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Outer Banks Guide > Outer Banks Blogs > Eve Turek's Natural Outer Banks Blog

EVE TUREK'S NATURAL OUTER BANKS
Thursday, April 29, 2010
On Assignment
Much of the nature photography we all enjoy—the sort that winds up in National Geographic, say, or on the Discovery Channel—was created on assignment; that is, the photographer/journalist undertook a specific project, to document this or investigate that or observe this and that and report back, through pictures or words or both, to all the rest of us. Or at least, to all the rest of us who are interested. Sometimes photographers and journalists undertake their own assignments, a self-directed project, to create a body of work that speaks to their own interests or passions and not to those of the marketplace or their editor. Such self-assignments can re-energize creative work, turn it back into play again, or send the photographer/journalist/artist in a new direction.
I’ve been thinking about being on assignment because I am: I am exhibiting later this summer with two other local photographers, Ray Matthews and Michael Halminski, and the theme of the show that is our collective assignment is weather and sky photography. Now, I love weather, and good thing, too, since I live here on the Outer Banks where we locals like to say, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a little while—it’ll change. Wind and spectacular cloud formations and glorious sunrises and sunsets, along with storms of greater and lesser magnitude give us ample opportunity to be weather-wise. I’ve done my share of photographing weather in general and the sky in particular more times than I can count, so I could have easily found photographs from the archives to exhibit for my entire entry—but what’s the fun in that? Rather, I have spent more than usual amounts of time looking skyward during the past several months, ever since the show’s organizer first approached me about the theme, and have found in the assignment new reasons to be outside and much, much more to learn.
I’ve also been thinking about the concept of self-assignments because this blog is, in large part, the result of my being influenced by two nature photographers’ self-assignments that morphed from private pursuits into larger public works, and which remain as my two favorite nature photography books. The first is True North, by Stephen Krasemann, in which he walks his way through a North Country year with camera in hand; the second is Jim Brandenburg’s Chased By The Light, in which he limited himself to exposing one frame of film per day, no more and no less, for 90 straight days, with stunning results. Both ideas—to notice everything, especially things taken for granted, and to rivet the attention on one thing, elevating it to supreme importance in the day—have somehow merged in me and help shape both my creative and spiritual outlook. To notice more and to give what seems ordinary profound importance in the now invites me to a more focused and serene life. To have as a product of that intent, images and words to share with you, my larger world, is a wonderful gift to my own heart (and I hope to yours as well).
For instance, two mornings ago, walking Mikey-dog (how grateful I am for these morning outings and how much I would miss without the need to step outside first thing every day), I spotted a spotted turtle. And it really was—I mean, the spots were obvious, and that is how this particular land turtle got its name, from the little yellow spots on its top shell, or carapace. The top of its head had little yellow polka-dots, too. It was smaller than the box turtles I sometimes see in my yard and was determined to cross our little street over to the trees and underbrush of the vacant lot there. This little turtle prefers marshes, woodland streams, bogs or wetlands, so what it was doing on Lancer Court in Colington is beyond me. Spotted turtles are semi-aquatic, which makes me wonder if what this particular one has been doing is hanging out (read, hibernating) in my tiny Pete-made, plastic-lined Home-Depot-you-can-do-it pond in our front yard for the winter. Studies show a typical individual turtle lives in an area that ranges from a little over an acre to as much as about eight acres, so I reckon my little turtle could have wandered a considerable distance as the crow flies (or the turtle crawls) looking for a mate. It is spring, after all.
I read that a large seal—perhaps the same one that has been seen, photographed, and written about from Kill Devil Hills northward this winter and spring—was beaching itself regularly up in Corolla, so I went to look for it yesterday. I did not find the seal on the beach, but later in the afternoon I saw a semi-stranded skate at the water’s edge. I have loved brushing their water wings with my fingertips at the aquarium on Roanoke Island but was at an utter loss as to how to rescue it on the beach without injuring it. I was about to try to use a piece of driftwood to sort of lever it back into the water when it began to flop itself around and drag itself seaward, much as the seal has been doing, although with less finesse. All I could do was speak out my encouragement, so I kept saying, you can do this, you can do this, you can do this. Once it reached the edge of the surf, another wave came and I thought surely it will beach the skate again. Please don’t, I asked the water. Please let it swim back into your depth. At the end, all I had to offer was my plea in that please, and it must have been enough. The skate swam away and I never saw it again although I stayed on the beach for quite some time, mostly looking up and out.
I was on the beach in the late afternoon in the first place because my weather-assignment lured me seaward. What drew my attention was an ominous cloud bank forming to the north and east. From my new cloud book I think this qualified as a supercell; it signaled a swift, cool wind shift as it moved offshore and southward. A pair of Laughing Gulls, oblivious to the cloudscape forming above and around us, courted by exchanging food morsels—very different behavior than we see most of the year, when gulls aggressively defend their own lunches from all potential takers. But, as I said earlier, it is spring, after all.
Speaking of spring, I said in my last entry or two that the pelicans are beginning to show breeding plumage now. Their spring wardrobe is dramatically different than their winter coat: first, pelicans grow a band of dark chestnut feathers (I almost wrote “fur” because it looks, well, furry) at the back of their neck. Atop their heads is a touch of yellow that deepens in hue as spring goes on. As if this wasn’t enough, the area around their eyes turns a deep pink, and the eyes themselves lighten and turn baby-blue. Finally, their pouch becomes a dark army-green. I’ve seen some birds with the dark brown neck stripe but with eyes still dark; yesterday I saw two on the wing with the lighter and brighter eye color as well. I’ll share that picture below, along with a close-up of full breeding plumage I took in Ocracoke in April two years ago so you can see all the detail of pelican spring glories yourselves.
Speaking of spring glories, the skies have been magnificent thus far this spring, and three days in a row this week featured beautiful cloud formations overhead. I will give you a sneak peek at some of what is catching my focus lately (all puns always intended).


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Here's a pelican coming into breeding colors, but with dark eyes still, taken earlier this week.

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Here's another--see the blue eyes?

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There were dozens on an Ocracoke dock during our April visit in 2008. Check out the spring wardrobe!

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I spot you! Spotted Turtle in Colington, moving faster than you would think. Small critter, too.

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Hi, skate; bye, skate. Be well.

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Did I mention it has been windy, too? The other morning I walked outside and it was oddly quiet. What was missing? No wind.

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No, honey, I insist. This one is for you. How about desert after dinner, hmmm?

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Cloud show last Sunday, coming home from the PowWow in Frisco.

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Soundside clouds over Colington, on Monday.

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Supersized supercell over the ocean on Tuesday.

posted by eturek at 10:05 PM

Comments [4]



Thursday, April 22, 2010
Earth Day Encounter
This is the time, every year, when I let myself truly believe that spring has arrived to stay. The greens out my front door are vibrant, almost glowing in the morning sunlight. The yellow pollen is everywhere; I saw my first dragonfly of the season the other morning; pelicans are sporting full breeding colors now. The Osprey that nest outside the gate of Colington Harbour are overflying my house with sticks for the nest in the early evening, and the pair at the marina has eggs, I believe. I have watched the male and female exchange places twice now in the past week or so; a male osprey will sometimes do some of the incubation and let the female fly off to fish, even though the male is primarily responsible for feeding himself, her, and the young osprey once they hatch. Catching the moment of exchange is like watching an Olympic relay race: one flies in, brakes to land, and the other flies off the instant the second one arrives. I have not found any angle at the marina nest where I can position myself to catch the moment of arrival/departure; one is always blocking the other, especially considering that the incubating parent is usually hunkered down inside a nest that gets a little deeper every year.

Fellow photographer Jay Wickens alerted me to a large seal that was presumably spending the night on the beach in northern Kitty Hawk (at the same general time that Tim-OBX saw and photographed it) and I went to the beach in early morning just in time to see this enormous seal bellying itself into the water. I was amazed at two things: how huge it appeared, even from a distance, and how quickly it moved once it began its morning dash to the ocean. In only a few seconds the seal moved from partway up the beach face to the wave wash; once it got completely in the water, it swam easily over the swell to reach deeper water. I lost sight of it fairly soon after that. This was the first time I had ever seen a seal here, so that was special for me, even if our encounter was at distance, and brief.

Last week Jay and I were both on the beach right after 5 p.m. and together we witnessed what I assumed was a massive cormorant migration, only the birds seemed to be going in the wrong direction. We watched for more than an hour as thousands streamed past, headed south. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. I saw more the next evening, same time. I might have kept thinking “migratory flight” except that two mornings later, I was on the beach at dawn, and witnessed long lines of cormorants flying back north. This raises all sorts of questions I can’t answer: where are they going, and where do they rest between flights? Is this the same huge group flying at dawn and near dusk? I saw both young birds and adults in full breeding colors, which for cormorants is less about feathers than eyes. Adults in mating season have these bright, almost iridescent, mesmerizing blue/turquoise eyes. I’d follow those eyes north and south and south and north all day if I were a cormorant!

Today is Earth Day’s 40th anniversary and that seemed a fitting enough reason to pay a morning visit to the Kitty Hawk Bald Eagles. Often when I get the chance to go outside, I feel…led. I follow impulses that more often than not lead to chances to see and photograph wonderful scenes or critters going about their critter lives, seemingly undisturbed—maybe even gladdened—by my presence, which always includes a delighted hello and an impassioned thank you in lieu of goodby—as it did with the cormorants. Too often this winter, I must tell you truly, I have felt as if I were in some sort of limbo-land, critter-wise. I floundered around (picture flip-flopping between possible destinations, and gasping for calm as a beached fish might gape for breath). That attitude, I promise you, is not conducive to close encounters of the critter kind. The less I connected, the less connected I felt. (Rocket science). I had gone several times this winter to the eagle’s nesting site only to be disappointed by missing the eagles there. Today I sensed that familiar, gentle pull, almost a tug, to go see, and I felt expectant in advance. I’m sure I was bolstered by a recent retreat that included many references to First Nations ways of relating to nature, and my anticipation of the upcoming Journey Home PowWow this coming weekend. Sure enough, I slowed my car as I approached the nesting tree, and there she was. The mother eagle was sitting on a branch above and beside the nest, from which she could watch both her baby (or babies, I am not sure how many eaglets were born this year) and the skies above. I stayed with her about an hour. In that time, the father eagle flew in silently with a fish so quickly that I never caught an image of that flight. Mother never left her perch and I could see through the branches some movement of at least one eaglet’s back as it fed on the meal the male had brought. The male eagle landed in a nearby tree and then moved to a succession of perches; for a brief couple of minutes, both adults were in the tree together. The female eagle made very little noise that I could hear, but she kept throwing her head back with her beak open. She spent most of the hour with her left foot tucked up under her breast feathers but lowered it two or three times to grasp the branch. One of my favorite bird behaviors is preening, and she obliged by preening some breast feathers just long enough for me to see and photograph that. At one point, a turkey vulture flew overhead, prompting the mother to look around and move about on her chosen perch. A few minutes after that, I saw a dark shape approaching from the west and assumed at first the vulture was returning, but as it got closer I could tell its broad wings were not upturned. What was I seeing? One of the previous year’s young eagles that flew low over the nesting tree, as if paying a visit to the old home place. Bald Eagles typically take a full five years to reach maturity, gain their white headdresses, and choose their mate for life. If food is abundant year-round (fish is their favorite diet) young eagles will not migrate but remain in the general territories where they are born. Over those five years, a young eagle’s beak will gradually turn yellow and its eyes will lighten. The eagle that flew overhead this morning I would estimate to be at least three years old, maybe older. I wonder if this is the immature eagle that buzzed my car when I last saw one of the adults (presumably the female) back in January. Having the experience of eye contact with young and mature eagles leaves usually-wordy me at a loss for terms that aptly describe my feelings. Honored and humbled all at once will do for starters. That’s how I felt today, too—and grateful. Especially, grateful to have something to share with all of you.


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Muskrat Love? Well what is not to love, I ask you. How cute is this little critter!

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I could never have imagined how huge this seal is, and how rapidly it moved into the water.

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This is a small segment of a larger group of a huge congregation of cormorants that flew steadily south the other evening.

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More more more. I suspect tens of thousands flew by as we watched.

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I actually took this shot in early April but I saw even longer lines two days after the long flights south.

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I've googled but cannot find the meaning of the silent display by either osprey or eagles.

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Sometimes I ruffle my own feathers, too!

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All the ruffling was preliminary to preening. Essential to keep flight feathers in top condition.

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Just dropping, er, flying by for a quick visit. This eagle is perhaps 3 years old now.

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And here is the Papa. He looks proud, doesn't he? And majestic. And beautiful.

posted by eturek at 11:34 PM

Comments [4]



Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Hot Flashes
How hot is it?
Depends on whom you listen to. The bank marquis said 84 late yesterday afternoon. An acquaintance said the barometer topped 82 at his home yesterday. A newspaper headline proclaimed “88!” and the editor wasn’t talking hoops either, bragging about the record heat in Tidewater, Virginia yesterday. The weather channel asserts that yesterday’s high for the upper Outer Banks was 80, just a degree shy of the record set in 1969. Buxton, on the other hand, had upper 60s yesterday and our weather today is much more like our Cape enjoyed yesterday, in the mid-70's, though the sun is summer-warm.
March lived up to the “in like a lion, out like a lamb” adage, and early April has followed with beautiful days and nights. Trees that were budding are now leafing out en masse; the dogwoods in my yard and Colington neighborhood missed full flowering in time for Easter Sunday but are opening their petals now. My car is more yellow than silver with pine pollen. I saw my first slow buzzing bumblebee yesterday and spied a ladybug racing atop a beach access railing late last week.
Lots of activity is ongoing at the various osprey nests depending on when the couples arrived. Grace, the mama osprey at the Colington marina, has been hunkered down within a deepened nest every time I have checked within the past week or so. I assume that she is brooding eggs already. Gestation takes from 32-43 days, according to The Birder’s Handbook, so I will have to be on the lookout for baby osprey within four to five weeks.
Other couples are just getting themselves organized after arriving back at their summer digs, rebuilding or scouting out locations. The “three’s-a-crowd” behavior I witnessed at a nest across the Colington marina early one morning last month repeated itself at the main marina nest last week, as a bold osprey flew down and prepared to land, only to be chased away by the osprey who was already there. The other half of the pair flew in seconds later. Young osprey who are two-three years old will return to the areas where they were born, so we could be seeing lots of young adults trying to take over Mom and Dad’s summer places instead of going through the hard work of making their own homes. Mom and Dad are having none of it.
The mystery pine on Colington Road, which holds a large nest that attracted interest from both osprey and at least one Bald Eagle after nesting season was over last year, had two osprey there last week. And just two evenings ago I took our Westie, Mikey, out and saw an adult osprey perched in a snag just two lots up from our house. That osprey sat still, even when another adult flew over with a nice-sized fish, until a pair of blue jays began buzzing it; the osprey finally left its perch and flew off, presumably to a quieter spot.
Moonrise at sunset didn’t happen at the end of March, with dense clouds and rain, but two mornings later I got up instead for moonset at sunrise over the sound. We’ve had some beautiful cloud shows lately, too.
The weather channel website not only gave the year of record heat for our area for yesterday, but also record cold—35 degrees—which occurred just five years ago. That’s a reminder to me not to pack away the winter snuggies just yet!


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March-as-lamb seascape. Inviting!

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Late March Cloud Show. The skies have been spectacular lately. I am so glad for so much sunshine after our cool, make that cold, wet winter.

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Where is everybody?? Oh, right, it's barely spring! We won't see sea oats topping these grasses until late June.

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Race you To The Beach!! At least it is moving in the right direction.

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Confrontation at the Colington marina nest. I've seen several of these this spring.

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The Colington osprey are used to people coming and going, so getting closeups of fly-bys is easier than in some other spots.

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A beautiful early evening encounter right on my street!

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Too bad the blue jays didn't appreciate it!

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Moonset at sunrise...it is going to be another beautiful spring day!

posted by eturek at 4:59 PM

Comments [3]



(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 387593 times

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