Jockey's Ridge State Park
Linda J. Ward
Habitats: Shifting sand dune and estuarine environment that includes wetland areas, grassy dunes, maritime thickets, shrub forest, and sound-side beach.
Key Birds: Summer: Sandwich Tern, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Eastern Kingbird. Winter: Tundra Swan. Migration: Piping Plover.
Best times to bird: Spring for terns, fall migration for Piping Plover and raptors.
Description: Jockey's Ridge State Park is noted for having the tallest natural sand dune in the Eastern U.S., with heights varying 80 to 100 feet. This hill of bare sand changes size and shape with shifting maritime winds. Opposite the ocean side of the park is an estuarine access at the base of the dune.
Directions: Jockey's Ridge State Park has two entrances in Nags Head off of Highway 158 Bypass (South Croatan Highway). The main entrance to the visitor center is Carolista Drive at Milepost 12. The entrance to the estuarine area is located one mile south of the main entrance. Turn onto Soundside Road at Milepost 13, the entrance to the estuarine area is about half a mile on your right. Both entrances are well marked by signs.
Birding Highlights: The Soundside Natural Trail is a self-guided, one-mile hike that meanders through grassy dunes and wetland areas. Enter the trail from the estuary parking lot and watch for Black-throated Blue and Yellow-rumped Warblers feeding on bayberries in the fall. In spring Yellow-breasted Chat sometimes sing from the tops of scrubby pines. As the trail nears the Roanoke Sound, watch for Vesper and Savannah Sparrows during the fall. Also watch for rarities in the dunes along this edge, such as Lapland Longspur. A viewing platform was located where the trail reaches the sound. It was destroyed by Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and to date it has not been rebuilt. Return to the parking lot via the beach, where at low tide you can see terns and shorebirds congregating on exposed sand bars. This is an excellent place to see and compare Least, Royal, Caspian, Forster's and Sandwich Terns. Close-up views of Piping Plover are likely at this location in spring and occasionally in fall.
From the visitor center you can see year-round birds from the boardwalk or walk the 1.5-mile Tracks-in-the-Sand Trail. The top of the sand dune is an excellent site for viewing raptors during fall migration. Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, and Merlin are regularly seen. Bald Eagles have been sighted more often in recent years.
General Information: Spring and autumn are less busy times to visit than summer. The visitor center/park office includes a small gift shop, natural history interpretive center and eight picnic shelters. Regularly scheduled programs such as stargazing are held at the park. Interpretive guides and trail maps are also available at the visitor center.
DeLorme map grid: page 49, B6
North Carolina Travel Map grid: L3
For more information: Jockey's Ridge State Park, (252) 441-7132; http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/jori/main.php