Friday, July 15, 2011


A reader recently asked if there are owls on Ocracoke.

Nearly thirty years ago a friendly young park ranger was assigned to Ocracoke. He had a dynamic personality and conducted many of the interpretive programs. He took visitors out to the beach to learn about stars. He shared shipwreck stories by getting people to act out the rescue operations. He opened the lighthouse so folks could see the spiral staircase and understand the keeper's tasks better.

The young ranger was also an active member of the community. He was invited to pot luck dinners. He visited residents in their homes. He had many friends.

He had his own key to the lighthouse, and he had an idea. Too many islanders had never been to the top of the lighthouse. So he invited one friend, his friend's teen aged son, and the teenager's friend to a midnight excursion to climb the lighthouse. This was a risky venture since he was not authorized to allow anyone else up the staircase...and the chief ranger and his family lived in the keeper's quarters on the grounds. The lighthouse was restricted government property, and he could lose his job if he was discovered.

The four interlopers crept up to the lighthouse door, turned the key in the lock, and stepped inside. As quietly as possible they began their climb. At every window they held their breath, fearing their silhouettes would be noticeable to anyone in the keeper's quarters who might be looking their way. Like cornered rats, there would be no escape if they were discovered.

The ranger led the way to the top of the spiral stairs. He stepped onto the eight foot ladder that led to the hatch in the lantern room floor, and climbed the last few steps. When he pushed the hatch open the silence was broken by loud, raucous hooting and furious flapping of wings. The four trespassers were startled, surprised, and frightened.

One of the lantern room windows had been broken by storm-driven debris, and had not been replaced. A large barred owl had made her nest on the lantern room floor.

The ranger and his compatriots quickly retreated, fearing every step of the way that they would be greeted by the chief ranger at the bottom of the lighthouse. As it turned out, they escaped without notice...but with a story to tell.

Yes, there are owls on Ocracoke!

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a modern day ghost story, "Ode to Mrs. Godfrey," by guest columnist Tom McDonald. You can read it here:


  1. And do we know the name of that young park ranger?

  2. Anonymous6:47 AM

    "Whoooooo" knew before now owls are on Ocracoke Island???? :)

    Great story!!! My heart started racing as I was reading it....sounds like that was a very engaging fellow who never missed the opportunity to have an adventure!

  3. Oh yes, I know the name of the ranger...but I'm not going to tell!

  4. Anonymous8:12 AM

    Nicely written!

  5. I have also been told that there are saw-whet owls on Ocracoke...and probably other species, too. At least one neighbor reported having an owl sweep down just above his head as he walked down Howard Street one night.

  6. Anonymous11:23 AM

    What a ground breaking idea. Interact with the tour members. Don't just stand there and lecture them. But now a days people wanting to sue at a drop of a hat... But with computers some enterprising individual can create a virtual reality visit to The lighthouse, if dinosaurs and raptors can populate an amusement park think of the possibilities a Wii like game to experience the light house --- too bad world leaders can't settle their differences via chess like they did in ancient times-- how did becoming a martyr or hiding under the nose of someone hmm ask ancient Chinese warfare expert. This young ranger now retired worked the summers part time to supplement income during summer-- this young ranger whose account so vivid as if storyteller were there page two.

  7. Neat Story! I like the way that you developed the suspense. The best part is that the adventurers were able to escape into the night undetected. All's well that ends well.

    TTFN, Bear

  8. Marvelous storytelling, Philip!

  9. Anonymous4:22 PM

    I have no idea who that ranger was, but do we really need Columbo to figure the rest?

  10. Anonymous8:48 PM

    There is an owl living at Springer's Point - it has been heard hooting on several occasions and I have seen it once, just a glimpse though, as it soared through the forest down past the cemetery. We believe it to be a great horned. I've also seen an owl flying over the road by the pony pasture and have heard reports from other people of it's hooting behind the pasture.