This weekend: Waterfowl watch, wilderness run

Wood duck (photo courtesy North Carolina State Parks)

Resolved to get out more in 2014 but need to ease into it? We’ve got two birding programs that promise a mix of mellow movement and awesome outdoor exposure. And if you’re looking to up your competitive resume in the year just begun, we’ve got a run in the mountains in a lesser-known natural area. Regardless of where you currently fit into the movement spectrum, it’s a good first weekend to an active new year.


Lake Waccamaw in the southern coastal plain is worth a visit no matter the season. It’s a rare surviving Carolina bay, a series of mysterious oval lakes that once numbered in the thousands along the East Coast, though all but a handful of which have since filled in. Limestone bluffs along the lake’s north shore neutralize the lake’s tannic waters, providing a habitat for plants and animals found nowhere else. The nearby Green Swamp adds to the area’s ecological diversity.

In winter, the lake becomes home to various species of overwintering waterfowl, including a wide array of ducks. Part of the fun of watching this winter waterfowl display is knowing who’s who, a skill you can become more proficient at at Saturday’s Ducks at a Distance program at Lake Waccamaw State Park.

Logistics: Saturday, Jan. 4, 2 p.m. Free. Learn more about the park here, for more information call 910.646.4748.

Saturday forecast: Sunny, clear, high of 49.

Lake James (photo courtesy North Carolina State Parks)


Think about this from the perspective of a bird based in Canada or the northern tier states. Winter is coming, food will be scarce; you need to head for warmer climes. All your feathered friends are thinking the same thing, and most are a twitter over a common destination: the North Carolina coast. “Sure hope Lake Mattamuskeet isn’t as crowded as last year,” worry the northern pintails. “I do hope we can find a decent place at Pea Island,” fret the tundra swans. All your bird buddies are heading to the North Carolina coast.

If you were a smart migrant, what would you be thinking? You’d be thinking about a quiet place away from the coast, a nice 6,800-or-so-acre lake with maybe 150 miles of shoreline that’s not on the radar of all the other winter migrants. A place such as Lake James, located on the cusp of the southern Appalachians.

A lot of birds do apparently think this way, making Lake James a great place for a Waterfowl Hike such as the one Saturday morning, where a naturalist ranger will point out who’s who, where they’re from and how long the plan to stay.

Logistics: Saturday, Jan. 4, 10 a.m., Lake James State Park, Nebo. More info on the park here, more information on the program by calling 828.584.7728

Saturday forecast: Sunny with a high of 42.

Box Creek Wilderness (photo courtesy M. Schmerling, Union Mills Learning Center)


Even if you consider yourself well-versed in the natural areas of North Carolina’s high country, you might not be familiar with the Box Creek Wilderness near Union Mills. At 5,185 acres, Box Creek is the largest private Registered Natural Heritage Area in the state, its status coming as a result of its “sheer number and rarity of imperiled species and natural communities as well as for its importance in protecting the highest quality and rarest natural communities and species. “At Box Creek you’ll find more than 100 rare and priority conservation species of plants and animals, 18 globally rare plant communities, and forest supporting 28 rare or conservation priority bird species.

That’s a lot to see! And what better way to see it than on a run benefitting the Union Mills Learning Center, which celebrates and promotes the region’s natural, cultural and historic heritage. Sunday’s Box Creek Wilderness Run includes a 5K (all on paved roads) and a 10K (a mix of paved and gravel roads).

Logistics: Saturday, Jan. 4, 8:30 a.m. $20 ($10 for 12 and under). More info here.

Sunday forecast: Sunny, high of 42.

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Those are our thoughts on the weekend. Find more options at the sources listed below.

Comprehensive calendar for the Cape Fear/Wilmington/southern N.C. coast searchable by date and event name.

Coastal Guide
Comprehensive calendar including nature programs from a variety of costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs. Covers the entire coast.

Crystal Cost Tourism Authority
Comprehensive calendar focusing on the Crystal Coast. Good source for programs offered by N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Lookout National Park, N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve and other costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs.
Comprehensive calendar including programs for the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast.

North Carolina Coast Host
Comprehensive calendar for the entire coast that lets you search for events by day, by region, by county, by city or by event (based on key word).

This Week Magazine
Primary focus is the Crystal Coast (North Carolina’s coastal midsection).


Asheville Citizen-Times
From the main page, click on “Outdoors,” then WNC Outdoors calendar.

Blue Ridge Outdoors
Searchable calendar lets you extend your reach to events throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southeast (or you can just limit it to North Carolina). Also lets you search a boatload of categories, ranging from Hiking, Mountain Biking and Climbing to Trail Running, Triathlon and Road Walking.

The Mountain Times
From the main page, click on “Calendars,” then Main Events.

Todd’s Calendar



Charlotte Observer events calendar
Comprehensive calendar searchable by category, including Nature, Recreation, Recreation & Wellness, Running

Charlotte Parent
Comprehensive calendar concentrating on things the family can do together.

Comprehensive calendar includes a Sports & Recreation category.

Piedmont Parent
Comprehensive calendar concentrating on things the family can do together.

Comprehensive calendar searchable by category, including: Birding, Boating, Cycling, Nature, Rec & Wellness, Recreation, Running, Swimming, Tennis, Yoga.

Carolina Parent
Comprehensive calendar concentrating on things the family can do together.


Great Outdoor Provision Co.
Calendar includes three weekly events for each of its seven markets: Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Greensboro, Greenville, Raleigh, Wilmington and Winston-Salem. Search by market.

Office of Environmental Education
One calendar for the numerous Environmental Education Centers statewide.

North Carolina State Parks
Lets you search for programs at the state’s parks, recreation areas and natural areas by location, by month, by topic. To reach the calendar from the home page, click on “Education,” then “Fun & Free Programs at Parks.”

National Forests in North Carolina
From the home page, click on Carolina Connections for news updates on the state’s four national forests as well as hints on recreational opportunities and a detailed rundown of recreation areas and the amenities at each.

U.S. National Wildlife Refuges
Rundown, by month, of regular activities at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuges in North Carolina.

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