Find Scenic Views and Abundant Wildlife at the Nature Preserves in NC’s Brunswick Islands

From the area’s 45 miles of pristine beaches to the unique inland ecosystems, North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is home to a range of diverse nature preserves where wildlife thrives. Visitors can enjoy beautiful scenery and discover native plants and animals, by foot, bike, kayak and more. Choose one of these five nature preserves for your next excursion in the Brunswick Islands, and read on to learn more about local efforts to sustain many of these picturesque spaces from Mansfield Fisher with The Nature Conservancy.

Bald Head Island

Accessible by ferry or private boat, Bald Head Island features 10,000 acres of salt marsh and 180 acres of protected maritime forest, all preserved by the Bald Head Island Conservancy. This distinct coastal area is also part of the NC Birding Trail, where visitors can spot Wilson’s Plover, Painting Bunting and several types of wintering waterfowl. The kayaking and birding expeditions offered throughout the year by the Conservancy offer a non-intrusive and scenic view of these fascinating species.

Bird Island Nature Preserve

Bird Island

Located on an undeveloped portion of Sunset Beach, Bird Island is a treasure with more than 1,200 acres of unspoiled salt marsh and tidal creeks, along with natural dunes and sandy beaches. The island serves as an outdoor laboratory and classroom for scientists and students to learn more about how the ecosystem functions and how we can help to sustain precious coastal areas. The Bird Island Preservation Society Stewards also lead educational walks at certain times during the year. Access Bird Island from the southernmost public beach access point on Sunset Beach to make the trip by bike or foot – be sure to look for the Kindred Spirit Mailbox in the dunes about a mile down the beach!

Boiling Spring Lakes Preserve

Pine WarblerMore than 6,000 acres make up this expansive preserve of rare plants and animals. Boiling Spring Lakes Preserve is home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, carnivorous plants, rough-leaf loosestrife, and more than 400 vascular plant species, including the Venus flytrap. Visitors can see the stunning preserve for themselves on the Boiling Spring Lakes Nature Trail, accessible at the town’s Community City off Highway 87. The preserve is also part of the NC Birding Trail where visitors can encounter species like the Pine Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak and more.

Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve – preserved by UNCW

Encompassing 175 acres preserved by University of North Carolina Wilmington, the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve boasts an impressive variety of native plants and animals in the inland town of Leland. Sightings of the Prothonotary Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler and Summer Tanager earned this preserve a spot on the NC Birding Trail. Visitors can take in this natural haven on seven miles of maintained trails throughout the preserve.

Green Swamp Preserve

Pitcher PlantSitting on 15,000 acres, the Green Swamp Preserve is an incredibly unique natural space, considered a longleaf pine savanna, with a diverse herb layer of orchids and insectivorous plants in the open areas. The Preserve is also home to four species of pitcher plants, a stunning sight and great photo-op for nature enthusiasts. Beyond plant life, a range of animals are native to the Green Swamp Preserve – notably the American alligator, fox squirrel, Henslow’s and Bachman’s sparrow and Hessel’s hairstreak butterfly. Just minutes from the coast, visitors can park at the trail access point off Highway 211 in Supply to see this splendid preserve for themselves.


More on nature preserves with Mansfield Fisher of The Nature Conservancy:

Mansfield Fisher works with The Nature Conservancy at the Wilmington, NC-based field office, which focuses on Longleaf restoration through controlled burning. Much of Mansfield’s work takes place at the Green Swamp Preserve in Brunswick County.

Venus Flytrap Green Swamp Nature Preserve“Last year, our Longleaf program in North Carolina assisted or led on controlled burns totaling more than 25,000 acres. We are working to restore natural Longleaf Pine systems and preserve these threatened ecosystems that are home to many rare plants, like the Venus flytrap.”

Why is the fall season a great time to visit the Green Swamp Preserve?

“There is always a reason to go out to the Green Swamp in Brunswick County because, as the seasons change, there will be many different plants to see. The fall is a great time to visit the Green Swamp because this is when many of the grasses flower. The wiregrass and bluestems produce seas of golden grass. Some of the showier plants that bloom in the fall are narrow-leaved sunflower, blazing star, goldenrod, and many kinds of asters.”

What is some of the most unique wildlife you’ve seen in the Green Swamp Preserve?

“There are 16 species of native orchids that can be found in the Green Swamp and 14 different Brown headed nuthatchspecies of carnivorous plants. You will see beautiful longleaf and pond pine trees throughout the preserve. The Green Swamp is a birdwatchers’ paradise. Some of the bird species that can be found are Bachman’s Sparrow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bobwhite Quail, Pine Warbler and Henslow’s Sparrows. If you are lucky, you may see White-tailed deer, eastern cougar and bobcats.”

What is your favorite fact about the Green Swamp Preserve that people may not know?

“My favorite fact about the Green Swamp is the important role that fire plays in maintaining the delicate balance of these ecosystems. Lightning and Native Americans maintained fire in these ecosystems and, therefore, many of the plants in the Green Swamp need fire to survive. Without periodic burning, the savannas would become overgrown with shrubs and crowd out many of the flowering herbaceous plants.”

Find The Nature Conservancy on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TNCNC/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tnc_nc/

To learn more about nature in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, and to plan your trip, visit www.NCBrunswick.com.

You can follow the North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands on social media at https://www.facebook.com/NCBrunswick/  and https://www.instagram.com/ncbrunswickislands/.

Island Hop without a Passport in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands

with five barrier islands, island hopping is a must when exploring North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands this summer! Located in the southernmost corner of North Carolina, the islands of Brunswick County are strung together with forty-five miles of silken coastline.

Graced with sunny, secluded beaches away from high-rises and crowds, each island provides its own unique character, charm and activities. Here, beaches are perfect for family vacations, reunions, weddings, surfers, nature enthusiasts, and golf getaways, and each island has something different to offer its visitors. It is impossible to pick a favorite, so vacationers should visit them all!

Sunset Beach

Old BridgeStart your island hop on the southernmost island at Sunset Beach for a peaceful and relaxing experience. You will find this island top of the list for a quiet and quintessential beach town as residents are passionate about preservation. Take a mile walk from the last beach access south to Bird Island and the Kindred Spirit Mailbox to learn about sand dune wildlife and experience the habitats of the beautiful coastal preserve. Don’t forget to also tour the Old Sunset Bridge Museum, home to the last pontoon swing bridge on the East Coast!

Ocean Isle

Next hop over to the seven miles of Ocean Isle Beach, where you will find something for every generation! Stroll along the shoreline, scan for signs of sea turtles or catch a wave with private or group surf lessons. To experience sea life with a life-size diorama and touch tank make a visit to The Museum of Coastal Carolina. If you are feeling adventurous, try ziplining through a 300-year-old swamp cypress canopy at The Shallotte River Swamp Park, which is a challenging and thrilling adventure for all ages!

Holden Beach

DSC_7135_HOLDEN BEACH BRIDGENamed one of the best family beaches in the U.S. by National Geographic Traveler magazine and voted one of the top 10 beaches by USA Today readers, Holden Beach is your ideal destination for small town charm. Cruise along the Intracoastal Waterway by kayak and enjoy a day “downtown” with lunch at one of the several restaurant decks overlooking the waterway and the many shrimp boats that call Holden Beach home. In this wildlife haven, your family will enjoy spotting dolphins and playfully chasing ghost crabs with flashlights in the evening.

Oak Island

Ten miles of uncrowded beaches with more than 60 access points, two fishing piers, two marinas and three public boat and canoe ramps makes the town of Oak Island a perfect stop. You will have just as much fun touring the town on bicycles with bells DSC_2743_CASWELL_LRand baskets while eating ice-cream as you will in the water! Include your four-legged family members as Oak Island is one of the top dog friendly beaches in the country according to Dog Fancy magazine.  Sharing the same island, Caswell Beach is a quiet, laid-back beach that is also convenient to the shops and restaurants of Oak Island.  Standing sentinel over its uncrowded mostly residential shores is the Oak Island Lighthouse, a tri-colored beacon reaching about 16 nautical miles offshore. Make an appointment in advance to schedule a climb to the top.

Bald Head Island

Finish off your island hop by secluding yourself from reality at Brunswick’s resort-style, no-cars-allowed, Bald Head Island, only reachable by ferry. Explore the unspoiled natural surroundings hiking, biking or by golf-cart. Bald Head Island is an eco-lover’s paradise with 10,000 acres of nature preserves and extraordinary wildlife. North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse, “Old Baldy,” and Smith Island Museum are favorite attractions for the vacationers!

There are a variety of accommodations for every stop on your island hopping adventure, so start booking your vacation today!

Beach Smart: Stay Safe In The Ocean

with miles of un-crowded sand, surf, fun and sun, North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is the perfect destination for beach lovers. And a big part of a beach vacation for DSC_8627_Retouchedmany is enjoying mother nature and the ocean. Wherever you take your beach vacation – in the Brunswick Islands or elsewhere – it’s important to remember that we share the ocean with many types of animals and that tides and currents are an everyday part of the ocean. With that in mind, please take a moment to review some tips on staying safe in the water.

RIP CURRENTS

Rip currents are fast-moving water channels that form when waves break onshore between barrier islands, sandbars or piers; gravity pulls the water forcefully and swiftly out to sea, a hazard for even the best swimmers.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rip currents can be difficult to see, but here are some clues:

  • a channel of churning, choppy water;
  • an area with a noticeable difference in color;
  • a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily out to sea;
  • and/or a break in the incoming wave pattern.

Even the strongest swimmer can’t swim against a rip current, but you can outsmart it:

  • Stay calm. Don’t fight by swimming straight back to shore, or you’ll risk tiring yourself out.
  • Swim sideways out of the current and parallel to the shore (see diagram). Then swim at an angle back to the shore.
  • If you’re still caught, float or tread water. The current will eventually dissipate. Even if you’re carried far out, if you haven’t worn yourself out fighting it, you should be able to slowly swim parallel and then at an angle back to shore. If your arms are too tired, swim on your back and use just your legs and feet to propel yourself to the beach.

If you see someone caught in a rip current, don’t try to rescue them yourself. Call 911; yell out the above instructions, and/or toss them a flotation device – it’s a good idea to take one to the beach on every visit. Here’s a link to the NOAA rip current forecast for our area beaches: http://www.weather.gov/ilm/BeachRip

OCEAN WILDLIFE

aIMG_1546 resizeJellyfish can put the sting on your vacation. Always scan the water before splashing in. Make sure you educate your children about jellyfish, as they might touch them out of curiosity in the water or on the sand. In case of a sting, rinse off any remaining tentacles with salt water, not fresh, and use a credit card or other item to scrape, if necessary. Then rinse with vinegar, not fresh water. If you experience swelling, shortness of breath, or faintness, seek medical attention immediately.PMOW

The less common blue-purple Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore. It can deliver a painful sting even when dead. Portugese man o’ war stings are treated differently than jellyfish stings. First apply saltwater and then follow-up with hot water for 15 to 20 minutes.  Do not treat with vinegar. If necessary seek medical attention.

While the ocean is home to a wide variety of sea life including sharks, shark encounters are rare.  According to the ISAF, Florida Museum of Natural History, the likelihood of a shark attack is 1 in 11.5 million. The likelihood of a fatality is less than 1 in 264 million. http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Sharks/Statistics/beachattacks.htm  To put it in perspective, in North Carolina you would be 193 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than a shark attack.

Though chance encounters with sharks are highly unlikely, there are precautions you can take when swimming in the ocean:

  • Sharks actually try to avoid humans, but if you’re in murky water they may not see you.  Use extra caution.
  • Leave shiny jewelry on shore – to a shark it may look like fish scales.
  • Sharks see contrast particularly well so dark swimsuits are preferable to bright colored clothing.
  • Remember that you’re sharing the water with fish that attract sharks and other predators. Avoid swimming in the early morning, at dusk and at night when fish and sharks are feeding.
  • Avoid swimming between islands, and within 300 feet of surfers, piers, fishermen and where seagulls or other birds are diving and feeding.
  • Use caution around sandbars with steep drop-offs toward the ocean.
  • Avoid swimming alone, especially far from shore in deeper waters.
  • Avoid swimming if bleeding because a shark’s sense of smell is highly sensitive.
  • Don’t fish while standing more than knee deep in the surf.
  • Do not harass a shark – even nurse sharks can bite.
  • Do not enter water if sharks are around and calmly evacuate the water if any sharks are seen.

For the complete brochure on Shark Sense, click here: http://ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/ncseagrant_docs/products/2000s/shark_sense.pdf

BOATING SAFETY

Boating safety is a serious priority in North Carolina. Operating watercraft is both fun and safe when you observe the rules. For regulations and rules to be aware of when
you bring your boat to our waters, please follow this link to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s boating regulations: http://www.ncwildlife.org/Boating/LawsSafety/BoatingRegulations.aspx

Public boating access areas and marinas are available throughout Brunswick Islands. If you’re planning to rent a fishing or pleasure boat or personal watercraft, our outfitters will include a safety course and checklist.DSC_0390_OIB_Offshore Boat_LR

By educating yourself, your friends and family about ocean safety, you can ensure that everyone has a great vacation and can’t wait to return again soon!

 

Pedal Along the Coast

the quaint city streets, peaceful seaside roads and gorgeous weather of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands are made for bicycling. Visitors to the Brunswick Islands can feel the sun on their faces and the wind on their backs as they cycle through the charming seaside streets to the beach or through the moss-draped live oaks on the mainland.

Visitors can bring their own bikes or rent them from a number of different companies. Most companies provide adult and child bikes, as well as child trailers to attach to the back of a bike so the whole family can come along for the ride. Tandem bikes are also available at Beach Fun Rentals, Coastal Urge, and PaddleOKI.

The Adventure Kayak Company even gives guided bike tours in and around Southport, teaching guests about the town’s historical blockade runners, river pilots and pirates and showing them the beauty of the live oaks and historical waterfront property.

DSC_8114_BICYCLEOnce they have their bikes, guests can take them out on the 45 miles of wide, stunning beaches, along the roads near the Intracoastal Waterway, or in scenic area parks. North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands has many roads that follow the curve of the coast: Beach Drive and Ocean Drive on Oak Island, Caswell Beach Road on Caswell Beach, Ocean Boulevard on Holden Beach, Ocean Isle Boulevard and First Street on Ocean Isle Beach, Main Street on Sunset Beach, South Bald Head Wynd and Cape Creek Road on Bald Head Island. Click here to see Holden Beach’s Bike Route map. There are three different routes on Holden Beach totaling 20 miles. The Brunswick Nature Park offers bike trails through a scenic 900 acre wooded park near Leland. See the Brunswick Nature Park hiking and biking trail map here.

So whether you’re in the mood for a leisurely pedal along the beach or a sightseeing adventure, North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is the perfect place for your coastal bike ride.

Flock to NC’s Brunswick Islands and Capture Birding at its Finest

it doesn’t matter if you are a bird enthusiast, vacationing with family and friends or live in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, everyone is mesmerized by the overwhelming number of bird species living along the coast of the Brunswick Islands.

There are eight birding sites on the North Carolina Birding Trail that are located along the Brunswick Islands. The area’s diverse ecosystems make it a natural haven for hundreds of species of birds.  Over 330 species of birds have bee seen in Brunswick County.

Nature trails andoystercatcher birding sites dot the area from Sunset Beach and the Intracoastal Waterway to the Cape Fear River and the Brunswick Town-Fort Anderson State Historic Site and several nature preserves, offering plenty of places to observe numerous indigenous and migrating bird species, some of which are threatened or endangered. Herons, egrets, bald eagles, plovers, terns, pelicans, clapper rail and one of the largest of North Carolina’s water birds, the federally-endangered wood storks, are among the prized sightings for birders in Brunswick Islands.

wood storksPopular places for birding include the nature preserve on Bird Island, located adjacent to Sunset Beach. The uninhabited, 1,200-acre state preserve offers a chance to see salt marshes, maritime grasslands and shrubs and even rare plants, such as the Sea Beach Amaranth. Over 260 species of birds alone can be found on Bird Island and Sunset Beach, nesting or migrating throughout different seasons of the year. Species that are of interest here include: Horned Grebe, Wood Stork, American Oystercatcher and Black Skimmer.

Another popular stop on the North Carolina Birding Trail includes a ferry ride to Bald Head Island. Bald Head Island provides access to 14 miles of pristine beaches, 10,000 acres of salt marsh and approximately 180 acres of protected maritime forest. Species that are of interest here include: Wilson’s Plover, Piping Plover, Sandwich Tern, Least Tern and Painted Bunting.

piping ploverClick here to view a short video on birding in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands.