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

Sunday, February 28, 2010
Sounds of Spring
The past several days, I have heard spring out my front door, in the form of symphonic birdsong, all the different feathered instruments tuning up at once in the early morning light: robins and blue jays, a thrush and the season’s first brown thrasher, and tiny yellow-rumped warblers, so named because of their, well, yellow rumps. They have a splash of yellow on their flanks and a pale dab of yellow on their heads, but the hindquarters get all the attention, so much so that their nickname is “butter-butts.” My front yard has been full of them this week, and I have seen them between the beach road and bypass, and in other yards around Colington Harbour, making me wonder just how many little warblers flew in on the last cold front.       Here is what Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab has to say about my wondering: “Yellow-rumped Warblers are impressive in the sheer numbers with which they flood the continent each fall.” Cornell goes on to advise readers to look for them during their spring migration, when the yellow intensifies. Like Cedar Waxwings, another spring migrant I haven’t seen yet, these little birds can eat waxy berries, like those found on our wax myrtle or bayberry bushes. Their normal diet is insects, particularly flying insects, but they also eat other berries, beach grass seeds, feeder seeds, peanut butter, and suet! No wonder they are so prolific—no trouble with finding food sources here.

Last Wednesday, artist-friend E.M. Corsa and I were returning from a day’s jaunt in the Big City of Chesapeake under dull gray skies when we both spotted the largest flock of snow geese we each had ever seen, stretching in a long line behind some old barns, just off US 158 near Moyock. I turned around and pulled over; neither of us could figure a way to estimate the total number of birds there. My wide angle shot could not encompass the whole line, and shooting wide meant the birds looked like a pale white swath of cotton in the distance, rather than what they actually were; zooming in closer confirmed these were snow geese, presumably headed back north, but did not provide the same sense of scale and great numbers. This was one time when photography failed to convey the full reality.

The next day, the weeklong theme of abundance continued, this time with thousands of Northern Gannets in the starring role, flying steadily north in long lines, looking like white pelicans skimming the offshore waves.       Closer to shore, gulls were wheeling and landing and taking off again, but the gannets I saw did no diving for dinner during the 45 minutes or so that I watched them. At one point, I left South Nags Head and drove back north, stopping again to catch the flight path around milepost 11; from there, I called a couple of friends and told them to stop at a beach access to catch a glimpse of the migration while they could. Again I found myself wondering how long the line had been flying before I got to the beach around 4:30 p.m., and how many individual gannets were headed back to their breeding grounds in the North Atlantic. True seabirds, they come ashore only to nest, spending the rest of the year on the water.      

Meanwhile, our cool weather has produced some lovely cloud-shows, on those partly-cloudy afternoons when the partly-sunny skies were in the west. The nearly full moon was surrounded two evenings ago by single and double halos, optical phenomena produced by cirrus clouds that seemed to race across the moon’s face in the high westerly winds, filtering the moonlight to rainbow effect.       I am grateful for these few recent sunnier days, as another winter storm is forecast for midweek.

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Yellow-rumped warbler showing off its best side, perched for a few seconds in my dogwood tree.

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That line of seeming cotton, stretching behind the barns, is really thousands of Snow Geese.

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This is one time when memory, more than a photograph, will have to do.

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Gulls and Gannets, a winning combination.

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The white-winged gannets gleam in the afternoon light.

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Here is one of each: Gull closer to shore, Northern Gannet further out.

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I love going to the ocean in the late afternoon, sun over my shoulder, looking seaward.

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Same spot, looking more north.

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I caught a glimpse of the golden light on the Sound, and pulled over at Tanger Outlet to find a vantage point to photograph from.

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These cirrus clouds are responsible for the halo around the moon; the ice crystals refract the moonlight.

posted by eturek at 4:21 PM

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(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 446877 times

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