I’ve always loved visiting the South Point of Ocracoke. It’s not only a great beach for hanging out, surfing or fishing, but also my favorite place to photograph shorebirds. The flat expanse and tidal influences make it a perfect habitat. The variety of birds is diverse and at times, large in numbers.
Last month relaxing on that same beach, I set up a long lens as Sanderlings and Red Knots foraged nearby.
Two of the Sanderlings played a territorial tag team match.
An Osprey hovered overhead ready to dive into its next meal.
Then a Black-Bellied Plover skittered in the wash, hardly ever stopping to pose.
Minutes later a Black Skimmer cruised by downwind about 20 yards, then turned and flew back upwind in a remarkable way. The quick, short wingbeats don’t touch the water. The extended lower mandible is designed to scoop up small fish. It’s fascinating to see, and even more rewarding when a camera is ready.
That beautiful Black Skimmer was the icing on my cake.
Years ago, the thing that impressed me about Hatteras Island was how temperate the winters could be. The first few years after I moved here, I don’t think it ever went below freezing. I learned that the water surrounding the island acts as a heat sink and tends to keep temperatures more moderate, compared to those to the north and inland.
This year has not been one of those winters. The cold fronts have been colder, stormier and more frequent.
A series of storms took its toll on the Rodanthe Pier. Last week I could see that the end of the pier would soon collapse into the sea.
An hour after I made this shot, the pier became 75 feet shorter. The next day, the owners retrieved some of the timbers washed in on the beach and are resolved to rebuild it.
In the meantime, temperatures have plummeted and the Pamlico Sound froze overnight. The ice sculpted on the shoreline was a sight to behold. There were icicles on the marsh of all different shapes and sizes.
The sound was solid ice for hundreds of yards off shore.
When the waters freeze, the ducks come in wherever they can find open water. At a pond near my house, I found a variety including this Ring-Necked Duck.
A Pie-Billed Grebe was among the group.
There were about 50 Ruddy Ducks.
I was excited to see this Canvasback. It’s a sure sign that winter is far from over, and that it’ll only get colder.
I’ve always loved taking pictures of things without being tied to restrictive parameters or deadlines. So over the years, I’ve given myself “assignments” to shoot particular things almost exclusively on the Outer Banks. I’ll hunt for waterfowl, landscapes or even people just for the satisfaction of getting a good shot.
Several weeks ago I decided to look for pelicans, and there was a lot of activity on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge near Oregon Inlet. I have pelican shots both in film and digital formats, but felt a need to improve on what I already had.
The main thing was to put myself in a location and react. It’s simple. I had an image or two in mind, but the unexpected always happens. I shot 3 different sessions, as elements seemed to come together at once, wind and light as key components.
I had a beautiful environment in which to work.
There was a huge feeding frenzy one afternoon with cormorants, gulls and a few pelicans.
For those with skills, the ocean provided.
One day swells from an offshore storm made a nice backdrop.
Most of the flocks seemed to come in groups of three.
As I was leaving, a landscape scene impressed me.
Then I was inspired by a beautiful tree someone had lovingly decorated.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
The beach is a dynamic place, and has many faces. Like the seasons, it’s ever changing. The warm Gulf Stream meanders in and out, and even influences our weather.
A sure sign of the Gulf Stream is the presence of seaweed washed up on the beach. Sargassum is a free floating seaweed that drifts in island-like masses and goes with the current. It is an important habitat for various forms of marine life while at sea. It provides food and protection for juvenile fish and invertebrates.
When it washes up on the beach, it attracts birds and other creatures that feed around it.
During Summer and Fall, sargassum can drift up in huge rafts.Eventually it dries and decomposes. I’ve used it in my garden after it’s rinsed and composted.Last month while on a beach walk, I noticed another use for sargassum. I don’t know who the author of this message was, but considering the effort, I hope the answer was an emphatic “YES”.
Lately I find myself shooting close to home. There’s a lot of nature on my piece of the island, and I like it that way. Birds fly in to roost or feed in the trees. During migration you never know what will arrive.
About two weeks ago, there was a thump on the window, and I knew an unfortunate bird had flown into the reflection of deceiving glass. It’s a common problem.
I always want to help revive the victim unless the collision is fatal. Most of the time the birds are stunned and after a short respite, they’re able to fly off. This time I was blown away when the accident involved a male indigo bunting.
Preferring more inland habitat, they are rare in our seaside village, but not unheard of.
The bunting was dazed and I set up a 105 micro nikkor for a few close ups.
Interestingly, I’ve read their plumage is really black, but because of the way the feathers are structured, they reflect as a brilliant blue in sunlight.
Before long he came to and flew away.