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

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Summertime Sizzle

The air and water temperatures have finally warmed up—just in time for tropical waves to turn into storms, and to create this season’s first major hurricane, category 4 Bill, in the Atlantic. The way the forecasters are talking now, Bill will push a significant swell onshore by the weekend; Dr. Steve Lyons, formerly with the National Hurricane Center and now turned Weather Channel guru is predicting possible maximum wave heights of 15-20’ off the Outer Banks by Saturday, with a not-to-sneeze-at 12-18’ still possible on Sunday. That means Bill’s effects will be onshore through several tidal cycles. Surfers, photographers and general beach-goers will have lots to gawk at over the weekend.

One reality of owning a business on the Outer Banks is that we don’t get outside very much in the summer. My time outside, come August, is usually spent in snatches, not in long, lazy stretches. We enjoyed a rare exception to that seasonal rule Sunday afternoon before last, as we spent about five hours on the beach just south of the Oregon Inlet on-ramp, Ramp 4, soaking up some sun and breathing some salt air and watching the world, aka pelicans and sanderlings and willets and turnstones and skimmers, glide and scurry and skim on by. By low tide, late in the afternoon, the tiny rollers that were breaking right onshore were big enough for grandson Michael to boogie-board, and the water seemed warmer than it had when we first arrived. The beach had plenty of dried sea grass in the wrack lines, and there was, apparently, enough to eat that the birds kept fairly close for most of the afternoon. We spied a lone Black Skimmer within the first half-hour or so; it took nearly an hour for it to return, and that pattern, of waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting…look, there it is, here it comes, there it goes, not even 30 heart-throbbing seconds later, back to waiting, waiting, waiting was repeated several times in the afternoon. By our last hour there, they must have taken pity on this photographer, as a pair began to work the shoreline repeatedly, flying back and forth for my delight (and yours).

At one point, I had a chance to do some critter rescue: a small blowfish(?) washed ashore. I took its picture and walked over to have a closer look at it, and decided it might be still alive. When I picked it up, it laid in my hand perfectly still for a few seconds and then began panting. I put it right back in the water and wished it well; it began to move its fins and never washed up again. I’d like to think it made its way back to deeper water.  A little googling around reveals my blowfish is actually a porcupine puffer fish. They are found around the world, eat mollusks and crabs, hang out in habitats ranging from reefs to eel grass beds (maybe mine washed ashore in some of the grass), are poisonous to eat (but not to pick up), and can actually inflate their bodies to be nearly round as one form of defense (hence the first part of their common name). Maybe that is what the fish was trying to do when I picked it up and put it back in the water.  Maybe it was just reacting to the air temperature and like any good Outer Banks visitor, knew the best place to be after lying on the hot sand was back in the water. Smart fish.

I saw a Semipalmated Plover later in the afternoon; this species’ population is increasing so it has no problem sharing the shoreline with humans, and is allowed to, I’m happy to say. Its coloration is distinctive, which is how I knew who I was watching. Killdeer have two neck bands, where this bird has only one, and this plover's bill is two-toned, and stubby.

In addition to the skimmers and the plover, the other bird treats for the day included a mother and juvenile Willet that were fun to watch, as she kept her eye on her youngster as it foraged for mole crabs by itself, then laid down for a little nappy after its afternoon snack. The Sanderlings seemed testy, puffing themselves up as if they were blowfish and running after one another in what looked like territorial displays. That behavior was repeated all afternoon; I photographed one sequence in which neither bird seemed inclined to back off its favorite restaurant seat at the sea’s edge. The Birder’s Handbook, my guide to bird behavior, reveals that Sanderlings (and other shorebirds) display for a variety of reasons, from staking out and defending territory to impressing or advertising for a mate. These birds mate and nest on Arctic tundra, not on Outer Banks beaches, so it’s unlikely these displays had anything to do with nesting or chicks or mates. Maybe these were just teenagers practicing for the future—or siblings.      

The clouds have been generally magnificent for days on end, and although my beach time is back to snatches, I’ve managed to snag a few late afternoon glimpses of paradise, Outer Banks style. Aahh, summertime.  Gotta love it.   

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3:34:35...Here they come!!

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3:34:42...There they go! You've got to be fast if you want to photograph skimmers.

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Working the shoreline, this Black Skimmer's challenge is to feel a bait fish with that long lower bill, as Skimmers feed by feel, not by sight.

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Semipalmated Plover.

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You're Breathing My Air! This would be a cute photo for one of those caption contests, no? Any takers?

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This was about the funniest thing I saw all day. A Cormorant Pelican-wanna-be. It followed along in a line of five pellies, imitating the leader's every move.

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The young Willet is almost as big as her (his?) Mama, but definitely sleepier. Foraging is work! Time for a nap...and what better place than the beach?

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Cutie is the Blowfish. Really, look at that face. What's not to like?

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You know I love the Sea Oats.

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My kind of self-portrait. The light last Saturday evening was exquisite. Here I am sharing the beach with a Sanderling. I never get tired of taking their picture.

posted by eturek at 11:16 PM

Comments [4]

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I See the Moon...

Marvelous Moondance, with his recent post about the Green Corn Moon, got me thinking moon-thoughts rather more than usual this month (moonth).  Yes, as you probably know, our word “month” derives from moon. It’s a word that traces its origins back (according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary) to pre-12th century, to a time when calendars were arranged around the new moon. Back in November 2006, I decided for the first time to try to photograph the full moon rising at sunset. I had in mind a beachball-sized golden harvest moon.  What I got was a surprise, and a surprising quest. The quest has sent me seaward, for that one evening each month when the full moon rises right at sunset, ever since.

When I got to the ocean, the air was about 51 degrees, with a light northeast breeze. No, I don’t remember the exact temperature, but www.weatherunderground.com does. What I remember is being cold and excited. I set up my tripod and mounted my camera and walked around to keep warmer and waited. And waited. Meanwhile, the eastern sky began to glow with a deeper and deeper shade of pink, picking up the pink glow of the sunset in the western sky. I still imagined my huge, harvest moon, golden-orange like a big fall pumpkin. Then I noticed the wave wash was, in its turn, picking up the pink glow from the sky. The top of the water beyond the shorebreak began to reflect that same pink. When the moon appeared, instead of wearing an autumn orange, it donned that same pretty pink that was, by that time, the dominant, surrounding hue. I haven’t seen the moon that brightly pink since.

Most months, I suspect most of us don’t get to see the actual moonrise, even if we go deliberately looking for it. Instead, we see the moon faintly appearing many minutes later, after it has climbed well above the horizon. Low cloud bands in the east can obscure the actual moonrise; meanwhile, as the sun sinks below the western edge of our vision, the eastern sky may lose any reflected glow that sunset produced. Often, the moon becomes its usual silvery ball bounced high above our heads before we even notice it’s there. Or, if there are no clouds eastward, then overcast skies in the west can render the sunset blasé, and moonrise becomes less prominent as well.  Of course, overall cloudy skies or rain, which seem to happen more often than not on moonrise night, steal the whole show and send me back into waiting mode for another thirty days. I’ve had entire years pass with only one or two actual moments of moonrise to photograph.

When I went to the beach last week for moonrise, I had that same sense of anticipatory excitement as I did back in the fall of 2006. The difference is, now I know I don't know what I will see! This month the moon did not appear right on the horizon, so the sky was already darkening by the time I could see its faint pinkish disk. This time of year, I have to look well to my south for the moon at its rising; in just a few months, the moon will appear to rise much closer to due east from wherever I am standing, thanks to the earth's tilt and orbit.

Here are some of the Outer Banks moonrises I’ve seen and photographed over the past few years. Enjoy.


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August 2009. I see the moon...the moon sees me...hello, moon.

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Here's the same moon (well, it is always the same moon, silly me), a little later on the same evening.

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Moonrise at Sunset. The moonrise that started my moon-quests, photographically speaking. November 2006.

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Moonrise about a year later, in November 2007.

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Here's the moon surrounded by sunset-tinged clouds, also November 2007.

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Same night, just close-focused on the moon itself. Lovely.

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In February 2008, the surprise came in the form of this little tidal pool. The moon rose tiny and pale near the horizon, almost like an afterthought. And it was COLD!

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I had to wait almost a year for another actual moonrise. This one is special: Perigee Moonrise, December 2008, the last moonrise of the year.

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New Moon rising over Silver Lake, Ocracoke, at sunset. I love the silver sliver of promise. Fall 2007.

posted by eturek at 10:25 PM

Comments [5]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Yesterday morning I did an odd thing. I went for a brief beach walk without the camera.  Well, the light was flat.  And actually, I wanted to engage some other senses rather than merely my visual self.  Smell was first: I could smell the ocean, smell the salt, before I crested the dune. Once on the beach, I found a probable source for my nose’s delight: there were several wrack lines, and one of them held still-damp seaweed clumps. The air and light did not weigh on my skin at all. Pale grey overcast skies segued into dark cloud masses at various points; the beach itself was foggy. Hardly any breeze. Not hot, not cool. What cooks might call “room temperature,” only no walls or roof to make a room. The sun was not baking my arms and the lack of breeze meant I was not chilly, either. I felt sort of suspended in air despite the relative low humidity.

I looked "fog" up (of course I did) since the last foggy day I experienced at the beach was in December. Radiation fog occurs with a combination of warm land or water, and cooler night air, and is more usual in fall. Warm ground, cool air. Advection fog occurs during the opposite conditions: warm humid air moving over a cooler land (or water) surface. So what was it?? Since the fog seemed confined primarily to the beach and was hovering mostly over the water, I'm betting on advection--more evidence of how cold our surface water temperatures have stayed so far this summer.

I checked one of the NOAA websites, that gives graphics with surface water temps. The offshore water was cooler over a much greater distance on Monday morning than it was for the previous several days, and today's offshore and nearshore waters were much warmer.

The beach was much wider than I have seen it in a long time. I walked in between low and high tide, literally and figuratively, as I kept my toes out of the water while looking for gleanings in the tide lines, and the time of day was close to mid-cycle between the tidal change.

After a short walk, I went back and fetched my camera from the car. The fog certainly added to the emotional atmosphere, the sense of floating in the literal atmosphere. The sky and ocean melded together with no horizon in sight, and seemed paradoxically both closer and further away.  I noticed that the sea oat heads are losing their newly opened green and beginning to turn more tan, from the bottom of each seed head. From a little distance, they appear more yellow than green, now that they have been open about five weeks. I did see a small group of sanderlings and a couple of gulls, but no pelicans. I saw more dragonflies than birds, I think.  And I think I know part of the reason why—the dragonfly part, anyway.

Last Thursday, late afternoon, seemed to be Dragonfly Migration Day II this year. I walked to the frame shop and saw dozens flying around our parking lot.  Hurrying over to the beach access across the street, I stood and watched waves of them fly up over the dune. These were marked differently than the ones I saw late last spring at Jockey’s Ridge. At least one was a Carolina Saddlebags – they have distinctive dark markings where their wings meet their dark bodies, and are easy to spot even from a little distance. The dragonflies en masse were all different colors; some were larger, some were smaller, some were red, some were dark, and seeing them all at once made my eyes well up with tears at the tiny grandeur and nature’s largesse. Such little critters to make such a long voyage!

I have one more tidbit to add to the whose-nest-is-it mystery on Colington Road, the nest that I first said, eagle’s, then corrected myself to say, maybe osprey’s (since I saw an osprey sitting beside it several days running). The other morning, an adult bald eagle was riding the thermals, circling over the tree with the nest and the general neighborhood. It was fairly high by the time I could stop and get the picture, but at least I can prove what I saw!  

We’ve had a spate of double rainbows in late afternoon recently. Haven’t made it to the ocean in time to photograph one there – saw one last week in the east above the trees where we live in Colington, and saw another arching over a friend’s house in KDH Friday evening. Neither lasted long.  We’ve settled into our summer weather pattern of late afternoon rain showers, followed by the sun breaking through in the west. On Friday, the sun was blazing overhead in the west while I drove up the beach road in a steady rain, a sure recipe for that brilliant arc of color.  In a double rainbow, the outer, dimmer bow has the colors in reverse. You know the trick for remembering the colors in the rainbow, top to bottom? Roy G Biv? (RedOrangeYellowGreenBlueIndigoViolet)? Well, it’s Vib G Yor for the double. Yeah, try remembering that! Sounds like a character in a sci-fi movie to me. 

As I typed this entry Monday afternoon, the sun slowly emerged from its cloud cover to reveal larger patches of unclouded sky in the north.  Layers of stratus clouds still held sway over the ocean; to the south, the sky was a much deeper, darker blue, the sort of color that always says “sun shower” to me.  Alas, no late afternoon rain so no late afternoon bow. Now today, we have squint-eyed bright skies and summer heat back again. That’s one part of living on the Outer Banks that brings so much joy: tracking the weather patterns and the subtle daily changes that you can know only when someplace is the place, when Somewhere is Home.

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I had no idea, from west of the dune, that the beachfront would be shrouded in fog. The last super-foggy beach day I experienced was last December!

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No horizon line. Eventually the swells I could see just melded into open ocean and the sky.

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Little by little, the sea oats are turning golden. The pale green seeds are now darker, and tinged with tan.

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While the tips are still green, the base of individual seeds looks mauve, like pink mixed with brown.

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Okay, they are tiny...but those little black splotches are dragonflies. Tons of 'em. Maybe not as impressive as wildebeest on the Serengeti, but magnificent nonetheless.

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Not an osprey. Faith said she saw a Bald Eagle sitting in the tree by the nest, where the osprey was last week, a couple of nights ago. Stay tuned.

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This rainbow appeared with sudden sun showers about 4:45 pm in late July, 2008. Notice how low it is to the water? The sun was still fairly high in the sky. Later rainbows arch higher.

posted by eturek at 8:27 PM

Comments [1]

(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 561324 times

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