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

Friday, November 30, 2012
FL Keys in November...beats a nor'easter!
As most readers probably know, the three weeks following Hurricane Sandy were marked by relentless northeast winds, gray skies, and the damp, raw feeling I associate more with late winter here than I do with November. Lucky for me, and maybe lucky for you, I wasn’t around for most of it! So this blog isn’t about the gray of November on the Outer Banks…it’s about the blue and teal and turquoise of November in the Florida Keys.

We decided to take our vacation in November this year, coming home right before Thanksgiving, and to go somewhere neither of us had ever been. Some friends told us we’d love the Keys (the laidback atmosphere, the sun, the food) and others told us we’d hate it (too crowded, too commercialized, and no chance for the nature and bird photography I love). Well, we loved it! We stayed midway down the chain, in Marathon, which gave us easy access to anywhere we would want to go. Renting a condo meant we didn’t have to bail out of a motel room early to go buy breakfast somewhere and we established a routine that included leisurely mornings sitting on the deck, getting a little sun, and watching a nifty variety of birds in our little ocean cove. Afternoons found us out and about exploring the Keys, and back in time for dinner out or dinner in. The food was good, as we anticipated, although we have decided we prefer Maine’s lobster to Florida’s rock lobster, and the blue crabs of home and the Chesapeake to the stone crabs of FL. To each his own, I guess.
Our adventures included one day in Key West, the afternoon of which we spent aboard a replica sailing schooner (very quiet and great sights) followed by sunset from a state park where we could see the sailing ships go by. Sunset that night was a fizzle but the day as a whole was fun. There is much more to see there that we missed by spending our afternoon on the water, but it was worth it.

Marathon itself provided two key attractions beyond our condo’s front door: the Sea Turtle Hospital and the Dolphin Research Center, both of which we highly recommend. The programs offered by each were excellent. The Sea Turtle Hospital gave us a chance to see every species of sea turtle except the Leatherbacks. Some will be able to be released while others have injuries that will require them to stay in captivity for life. The life isn’t too bad, I guess; the hospital itself is housed in what used to be an old cottage court motel, and the turtles have taken over the motel’s old, large, in-ground pool! A local vet donates all his time to operate on injured turtles or treat sick ones—and has provided this service at no charge for nearly 20 years! We learned that injuries to a turtle’s shell often cause the turtle to be unable to dive. Having to swim at the surface means it cannot reach the fish or crustaceans that are its food. One thing the hospital does is attach weights to the turtles’ shells so they can swim and dive more naturally. Turtles as well as dolphins are conscious breathers; that is, they have to think to take a breath, unlike humans, whose breathing is involuntary. That fact limits how long a turtle can be under anesthesia if an operation is required.

The Dolphin Research Center was a huge treat. General admission provides an up close view of the center’s dolphins swimming in fenced lagoons; more expensive programs put the participant even closer, all the way to getting in the water with a dolphin! I opted for the program that allows the visitor to stand on a submerged platform and rub the dolphin’s back, stroke and shake its flippers (pleased to meet you too, baby), and learn more about the research work the staff does there. A number of the dolphins there are descended from the earlier Flippers (there were five who starred in the original movie and series) and others were rescued from a variety of situations. Some young dolphins were born there to captive mothers, giving staff researchers a chance to observe how mothers and calves interact. We spent a chunk of time just watching and photographing as they swam around their lagoons before any of the afternoon programs started. They swam in lazy ovals and then, without any clue we could discern, would take off like a rocket for the opposite end, or burst from the water in a backflip. I’ve seen dolphins surf waves and jump all the way out of the water in the wild before but I was still surprised and delighted at the randomness of the behavior.

Just below Marathon is Big Pine Key which is home to an endangered population of Key Deer, tiny cousins of Virginia White-tailed deer. These deer are only two feet tall and one goal of our trip was to be able to see them. We went down to Big Pine Key twice and drove the roads around the refuge set aside to protect them and saw does, yearlings, and bucks in full antlers. They looked surreal, as if they belonged more in a children’s storybook than out in the wild.

The general lack of pelicans (we have way more brown pelicans here in the Outer Banks) was made up for in the presence of a resident Kingfisher, who came to our little cove every day to fish, and in my quest to find and photograph a Great White Heron which I had read about but never seen. Great White Herons are a white morph of Great Blues, and have a limited range of south Florida. They are larger than Great Egrets, which are also white, and have paler, pinker legs whereas the Great Egret’s legs are black. In breeding season, Great Egrets have a bright green patch behind the eye, called a lore. Great White Herons have a similar patch but theirs is bright blue, as the Great Blue Heron’s is. Every time I saw a large white bird, I checked out its legs! I finally saw a Great White Heron and after that first sighting, we were rewarded with seeing several more. The last one I photographed was actually standing on a little rock jetty that flanked the cove outside our condo. There are also two wild bird rescue centers in the Keys and we visited them both. They both are served by volunteers and it appeared to us that the raptors, owls, shorebirds, songbirds, wading birds, pelicans and cormorants get excellent care.

I’d been told about the color of the water in the Keys, but I really wasn’t prepared for how bright and vibrant the greens and teals and turquoises and blues of the water were, depending on the light. And while the sunsets and sunrises in general were not as vibrant as those here at home, we did see several that coupled pinks and purples in the sky with the teals and turquoises of the water and were beautiful in their own way. Palm trees swaying in the wind against the deep blue skies of mid-afternoon were another visual reminder that we were not at home, as were the balmy temperatures. We saw rain on the horizon once, and I got up for a sunrise that included a little slice of rainbow in the west, but we didn’t experience any real rain until the day we left.

We saw a number of iguanas and I learned they are not native to Florida although they have certainly bred themselves into quite a presence there. We saw colors ranging from lime green to gray-brown to copper. I picked up a tiny little whorled shell (and I do mean tiny, about the size of my ring finger nail) and was startled when an even tinier orange hermit crab poked its head out and waved its front claws at me! I put it right back down, glad I had not taken it home! Then I began to look for them. I found one just slightly larger and backed up, lying down in the sand to take its picture.

One early afternoon we took a helo tour with Island Hoppers over the Seven Mile Bridge just south of Marathon and saw a lot of sharks, especially in the shallows, as well as rays and sea turtles. The water there is so clear that we also took a Glass Bottom Boat tour aboard the Key Largo Princess that carries passengers to a living coral reef just off Key Largo. An extra treat for me was seeing the original African Queen docked just off the glass bottom boat’s stern! She was built in 1912 and refurbished for her 100th anniversary this year. She had quite an illustrious career in addition to starring in the movie that bears her name and that featured Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. That movie is one of my favorites and I had great fun photographing her while waiting for our boat to set off; when we came back, her skipper was beginning a short canal cruise for two happy passengers. Now that would be worth doing if we ever go back to the Keys!

As you can imagine, I took a lot of photographs during our 10 days there, and while traveling south. We spent a couple days in Savannah and a couple more at Cocoa Beach to break up the trip and those were great places too. But for now I am going to stop writing about our travels and let some pictures speak instead. It’s good to go away and refresh, but good to come home, too…especially when the sun comes out.

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This is the view from the condo, in Marathon. I loved the range of colors at sunset!

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Our little cove attracted an osprey who liked to hang out on the condo roof. For just a few days, I didn't have to miss them. Our OBX osprey will return in late February to mid March.

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We also watched a Kingfisher every day. Here, both the Kingfisher and Gull were vying for the same rock on the jetty.

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Here's a Great White Heron. Its legs are pale and pink/peach, compared to a Great Egret's which are black.

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This young dolphin was swimming and jumping and rolling, and I couldn't help but feel it enjoyed our joy. This wasn't part of a program; the dolphin were swimming on their own.

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This WAS part of a program. Me and Kibby, the dolphin. Who's smiling the biggest?

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This sea turtle may not be able to be released. Some have injuries or illnesses that can be treated while others will remain cared for in captivity for life.

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Usually if there are distracting elements with critters, I just crop closer. Not this time. I wanted to show how TINY this full-grown buck is! Key Deer stand about 2' tall.

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Here is a Key Deer doe with a fawn born earlier this year.

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I have a picture of a signpost from Carova. This one is from Key West, in the middle of the historic seaport area. Can you make out the yellow sign, near the bottom? OCRACOKE ISLAND! Fun to see a hint of home.

posted by eturek at 7:58 PM

Comments [4]

Thursday, November 1, 2012
Aerials After Sandy
There is nothing like an airplane ride over the ‘Banks to reconfirm that our world really is mostly water. The perspective shows how thin, and fragile, our barrier island home is, and also how the shape of the coastline tends to, well, shape the coastline. From aloft, you can see how areas that have scoured over the years tend to be hot spots for erosion, how narrow pinch points tend to turn into breaches and then into inlets.

I learned years ago not to judge too quickly when in the air. “Dry” areas may well be mud pits, left over from retreating water but leaving a messy expensive cleanup. Wet areas are obviously still focal points for pumpout, or cleanup, or both. And there were plenty of those.

The oceanfront at the north end of Rodanthe is more like oceansurround, now, as you will see below. And though everyone has talked about the obvious damage at Avalon Pier, my flight today confirmed at least some damage to the ends of both Avon and Nags Head Pier.

The area at Oregon Inlet to the north, that breached last year with Irene and took a while to fill in, breached again. You could not drive out to the bridge itself, not today.

Kitty Hawk, as every resident between bypass and beach road knows firsthand, still has lots of standing water everywhere this afternoon. We saw several pumping operations at work.

Speaking of pumping, there is a dredging operation going on right now in Silver Lake harbor in Ocracoke on a Corps of Engineers contract that was awarded in August to Cottrell Contracting of VA. Whether that job will have to be amended due to changes wrought by Sandy remains to be seen.

I spotted an interesting shipwreck fairly close to shore off the end of the airstrip at Corolla, and saw Elizabeth II being towed back to Manteo. I saw dolphin splashing, pelicans and cormorants flying, and hopeful fishermen, in boats and on shore.      

The photographs below were taken from an average altitude of 1,000’. Many thanks to Ken Pagurek, my pilot, and East Coast Aviation for the airplane.

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We've all seen, I'm sure, plenty of photographs of Avalon Pier. Here is one more, from the air, showing the locations and size of the gaps.

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From the air, it appears to me as if Nags Head Pier needs repair especially at the end.

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Avon Pier looks like it sustained some damage at the end as well.

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Here is the area that breached during Irene last year, open again between the sound and the sea, at Oregon Inlet.

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Northern end of Rodanthe looking north to the S Curves. You can see the buckled and rippled pavement just north of the houses.

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Houses at Mirlo standing in the ocean.

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Dredging operations in Silver Lake Harbor, Ocracoke.

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This fascinates me. Cape Point, looking up beach. Notice how the shoreline is scalloped.

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Fascination #2. Nags Head looking north. Notice the dip in the shoreline north of Wright Memorial.

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Kitty Hawk: Water, water, everywhere. Lots of pumps all over too, but this will be a big job to drain all the water between the highways.

posted by eturek at 8:06 PM

Comments [4]

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