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

Friday, March 11, 2011
Spring Forward
March came in like a lion with brisk winds so I am hoping its lamb-like leave-taking will hold true. On some days when the temperatures have been more temperate, the wind chill still leaves me chilled. We’ve had more days now combining calm with balmy sunshine and those feel especially like spring.

All the recent signs of an early spring—from first daffodil blooms to greening beach grasses to pink tree buds, from pelicans beginning to show off breeding colors to sudden flocks of robins—mean little without spring’s final confirming sign: the return of the osprey. We usually see them by mid-March here in Colington. Some pairs typically arrive earlier than others; the pairs that nest in the Colington marina are “early birds,” as is at least one of the pairs that nests near the Wright Memorial Bridge. A pair that nests outside the gated area of Colington Harbour, and regularly overflies my house, was so late coming home last year that I was worried something might have happened to one or both of them.

I’ve been driving down to the marina every couple of days as I get a chance to check the nest there, and on March 2 our first female was sitting atop the nest platform at the end of Tyrrell Court! Several days later I heard from the office folks at the clubhouse that the female (they arrive first) was on the marina nest, and I got to see her briefly on Wednesday. I have taken to calling the osprey there by the names Karen Watras (shellgirl) gave them many years ago: Grace and Henry. Grace’s arrival means that spring is here to stay. So far I cannot report seeing or hearing of any pairs yet—just the moms.

During the past week, I’ve also seen one osprey at the Dare County courthouse nest; one osprey at the nest at the foot of the bridge connecting Roanoke Island to Nags Head; and not one but two osprey at a time overflying my house! Here’s who I have not seen yet (doesn’t mean one is not back, I just haven’t seen them): the Lone Cedar osprey, and no evidence from the nest of their arrival; the nest across from the Colington Methodist Church; the nest near the cemetery on Colington Road; and the nest that is on the sound roughly across from Colington Realty. Karen tells me that the pair she now watches most often, Ellen & Fred who nest near the gazebo on Bay Drive, still have not arrived, but that the female that nested precariously last year atop a gazebo to the north returned this week to the exact same oddly-located nest.

The same day I spied the season’s first osprey, I also drove down to the tip of Pea Island. I’d thought I’d continue to the ponds to see who was still hanging out down there, whether the swan were still present, and if avocets were now in full breeding brown. But I was diverted from my purpose by the happiest of surprises: a long line of cormorants stretching along the inlet’s north shore that I could see from the top of Bonner Bridge, and long v’s of cormorants soaring in great waves from west to east.       A bird in the lens (or hundreds of them, as the case might be) is certainly worth two in the bush (or on the sound, as the case might be). That was my reasoning, anyway. Too often in the past I have dashed away from one thing in pursuit of something else that might be down the road. I’m learning a bit better to stay put with what is. So I parked on the south side and walked down toward the old Coast Guard station basin. From there I could see what I’d first spotted from the bridge and the line was longer than I’d thought. I watched birds fly overhead toward the ocean and wheel around to come join the party. At the edge of the basin itself were two lone ducks, a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. They were snoozing and were content to let me take a long look at them. Neither seemed to mind my being there. At one point the male yawned. I love that. It is so universal a gesture and is one of my favorite behaviors to photograph. There was something sweet about the way the two were snuggled on the shore and I left them alone to think spring thoughts.

Driving back north, I stopped to look at the ocean in Nags Head. There was a great group of birds just riding the swell a bit to the south. As I made my way down beach, the flock came to meet me in droves, settling onto the water again exactly opposite where I was. I’d heard that a friend had seen hundreds of gannets at once the day before; this day the theme was definitely cormorants. We’ll see them repeatedly now, coming and going north and south, all through spring.

On March 7, Pete and I and his son Patrick, visiting from up north, drove down to Oregon Inlet on the beach right at low tide. The winds were brisk again and there was not a single cormorant where thousands had been just five days earlier. The night before we had very strong winds and the ocean was pounding. The Corps of Engineers dredge Merritt was dredging the navigation channel—closer to the edge of the shoreline than I have ever seen it work. You’ll see what I mean from the photo below. A group of gulls was working its wake and other gulls were on the lee shore to the west, but there were few birds on the ocean side of the long drive down beach.       Since we saw no pelicans, and since we were driving at low tide, we started to pay attention to the shell beds for possible whelks. We found one whelk, but that was not the day’s gift. Instead, what we found was astounding—something I could not have imagined.

We found whole angel wings. I have lived here since 1976; I think I have found only one or two whole ones in that entire time. They are so fragile, so brittle, that I find only fragments, and not many of those. I’ve gone entire years without seeing even a sizeable broken piece. But on March 7 we found an easy dozen of the shells in all sorts of sizes, tossed and tumbled by a storm-wind driven sea, only to land on a hard sand beach, whole, unbroken, just waiting to be found. I even spotted one small pair, still joined. Perfect Angel Wings, paired. I took several shells, many photographs, and long deep grateful breaths. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that finding, be those from science or from a reality beyond the scientific. I know for me, they came as promise. All these gifts are below for you to enjoy as well. So, enjoy.

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If March comes in like a lion... here we are, March 1. Any bets for the weather March 31?

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Even if these are non-native, they are spring symbols, and lovely.

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Here's a true OBX native! Well, spring and summer at least. One of the Colington females, March 4.

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One instance when ultra-wide angle comes in handy.

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Yes, the afternoon really was this calm and the feeling of serenity was really this tangible.

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Everywhere I went this day, cormorants!! This is the group that flew toward me and then stopped to land right in front of me.

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So Sleepy! A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers.

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Look how close the dredge is to the edge of the beach!

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As my friend Janie might have said, "Not for nothing, but..." Look how rough this ocean is!

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And look what the storm-driven waves brought with them, as Gift: Angel Wings.

posted by eturek at 9:58 PM

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(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 561332 times

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