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

Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Spring Equinox
My son Jason and I spent an enjoyable couple of evenings on Facebook recently, exchanging snippets of lyrics and poems. One of my favorite poets is ee cummings, especially in “time of daffodils who know the goal of living is to grow.” The Outer Banks is certainly experiencing the time of daffodils now—and osprey nesting, and pines offering their own Easter candles, and branches pinking up and greening up and bursting into sudden flower, as my non-native crabapple tree did overnight, just two days ago.       Days are lengthening. The sun has been slowly edging back north since the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. By the spring equinox, it reached the same point on the horizon as on the first day of fall. I went one more time to Avalon Pier to document the sun’s position on the first day of spring, as I did last year for summer, autumn, and winter.       The water just before dawn looked like a watercolor painting in pastels of peach and mauve. The cloudless sky turned a deep rose as the sun climbed above the horizon. Aiming right at the light with my lens turned the sun into a bright white disk floating in a darker orange sky, and long lines of pelicans into moving shadow shapes.      

The Yellowhouse bunny, whom I see every year near Easter, made its first appearance in the grass right in front of where I park my car a couple days ago. Sunday afternoon I walked the back side of Jockey’s Ridge and saw that everybody had been out and about—fox and raccoon and rabbit and mouse and deer, all sorts of birds, and even some bugs, leaving their tell-tale meanderings in the sand for anyone to follow. I followed several sets of tracks to dead ends; tracking in sand means that your trail is likely to disappear in the least wind, and we’ve had some blustery March days already.

Today was blustery in fact, and much cooler than yesterday was, with stiff west winds in the morning pushing layers of clouds ever eastward. Last night, driving home from an evening meeting, I saw the ridge line of clouds with a hard edge in the west, pulling back like a curtain to reveal clear skies underneath and one bright star.

The stormwater pond at Harris Teeter in Nags Head has a resident muskrat or nutria, I couldn’t tell which, as it was mostly submerged and swimming away from me as fast as possible, but the sighting was fun. The hole in the tree across the street has chickadees, as it did last year, so I suspect this is a pair that returns to the same nesting site, as the osprey do. Speaking of osprey, the pairs on Bay Drive are arriving, and may all be here by now. When I checked midweek last week, Ellen and Fred, the pair who nest near the public access pier and gazebo were home, but not doing much spring cleaning. The young couple who bravely built a nest atop a private dockhouse was nowhere in sight, but they may have returned by now. I’ve made several trips to Kitty Hawk to try to spot the female eagle, but I have not seen her. Another local photographer, Jay Wickens, told me yesterday that she is sitting on eggs, down in the nest, so that is good news for eagle lovers. Papa flies in occasionally and although I saw and photographed the pair two years ago, I have not seen the male this year either.

The kingfisher who spent mid-winter a year ago in a tree near the second bridge going west on Colington Road has been absent from that perch all winter this year—at least, when I’ve driven by. So much of nature observation is like this: seeing patterns that stay the same, and those that don’t, and paying enough attention to notice, either way. Below is some of what I’ve noticed over the past week or so.

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After days and days of thick gray overcast skies, this was the first hint that the light was breaking through.

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This chickadee worked and worked and worked but I never did see it succeed in freeing its prize.

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Ellen & Fred on their Bay Drive nest. Karen Watras tells me their nest is never as well built as many others.

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Sun sun sun here it comes! Spring sunrise at last!

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I call this, Fishing at Dawn.

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More morning pelicans.

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And still some more. As long as they kept flying by, I kept watching.

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Deer tracks leading to and from what is left of the rainwater pond at Jockeys Ridge.

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I may not know my native plants, but I know my colors. Pink and green mean spring!

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Some bunny loves you!

posted by eturek at 11:11 PM

Comments [4]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Osprey Are Back
Or as I wrote this time last year, NOW it's spring.
I've been keeping my eyes (and my heart) skyward lately, as the Colington osprey typically arrive sometime in early-mid March. Last year, Karen Watras (aka shellgirl), our very own resident osprey expert, clued me in to the birds' arrival along Bay Drive in Kill Devil Hills, and at Windgrass Circle in Kitty Hawk. The Windgrass Circle female arrived first last year, but I have not seen (or heard) any osprey along Bay Drive yet this year. I photographed the female osprey at the Colington Harbour marina on March 5 last year, so it seemed to be time for somebody to arrive somewhere! Karen has named the marina pair Grace and Henry; she tracks so many pair that naming them helps both of us keep straight who is who, and who is doing what.
Yesterday afternoon I checked both Bay Drive and the Colington marina: nothing. But at the marina I heard the familiar high cheeping whistle. Who was calling, and where was she? I say "she" because females typically return to the nest before the males. The call was not coming from overhead but from the east, and looking in that direction I could see the familiar outline. Someone was on the nest across the harbor!
Karen never named this pair, so I have dubbed them Sally & Sam. I went back this morning to check on that nest, and let me tell you, all kinds of goings-on were going on!
When i first arrived at the marina around 7:30 a.m., the nest beside the docks was empty, but Grace flew in not two minutes later. I could hear what sounded like multiple calls from the other nest; it was silhouetted against a pretty morning sky, and I had difficulty making out details, but I was certain of one thing: there was not one, not two, but THREE osprey vying for a seat in that nest! When I reported what I witnessed this morning to Karen, she reminded me that a Bay Drive pair, Ellen and Fred, had an interloper that we both guessed was a young female offspring from a previous nesting year. That female kept trying to move back in with Mom and Dad, who were having none of it. Eventually she and a young male set up their small first apartment, osprey-style, on top of a nearby gazebo, a lousy location with its sloping roof, but they somehow managed to get enough limbs to stay put to establish a makeshift nest. I suspect the third osprey in the triangle this morning was an offspring as well; Mom especially did not seem to want to accommodate her now grown daughter.
My Birder's Handbook tells me that a courting pair will exhibit various behaviors including soaring, circling, swift pursuit flight, and aerial manuvering. I got to see all of that and more this morning and have some images to share with you below. Males also feed their females--that behavior becomes critical once she is incubating eggs, as she will rely on him to bring the food she need, and food for newly hatched chicks as well. During the annual spring reunion, both males and females will catch fish, but having a mate who is a good fisherman is crucial to the eventual nesting success of any given osprey Mom.
After our osprey leave here in the fall, they fly south--usually to South America--and spend the winter apart. "Mating for life" means they will rendezvous at the same nest, spring after spring. I think it is interesting that even though each pair is mated already, both males and females will still exhibit courting behavior every spring. Maybe that helps explain how mating for life works--no taking for granted in osprey-land!
We have had a run of some warmer, sunnier days. Warm rain is in the forecast for the end of the week. I am glad I got to see the osprey before the showers drive me back inside again and as always, so glad to share them with you.

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The first sighting is always so exciting! Nest in Colington Harbour, March 9, 2010. I heard her before I saw her.

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Grace on the nest! No matter what the official calendar says, now it is spring in Colington.

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Three's A Crowd. Here, the Mama Osprey has just "encouraged" what I suspect is her daughter to go find her own place, while Dad looks on.

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What is more romantic than to be up with the sun on an Outer Banks morning?

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So who is courting whom here? The leader has a fish for breakfast.

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I just love watching them. I could have easily spent the entire morning in the marina.

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I'm not sure if this is part of the "aerial display" or "swift pursuit" behavior or if these two are spatting.

posted by eturek at 12:12 PM

Comments [824]

Monday, March 8, 2010
What's Trending Now

Experiencing March on the Outer Banks is a little like living with a teenager—sometimes unpredictable, with wild mood swings, but always fresh and exciting.  This year, March came in like a lion with an early nor’easter, so I am banking on a lamblike gentle ending to the month, right in time for Easter in early April.

As a dedicated (ok, you can read obsessive) journaler and photographer, I have a handy, built-in reference system for who, what, where, when, and sometimes why.  Starting my working life as a journalist in the guise of a reporter for the Outer Banks Current newspaper (which preceded the current Outer Banks Sentinel) honed skills in listening, observing, and note-taking.  I admit I am having much more fun these days, noticing natural comings and goings, and trying always to teach myself to pay even closer attention to my surroundings and who, or what, shares space with me. 

The morning after I posted my last entry, about seeing a flock of yellow-rumped warblers but no waxwings yet, I sat down near the window that looks out on our little backyard Colington woods, intent on my journaling.  The morning was beautiful and I was writing away when I heard a loud thunk, the sort of thunk that means, uh-oh. In this case, uh-oh, I think a bird just flew into my window. I got up, looked out, and sure enough—there was a small little somebody lying in the leaves right under the window, pumping its tiny tail feathers up and down but not moving otherwise.  Uh-oh quickly became Oh-No. I brought my outside kitty Timba onto my front porch and dashed around the house.  Timba doesn’t usually chase the birds, but like all kitties he is curious, and the last thing the little somebody needed was a curious cat. The somebody turned out to be a small Cedar Waxwing. Its little bill was offset, giving it a cross-billed appearance (I guess flying bill first into my window accounts for that) but otherwise the bird looked okay, just stunned—no blood, no odd angles to its head or wings or tail. I’d grabbed gardening gloves on my way out, so I put one on and picked the little darling up, cooing and shhhing and clucking to it. I even pished—that sort of birding sound that often flushes songbirds out into open branches, not knowing what sort of call the waxwings have, but wanting to invoke comfort and ease.  (I looked the call up later; waxwings have, according to one description, a sort of buzzy trill rather than a melodious song series. I am a lousy whistler, so even had I known, I doubt I could have replicated it.)  I put the bird on a board in the backyard, sat down beside it, and waited. And prayed. And waited some more. It looked around, looked at me and all at once, in a flash of wings and courage, the little waxwing flew out and then up, landing in a nearby holly tree. Whew. That was a close call.

I went back in, sat down to my journal again, and not two minutes later: ka-thunk! Aw, man…I went back out. No bird on the ground, but I could see the problem.  The windows on the back of the house face west, and birds flying east with the morning sun in their eyes could see, I am certain, what I could see—the appearance of tree limbs in my window’s reflection.  Local birds obviously know the house is here, but these Cedar Waxwings are migrants, just passing through, ma’am.  I found a patterned afghan and tacked it up inside my window. Tacky décor (pun intended) but no more thunks.  The waxwings don’t stay long so I will take the afghan back down in a few days.

When I left the house later in the morning, the yellow-rumped warblers were all still present, chowing down waxy berries from my cedar tree. And what should fly into the cedar (and into my dogwood too, for that matter), but an adult waxwing—first one, then a small flock, flying across the street and back again.  I’d like to think the waxwings, who stayed obligingly still long enough for me to take a series of photographs, were saying thank you in their own way.  I was saying thank you, too.  Looking back at my records, I see the waxwings arrived two weeks earlier than they did last year.  I’m so glad I was home to help the little one, and hopefully prevent any more close encounters with the mirage in my window.

Mac (aka Woodduck) wrote to tell me that a large raft of ducks has been bobbing about behind the Lone Cedar Restaurant on the Nags Head causeway. I drove over a few afternoons ago, and saw the group he’d been talking about.  All sorts of diving ducks and dabbling ducks were in the group, from hooded mergansers and buffleheads to some beautiful redheads, who were either redheaded ducks or canvasback ducks, I couldn’t tell which from the shore. Maybe Mac can identify all these ducks for us.

All sorts of birds are on the move now, but I have not yet seen any Colington Harbour osprey yet. They were here by March 5 last year, and are my official spring heralds.  The other spring herald is the blooming of the first daffodil in my little yard, and that took place this morning—nearly three weeks behind its blooming in the past two years.  Every year, my mother said, it always snows on the daffodils, so while I am enjoying these recent sunny days, I am also anticipating at least one more flurry of flakes.  That’s spring, just like adolescence, holding its own special place in the pace of the year. 

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Cedar on cedar...cedar waxwing, that is. Waxwings can digest the waxy cedar berries. My artist friend EM Corsa tells me they also love her ligustrum in early spring.

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Yellow-rumped warblers, like waxwings, can also digest waxy berries. My cedar tree had a bumper crop this winter, just in time for spring arrivals.

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We haven't made it up to Carova to check out the seaside gleanings there, but the Kitty Hawk beach looks promising.

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Since I can't be everywhere at once, I deeply appreciate others who clue me in to what I might otherwise miss. Thanks, Woodduck, for sharing these ducks!

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The offset line of breakers stretched south, the water dancing between the tide and the wind.

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I have seen only a couple of finches at Yellowhouse, but EM Corsa tells me they are hogging her feeders in great numbers.

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First daffodil of 2010--blooming three weeks later than last year.

posted by eturek at 11:56 AM

Comments [2]

(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 546548 times

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