in a restaurant, like crabs, scallops, clams, and even some fish, are born in the salt marsh. It’s the nursery for all kinds of animals that eventually make their way into the ocean.
We see all kinds of things on tours. The hermit crabs are always a hit, but sometimes we see something more exotic, like the oscillated frogfish below. We saw a deer swimming across the creek about a week ago. We see snakes every now and then. My personal favorite are the clearnose skates that pass under our kayaks.
Some people are really interested in the ecology lesson and some people just want to paddle a kayak for a couple hours and see a part of the island you can’t see on foot. Either way, I grew up in a house nestled between a creek and a marsh, and the salt marsh feels like home to me. I enjoy taking people out to see things they can’t see at home. Getting paid for it is the icing on the cake!