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

Thursday, August 25, 2011
This time I am going to write my blog in reverse, starting this evening and working backwards. I ended the last blog with a drama that turned out to have a happy ending, set at the osprey nest at the Colington marina. If you missed that blog, scroll down and at least read the portion about the ospreys and check out those pictures—that story will make this one more meaningful.

I’ve been checking on the nest off and on since, hoping to see it empty…meaning, hoping the younger bird had found its wings and had fully fledged. But every time I looked, the young osprey looked and sounded as if it were still not flying, calling out for Mama to come feed it. One morning, it kept calling to its sibling who was not only perched on a nearby pole, but had fish for breakfast! The sibling did not pay it much attention while I was there. Tonight I decided to check one more time. With Hurricane Irene forecast to pass over the area within 48 hours, a still-unfledged osprey could be in real danger. Happily for the osprey (and for me), the nest was empty—a good sign. I decided to take a picture of the empty nest—not very photogenic maybe, but a handy record. No sooner had I snapped an image when I heard an osprey calling behind me. I’d already checked all the light poles for possible perching osprey and checked the skies when I drove into the marina. No sign of anybody. I turned around in time to see the young osprey calling and flying straight for the nest. I got to watch it fly and land without much awkwardness, another good sign. I trust it is learning to fish for itself, preparing for its long journey south for the winter. I continue to be amazed at how often I have these impulses to go here, stop there, look in this direction, and then wind up in exactly the right place at the right time. Had I arrived two or three minutes later, I might assume wrongly that the bird was still not flying. Had I arrived several minutes earlier, I would have missed the fly-in.       By looking at the markings in all of my photographs over the past month or so, I believe the older bird, the one rescued, is a male, and the younger rescuer is a female. Females have a broader band of darker feathers like a necklace around their neck; they really stand out against the white. So my hero from the last blog is really a heroine, the little sister looking out for the big brother.

We made a mid-summer daytrip to Ocracoke last Sunday and I was surprised to see the canal that runs along the beach access we usually take at Ramp 72 was not only waterless with the lack of rainfall, but also fully vegetated in places. We looked in vain for dolphins in the surf although we have heard reports of good-sized pods in both sound and ocean lately.

The week before Hurricane Irene became our daily weather focus, we enjoyed some spectacular afternoon cloud-shows. I was able to be out for only one of those, but the results are below. The day before this, much of the eastern horizon was dominated by towering, bright white thunderheads. At their most brilliant at about 2 pm, they had begun to fade an hour later and were gone by the time I could get outside after 5 pm.

Finally, we went to Oregon Inlet shortly after my last blog. Again, no dolphins, but a pretty day nonetheless. There was a large group of pelicans just out of reach, south of the line of demarcation where no pedestrians or vehicles could yet travel, the north spit still closed at that point. The birds were lined up along the beach; others flew in from further north, and still others took off, wheeled around, landed again, or headed west in the general direction of Pelican Island. I did manage to photograph some as they flew past. Their eyes are darker now, losing the pale blue hue of springtime breeding. Next to go will be the darker band of brown feathers at the back of their necks. The seasons pass. Now we are in the season of hurricane activity, with Irene eyeballing our coast and another Tropical Depression behind her. Stay tuned for an After-Irene blog, which hopefully will include minimal reshaping of our Outer Banks, after the storm passes.

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Fly, Osprey, Fly! Good Job, Little Sister!

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Landing Gear Down, check!

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Here she is about ten days ago, still not flying, watching her brother eat breakfast. No sharing while I was there.

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Here's the Big Brother, eating breakfast. I was fascinated to watch its head turn all sorts of upside-down angles.

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For most of the way along the beach access ramp-road on Ocracoke, this ditch held no water.

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Here is one of the cloud shows--and not the most dramatic, either. I missed that one!

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These bugs were at Oregon Inlet. I'm not sure what they are...

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...but I am very sure there are going to be more of them!

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I love the sand patterns here.

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I can already see "fall" in this pelican's eyes.

posted by eturek at 9:48 PM

Comments [3]

Wednesday, August 10, 2011
The last blog, the one I wrote about the period every summer when humidity lessens and the air feels more clear and crisp, even if still on the hot side—well, forget about it! That brief respite is long gone now. We’ve had days of scorching heat, and continuing drought—in fact, the state characterizes Dare County as being in “severe drought”. We’ve had some late afternoon rainclouds race in from the west, but the rain is too brief to really water the parched plants, much less replenish the groundwater.

Sometimes I end my blog with pelicans; this time I am going to start with them. About three weeks ago, I took a ride down to the northern part of Pea Island. I wanted to photograph the large full stands of sea oats that I typically see there. This year’s crop seems much sparser to me than that of recent years. I’d noticed fewer stalks up in Nags Head and decided the Pea Island dunes would make a good site for comparison. There are definitely fewer blooming stalks. Sea oats are extremely tolerant of drought and salt, so the lack of rainfall shouldn’t have caused the decrease; I’m wondering if the thick persistent smoke from the earlier wildfires this spring had any bearing. Whatever the reason, there are certainly fewer sea oats. While I was reading botanical descriptions to refresh my memory this evening, I learned a new word I’ll pass on to you, for free: panicle! Panicle is the seedhead of the sea oat plant – that thick clump of flat spikelets (new word number two) that resemble, well, oats, but that contain few genuine seeds. Sea oats spread more by their root system and rhizomes underground than by seeds sprouting after the individual spikelets dry and drop in the winter winds. Panicle is such a significant word that it shows up in the sea oats’ official botanical name: uniola paniculata. Sounds like a cool refreshing something to sip on in late afternoon at the beach—especially when it is hot and humid out. In any case, I like the word “panicle”. Starts with P like pelicans. Speaking of…

As I walked the beach looking for a good stand to photograph, I idly wondered if the pelicans from Pelican Island, which we see flying up and down the beach from Nags Head north every day, ever fly south down Pea Island’s beaches. A few minutes later, I saw a small group fly over the dune and head right for me. I crouched down hoping to frame a small, sparse sea oat clump as the foreground with the pelicans passing right overhead. Maybe they spotted me, but they turned 90 degrees and headed for the ocean. Wait! Come Back! That is what I was thinking. But what they gave me instead was pure gift: the sparseness of the sea oats allowed me to see and photograph the pelicans just after they made their turn and headed east, between the sea oat stalks. Panicles and Pelicans: what a great title! That is sure to spark some conversation.

Some panicles ? had already bowed low in earlier winds and were painting thin, simple strokes in the sand, guided by a gentle breeze. Two artists told me this morning about sumi-e, the simplicity and elegance of its strokes and suggestions, and the brushes and inks required to practice. I think I witnessed the sea oats demonstrating this traditional Japanese art form that afternoon. Sea Oats Sumi-e. Conversation Starter Title #2.
The little rain we have had seems to have brought critters out of hiding. I saw a toad at the Christmas Shop/Island Gallery in Manteo the other morning; I saw one skink at Yellowhouse (typically I see them every day in summer) and one fast little lizardy somebody scurrying past my front door here at home in Colington; 13-year cicadas have been singing high in the trees at night the past week or so (and I found a shed shell from one in my yard yesterday); and twice in the past week we’ve had dragonfly migration! The sight of dozens or hundreds of dragonflies suddenly flying at the beach and darting around the sea oats is hard to miss; one afternoon last week, I counted so many in the parking lot that I knew they had to be coming ashore. One thing I love about migration is that so many different varieties show up together. I checked the pond behind Kill Devil Hills town hall the next morning and lots of dragonflies were there, too, zipping and perching and mating and generally ignoring any other species of dragonfly. A marvelous family movie of everyone getting along!

A friend called the other evening shortly before 7 pm and asked if I would like to accompany her and her husband over to the Manns Harbor bridge to watch the purple martins fly in to roost at sunset. It was a calm night, and I assumed we were going to drive over when she said, we’ll come pick you up. Well, we did drive—but in their boat, not the car! What a treat! Just being on the water in early evening was wonderful and watching the spectacle of 100,000 purple martins coming to the bridge, even though I know they are coming, never fails to astonish me. A sliver of crescent moon was setting in the west as we headed home in the dark.

Finally, I’ve been trying to be more diligent about checking the Colington marina osprey nest. Had the impulse to go there right after dinner three nights ago; I was thinking maybe I would get to see first flight. What I saw was much more dramatic. I got a huge scare but all turned out well in the end. When I arrived, one baby was flapping its wings (not very balanced) and repeatedly putting its head near, or on, what looked like its unmoving sibling in the nest. It climbed onto the unmoving bird and off again. At first I thought the second osprey was just eating and not sharing dinner. Mom and Dad were nowhere to be seen or heard. But the more I watched and photographed, the more I realized the second bird was not moving at all. Just about the time I was convinced something awful had happened and one of the osprey babies had died, the unmoving baby literally exploded up out of the nest in a great flurry of wings and talons, taking off and flying over to the nearest light pole. I was totally unprepared for that! I had to process the photographs to figure out what I think happened. The unmoving youngster appeared to be stuck, with one wing extended. Its sibling, the one making all the racket and doing all the pecking and calling and flapping, finally moved a large branch and it was right after this that the other one lifted its head and flew out. I really think the younger, not-yet-ready-to-fly osprey freed—and maybe saved—its sibling.
Turns out Mom was sitting across the parking lot on a pole by the boat ramp. The younger and weaker of the two spent most of the next twenty minutes or so calling, flapping, folding its wings, climbing out on a perch and back into the nest, over and over. Everytime it flapped, Mom called. Once another adult osprey flew over and it hunkered all the way down in the nest until the larger bird flew away. I did not get a chance to check tonight, but I assume its first flight is not too far off now: a full month later than the babies hatched and then fledged last year! In any case, it’s a hero (or heroine) in my book.

Yesterday afternoon I went to the ocean to watch some surfers catch some swell. And I finally saw my own first ghost crab of the season—a youngster, tiny, hanging out near a tiny hole very close to the water. Older ghost crabs have longer burrows and are typically further away from the water’s edge.

Now the forecast is teasing us by hinting of a weather shift that includes, as key words, cooler and drier. A photographer’s dream! Hopefully the shift will coincide with some time to get out and then share it with you. Meanwhile, enjoy the offerings below.

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Panicles and Pelicans! Or, if you prefer, sea oat seed heads and pelicans.

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I call this, Playing Hard to Get. It would let me take only this one picture before hopping off.

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Dragonfly migration is a treat to witness. All of a sudden the beach is full of them!

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Thousands of purple martins have already chosen their nighttime roost as more fly in.

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First Ghost Crab of the season for me!

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Here's the start of the drama. What in the world...is what I am thinking at this point.

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This is 8 minutes later. Now I am really worried. The one has not moved at all in this whole time.

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In between flapping and pecking, the youngster kept calling out. But nobody came.

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Incredible instinct. Not yet able to fly, but knew to move the branch.

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Seconds later, the motionless bird literally burst into flight, flew to the nearby light pole, and landed. Whew!! I love happy endings!

posted by eturek at 10:20 PM

Comments [4]

(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 547808 times

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