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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The Inner Banks, Part II: Mackay Island
Folks who’ve moved to the Outer Banks from more northern climates often tell me that what they miss most is the definitive change of seasons. It’s not that we don’t have the four seasons here, but the lines blur between them as they slide into one another. What they miss is precisely what I appreciate about the Outer Banks: I like that spring sprinkles itself all through winter here. I like that what fall color we have lingers late in autumn rather than peaking itself out by mid-October. I like that our typically hot, humid summers get tastes of the fall to come long before Indian Summer helps us remember those long warm days. And yes, as a cold-natured gal, I like that our winters are relatively mild compared to those where the mercury dips down into single digits and then stays stuck there for days or weeks on end.
I’ve been noticing fall color deliberately lately, realizing that my native Virginia homestead’s maples and oaks have long since shed their reds and oranges. That knowledge makes our patches of color even more beautiful, fleeting as they are. Late last week we had our first overnight lows in the upper 20s, before awakening to a Sunday morning temperature that eventually reached 63 degrees before day’s end.
As some of you have read in Jared Lloyd’s recent postings (JLPhotos), several of us who are members of the Outer Banks chapter of the Carolinas Nature Photographers Association went to the Mackay Island NWR on Knotts Island via the Currituck Sound ferry last Saturday morning. Our little group represented the only riders on the 6 a.m. ferry, and it was cold, cold, cold! Sunrise color was spectacular and we all had the chance to drive the usually-closed wildlife drive which was opened to the public for an Open Roads weekend.
Sometimes I go outside questing for something, or more often, someone, in particular. This particular day, I just needed to go outside. I figured we’d see some waterfowl, and maybe one of the resident eagles, but to be honest, I just needed some fresh air and some heart-space. Outside is restorative for me, and the chance to spend several hours driving and tramping and photographing, freezing cold or not, is always a big treat.
We did see waterfowl: tundra swan (and maybe mute swan, see photo below), mallards, coots, a couple of pied-bill grebes, and hooded mergansers. The water level in all the ponds was high from recent rains; most of the egrets or herons I saw were perched in trees rather than wading for their breakfast. And we saw the Bald Eagle pair, hanging around the nest, getting ready for another season of new life. Seeing the eagles there at the nest site made me wonder how the Kitty Hawk eagles are doing; I checked that nest late yesterday afternoon as the sun was nearly setting, and saw one of the adults in a tree near the nesting tree. As I left the area, what I think was one of the past couple of years’ juveniles buzzed my car, flying low in front of my windshield and disappearing in the thick brush and trees across the canal. I felt doubly blessed, and happy to have some of our outside world to share with all of you.

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The lack of wind accentuated the crisp, cold morning producing beautiful reflections.

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Mallards, Mergansers, and Red-wing Blackbirds in the background.

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I just love Hooded Mergansers. Here a bunch are taking off, in pairs.

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Here's a close-up of the launch. Waterfowl run atop the water to get airborne. The bright white hood says this is a he.

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If you have a high hairdo, it helps to flatten it out for aerodynamic speed. Race you to the other side of the pond!! (I think she is ahead by a nose, er, beak).

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Most people visit Mackay Island in winter hoping for swan. Here they are--with maybe a Mute Swan in the water (see the pink bill?)

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American Coot silhouetted with reeds. I just loved the shapes.

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It was COLD before the sun rose high enough to warm the air above freezing and melt the ice.

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I'm thinking this is the female, and the one perching nearby is the male. Bald eagles are huge--so you can see the size of the nest. Who left this place in such a mess?

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Kitty Hawk Bald Eagle on Monday. Nesting season is fast approaching.

posted by eturek at 2:38 PM

Comments [4]

Sunday, December 6, 2009
Outer Banks: An Uplifting View
A number of phrases have been used over the years to describe the Outer Banks. So far my admittedly time-limited research has not revealed the origin of that place name, by which our particular barrier islands are identified. They have picturesque descriptions, too, which I try to avoid as being almost cliché, now, and besides, I like to credit my source, if I know of one. “Thin ribbon of sand” is an immediate example. Long-ago friend and writer Evan Wilson liked to call our area “an American edge of the earth” which if I borrow it—as now—I like to acknowledge as his naming, not my own. I’ve been thinking about descriptions such as thin ribbon and edge and outer this week because last Tuesday I had an infrequent but wonderful chance to fly the ‘Banks on an aerial photography assignment, and marvel all over again at how thin and fragile our islands look from the vantage point of 500-1,000 feet up.
Satellite photographs of the Outer Banks have circulated among shops here since the Apollo 9(?) mission astronauts photographed the coastline from Virginia down below Cape Hatteras. While I love them, there is something special to me about flying at a much lower altitude; while my view does not extend as far, I can see enough detail to be amazed at how little land really comprises our slice of paradise.
Grade school earth science will tell you that both the planet (and our own bodies, for that matter) are about ¾ water. Flying above the barrier islands, you’d be forgiven for challenging that as too high an estimate! As we were making our way from Corolla all the way to Hatteras and back again, I kept hearing Sting’s How Fragile We Are in my inner ear; I heard it all over again as I processed photographs to share with you.
The aerial sense of scale reveals how densely populated our landscape is in many places, and how powerfully that landscape continues to be shaped by the sea. Getting a chance to fly so soon after the Veteran’s Day Storm meant that I could look at the shoreline before the major beach bulldozing programs start moving the sand around and reshaping the dune line.
At day’s end, I had a call from Pete’s daughter MaryAnn in Elizabeth City who told me to stop whatever I was doing and go outside to look at the largest moon halo she had ever seen. I did—she was right; the ring was indeed, in her words, gi-normous (a handy invented word I use myself, often, when huge doesn’t seem quite big enough). I was delighted: the full moon’s rising at sunset was already forecast to be a non-event the next night, and indeed a dense cloud layer obscured moonrise. I was particularly interested in this month’s early full moon because December will have a blue moon this year, right on New Year’s Eve; that is, two full moons will occur within the same calendar month. The blue moon is the second moon, but I wanted a chance to photograph them both, if possible. The moon’s halo was not pure white but tinged with rainbow colors, which is apropos—moon halos, like sky smiles, are produced by light refracted through ice crystals. Its appearance was a fitting end to a banner day.

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The first thing I noticed was the height of the dune cliffs, and the erosion patterns, in Corolla.

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Walking along the edge...the couple and their dog give a sense of scale to the seascape.

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No Eve blog would be complete without some birdies. The biggest white blobs are gulls and the mediums are terns. The tiny ones in the wave wash? Sanderlings of course!

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Maybe the first person to call these barrier islands "thin ribbon of sand" flew here. This is Duck. See the pinch point? Inlets form here.

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I hope the resolution is good enough for you to see the seagrass just offshore.

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Lots of birds on Pea Island's south pond. The largest white blobs are swan; the smallest black ones are ducks.

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You can really see the currents and the shallower water from this perspective of Oregon Inlet.

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I couldn't resist a shot of Serendipity.

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Ocean channels aren't the only ones with shoaling issues. Here is the entrance to Colington Harbour.

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I needed a wide angle to get the full ring in one image.

posted by eturek at 5:07 PM

Comments [3]

(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 546496 times

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