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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Outer Banks Snowfall
This morning I realized what I love best about an Outer Banks snowfall. Typically, we don’t get too much snow here; years pass with nary a flurry or at best, a dusting that lasts hours, not days. Measuring snow in inches rarely requires anything bigger than my first-grade ruler, and even its neatly lined six inches are overkill when the most we get is nearly always less than half of that.
Overlay the dunes and swales and beach with more than three inches, say, and our familiar world turns magical. Windblown drifts create dunes where none were or level the landscape to the eye (though not to the feet, as I discovered to my embarrassment, stepping knee deep into a trough hidden by whiteness and losing my balance.) I’d forgotten the sort of snowshoe-shuffling step that creates a mess of pristine snowfall but helps avoid pitching forward into a hole. The rendering of what is familiar in unseen hues and shadows is what creates the magic for me. Snowfall invites me to see my everyday world fresh, and through child’s eyes at that.
Last weekend’s snow marks the fifth, I think, so far this season. What made this one special was not only its intensity—six and seven inches reported—but the location of snowline: south of Oregon Inlet rather than north of it. I didn’t get a chance to go south during the actual blizzard but did get as far as Avon the next afternoon.
Going that far south was a treat for two reasons: earlier in the week, my artist friend EM Corsa accompanied me to Avon (I was on a mission for redheaded ducks—more on that in a minute) and I got a chance to revisit a beach access in snow that I’d seen just four days earlier, in fog. Photographer Jared Lloyd alerted me that the pond within the Kinnakeet Shores development was hosting thousands of ducks and we did see a large number, but I spotted no redheaded ones. Instead, a lone redheaded duck made an afternoon appearance in a little canal on the Alligator River NWR later that afternoon. (We were on a mission for bear at that point, which we didn’t see. The duck was the gift.)
For several winters now, a growing number of mixed little ducks have been hanging out just north of the Colington bridge opposite Billy’s Seafood. Their presence here is all part of our winter rhythm. Somebody up the shoreline is feeding them, I think. What amazes me is how they remember to come to this spot every year, knowing they will have food here. Bird navigation is amazing to me, anyway.
Speaking of, Karen Watras (shellgirl) and I spent an amazing morning off the Banks at Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge two Saturdays ago. We both got up just after 3 a.m. in order to leave the beach by 4:30 a.m. and arrive there for sunrise. What do farm fields south of Plymouth have at sunrise that our ocean beach doesn’t have, to make it worth rising at 3 a.m. to see? Snow geese! You might be thinking, why not just drive to Pea Island? There are snow geese there. True enough—there are, and swan besides. Probably hundreds of snow geese at this point. But we went to Pocosin to see not hundreds, but tens upon tens of thousands of snow geese. I was hoping to witness and photograph a “blast-off”—when the whole group of birds, at some mysterious signal, takes to the sky all at one time. Matt Gibson was out there too—in fact, he helped us tremendously by advising us what fields he had observed the geese feeding in over the past week or so. Without his help, we would have come late to the party, if at all.
The fields were empty when we arrived. In fact, the only birds we saw were robins, first a couple and then larger flocks, a sign of spring on a cold winter morning with ice still on the water. The temperatures warmed considerably and we had a nice day, weather wise. The geese took off from the far shore of Pungo Lake shortly after dawn and flew to a field located, happily for us, adjacent to a main road. We watched and photographed them for a couple of hours, during which time we did see and listen to three separate blast-offs. By the third time, I could discern that one was coming. The geese began to be restless, moving more, calling more, looking up rather than out or down. I’d heard the sound of a large blast-off described as listening to airplane engines and that is an accurate description, all those thousands of wingbeats at once. The geese circled around the fields, some flying clockwise, some flying counterclockwise, before settling down in groups to feed again. I say “feed” but with all the moving around I couldn’t see how the birds were managing to get much of a meal. They settled very close to the road’s edge and stretched deep into the field’s furrows, providing us with a wonderful view of the entire flock. One lady who comes to that spot often to see the birds said she had never seen so many in such close proximity. I smiled, outwardly and within, and whispered my thank-yous.
The best part of all these adventures—Pocosin (with Karen), Avon (with Liz), snowfall (with Pete)—is the keyword “with”. I got to share each of these experiences and sights WITH. And now, I get to share with again…with you.

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Snow On Beach With Surf. Nondescript title for unusual view.

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I keep taking this photograph: lone wave, illuminated. This white wave crest echoes the snowcrested dune.

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Right after this photograph is when I got up close and personal with the snowdrift.

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The late afternoon light set the snowy dunes aglow.

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Sea oats and snow, er, sand fence.

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Snow flurries of a different sort: snow geese heading to the fields just after first light.

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How they find landing sites is a mystery to me. Gives a whole new meaning to "goosed"!

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Blue Geese. Technically, snow geese, blue morph. Rarer than the all white ones.

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There they go! Blast-off in progress.

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Here's a close up of a tiny portion of the blast-off. Incredible.

posted by eturek at 1:01 PM

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Happy New Year
One of the things I treasure most about the Outer Banks is that our winters are mild, at least milder than the northern Virginia winters I grew up with—and even those winters are mild compared to those of Montana, say, or Vermont, or even Iowa or Ohio. That helps explain why we local folk were a bit surprised by our run of cold days so early in the winter season, and by how many days in a row had temperatures in the 30s. Typically our winters are more like the weather we experienced between Christmas and New Year’s—swinging from winter to spring, that is. The White Christmas was a bonus! I always say, if it is going to be cold and rainy and windy, it might as well just go ahead and snow. At least it looks pretty when the sun comes back out!
The Outer Banks does seem to have a fondness for Interesting Weather on holidays, so I am not surprised that the second December snowfall actually occurred at Christmas. The Christmas Snow produced 2-3” in places like Colington and Manteo, more in Carova, and more like a dusting on northern Pea Island. The kitty’s water dish was frozen all over again, and the next couple of days were still fairly cold with brisk winds. I got out with grandson Patrick and his Mom and we walked the beach in Kitty Hawk hoping for treasures, all bundled up against the wind and cold. Lots of skate egg cases and shell fragments in the wave wash there. A short week later, New Year’s Day hit 67 degrees in Nags Head! Headed out on Colington Road, I saw my first wild critter of the year, a Great Blue Heron like a statue hunting breakfast in a tiny cove. Just before official sunup, a sliver of crescent moon not quite at the apex of the southeastern sky beckoned like a curled finger, or a wink, or the blink of an eyelash. Once the sun rose, the moon faded in the stronger daylight. I have a friend who talks about New Moon wishes and so I made my own wishes and prayers and intentions for the year to come, waiting for dawn.
I headed down to Pea Island immediately after sunrise. Nature photography is certainly much easier when the photographer is not shaking with cold! I saw avocets in two places, but no white pelicans that morning and very few swan. Instead, the morning’s gift was seeing thousands of snow geese spread among the several ponds. A couple of those had white heads but dark bodies—the blue morph (thanks, Helen, for the ID information). Their calls in early morning sounded a little like small dogs barking—not the alarm call of “someone is at the door”; more like the little noises my Westie makes when (as right this minute) he wants my attention, or for me to play with one of his (many) toys. (We will now pause from our regular blogging to shake the squeaky fluffy.)
The geese took turns flying and landing. The ponds, except for the trail around the visitor’s center and a photo blind, are mostly off limits to people. There is about enough room to pull a car over and stand beside it, which is what I was doing repeatedly. “You are going to have to come to me,” I whispered in my heart. “I can’t come to you.” And sure enough, several groups flew fairly close. One of those was making turns, flying in great circles before deciding where (or when) to land. And one of those circles had its turning point right opposite where I was standing. Now I assumed that these birds were turning as they were flying, meaning, fairly on the level, with their wings parallel to the ground below. Not at all! Instead, the geese executed highly banked turns, with their wings almost perfectly perpendicular to the ground, forming a nearly 90-degree angle. Of course they executed these turns perfectly, and in a rhythm that did not disturb their fellow flyers. If I had been standing even a little to the south or north I would never have discerned what a feat this actually was. I’ve watched and photographed pelicans wheeling around, and other birds as well; I have never seen such tight banking turns before.
The other evening at the Harris Teeter stormwater pond, not only was a Great Blue foraging but so were six snowy egrets! I haven’t ever seen that many at once at Harris Teeter’s so that was a real treat, too. The past couple of days have been grayer, with morning fog on Sunday given the warmer air and cooler water. The sun is finally peeking through on Tuesday afternoon as I write this. I guess it is time to stop sitting here at the computer and go look out the window again at the day! Whatever your day shows, I hope you can see some joy…or at least find some joy below. Happy New Year!

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Sea Oats in Snow.

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Here's what 2" - 3" of snow looks like on the Nags Head beach!

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Here is what gulls do in a snowstorm: hunker down. Smart gulls!

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Snow (geese) in snow. Pea Island. Brrrr.

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What a difference a week makes. Not only is it sunny--it's warm! New Year's dawning.

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Nags Head New Year.

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Hundreds of ducks off in the distance. Blast-off in early morning.

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And a snow geese blast-off.

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Happily for me, some flew closer. Here's that steep banked turn!

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Most of the geese took off in tandem, not all at once, and in smaller groups, not the whole gaggle.

posted by eturek at 4:51 PM

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