Category Archives: Wildlife

Pelican Island

The Summer of 1980 I went on an excursion in a 14 foot skiff with photographer friends Ray Matthews and Foster Scott. We launched the boat from Ocracoke and began to explore the inlet and some small islands. One island especially attracted us. Known as Beacon Island, it was once the site of a small brick lighthouse in the mid-1800’s.

Breeding pelicans were first observed on Beacon in 1928, but the population ran into trouble with widespread use of DDT which weakened the shells, causing mortalities as the birds numbers plummeted. Following the ban of DDT in 1972, brown pelicans began making a dramatic comeback.

One morning, I used a 20mm Nikkor lens on an F2 to photograph the nest site on the opposite side of the island.

Then attaching a 400mm Novoflex lens I caught this one returning to its nest.

We used the island as a base camp, and explored surrounding waters and islands for three days. At the time, research was being conducted on Beacon as it was the northernmost nesting site for brown pelicans on the east coast. Since then the island has come under the ownership and protection of Audubon North Carolina. Today pelican nesting on Beacon is prolific.


Heron Appeal

My first encounter with herons began in 1975 on Gull Island, several miles southwest of my home.  Johnny Hooper took me there and I was enthralled with the nesting bird life, including gulls, terns, pelicans and a variety of herons. Consequently I revisited the island numerous times in attempts to photograph them. I found the herons to be particularly attractive from an artistic and photographic standpoint.

Being isolated by Pamlico Sound waters, Gull Island is a haven for nesting waterbirds. On one of my early trips, I saw an elongated neck sticking above the scrubby vegetation. It was a  nesting tricolored heron minding a newly hatched chick. It did not appreciate my curiosity and on my approach, flew off. I remember the chick looking up at me helplessly. Not lingering long, I walked away, and the adult promptly returned. Ever since I’ve relished opportunities to respectfully shoot herons.

Three weeks ago, I learned of some wading birds feeding in a pond near the lighthouse. When I got there, I was happy to see several tricolored herons in the mix.

Herons are designed for what they do best, hunting shallow water.

Looking for a meal, they use their large wings to distract prey.

A long pointed bill, concealed in shade, is the tool of choice.

This heron’s feeding dance mesmerized me.

Last week as we had dinner on our back deck, a Great Egret landed in a live oak next to us. Then I made this unexpected grab shot.

So far, this has been my year of the heron, a symbol of good luck!



On each of my visits to the Green Herons’ nest, I noticed more energy and mobility in all 4 chicks. At about 12 days old they were flexing their wings more and beginning to leave the confines and security of the nest. Their growing agility entering this new world continued to amaze me.

As feathers developed, they began taking on some colorful hues.

The parents’ visits were not as frequent as before, but when they arrived at the nest, the chicks were more aggressive for attention.

At around 15 days, wing stretches became routine for pre-flight training.

They meandered and explored the tree where they hatched, all they way down to the water.

At 18 days, these guys were really getting around that willow tree.

At about 23 days old their wing feathers were fully developed.

The adults perched and called from the surrounding trees. Suddenly one chick flew out to them.

Seconds later another followed, then the remaining two took off…

Off into the forest of Buxton Woods they settled in a cypress tree. All four birds fully fledged, I felt fortunate to have witnessed something so wonderful.

Weeks later, they continue to frequent the area and practice their independence.






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.

swirl The bunting was dazed and I set up a 105 micro nikkor for a few close ups.

beak 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.

bunting Before long he came to and flew away.

Up, Up and Away

My dad, a professional meteorologist, would sometimes bring a weather balloon home for us to play with. I was captivated at how, being lighter than air, it could rise to the ceiling above me. I remember watching him release a weather balloon into the atmosphere. It was a pleasurable, even emotional experience as it rose higher and higher, then disappeared from sight.

Nowadays balloons are launched in other ways. They are used in a celebratory manner, at weddings, birthdays, and memorials. Several years ago as I watched the news, helium filled balloons were let go to honor each man killed in a West Virginia coal mining accident. Once out of sight, I wondered where those balloons might end up. One thing for sure, eventually they would come down to earth.

Derelict balloons often end up as litter on our beaches.

In January 2004, I saw a big leatherback turtle that had washed in at Oregon Inlet. The thousand pound reptile was just barely alive. On the scene were National Park Service personnel, two sea turtle biologists from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and a local volunteer veterinarian.

It was determined that the animal could not be saved, and that the best approach was to euthanize the creature. It was a solemn moment, as the lethal injection of sodium pentathol was administered to the turtle. In a few minutes, the leatherback lay lifeless on the sand.

State biologists Wendy Cluse and Matthew Godfrey wait as the leatherback, with syringe in its neck, is euthanized.

A necropsy revealed the sea turtle had ingested something resembling its natural food of jellyfish. The culprit was a once helium-filled balloon that had fallen back to earth. The errant balloon lodged in the digestive tract, making it impossible for the turtle to feed and stay alive.

I keep this image hanging on my studio wall, and it gets a lot of reaction from visitors. I try to educate folks that those soaring balloons descend to earth, always become litter and sometimes killers.