July 11, 2019

Memories of Holt Lake, Part 4

Photo from Gary Ridout

Retired wildlife officer Rupert Hester
has a special appreciation for Holt Lake

Gary Ridout has been compiling personal memories for a number of years for a newsletter he produces for present-day Holt Lake residents. We're sharing selected samples from time to time with readers of the Sun. Here are excerpts from Gary's August 2010 interview with Rupert Hester --- fisherman, hunter, and nature lover who moved to Holt Lake in September 2009:


I was born in Raleigh and grew up in Wilson and was influenced greatly by my uncle Gene Hester who was the Deputy Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. While I was in high school, I would sometimes go visit him in Raleigh and we would go hunting and trapping and fishing. My wildlife background had a lot to do with my Uncle Gene.

I was in the Boy Scouts. We started the wood-duck boxes when I was 12 years old.  We would build the boxes and put them up around farm ponds at Camp Charles near Zebulon and Silver Lake in Wilson.

I got a two-year degree in Fish and Wildlife Management from Wayne Community College. I was a wildlife enforcement officer in Graham County, North Carolina for five years --- from 1975 to 1980. My office was in Robbinsville, but I lived in a little place called Topoca, way up in the mountains. A big part of my job was to patrol Fontana Lake and Santeela Lake.

There was a lot of wildlife in Graham County. The European Wild Boar was one of the prominent animals. A hunter brought some in several decades ago and they got loose and created a problem in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Graham County. Once you get wild boar, you cannot get rid of them. They have three litters of piglets a year, ten in a litter.

The parks I patrolled also have white tail deer and trout. Trout season started in April each year and I was responsible for enforcing North Carolina game, fish, and boating laws. We also had Walleyed Pike and Muskelunge (Muskie) in Fontana Lake. These fish are both native to the Great Lakes.
In 1980 I got a two-year degree in electronics from Wayne Community College. I then went to work for Data General and Nortel. I retired several years ago and started putting up warbler boxes. I have put some at my mother’s farm at Brogden and my brother and my farm at Princeton. My Uncle Gene Hester has put sixty warbler boxes up at Lake Wendell. There are thirty nests in those boxes. I have put some boxes up at Panther Lake near Fuquay-Varina.

Birds have always interested me  and are partly responsible for me starting skydiving. I was watching a Coopers Hawk dive on my Racing Pigeons one day and thought: "That looks like fun." I took up skydiving for a few years. Three hundred and fifteen jumps and five years later, I said enough is enough and sold my skydiving gear.

One day I was on MapQuest and I followed the creek down from Panther Lake and wound up here at Holt Lake. I had heard about it before but had never come down here. I soon met Grover Dees. He is a smart man.  He knew that the warbler was nesting at Holt Lake and that they were in some kind of trouble.

Grover was worried that I would get lost on the lake so I had to show him all the maps I had to prove to him I would be fine. Then I put up one hundred Prothonotary warbler boxes, and that’s how it got started.

Prothonotary warblers (pictured) nest around water and in hollowed-out nests in cypress trees. They are the only Eastern warbler that nests in hollow-tree cavities. It is very likely that they have been coming to Holt Lake since the water was originally impounded in 1840.
My first thought when I saw Holt Lake was "wouldn’t it be nice to live out here." It is an absolutely beautiful lake. You can find a 600-acre lake but you can’t often find them ringed with cypress trees. This is a rare cypress lake and they just don’t make cypress lakes like this anymore. They are draining swamps and that’s one reason the warbler is in trouble.

One day I was going to Grover’s house to give him a report on the warbler boxes and I saw this "for lease" sign. I called them up and here I am. At about that same time, I got tired of the traffic in Raleigh and Wake County. I am also a bicycle rider. I have done the mountains-to-the-coast bicycle ride the last four years. The traffic got so bad on my bicycle route, I was ready to move. I just love it here.

I have seen all kinds of ducks since I have been here: black ducks, mallards, wood ducks, Green Wing Teal, and Ring Necks. The eagles seem to be doing fine here. I saw an immature Bald Eagle a few weeks ago. It is great to sit here at my house and look out over the water and see the eagles. Cormorants are also on Holt Lake. They are black diving birds that are quite interesting to observe.

We are really lucky to have Holt Lake and the lake is lucky to have wildlife-minded people around it. Since I have been here, the people have shown me that they really enjoy the wildlife. It’s a great combination.

Previous installments in this series in the Sun of 2-28-19 / 3-28-19 / 4-25-19>