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

Thursday, June 13, 2013
Whales and Foxes and Bears! Oh My!
We interrupt our travelogue blogs for this update on critter-happenings right here on the Outer Banks.

Two weeks ago I was hearing and seeing reports (thank you, OBC and Facebook) of whales being seen, ranging from south Nags Head up to Avalon Pier, depending on which day and what time of day. Humpbacks migrate past our shores headed north in February/March, and while an occasional spout is seen in the summer, having a pod of humpbacks hanging around for several days, sporting and breaching and spouting is a rare treat (that is an understatement). The water was still fairly cold, but I wondered all sorts of things: how come this particular group did not head north with the rest of the clan? What delayed their departure…and are more coming in their wake, so to speak?

I got my first real chance to see for myself that Sunday afternoon. I finally caught up to one at the regional Kitty Hawk beach access; it was headed north, so I headed north, too. At Blachen Street I finally was close enough to see its beautiful back curving in the water and track its spouts. Then came the surprises: not one, not two, but three separate breaches, exploding up out of the water without warning, like a rocket launching from an underground silo you did not even know was there. I missed all three photographs, as I was scanning the ocean with my eyes rather than having my narrow-circle long lens up to my face right at that second. By the time I lifted the lens, the whale was back under water. It never surfaced in the same spot twice. The best part was I got to share the moment with beachgoers. As the whale was headed north still, I got back in my car and drove to Kitty Hawk Pier where I waited…and waited…and waited. Wildlife photography for me is a lot like what I observe of fishing. Lots of patient (ok, sometimes not so patient) waiting. I never saw the whale approach or pass, but after a good hour, there one was, well to the north again. There is no public beach access for that stretch of shoreline, so I bid it fare-thee-well with a bunch of giddy thank-you’s thrown in. Life is great.

The female grey fox we see so much of at Yellowhouse has given us tremendous gifts in 2013. This year, she denned under the frame shop. On numerous occasions, she brought her four young kits out, to our great delight and that of several of our customers and friends, who have been treated to our own homegrown version of NatGeo. Mom looks healthy and for the first time, we’ve seen Dad, too, although he is much more shy and trots through our parking lot very quickly, head down. The kits are curious but are learning from their Mama how and when to be wary. Good skills for surviving in an urban setting. Two of the four are stronger and bolder; the other two hang back and don’t emerge as often, or stay in the open as long. Update: for the past several days, we’ve seen two or three at one time, but not four. I hope all four are still all right.

There is a brief period, a few weeks only, where we can anticipate seeing the youngsters in the morning or late afternoon; after this they will typically become more elusive. They are still nursing and will stay with their mother until well into their first winter. Eventually they will wander and set up territories of their own. For now we are grateful for every opportunity we get to watch them grow and play. They are like puppies, or kittens. As soon as they finish feeding, their minds are on play. Watching them jump and scamper, we realize how much they are learning the skills that will serve them well as adults.       One in particular seems especially curious. You’ll see some precious evidence of that below.

Off and on during the past couple of years, I have attempted to see and photograph black bears on the Dare mainland. First, I went too late in the morning. Check, so I got up earlier and tried to catch them nearer sunrise. I learned that many were seeing them in late afternoon or early evening. Check, so I modified my visits to go during those hours. I looked at maps and paid attention to reported sighting locations. Nothing! Pete and I about gave up ever seeing bears together.

One night last week, buoyed by seeing the whale breach and watching the foxes, I decided to try one more time to see a bear at close range. I went later in the day (I arrived closer to 7 than 6:30), and headed for Sawyer Lake Road. By “coincidence” (I should go on record here and say I don’t actually believe in those), a local gal I had recently met was driving out the road I intended to drive in. Any bear? I asked. She hadn’t seen any, but was headed down a different road altogether, where she sees them most frequently. Great! I followed her. And we saw bear! A young bear appearing to swim into a sea of grain gone golden in the late-day sunlight…another who melted into the tall green brush between the fields…yet another off in the distance…one young bear busy munching on grasses at the edge of a field…and finally, at dusk, several including two young bear cubs crossing the road in the distance only to frolic in the fields on the other side. Now I can’t wait to go back!

The week ended with the oddest tropical storm we’ve had in a long time: Andrea, who made its way more slowly than predicted up the I-95 corridor, and brought occasionally heavy rain bands, some gorgeous sun, overcast skies, and blustery winds all day long on Friday. I grabbed a chance to go outside during one of the sunnier periods about 4 pm to get a good look at the (mostly empty) beach. That image is below for you to enjoy as well.

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Here's the closest picture of the humpback I was able to take, when it was in Kitty Hawk.

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While waiting for the whale to swim past Kitty Hawk Pier, I was treated to several dolphin shows.

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Here is the Mama fox with one of the bolder babies.

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When the kits crawled out and began to nurse in plain sight, I knew--all over again--how much this mother fox trusts us, and how deeply I love her.

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She is such a patient mama. The kits are so active and scampering around, this is the only afternoon I've been able to get all four with her in one image.

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The baby foxes are starting to venture into the open ground beside the frame shop and in the vacant lot next door.

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Sometimes when I am photographing a bird or a critter, I know in that moment I am being presented with a gift. A gift of presence. This is one of those.

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I'd really hoped to see a bear...and even more, I'd hoped to see one close enough, with enough light, for a decent photograph. Bingo!

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Here's the empty beach (a rare sight in June) as Andrea's sand-blasting winds whipped through.

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Here's the squall line racing across the sound, the leading edge just reaching the shores of Colington Harbour.

posted by eturek at 8:35 PM

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