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

EVE TUREK'S NATURAL OUTER BANKS
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Outer Banks Botany

My grandsons like to ask me, when we are out tramping, Nana, how do you know all this stuff? Well, the truth is, I don’t know all this stuff. Like all of us, I know something about some things, and more about others, and nothing whatsoever about lots and lots and lots of things. That’s part of the fun for me…learning new things, and even learning where to look.  One area I feel—and am—especially ignorant of is botany.


Several years ago I bought a used copy of Outer Banks Wildflowers, published by the Dunes of Dare Garden Club. It sits on a bookshelf, sandwiched between my general habitat guides, and my mammal and tracking guides. I pulled it out the other day to help me identify and learn more about the sudden splash of color I see alongside Colington Road, especially after our recent spate of rain-spits and downpours. I opened the guide to rediscover why I so quickly shelved it. (My two favorite bird guides rarely see a shelf; they live in my car, sandwiched between my binoculars and bottled water. Priorities.) I flip to the yellow flower section to start. All the illustrations are line drawings in black and white.  BLACK AND WHITE! The pinks: black and white. Oranges? Reds? Blues and Purples? Nope. Black and white. There is not one single color illustration in the whole guide. Now, I happen to like line drawing, love pen and ink, but I need more help than these sketches provide. Even the antique botanicals we have at Yellowhouse, published by William Curtis, who is credited with being the creator of the first flower magazine, were expertly (and exquisitely) hand-painted in watercolor, in the late 1700s. Curtis’ goal was to educate the Londoners wealthy enough to have handsome gardens, help them understand the growing habits of the non-native perennials and annuals they cultivated, but his passion was the “weeds” – the little wildflowers growing all about the city’s environs. I love my cultivated flowers, too, but I have become intrigued by these wildflowers I see. Since this guide will be of little help, learning about the wildflowers is going to be more difficult than I first thought.


The guide has merit for information, though. I learn that the red blanket flowers and yellow jobells, widespread along the dunes and on vacant lots west of the Beach Road, are considered as “escapees from cultivated gardens.” The book also tells me where and when different plants can be seen, or at least, where they were growing wild 30 years ago.


A great place to see genuine Outer Bank local plants is next to the popular crabbing dock on Colington Road. The dock fronts on a manmade cut that bisects Colington Island, and the parking area and little walkway boast nice stands of marshy plants. Right now, they include masses of deep purple and deep yellow flowers, creeping butter-yellow, mauve and white flowers (that put me in mind of my childhood’s four-o’clocks), tall, stately red flowers that look rather like clusters of berries from a distance. The vacant lot next to Yellowhouse has clumps of escapee blanket flowers and jobells both, along with just-blooming yucca and prickly pear cactus, and some stalky somethings I know nothing about that turn a deep rosy-pink but fade over time.


Native plants in general have to be specialized to thrive here, given our salty air, and brackish or salty water. Like critters, they need a source of moisture and have to devise ways to minimize water loss in hot, dry conditions (aka, much of our summer). Some accomplish this by having thick, fleshy leaves like the cactus or hairy ones to help with moisture capture and retention.


I thought for a change you might enjoy seeing what is blooming now about the Banks. You won’t find any sea oats here—they won’t send up their seed stalks for another month or so. I am curious to see if they bloom in early July, which is when the pale green seeds emerged the past three years. The profusion of native flowers, as well as all the cultivated ones (my daylilies and daisies and lantana and poppies and scabiosa are all happily in bloom) mean that butterflies, dragonflies, and bumblebees should be seen with more frequency. I have spotted a couple of swallowtails recently near the marsh (a purple plant that grows there is their favorite host plant), but no painted ladies or monarchs yet. There is other spring news, though, on the “baby” front, and I’ll devote my next blog to telling you all about that. The teaser is that the Colington Harbour marina pair of osprey definitely have at least one youngster. I’ll include a photo so you don’t have to wait for the next blog for that one. 


 



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Ta-Da! This little one isn't so little. The marina nest is deeper than some others, so I never spotted the baby until Saturday.

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This is what you might see, driving by the crabbing dock. But park, and look more closely, and you'll discover...

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I think this is one of the Morning Glorys. The leaf shape seems right for Arrowhead; it has the right number of petals and grows in the right place...but it is blooming earlier than the guide says. Hmpf. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Sure is pretty!

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I have no idea what these are. They don't seem to fit any description in my little (black and white) guide. I need to know lots more about flower parts to work from descriptions & sketches!

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These grow en masse. They are yellow. End of Eve's knowledge.

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This might be in the primrose family. Here's why: one variety blooms in May in the marsh. Check--that would be this one. The other, which looks identical to my untrained eye, grows in sand near the beach. That must be what grows next to Yellowhouse.

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I think this might be bluebell (longleaf lobelia). I need to stop again and check the leaves, which I did not do, dazzled as I was by the purple! But my black and white guide says, leaves narrow, sharp-toothed, alternate. Alrighty then.

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Back to the beach! Well, beachy flowers. Blanket Flowers, or galillardia. Some are rosy, some orangey, some solid, some tipped with an alternate color. All perfectly wonderful.

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I see this plant growing along the beach road. I am wondering if it is the same one I photographed several years ago at Pea Island. Its bright rosy color stands out in late spring.

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Prickly Pear cactus. Growing all around us on the beach road.

posted by eturek at 4:18 PM

Comments [6]



Tuesday, May 26, 2009
We Have BABIES!!

Finally, finally, at least one pair of nesting osprey have baby osprey. Karen Watras reported to me a couple of days ago that the Windgrass Circle nest (off Bay Drive in northern Kill Devil Hills) has at least two baby osprey. Still no sign of babies in the Colington Harbour marina nest (as of yesterday), and although another friend reported babies in the Soundview Drive nest in Colington, I checked that nest yesterday and saw no babies there either.


The two young eaglets are, literally, branching out -- branching is the term applied to the behavior of sitting outside the nest on a, duh, branch; making short hops between branch and nest; stretching wings. All this behavior is preparation for the all-important First Flight. Wilbur and Orville's remarkable feat is equally remarkable in the natural world, if you consider these strong, powerful winged-ones were unhatched eggs not that many weeks ago. How many weeks, you ask? (Well, ok, I asked.) Out comes The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. (What a great title, eh?)  Not counting the appendices, this is a 647-page tome chock-a-block crammed with all sorts of interesting info. For instance, a Bald Eagle's egg is approx. 3" large, and incubation lasts 34-36 days. The book gives a huge range of time for fledging: between 70 and 98 days (compared to, say, a baby Robin, who flies in 14-16 days). I'm not sure why the wide variance in eagle fledging times.  Osprey eggs are a little smaller, 2.4"; incubation takes 32-43 days (a wider swing than eagle incubation, I notice), and osprey first flight times show a range, too--from 48-59 days--though not as much variance as the eagle flights. Hmmm. More to wonder about.


Anyway, you don't have to wonder any more. Below is Karen's photograph, (aka OBC's shellgirl), who names the osprey, she says, so she can keep straight who is who. These are Mike and Nancy's babies.  I have a couple photographs of the eaglets I took at the nest yesterday afternoon for you to see as well.


 



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Karen Watras' photo of the first baby osprey of the 2009 OB Season. I just love their slicked-down baby feathers look!

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Eye Contact! This was my first photograph of the young eagle. She (he?) obviously knew I was there. I'd asked permission to photograph, just as I had previously asked the landowners. I'd like to think Eagle liked being asked.

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Here's a side view. The light kept coming and going, as the sun broke through cloud cover late in the afternoon.

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And here is the pair. There was no angle to photograph from that showed both together unobstructed by limbs and branches, but I loved seeing that both appear strong and healthy.

posted by eturek at 10:12 AM

Comments [7]



Sunday, May 17, 2009
Mega Fauna

Nearly 16 years ago, I took my first dream-trip, with poet-artist-musician-naturalist friend Judy (backpacker to you readers), to the land of Big: Big Sky, Big Mountains, Big Critters. We were off to the Rockies of Montana and Wyoming, and I carried Big Hopes of seeing mega fauna, a mysterious-sounding phrase apropos for such magnificent beasts as bison or elk or moose.  We saw all three, and my first Bald Eagle besides, and white pelicans, and Big Bear tracks. I took many rolls of film, which I insisted on processing all along the way, and we came home with suitcases impossibly crammed with books about the West which we carried, hurtlling through the Cleveland airport (note to self: never, ever fly through Cleveland) trying to make our flight home after a delayed landing.


That trip, perhaps more than any other, confirmed my passion to be a nature photographer, and I set about looking for Big Critters to photograph here. I’ve seen bear on the Dare mainland, plenty of times, but never with the right lens or at the right time to make a decent image. I’ve seen deer, too, most often at dusk, but sometimes, as I posted earlier, even in daylight, and been rewarded with eye contact, which is my favorite contact sport to play, especially with critters.  On every trip to Ocracoke I stop at the Pony Pen, but there is something, well, unsatisfying, about seeing the horses there. My neighbor grazed her horses in our field when I was growing up, so seeing horses behind a fence and in front of a stable looks rather pedestrian to me, even if they were supposed to be wild. While I have seen the horses of Carova behind the dunes, grazing in yards or walking down sandy lanes several times over the years, I’ve never seen them on the beach.   Karen, who’s spent tons of time with the herd for more than a dozen years now, has told me repeatedly that I need to go in summer, when the combination of heat and flies will drive the horses east toward the ocean and some relief. I’d even taken a horse tour, in July as a treat for grandson Michael a couple years ago, and although we saw some individual horses well back of the dunes, we never did see any on the beach.


For Mother’s Day, we drove to Carova for one last hurrah Sunday outing up there until fall. The first thing we all noticed (other than a big pile of poop, which was a good sign), was the lack of seagrass in the tide line. No skate cases or whelk cases en masse this trip. Not one, not even one, moon snail shell, compared with the hundreds we saw maybe three weeks before. No starfish. The beach had its usual shell beds of broken pieces, with occasional sea glass and unbroken surf clam shells, but all the signs of underwater life that we’d been finding all winter were gone. Instead, our Mother’s Day gift was mega fauna, Outer Banks style. Horses on the beach!  We drove almost all the way to the northern fence, and saw numerous small family groups, with stallions keeping careful watch over mares and foals.


We also saw a good many other folks out on the beach, and some were either ignorant of, or blatantly ignoring, the rules of the road when it comes to horse-human contact. Several times we witnessed people going right up to a horse as if this was Mr. Ed, let out of his pasture for a quiet Sunday stroll. The horses of Corolla and Carova may be accustomed to people being around, but they are NOT TAME. They are free, wild animals in every sense of those words, and a stallion guarding his family, or challenging another stallion for dominance, is not to be toyed with.  We were grateful on our way back to see volunteers with the Wild Horse Fund educating the general public and warning individuals to maintain the fifty-foot distance that keeps both horses and humans safe.


Sometimes maintaining that distance takes quick wit and quick legs. I was standing next to our truck, which we’d parked some good distance away from a small group near the water, when all of a sudden, a horse came down the dune and headed right for us, as the truck was in an exact line between that horse and the group. I maneuvered to the other side, keeping the truck between me and the running horse, trying to send signals that I was no threat.  As a nature photographer, I love having a long, wildlife lens. It lets me focus close without getting too close, when getting too close is a bad idea.


Anyway, this is a blatant plea for all of you who cherish our northernmost beaches to please honor the wild horses, and obey all the regulations which are in place for good reason. Meanwhile, I’m going back to Less is More: if you haven’t noticed, there aren’t, usually, too many Big Critters to photograph here, and I’ve fallen wing over toes for our birds, in any case. So, of course, I have birds to share with you: another, closer photograph of the Red-Winged Blackbird hanging out around the Pea Island NWR Visitor Center, with its leucistic (or melanistic—where the darker pigments are absent and allow the other colors, normally masked, like the yellows and reds, to show through) plumage; a wonderful mix of terns at Carova, and one of the largest flocks of sanderlings I have ever seen, also at Carova. Horses weren’t the only critters enjoying the water’s edge.  I also spotted a small chickadee flying in and out of a convenient hole (convenient for me, I mean, as it is located right across the street from where I live) the other afternoon, but I haven’t seen her (him?) since. Bought my first genuine macro lens, too, so look for some close-ups of Small soon. 



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One of our first views, and Pete's favorite.

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Can you see the determination in this horse's eye? Taken from my hidey-spot behind the truck with a nice long lens. Nice horsey doesn't work here.

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What NOT to do. Seriously. You have to trust me on this, but I could feel the tension in the air as this woman sauntered right up to this family group.

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Karen will know the answer to this: are these the twins??

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No wonder folks love them. Aren't they beautiful?

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Okay, back to the birdies! Would you like to practice a little nature investigation? Who's who here?

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One group of Sanderlings was several hundred birds long, and stretched north for what seemed an impossible length.

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Pea Island's own Red-Winged Blackbird.

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"Chickadee" was my grandmother's--whom I never knew--pet name for my mother, so I always think of them both when I see the cheeky little bird.

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A surfer told me last night, the water is above 60 degrees now. (I wouldn't know.) Summer's coming!!

posted by eturek at 3:43 PM

Comments [9]



Thursday, May 7, 2009
The Lipstick Jungle

When I was a very young child, the wild world began at the foot of the slope below our dirt driveway, where a stream meandered.  When my parents bought the house, my mother named their new home Swiftwater—partly in memory of the Inn where they had honeymooned some 15 years earlier, and partly in honor of the stream that flowed swiftly at the property’s edge.  From the vantage point of 50-odd years later, I realize the stream was a drainage ditch, as it flowed only in times of heavy rains, carrying stormwater from hither to yon, happily right along our property line.  Much of the time it was dry or a mere trickle.  I loved the stream, loved the sounds it made, loved the critters I occasionally found there. 


“Stream” still sounds a kinder, gentler word to me than “ditch.”  Streams might be muddy, but ditches sound dirty, icky, foul.  I could see my mother letting me play beside a stream—never in a ditch. Good thing for me she didn’t realize my paradise’s true identity!  To this day I like streams, swales, and ditches. They are wonderful, hideaway, edgy places even in suburbia.  Critters need water, and damp, boggy ditches provide perfect habitat for all sorts of critters. I posted images back in February of Snowy Egrets that spent much of the winter foraging in the wide drainage canal that abuts the southern end of the beach road in South Nags Head.  In mid-March, I drove that portion of the beach road several days in a row, and again saw the Snowies, a Great Egret, and on one memorable day, a wonderfully camouflaged somebody flitting around in the grasses at the water’s edge.  I’ve gone back several times since to try to spot that bird again with no success.  As I approached in the car, it stilled its movements, and then flew quickly downditch (well, if downstream is a word, why not?) only to fade again into its backdrop of grasses.  Let me digress right here to admit I only think these were grasses. I did not get out of the car, intent as I was on following the bird, to make sure.  I learned a little ditty years ago I will pass on to you, for free, and it’s handy when out walking in places like ditchside (I could have some real fun with this wordplay, I can see that right now).  Here goes:
Sedges have edges (or, sedges are wedges, I have heard it both ways)


Rushes are round


Grasses have nodes


All the way to the ground.


And it’s true! Sedges’ stalks are often triangular, while rushes are round (but not necessarily hollow), and grasses have nodes or nodules all along their length…so I can’t promise the bird was hiding specifically in grasses.  But hiding it was. Turns out the bird was a snipe (more wordplay: which came first, snipe or sniper?).  I watched it long enough to get some idea of its pattern of movements, and the photo which you will see below gave enough physical and plumage clues to look it up in my bird guides.


Now, the reason I brought all this up about ditches is that I had a wonderfully humorous encounter at the drainage ditch that runs along Memorial Avenue in Kill Devil Hills, in the general vicinity of the back of the Port O’ Call restaurant.  Friend Karen, bless her, told me she had seen some great little frogs along with some spring songbirds in the area, so I drove home by the unexpected way the other afternoon. No songbirds. Didn’t hear or see a single frog. What I did see made me laugh aloud for the sheer joy of creative diversity.  A muskrat crouched at the edge of the ditch, flashing its bright orange incisors.  I couldn’t imagine what it had been eating to stain its teeth, but yellow-orange is the natural color of its tooth enamel.  Muskrat incisors are hardest on their front surfaces, keeping them sharp while the softer, rear enamel wears.  My first shade of middle school lipstick was about the same color (I seem to recall coral-something was its shade name) and I imagine it produced about the same effect on the viewer. Lipstick jungle indeed.


While we are on the subject of appearances, and humorous ones at that, I’ll include a tern I photographed in Carova a week or so ago. I could easily title this one “self portrait.”  Not only do I have prominent teeth (that thankfully are not orange!) but my hair behaves much like this tern’s in the morning (even with no wind blowing).  Lest we slip entirely into frivolity, I’ll also include a serious sandwich tern we saw on the beach at Frisco, and invite you to compare the color of both tern bills.


We’ve had rainy and stormy weather the past few days, with little chance for photography.  I can report that at least one of the eaglets was sitting on the nest edge this past Monday evening, with its mother watching from a nearby (downditch) tree.  All seems well in eagle-land so far this spring.



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Snowy Egret, up close and personal. In South Nags Head's drainage canal, in March.

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Snipe, same place. Can you see the rust-red color in its tail-feathers?

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I tell our little Westie all the time: good thing you're so cute! This face gives "muskrat love" a whole new meaning.

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Bed-head Tern. Even our grandson agreed, this bird looks like Nana.

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Frisco's Sandwich Tern. I couldn't figure out HOW to figure out which tern this was, until I realized its greatest difference is its bill color. Bingo! It's the only tern with this sort of bill in our area.

posted by eturek at 10:58 PM

Comments [115]



(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 401333 times

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