Spot along a trail at the Latta Nature Preserve overlooking Mountain Island Lake.
February 27 – March 4, 2021.
At the end of February, we found ourselves in Stanley, North Carolina at Greg’s parents’ house. We had decided to make a speedy 2200 mile trip across the country from the California/Arizona border to check in on them. It had been a long while (almost a year and a half) since we had seen Greg’s folks. In the past, we have generally visited them a couple of times a year – one when returning from a long journey and another as we set off on another. Usually, these visits involve winding up (getting the van ready to travel) or gearing down (getting ready for a summer of house sitting and painting). Aside from van repairs, cleaning, reorganizing things, and small projects, and besides visiting with Greg’s family our trips to Stanley have been usually pretty uneventful. But this time we weren’t gearing up or winding down and although we did do some van projects we were still in adventure mode.
But was there any adventure in this part of North Carolina? I have never really looked before. Stanley is near Lake Norman. So I pulled up the map to see if there was any good kayaking in the area. This is how I found a big green blog on the map called Latta Nature Preserve. Add preserve, refuge, conservation area at the end of any name and you pretty much got my attention these days.
The Latta Nature Preserve is a 1460 acre peninsula extending into Mountain Island Lake, a section of the Catawba River that flows down from Lake Norman. The preserve includes the Historic Latta Plantation, a Nature Center, lots of hiking trails, two kayak launches, and the Carolina Rapture Center.
We got a little busy with our van projects so we never got a chance to launch Pirogue Bleue at the preserve. The Nature Center was closed and we gave the Plantation a pass, but we did manage to take a couple of hikes and visit the Carolina Rapture Center.
Trail at the preserve.
Welcome to Faylinn Village. Along one of the trails in the preserve, we encountered the village and…
a few fairy huts.
View from the trail.
Tufted Titmouse. Being on the east coast means we are starting to see different birds.
Carolina Raptor Center
The Carolina Raptor Center is one of the largest raptor medical centers in the United States. The center has treated over 18,700 injured and orphaned raptors since 1975. Of the 900 to 1000 birds that they treat a year 70% are released back into the wild.
The center features a Raptor Trail where over 30 species of raptors and other birds of prey are on exhibit.
Entrance to the raptor center. Stay a vulture away.
The start of 3/4 mile Raptor Trail.
Eurasian Eagle-owl. It’s squinting, so you can barely see the vivid orange of its eyes. The Eurasian Eagle-owl can be mistaken for hawks or vultures when it rises circling in an updraft. (Most owls don’t do this). The males and females sing duets. In the Harry Potter movies, Draco Malfoy’s messenger owl was this species.
The Common Kestral can see in the ultraviolet spectrum and can hunt prey by following its urine trail.
Caring for injured raptors starts first thing in the morning at the Raptor Center Hospital and continues through the night. A display along the raptor trail describes a typical day at the hospital hour by hour. On the other side of these display panels, are descriptions of the things that bring the birds to the center – being hit by cars, loss of habitat, and other hazards, stories of individual injuries, and the explanation of how raptors are orphaned along with their care and rehabilitation.
The American Bald Eagle’s diet is mostly fish. It can carry about one-third of its weight.
The Saker Falcon is native to Eastern Europe and Asia, where it is used in falconry. This sport is so popular in The United Arab Emirates a falcon beauty contest is held and falcons can get passports. BirdLife International lists the Saker as endangered, mostly because these birds are captured and sent to the UAE for falconry.
The Spectacled Owl is native to South and Central America. That’s why this one is enjoying a heat lamp above and behind him. This one must be over five years old, as it takes that long for juveniles to lose their all-white coloring.
Signs along the trail and raptor enclosure.
The Peregrine Falcon can dive at speeds up to 200 MPH.
This Golden Eagle seems to tolerate human presence, but don’t try to shake its hand. Its grip is 100 times more powerful than a man’s.
The Kookuberra is endemic to Australia. Though part of the Kingfisher family, it lives on land and feeds on land organisms. Oddly, its laughing call is a staple of old African jungle films. But the deceptive use of its call does not stop there. The voice of Flipper, the TV dolphin was made by speeding up a Kookuberra’s call. Dolphins don’t have the vocal cords required to make that laughing chatter!
The Center also had displays about other types of animals – like this bug hut.
I’ll bet you’ve seen a “wake” of Black Vultures. “Wake” is the term used for a group of vultures that are feeding. “Kettle” is the term for a group of vultures that are flying (sometimes accompanied by other birds).
A native of South and Central America, the King Vulture has a distinctive appearance. Its bright beak is topped by a fleshy caruncle that can flop from side to side, and its eyes have high-contrast concentric circles. It’s known as the King because other carrion feeders flee when it arrives on the scene.