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

Saturday, March 21, 2009
Spring Equinox

The first day of spring befuddled the weather forecasters (they called for morning rain and spring delivered welcome sunshine instead) and delighted yours truly--after fretting over the late arrival of the Osprey pair that nests closest to my house, I heard that familiar high, cheeping whistle Friday morning, shortly after the official start of spring (7:44 a.m., if anyone cares to know).  Looking up, I certainly received a spring gift--two osprey circling high overhead. They have a lot of work to do in a hurry to get their nest ready for little Osprey; the pair in the marina seems to have finished their nest-building, and the other nests around the area are in various stages of construction as well. The missing pair on Bay Drive in Kill Devil Hills showed up a day or two earlier, along with a lone bird who may be waiting for a mate, or may be an offspring from one of the four pair that has been nesting there the past few years. Juvenile Osprey will return to their general birthplace, but not immediately. They spend their first summer on their parents' wintering grounds, learning to be on their own, before making the migratory journey back north at the end of their second winter. Meanwhile, one of the Colington marina Osprey exhibited some odd behavior I have never seen from Osprey, nor read about. So far google has not produced any satisfactory explanations.  The only description I can give you for the photo below is a "head-throw display" -- something that other birds do, particularly in courtship or when threatened or threatening another (think gulls, here), but I have never witnessed it from an Osprey before. The mate was nowhere to be seen or heard, and yet this Osprey repeated the head back, mouth open without sound, display five separate times. Good thing my camera has a continuous, or burst, feature, so I could count them on the back side!

The ocean was fiercely beautiful for spring's first day, despite strong north winds that kept me mostly in the car, and sent waves of sand down beach as well as the more traditional kind. Enjoy!



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Sunshine for Spring! What more could anyone ask?

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One of the best parts about being a naturalist is realizing, over and over and over, how much I still don't know...such as, for instance, what this display means in Osprey-speak.

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For those of you who read Uncle Jack's blog, you will immediately recognize this as Osprey's version of a 52-inch-you-know-what! ;) Seriously, can you imagine lugging this limb home?

posted by eturek at 10:45 PM

Comments [4]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
March's Dual Personality

This afternoon, just before the sun (finally!) broke through the heavy cloud blanket of the past few days, the ocean was wearing the Green, an appropriate color for St. Patrick's Day. Green is a spring color anyway, and is more and more obvious. whether we  look up or down or out and east in order to see it.

When I think of spring, I think of punchy, March-as-Lion words, words that also describe fireworks: burst, explode, dazzle. But I also think of quiet, contemplative, March-as-Lamb words, words like unfold, emerge, or flow.  Even the season’s name—spring—provides me with simultaneous images that reflect this duality. I see coils, and picture Tigger bouncing exuberantly on his tail, ka-boing, ka-boing, ka-BOING!  I also seem to hear and see a small, gurgling bubble of water, and watch it run downhill into rivulets and eventually make a river. Spring is a lot like love this way. And love—or at least continuation of the species—is exactly spring’s specialty.

Last week, the buds on my crabapple tree that were oh-so-slowly unfolding (spring’s contemplative side) suddenly burst, overnight, into full flower (spring’s fireworks side).  I saw the first ladybug, crawling slowly (lamb-like) and the first Very Loud Buzzing Insect, that went zipping by so quickly I still don’t know what it was (chalk up one point for the lion).  I have one daffodil bulb that is sitting at the bottom of a tall cement column that once supported a bird bath. I suspect the bulb was dug and dropped by a squirrel in a past year, since I often see squirrels in the dogwood tree above the daffodil bed, and in fact, saw one there just this week. The bulb has steadfastly grown toward the light, up-up-up, much taller than its species generally grows, and today it popped a large bud above the rim in (ah, finally) open air. I would have never known it was there except for its tenacity.  The gum trees, long bare, now have swollen leaf-like buds, hints of what they will soon burst to become.

Both the male and female Osprey at the Colington Harbour marina nest are here, working to make the nest larger, rearranging the softer material that lines the nest, and engaging in some Osprey, well, foreplay, a prelude to the real thing.  Why do I think the female has not yet laid her eggs? Because both Osprey are leaving the nest at various times both morning and afternoon.  Once they mate and she lays her eggs, the female will become a stay-at-home Mom, while the male does practically all the fishing for the both of them for as long as she is incubating the eggs – at least, that is what the research says. The male occasionally takes over incubation, briefly, giving his mate a break, but for the most part he’s the fisherman and she stays put. Another pair across the harbor to the east are also both here, and late last week I saw five at once, either at nests, perching nearby, or over-flying the harbor.  Meanwhile, Karen Watras, my eagle-eyed, er, osprey-eyed watcher of the four pair along Bay Drive in Kill Devil Hills, reports two full pair arrived, one lone female, and one nest still unoccupied as of today (March 17). We’re both concerned about the late arrivals, and hoping the warm spell forecast to begin tomorrow, along with some much welcomed sunshine, will bring the missing Osprey along.  I still have not seen an Osprey at either nest just outside of Colington Harbour, nor have I found an occupant at the nest I watch sporadically in Kitty Hawk, at Shady Run Park, but I hope to check again quickly tomorrow morning. 

Not only are the Osprey settling in, so is an entire flock of House Sparrows that share the Osprey’s nest at the marina, using the cavities in the open-weave basket design of the Osprey nest to lay their own eggs.  House Sparrows are opportunistic nesters, and their habit of nesting in rafters or under eaves of houses has helped to earn them their name.  They like to nest high, to help protect their eggs and chicks (and I’m thinking, nothing like rooming with a raptor to wave off would-be predators).  Since Osprey dine almost exclusively on fish, they are no threat to the little birds that sublet space in their large nest, but I did notice that as the sparrows flew in and out, chirping and singing, whichever Osprey was at the nest would often look down at the other birds. If the larger bird moved suddenly, the sparrows would all fly away, only to come back en masse in minutes. 

Another sign of spring showed up late this afternoon in the guise of a small flock of Cedar Waxwings gorging on red berries. Waxwings are fruit-eaters; one website I read indicated that in the spring, with warm weather following a cold spell, waxwings can become quite tipsy as they eat fruit that has fermented with the sudden temperature change. We’ve had some blustery, northeast-driven, grey, drizzly March-as-lion days…I think I better keep an eye out for erratically flying Cedar Waxwings as the weather warms again tomorrow and Friday. 

Tonight, walking my Westie, Mikey, shortly after 10 p.m., I can see the Big Dipper swinging overhead for the first time in days, and I can hear the ocean, all the way back in Colington. The weather channel confirms what my flag shows: the winds are much less, but still out of the north, and the ocean, according to my ears, is still cranking.

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How Sea-Green gets its name...big waves and just a hint of the sun to come.

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I think Gulls are the original Hang-Gliders, riding the north wind currents.

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Maybe this is the squirrel that dug up and replanted the tenacious daffodil? (See last entry for bulb photo.)

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The male Osprey will hover, perform aerial manuvers and land atop his mate--all part of the courtship ritual even though this pair has been mated for many years.

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Hey, honey, look what I found for the deck!

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I think I liked the overstuffed couch better on that wall, after all...

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Subletting to House Sparrows

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I spy two sparrows...can you?

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Ah, an Outer Banks sunrise! It is going to be another beautiful day...

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Cedar Waxwing in Colington

posted by eturek at 7:56 AM

Comments [5]

Friday, March 13, 2009
Tides of March Part II

The Tides of March, Part II


Today March on the Outer Banks is showing its not-spring-yet side.  Weather is fascinating in any locale, and we have plenty of opportunities here to experience its full range of personalities.  On Wednesday, with temperatures in the upper 70s and winds around 25 mph from the SSW, the Outer Banks definitely felt like spring—enough so to push every crabapple bud all the way into full flower.  If flowers knew regret, these might be wishing they’d been a bit less hasty.  Yesterday, the winds shifted northeast, and the temperature dropped to a high of about 48; today feels even more raw, with heavy grey skies, continued northeast winds, some spring sprinkles, and temps in the lower 40s. History buffs take note: this is the 16th anniversary of the infamous “March Storm” of 1983, the storm the weather channel is dubbing SuperStorm, that dropped record amounts of snowfall in places like Mount Mitchell, NC and Alabama, that logged what may be the all-time lowest barometric pressure (of just above 28 in Chesapeake Bay) and caused widespread flooding here on the Outer Banks.

By all accounts, the beach near Oregon Inlet will be closed soon to vehicular traffic (I have heard as soon as this weekend) so I took one last chance to ride the beach yesterday for this season with Pete’s son Patrick. We saw a Cormorant waddling at the water’s edge; I suspect its wing was injured but I could not get close enough to it to perform critter rescue (which would have consisted in covering it with blanket or towels and taking it to Dr. Mark Grossman, a certified wildlife rehab vet at the Roanoke Island Animal Clinic).  My presence just caused it to walk faster into the wave wash so I backed off and left it to its fate. I admit, I was not comforted by the thought that had I not gone, I would never have known. Letting go is a life-challenge for me, anyway, and critters are no exception.

The beach at low tide was narrower with the northeast driven waves than it was the day before; I also noticed fewer shell beds. Only a few gulls were braving the wind, along with a couple of sanderlings. For the most part the birds were hunkered down somewhere warmer—which is what we did, too, leaving the beach after only one brief pass. This is the weather that inspires good reading…I have promised myself, and therefore you, that I will soon, on one of these too-rainy-to-go-photograph spring days, compile a list of reads that I have enjoyed and you might find interesting as well. When naturalists cannot be outdoors, at least we can read about it!


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Even on a nondescript sort of greying, blowing northeast day, the ocean manages to always be beautiful

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Everything in me wanted to find a way to rescue this bird, but I knew my pursuit of it could only make its injuries, whatever they are, worse. Best I could do was honor its beauty by taking this photograph for you.

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Here's that tenacious daffodil bud I wrote about in my last entry. To The Light! To The Light! Wise, wise flower.

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My flowering crabapple is surrounded by budding dogwoods and gum trees whose limbs and branches still look like winter.

posted by eturek at 3:12 PM

Comments [1]

Thursday, March 12, 2009
The Tides of March

Having Pete’s youngest son Patrick with us for a few days has given us great excuses to go out onto the beach and we can see some evidence of spring there as well. I saw my first Laughing Gull coming into breeding plumage (their head is capped with black in breeding season but is nondescript at other times of year).  We again saw a Red-breasted Merganser—just one, not a flock this time—and the Northern Gannets flew closer to shore than they did any of the previous times I have seen them this winter, allowing me to get a photograph to share with you. Grandson Michael, credited with finding a live Channel Whelk on our last excursion to Carova found two live Hermit Crabs inside Moon Snail shells on this Sunday’s trek.  (No, we didn’t let him bring them home either.)  The Carova beach tide line was marked, as before, with skate egg cases, whelk egg cases, shells and shell fragments and—this week’s oddity—a number of skulls, as well as fish bones and bird bones. Now, I am usually up for collecting just about anything, but I have to tell you, those skulls were so stinky even I had to bail on riding home with them in the SUV. At our next shelling stop, we put them back, reluctantly, and I had to be content to take photographs instead. I have treated beach finds with bleach, to kill any bacteria that may be present and help diminish the odor, but I’m not sure Clorox would have been a match for these. Maybe in another dozen years after the ocean and sun have done more work to wash and bleach them. We also found several crab molts, which I photographed as well in order to identify them later.  Photography is a great boon to studying natural history in modern times; many of the naturalists of past centuries were great artists, like Audubon or Britain’s John Gould or Rev. F. O. Morris.  Their powers of description married art and science, which is what I like to think I’m doing myself, following in their tracks.

In addition to the squirrel, and a raccoon that comes and goes along with an opossum at dusk on our deck, I sighted mega-fauna this week in the form of a white-tailed doe deer literally at the edge of NC 12 just south of the entrance to Coquina. I was so elated and alarmed, all at once, that I stopped the car and pulled over on the opposite side, rolling down my window to simultaneously take her picture, pray for her safety, and wave at other motorists headed north to slow down. I said what I always say, seeing animals close to danger: baby, stay out of the road, stay out of the road.  She kept foraging at the roadside, twitching her ears and her tail but she never raised her white flag to bolt.  I finally pulled opposite her after I saw no traffic approaching, and clapped my hands and yelled, hoping to spur her caution.  Nothing doing. She looked at me and twitched her ears again and kept on grazing. I drove south, my heart pounding, and prayed again. When I turned around in a few minutes and drove back north, she was gone, and I was glad.

Temperatures continued their roller coaster ride again this week, with a higher peak (upper 70’s on Monday) as well as a drop that was not so severe. Winds have swung between several days of westerlies to today’s strong northeast wind. The strong west wind coupled with low tide at Coquina left that beach as wide as I have seen it in a long, long time on Monday.  Some of the Brown Pelicans at the site of the old Jennette’s Pier are starting to show their breeding colors, too. Check out the chestnut-color on the back of the neck. Even with the east wind, the air and sun were comfortably in the 60s today, although the beach was markedly narrower. (Not bad for late winter by the calendar.)  Cooler air arrived Tuesday, left this morning, and is forecast for tomorrow (Thursday), along with grey skies and showers by the weekend.  The weather channel’s website reminds me that last Wednesday’s high was 39 degrees. This up-and-down personality that March exhibits persuades me to get outdoors and enjoy the sun every chance I get.  I suspect that is good advice, in any season. 


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Coquina was wide, wide, wide. True, tide is going out...but still. Lots and lots of room for toddlers today.

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Michael's Great Beach Find: Live hermit crab!

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Just one of many we found. Anyone know for sure what this one is from?

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The Northern Gannets were working a wave break much closer to shore than they were our last time out. Notice the pale bill and the barest hint of what will become a brighter golden head.

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The salt-and-pepper look will fade as breeding plumage goes for a cover-up-the-gray look. Seriously...Laughing Gulls sport black heads in spring and summer but pale ones in winter. This one is right in between, in keeping with the season.

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Red-breasted Merganser...flying south. What does it know that we don't?

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Doe-a-deer. Too close to the road for my comfort...but she evidently wandered or bounded back into the brush. I'm grateful to have seen her, and glad she stayed safe for that day at least.

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Pellies! I just love them. They make me smile whenever I spot one.

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Notice the dark brown back-of-neck on the one bird. It has already started showing its spring wardrobe...aka, breeding plumage.

posted by eturek at 10:53 AM

Comments [606]

Thursday, March 5, 2009
NOW It's Spring!!!

Forget robins.

Forget daffodils, even.

The one, failsafe, happy harbinger of spring for us on the Outer Banks is Osprey.

And they’re back!

Never mind I had to scrape my windshield this morning to go see for myself.

Never mind that it snowed on the daffodils on Monday (pictures for proof below).

The Osprey are back, and that is spring’s rallying cry.

 Osprey are wonderful birds for us on the Outer Banks, because they tend to be so much, well, like us. They are great creatures of habit. They return to their cottage, er, nest, about the same time every spring to de-winterize it, repair and redecorate.  All of this is great fun to watch, and what is even greater, watching is something we can actually do. Our Osprey are definitely less spooky than some of the other birds here. We can get close to them without their flying away, so we can learn a lot by simply paying attention. Add to that attention all the scientific studies on the birds that have been done since they, like eagles, were considered in danger forty years ago, and we have a lot of information about them. My eyes and my calendar tell me that the osprey are migratory, leaving every year late in September, and returning in the beginning of March, give or take. Last year’s earlier-than-usual spring had Osprey arriving back at the end of February, and indeed, some of our Outer Banks birds – the ones that nest on the poles alongside the Wright Memorial Bridge – were back in mid-February this year. Karen Watras (shellgirl) reported seeing an osprey bathing in the sound beside the bridge, and Pete and I saw two Osprey on two separate nests while taking one of our trips mid-month to Virginia. I can also tell you that sometimes isolated birds over-winter, or stay much later; I saw one bird fishing the cove near Colington Café very late in the fall, but it finally left.

Science tells me that east coast osprey typically fly to South America to overwinter, although some northern, New England birds stop in Florida, and Pete and I saw osprey in the Everglades and around Fort Myers the past two Januarys.  Banding studies also reveal that juveniles do not return in their first year, but spend at least eighteen months on wintering grounds, establishing full independence after their parents fly back north. We also know that Osprey mate for life and return, not only to the same locale but to the same nest, making them easy to study.

The birds I pay most attention to are those closest to my Colington home. There is an active nest right on the marina in Colington Harbour, and another outside the gate roughly due east of my house; it is that pair I see over-flying my house in the early morning and late afternoon, along with a pair that nests near the Colington water tower. As of yesterday, I still had not seen any of those three pair here, despite checking at different times almost daily, but Karen told me she had seen an osprey sitting on the nesting platform yesterday mid-morning at the marina. I checked myself yesterday afternoon. Zilch. But this morning was so pretty and crisp, I decided to scope out the nesting site again, and there she was.

I say “she” because some of the banding studies I read indicate that females migrate a bit earlier than males, so I am assuming she is the one who is here. Sounds plausible to me, that she is looking around to see what needs discarding and where to put all their new summer furniture before he arrives and they start the actual work of gathering dead limbs to rebuild. Our winter winds have abolished many of the area nests; collectively, the Osprey have a lot of work to do to get them ready for youngsters. Stay tuned for more reports as I have them – and more photographs. This is just a teaser, as Pete and I are headed to VA again this morning to see a friend recovering from knee surgery, but I will post more photographs tonight.

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Here she is, sitting on the nesting platform, scoping out her digs.

posted by eturek at 9:04 AM

Comments [8]

Tuesday, March 3, 2009
It Always Snows On The Daffodils
At least, that is what my mother used to say, after duly noting the first blossom. Not that she was a pessimist; she just knew her daffodils. Especially, she knew a little snow wouldn't kill them, which is what I always worried about, once they bloomed and snow was forecast. While lots of other places had true March-Lion weather, we had fast-n-furious flurries for only a couple of hours late yesterday afternoon, enough for a dusting, but not enough to stay around past this morning's (welcome) sunshine. Temperatures are still cold, though--the cats' water keeps freezing, and kitty Timba keeps dashing in to curl up near our gas fireplace--but all the weather predictions agree that the end of the week will feel like spring again. (Read, yippee.)

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Cheery...and hardy. Thank goodness. Today you'd never know they were snow-sprinkled 24 hours earlier.

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Here is a winter photograph, of sorts. The snow was fun to watch while it lasted. (Northerners take note: we OBer's get excited over the tiniest white stuff, since we see so little of it, compared to what you live with, that is.)

posted by eturek at 4:18 PM

Comments [0]

Monday, March 2, 2009
The Winter Beach

During the past week, I’ve managed to squeeze in some time outdoors at what I suspect is the favorite Outer Banks location for many of us – the beach!  On Feb. 24th, I had an unusual beach experience, even for winter here. I’d parked at the regional Nags Head beach access, just south of Yellowhouse, and crossed over the dune to see…nobody. Nada. Nuthin’, honey. Well, nearly nobody. After I walked out onto the sand, I noticed one lone gull, directly in front of me. We had the beach completely to ourselves, as far as my eye could focus, until two or three more flew to my north. The weather was brisk, near freezing, with light NE winds around 10 mph, and a late afternoon sun beginning to cast long shadows. The wrack lines were fairly clean, although I did find one small piece of white frosted seaglass.  Plenty of folks had been driving up and down the beach, judging from the tire tracks – I found an intact whelk case lying right in the middle of one set.  The tracks themselves revealed an interesting beach feature: a series undulations, sort of like mini-dunes, running from the dune line to the tide line, in parallel ridges. As I watched the waves break and recede, the water ran up in between the ridges, carving out mini valleys. Some of the tire tracks were fairly fresh and I imagined those drivers had a roller-coaster ride if they didn’t drive slower than usual.  More on dunes and dune formation in a later blog!  If I get myself lost in my physical geography texts, I’ll never get these pictures out to you today!! 

 On the 27th, I got up for sunrise on what turned out to be a wonderfully spring-like day; the temperature at dawn was already above 50 degrees, with no wind. As you will see below, a band of clouds on the horizon and a wider band above provided plenty of opportunity for hide and seek sunshine. For a brief period while I was driving south towards Bodie Island, some rain bands over Roanoke Island created a portion of a rainbow over the sound but it faded before I could pull over to share it with you. The clouds west and east met shortly after and resulted in a partly cloudy day mostly all day long.  We usually see our most dramatic sunrises in the winter, with cold temperatures and interesting cloud formations combined with low humidity, but the morning sky proved to be dramatic with its deep magentas and hot pinks. Worth rising for, that’s certain.

 The weekend provided downpours, sprinkles, and drizzles with a wet-blanket sky throwing a wet-blanket mood over any planned outdoor activity. It’s not raining right this minute, but the cold has returned (cold enough to tease with a few flakes of snow earlier) and the wind is brisk.  Brrrr.  Today it looks and feels like winter…the sort of winter that invites curling up in front of a warm fire, maybe with a cup of tea, and a good book. More on The Naturalist’s Bookshelf, later, as well.  Meanwhile, enjoy the photos below.


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Winter Beach, Looking South

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Winter Beach - Looking North

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Gull and Me

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Roller-coaster Ridges

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Whelk egg case - can you see the sea serpent shadow??

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Especially for Uncle Jack - a winter sunrise!

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The sun didn't emerge until well above the horizon's cloud bank.

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Freezing cold...but beautiful all the same.

posted by eturek at 2:06 PM

Comments [8]

(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 547854 times

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