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

Saturday, October 31, 2009
October on Ocracoke

Every year about this time I start thinking about weather patterns in previous years, and whether the grey skies I keep seeing out my window were really this grey, and lasted really this long, a year or two or more ago.  I associate November with grey, I realize, rather than with the deep blue skies I associate with October and September—although both months had what seemed to me to be more than their share of wet-blanket, rain-on-my-parade weather this year.  I tried to google and find sites that give detailed weather history for Nags Head; finally I gave up that particular quest and turned instead to a daily notebook I keep that includes rudimentary weather conditions. I can tell you that September 2007 had about 7 cloudy/overcast or rainy days, compared with 11 full days and another 2-3 half days of those conditions this year.  In 2007, those days for the most part were sprinkled throughout the month, a rain day here and there flanked by gorgeous sunny days on either side. This year, coastal lows have parked over our shores and stayed for longer stretches. I looked up October: in 2007, the pattern was about the same as September, with 6 rainout or totally overcast days, and another couple of days with grey skies for part of the day. One stretch had two days in a row and another had three. Fast forward to this October: 12 days so far this month with a couple to go. As in September, most of these are clustered around two to three periods of several days of grey, alternating with several days of gorgeous. This current grey spell started Saturday afternoon and has lasted through today (Thursday), with more of the same for tomorrow and outright showers for Sunday. Mid month, the heavy weather started Wednesday and did not shift until the following Tuesday.

Photography in a gale is interesting in a monochromatic kind of way. When the light that reveals subtleties of shade and hue and tone is shrouded by a heavy cloud cover, the land and sea lose contrast. Distances are trickier to gauge without the tonal range that subtly says “far” or “nearer.”

For the past three years, Pete and I have run away to Ocracoke for a couple of days in late October or early November. In October 2008, our trip took us across Hatteras Inlet on the ferry in a genuine gale, as an offshore northeaster produced wind gusts of 40 mph.  The inlet itself was as wild as I have ever seen it, with peaks and valleys in crisp greens under the light of a darker eastern sky and filtered sunlight overhead.  I boosted my shutter speed as high as it would go, braced against the ferry, and hoped for shots in focus. All the while, great long lines of cormorants, 20-30 at a time, were flying south, undeterred by the wind and the waves.  Behind us, the sea overtook NC 12 and closed the road at Rodanthe for several days, while overwash flooded the access ramps on Ocracoke until the winds calmed and the sea rushed back to its usual place.

This past weekend, the inlet was not rough at all.   A huge group of cormorants greeted the ferry to stern as we pulled into the dock at Ocracoke on Sunday morning.  Intermittent filtered sunlight yielded to the cloud cover that threw a warm blanket over the island by midafternoon.  A group of Red Knots, already in winter plumage, looked grayer than usual in the flat light; the sea itself looked more like an old, somewhat faded black and white home movie rather than the technicolor hi-def spectacle it usually presents.  Adult pelicans have now lost their dark neck feathers and sport white heads with just a hint of tan atop; I saw one adult with only a tiny brown “rat-tail” left as evidence of its earlier breeding season duds.  Adults and juveniles together still hang around the one commercial fish-house left on the waterfront, scarfing up scraps.  We saw a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret also at the fish-house dock and a Kingfisher perched briefly atop a piling outside our waterfront room.  Even in a gray gale, Ocracoke is gorgeous.  We were glad for our stay, brief though it was, and glad to share it with you.

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No, that's not a geyser...that's Hatteras Inlet, in a gale, October 2008. The sea looked green in the light of the offshore storm contrasted with sunshine overhead. See the birds?

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I switched lenses and used a telephoto to focus in on the cormorants, flying south toward Ocracoke as if the wind wasn't gusting to 40 mph. Yes, the ferry was rocking.

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Ocean overwash at high tide created numerous tidal pools that caught sunset's glow.

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The welcoming committee. Cormorants astern, October 2009. Pulling into the ferry dock on the Ocracoke side.

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I so admire pelicans' flight skills. Here they navigate in and out of surf spray and high seas under dull, gray skies. Ocracoke October 2009.

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The sun shone through breaks in the cloud cover only for a short while, turning the pewter seas into diamonds set in platinum.

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This little group of Red Knots belies its name; if the first person to identify them had seen them in an Ocracoke fall gale, he would have called them Gray Knots.

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This pelican is a great candidate for one of those "write a caption" photo contests. I called it, You Don't Say! Pelicans DON'T say, actually. They are essentially silent birds.

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Rat-tail Pellie... what is not to love?

posted by eturek at 12:50 PM

Comments [6]

Friday, October 16, 2009
Surf's Up!
This will be briefer than usual--limited time and I want to get right to the photos. Moderate northeast and north winds have created dramatic seas. At one point yesterday afternoon, I counted four or five distinct breaker lines. Pretty impressive for winds that did not top 20 mph yesterday. No little shorebirds braving the blow, which included surges of surf and plenty of salt in the air. A few lone gulls, including one youngster who seemed a bit bewildered (welcome to your first nor'easter, I said. Pay attention to mama--who was standing nearby--and you'll do just fine.) Only a couple lines of pelicans. But as I left the beach around 6 pm or so, a lone monarch butterfly, flying very slowly, made its fluttering way to the seaside goldenrod which is in full bloom now. Pete's daughter MaryAnn is quite the landscaper; she has the inland version growing in her yard and photographed her first monarch the other day, sitting atop it. Goldenrod must be a favorite. Enjoy.

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First Impressions. Big Waves. I thought the sun was trying to emerge in the west but it quickly darkened again.

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I counted four--no, make that five-- distinct breaker lines, from shoreline to fairly far offshore, in this shot.

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Dramatic. I understand why so many painters choose the stormy surf for their canvases.

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Here is the longest line of pelicans I saw. They were staying fairly far offshore.

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Wrack line. Mostly all reeds and seagrass. Maybe seaglass hunters will have some success next week.

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The dunes look so different at different times of year. Mid October dunes blaze with goldenrod, just as sea oats darken.

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A beautiful beach visitor.

posted by eturek at 9:07 AM

Comments [5]

Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Harvest Moonrise

Sometimes, in order to be in the right place at the right time, you have to help serendipity along. As a nature and landscape photographer, that means I need to actually go outside and pay attention once I get there, wherever “there” is.  Beyond that, I sometimes need to do a little research. For instance, knowing that October gives a larger-than-usual harvest moon, I checked out one of my favorite websites—www.sunrisesunset.com—to determine exactly when sunset and moonrise would coincide this month. Saturday night, with the moon nearly full, moonrise happened about a half-hour before sunset; Sunday night, the two events were about four minutes apart.

Saturday evening I went across the street to the beach access nearest the gallery to catch the moon’s rising.  With the half-hour lag time between moonrise and sunset, the moon appeared a pale, flat disk as it quickly rose above the horizon. It was well above the ocean by the time the sky darkened to reveal its full glow.  As is sometimes the case with sunrises, the moments before actual moonrise were the prettiest, with a line of hot-pink cumulus clouds overtopped by flat peachy clouds, with a small onshore wavelet in soft greens contrasting with the darker midnight blue ocean. I called the image I took at that point “Crayola Sunset” because the name seemed to fit, somehow.  One of my favorite childhood treats (okay, okay, it is still a favorite treat) was the 128-color crayon box and my favorite color was midnight blue.  A sunset sailor provided visual interest once the light faded, with clouds playing peek-a-boo with the moon and the water looking more like a lake than the sea.

Locally, the most spectacular spot to view Sunday night’s event from, I suspect, would have been Cape Point, where the sun sets as well as rises with the ocean in the foreground.  Since I couldn’t get there, Pete and I went to the next best spot: the beach between Oregon Inlet and Coquina. We parked the truck and watched the sky and waited for the show. 

The opening act was spectacular in its own right and as is often the case, outshone the headliner.  A couple of hours before sunset, the ocean gleamed in shades of dark blue and green, with silver-studded riplets.  Waves were larger than they were the night before, lending lots of visual interest in the wave wash.  The sky was what I think of as October blue with lots of white cirrus cloud flourishes. Against this backdrop, here came the longest lines and V’s and disorganized clumps of pelicans we have ever seen at one time there, flying south, flying north, flying west, adults and juveniles skimming low over the water and flying high over the water and, in the case of one group, veering off to fly over the dune in the general direction of Pelican Island. 

A large mixed group of somebodies way down south turned out to contain at least one Oystercatcher, once I looked at my photographs on the monitor.  A group of about fifteen willets flew in at one point and a group of Sanderlings came and went.

The forecasted clear skies grew thick with cloud cover to the west. The clouds in turn produced sundogs which elongated like parentheses around the day’s end over the dune line.  I titled that photograph “Sundog at Sunset” but that is not strictly accurate, in that the sun was still an hour high in the sky.  Sundogs need ice crystals and high cirrus clouds to refract the sun’s light into bright, colored spots at the same altitude as the sun; sometimes a full white halo is seen with the sundogs’ characteristic reds and oranges on either side. The sundogs we saw started as bright spots and then elongated as the halo effect increased.  They are most easily seen when the sun is low in the sky.

A brief peachy glow to the south faded quickly as the clouds obscured the actual sunset; the moon rose, almost an afterthought against a flat, darkening blue sky without the full tonal range of sunset to illuminate it.  

I go—or try to go—to the beach every month when the moon rises as the sun sets.  Some months, rain and cloud cover and timing mean that the moon is rarely seen at its moment of rising, or rises tiny and pale and is well overhead before shining brightly. Even with effort and research, sometimes being in the right place at the right time just requires lots of patience. But that’s okay.  Without the effort, I would never have imagined the crayola sunset, never watched sundogs stretch into arcs, never have oohed and aahed over two sets of pelicans line-dancing over the waves at the same time—and never had the moments to share with you. Enjoy.

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Coloring this sunset in childhood, I would have needed Violet Red (Blush, created in 1998, seems a better match), Pink Sherbert, & Peach for clouds & Forest Green with Midnight Blue for the water.

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The moon rose so pale I didn't spy it at first. Can you?

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By the light of the silvery...er...goldeny moon...

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At least both of these lines are going in the same direction.

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The perfect family vacation: Mom, Dad and the kids at the beach.

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Sun Dog at Sunset. The technical name for "sun dog" is parhelion (plural, parhelia), meaning, beside the sun. Finding the source of the common name is much harder.

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Willets. They tend to stand around at the water's edge since they don't mind getting their knees wet.

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As the light fades, I need a tripod in order to get the moon in focus; the slow shutter reveals some of the energy of the wave break. I've lightened this considerably; real life was darker.

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Show's over. Even the lone pelican knows it's time to call it a night and head for the roost.

posted by eturek at 10:17 PM

Comments [5]

Thursday, October 1, 2009
An Interesting Experience...

Nature photographer Gail Mooney, quoted in the summer 2009 issue of Currents (a mag for nature photographers), summed up my entire nature-photographic-spiritual philosophy in two, profoundly simple, declarative sentences. “In the end,” she said, “the photographic story is really the story of my experience. So I have to actually have an interesting experience to create interesting and diverse images.” Aha! Bingo! Eureka! Exactly.

Scott Geib (sgphotos) is fond of asking me, what’s the story here, when we view photographs together.  As a writer/photographer/naturalist, I find myself in story-listening mode all the time when I step out my front door.  A week ago, for instance, headed to Food Lion, under still-overcast skies with more than a threat of raindrops, the story was stillness. I stepped outside into a hush, more pronounced after two days of stiff east winds. The wind earlier that morning was gusty, still too punchy to be termed “light and variable.” By later in the afternoon the threatened rain came and went leaving behind sunshine and some lace clouds in place of the morning’s heavy blanket. I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear of rainbows over the ocean at about 3 p.m.

Those of you who follow my musings may remember that I got up for sunrise near the summer solstice, to document for future reference the point of the sun’s rising in relation to Avalon Pier. I did the same thing to mark the autumnal equinox.  The sun near the first day of summer, when I was lined up with a piling at the parking lot bulkhead just to the north of the pier deck, rose straight out from where I was standing, appearing from that vantage point just left of the pier. By last week, the sun’s position was well south of the pier, just one more piece of evidence that, yes, the earth is tilted on its axis, which produces fluctuations in the sun’s apparent position as well as providing us with the weather variations we mark as seasons.  Now I’ve read astronomy books and earth science texts and articles over the years, beginning in about third grade, I guess.  (One of my book fair selections that year was Stars, if that gives you a hint.)  But having the experience of deliberately photographing the sun’s position throughout the year cements the facts home in a way none of that reading ever did.  That’s humbling for a wordsmith—unless the wordsmith is committed to being a teller of stories in a way that entices the readers to go and find out for themselves.  That’s where the naturalist part comes in for me.

After sunrise I went up to my favorite Kitty Hawk beach access, to poke around the gravel beds and see what or who was there to see.  The ocean had gone in a day from being flat to choppy, throwing great lines of sea foam up onto the sand, all churned by the easterly winds.  Other than a brief glimpse of a small group of sanderlings and one willet, my morning companions were great V’s of…not ducks. Not geese. Pelicans! They were flying high above the surf but mostly in V formations.  What’s up with that? Beats me.  I got up for sunrise again on Monday and headed for south Nags Head this time; by evening a rip-roarer of a thunderstorm was centered over Elizabeth City and Columbia, throwing lightning sideways, illuminating towering cumulus clouds and forecasting a cold front, which swept in from the west with wind, sprinkles, and an instant drop in temperature. I stood on Pete’s daughter Faith’s soundside deck around 10 pm as we watched (and I tried to photograph) the lightning until the wind and cool and rain arrived and chased us back inside.

It’s the season for clouds and sudden weather changes now. One afternoon late last week I drove home under a dramatic frontal boundary, and went up to Run Hill to capture the ridge of low pressure over the ridgeline. Ridges have Ridges.

I told you in my last blog, I think it was, that the osprey had left, and that I missed them.  Karen Watras misses them even more than I do, since she has the opportunity to watch them more closely.  My missing them is truth, but not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Truth is, I saw an osprey last week, perched in the same snag off Colington Drive where both an adult and juvenile were sitting about six weeks ago.  Every so often, a juvenile will stay rather than make the family journey south for the winter—actually, the young osprey spend their first summer as adults south, as well, and do not return here until their second year. I will have to keep my eyes out and ears open to see if I spot it throughout the fall. I did not see it again on Sunday, when I drove past the tree, but Pete and I did see a Bald Eagle over-flying Clipper Court near the Colington Clubhouse.  It turned away from the direction we were driving, flashing its gleaming white head and tail, giving its identity away.

One never knows what a day will bring. Yesterday afternoon around 4 pm I walked back to the frame shop between customers and saw my little bunny nibbling on grasses in its favorite spot. Not five minutes later here comes a young fox that paused and used our parking lot as his private lavatory, watching us all the while.  I checked the scat; fox is still eating persimmons.  This morning I walked out my front door with the dog and into a Glade commercial. Well, it smelled like a Glade commercial, sort of a cross between a thousand vanilla-scented candles and a fabric softener factory. Weird. Nothing new is blooming in my yard, far as I can tell. I even stuck my nose right up to the tight gardenia buds—a likely source, I thought—but they gave off no odor whatsoever.  No new fall plants in my neighbor’s yard either.  The scent surrounded me all the way to the street, the paper box, still hung heavy as we walked back. It’s a mystery, like so much of nature.

Our summer pace of activity is shifting with the season, giving me more chances to be outside, enjoy the experience, and share the story…

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Let's play When Am I? This is sunrise, Avalon Pier. Hint: Not last week. This is sunrise near the first day of summer. Sun is left of pier. Check.

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When Am I, Part II. Sunrise, Avalon Pier. Hint: Not summer. Sunrise near the first day of fall. Sun well to the RIGHT of pier. Check. Any guesses about first day of winter?

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Here's the sun, finally climbing high enough over the pierhouse to be seen from the left side. I'm standing in the same place I stood to take my photograph in early summer.

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My morning companions. This V is inverted, meaning, the leader is not at the point of the V. Other groups had the leader in the traditional spot.

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SoNag Sunrise. See the willet? A little later a gal came walking up the beach with two gulls, who followed along with her just like they were obedient dogs. Too funny.

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Silhou-willet. ;)

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This is the light show preceding the cold front's arrival. Evening of the same day as the pretty sunrise, above. Red sky in morning, sailor take warning...

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Ridges. (Get it??)

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Karen Watras' (shellgirl) photo of the last Bay Drive young osprey, mid-August. I can't help but play John Denver in my head: Goodby, Again...sorry to be leavin' you...

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If Karen's photo is John Denver, mine is Neil Diamond: Hello, my friend, hello. What is it still doing here, and how long will it stay? Stay tuned...

posted by eturek at 7:09 PM

Comments [6]

(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 546500 times

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