Tag Archives: Rachel Carson

Wild Horses In a Rare Crystal Coast Snow

Depending upon one’s point of view the Crystal Coast was blessed or damned with a winter storm recently. Getting enough snow to cover the ground is really a fairly rare occurrence here. For a few years now I’ve been hoping to get the chance to photograph the wild horses of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve in snow. Now my preference would be to be there as snow was falling but that didn’t happen this time. I was able, however, to get some shots of the mustangs with snow on the ground and ice covering much of the marsh grass.

To reach the reserve I had to put my kayak in the water. I’m sure a few of the fine people of Beaufort were wondering what was up with the crazy man was doing putting a kayak in the water on a day like this. But if you think about it, the kayak was invented by native people living in places like Alaska and Canada. These little boats were basically designed for cold weather use.

I really expected to find the horses in one of the wooded hammock areas, trying to stay out of the cold. I found a few, however, feeding not far from the main watering hole area. During the winter the herd certainly spreads out about the entire reserve. I rarely find a large number of them together this time of the year. Below are a few of my favorite shots from the trip.

Wild Horse of NC

Wild horse drinks from a watering hole along the NC coast.

Frozen food for a wild horse.

A Wild Horse in a rare Crystal Coast snow.

Wild mustang on a barrier island in NOrth Carolina.

Wild stallion feeding on marsh grass.

Wild horse in North Carolina.

Wild horses feeding along on snow covered marsh grass.

Posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Nature Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Wild Horse Photos From a Kayak? You Betcha!

When most people think of wild horses they think of the American West. Visions of canyons, buttes, and wde open spaces fill their minds. But there is a healthy population of wild mustangs living along the the East Coast and they’ve been there for almost 500 years! Undoubtedly the horses left behind by early explorers and from failed colonization attempts weren’t confined to the barrier islands along the coast. There were also horses living on the mainland. Those animals were pushed west as the country spread in that country, joining up with mustangs living in the west that were introduced by the Conquistadors in the 1500s.

Today a few isolated herds of of wild horses remain along the U.S. East Coast. Living on barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, Virgina and Georgia. Many of these animals feed on spartina grass found on the tidal falts areas of these islands. This lifestyle makes it possible to observe and photograph these magnificant animals from a kayak during high-tide periods. Photographing wild mustangs from a kayak lends a unique perspective to the photos. In a kayak the photographer virtually sits at water level, placing the camera below eye level. While not an entirely impossible point of view to achive on foot, it is going to require that the photographer gets pretty wet.

This morning I set out for some kayak photography along Town Marsh and Carrot Islands. I found serveral horse feeding on the flats and on an isolate shoal. Below are a few images from the trip.

A wild Stallion wades along a shoal in Back Sound.

This wild horse stands watch while his mares feed on Spartina grass. A handsome portrait of a wild mustang.

You can see the classic looks and Iberian heitage in this wild horse.

A mare feeds on the tidal flats along the Carolina coast.

This young colt will be a fine wild stallion one day.

A beautiful wild mustang of Spanish decent.

A handsome wild mustang of Spanish decent.

Two Black Bellie Plovers on the tidal flast with a wild mustang in the background.

Posted in Banker Horses, Kayaking, Natural History in the Carolinas, Nature Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

In Nature Appearances Can Be Deceiving

In nature things aren’t always as they appear. Harmless Milk Snakes share color scheme and similarities in pattern with deadly Coral Snakes. An American Bald Eagle will not get its distinctive with head and tail feathers until it reaches two-years of age. Male birds display brighter colors duing the mating season than the rest of the year. Juviniles may look significantly different than adults, harmless creature mimmick deadly ones, color and intensity changes with season, sometimes you have to look a little closer to recognize what you’re really seeing. For example, check-out the photo below. A fun little excercise for the newer birders and naturalists that might be reading this blog. Do you know what kind of bird it is?

Which bird is this?  Snowy Egret?  Great Egret?  Some kind of exotic heron?

What did you guess? A Snowy Egret… Great Egret… something else? Look closely. The leg color eliminates the possibility of it being a Snowy Egret, right? Check-out the bill. It’s coloring is the key to identifying this bird. Here’s another view of the same bird:

In this case the coloring of the bill helps you to identify this bird.

Did you it figure it out? Here’s an image of an adult of the species. The photos above are of a Little Blue Heron juvinile. If you guessed wrong, don’t feel too bad. From a distance I always think “Snowy!” until I get close enough to get a better look. The size, the build and the white feathers just screams “I’m a Snowy Egret” until you get close enough to check some fo the details.

An adult Little Blue Heron.

I hope you enjoyed this little excercise. Why not leave a comment and tell me what you think?

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Black Skimmers Along the Crystal Coast

The Black Skimmer is one of the more interesting birds found along the Core Banks barrier islands of the Crystal Coast. These interesting birds nest on sandy beaches and sand banks, laying three to seven eggs. The nest is tended by both the male and female. One of the more unique features of these birds is the longer lower mandible. The basil area of their bill is red with the remainder of it mostly black. The eye has a brown pupil and a very unique elongated, cat-like pupil. These birds feed by flying just above the water, dragging the elongated lower portion of their bill in the water with hopes of snagging a small fish. They tend to be solo feeders but frequently congregate in a large flock at high-tide when not feeding. Recently I’ve been seeing flocks with a hundred or more birds on the shoals during high-tide. It is quite a sight to see this many of these unsual birds in one place.

A Black Skimmer comes in for a landing on Bird Shoal.

When not feeding these interesting birds flock together in large numbers.

Black Skimmers get their name by how the feed.

A Black Skimmer launches into flight above a tidal marsh near Core Banks in North Carolina.

Black Skimmers can be found feeding all along North Carolina's Outer Banks.

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On Nature Photography Outings Plan Ahead But Be Flexible: Out Foxed by the Horses

I rolled out of bed early this morning with a solid plan for some nature photography on Carrot Island. I’d launch the boat at Fisherman’s Park, Front and Gordon Streets in Beaufort, and make the forty-five second paddle across the creek to beach my kayak. I’d then go on foot to photograph some of the island’s feral horses. Whether your shooting an event, portraits or making like a nature photojournalist, it’s always best to have a working plan for your shoot. However, you also need to be willing to shift gears and abandon the plan if circumstances dictate. It’s extremely easy to get locked into a plan and miss other opportunities. As fate would have it, this morning was one of those days where the game plan fell through. Carrot Island is usually the perfect location to be to photograph some horse but this time they were nowhere to be found. Apparently they were all on one of the other sections of the reserve.

Very early into my hike I spotted a pretty little red fox out playing on the dunes. It’s not unusual for me to see foxes on this island, but usually as they slink off into cover trying to avoid me. This little guy was totally unawre I was there! Now foxes are one of my favorite wild animals. I’ve always been fascinated by them. Any time I see one I consider it a good day in nature. If I get to photograph it… well, that’s just about a perfect day! As the moring progressed it became painfully clear that I just wasn’t going to get any horse photos. But I didn’t let that spoil my day. I already had some fox shots “in the can,” and there’s always plenty of photographic possibilities to be found on the island. I shot wildflowers, birds and even landscape while exploring the island in search of wild horses.

This red fox looks over his shoulder trying to determine if I might be a danger to him.

A red fox explores the dunes of Carrot Island.Wildlife photography on the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve.

Red fox on a barrier island near Beaufort, North Carolina.

Posted in Nature Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , |

Ruddy Turnstone: A Migratory Visitor to the Crystal Coast

The Ruddy Turnstone, once included in the Plover family, is a migratory member of the sandpiper family. Like many of our migratory shorebird visitors the Ruddy Turnstone breeds in tundra areas during the summer. Over winter and during migration they can be found along coastal areas, preferring mudflats they can alos be found along rocky shorelines and sandy beaches. They will eat about anything they can find under rocks… hence their name based on feeding behavior, “turn stone.”

The Ruddy Turnstone has a distinctive Harlequin pattern to their plummage.

The Ruddy Turnstone can be found along North Carolina's coast during the winter and when they are migrating.

Ruddy Turnstone in breeding plumage.

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Greater Yellowlegs: A Crystal Coast “Snow Bird”

A large North American shorebird, the Greater Yellow Legs is similar in appearence to the slightly smaller Lesser Yellowlegs. Adults have long, yellow legs (hence their name) and sport long dark bills that are slightly upcurved. The bill tends to be about 1 1/2 the length of the head with a lighter color near the base. In contrast the Lesser’s bill tends to be equal in length to the head and lacks the up turn and lighter colored base.

The Greater Yellowlegs is a migratory bird that travels south to both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States and South America. The bogs and marshes of Alaska and Canada’s boreal forest region are its breeding habitats. The female builds a ground nest where she lays three to four off-white eggs with brown markings. Both the male and female tends the eggs which take twenty-three to twenty-four days to incubate. The couple also shares feeding duties for the young.

The photos below were taken along the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve on an early spring afternoon. The birds were feeding in the shallow waters along the shore.

Looking for a meal on an early spring afternoon.

The smooth waters of this pool at low tide creates a nice reflection of the bird. This Greater Yellowlegs uses some fancy footwork while hunting along North Carolina's Crystal Coast.

Two Yellowlegs share a moment together near Beaufort, NC.

The smooth waters of this pool at low tide creates a nice reflection of the bird.A Greater Yellowlegs on a mudflat near Beaufort, North Carolina.

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Kayaking Near Beaufort, North Carolina: Return to Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve

Sunday’s weather forecast was calling for an absolutely perfect day. Even though I early afternoon commitments that I couldn’t get out of there was no way I wasn’t going to get the kayak into the water. I arrived at the Lennoxville Road boat ramp around 9:30 AM. I wasn’t the only kayaker with the idea of enjoying some of this beautiful day on the water. There were two more folks getting ready to launch their boats with a third kayaker already in the water waiting on them. We exchanged pleasantries, they headed west on Taylor’s Creek. I headed east.

A Little Blue Heron seeks a meal along Taylor' Creek near Beuafort, North Carolina.My float plan was to travel west along the inside edge of the reserve, navigate around the east end of the island then explore the sound side shore while paddling west. The weather was absolutely wonderful… blue skies and golden sunshine. The water was mirror-like calm with the only ripples being those caused by the forward motion of my kayak. Within a couple minutes I spied a couple of herons on the shore and carefully paddled towards them for a closer look. One was beautiful Little Blue Heron. The other a Tri-color Heron. Quite a treat indeed. I paddled slightly past them before moving in closer to shore, then allowed the current to move me nearer them for some photographs.

As I rounded the end of the island, paddling through the North River Channel, I looked up to see an Osprey pearched high atop a tree and eying my progress. The high sun angle bathed this large raptor in very harsh light, light that was not at all desireable for photography. Additionally, the angle from my boat. so close to the surface of the water, to his high perch was extreme and wouldn’t make for a very interesting shot. As such I just continued along my way with the hope of crossing paths with him again under more favorable conditions.

Paddling along the Southeast end of Carrot Island and moving towards Horse Island the shore line, if you can call it that, was largely marshland. As I paddled ahead I began to get a bit discouraged despite of the warm sun and fresh sea air. I just wasn’t encountering any kind of wildlife. As pleasant as paddling is, especially on such a fine spring day, it’s seeing wildlife that pleases me most. After a while a lagoon opened up and I could see Banker Horses feeding along the water’s edge. I navigated my kayak in closer for a look and to make some photographs. Now if you walk up towards a horse, even a very domesticated horse, the animal will tend to look up at you to see what you’re up to. These are feral horses, wild and free. You’d expect them to be even more suspecious. Yet my approach from the water caused them no alarm. Not a single horse raised it’s head to look at me! While its very cool how approachable animals are when paddling a kayak, a photo of one of the horses without it’s head down would’ve been pretty nice too.

Leaving the lagoon I continued paddling west along the the reserve. I really was hoping to find some American Oyster Catchers. But I was starting to wonder if I was going to find any. As thoughts of doubt ran through my mind I noticed a fairly large dark bird flying straight towards me. As it passed on my port side I immediately recognized it as an Oyster Catcher. My thoughts of doubt changed to excitement and anticipation. “I must be getting close!”

Ahead I noticed a small island with a large number of birds on it. On the shore beyond the little island of oyster shells I could see several Great Egrets and, beyond them a few Banker Horses. Moving closer I was astounded by the variety of birds sharing that one little patch of dry gound. Brown birds, black birds, white birds… feathered creatures large and small, there was certainly quite a gathering there. Among them several American Oyster Catchers. I paddled a bit up current and allowed my kayak to drift up against the island. The birds were surprisingly calm about my close proximity.

After getting my fill of photos of the birds on the little island I paddled over to get a few shots for the Great Egrets. Then I noticed a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers swimming nearby and paddled in their direction. Ducks tend to be quite nervous of people and rightly so. After all, they’re known for tasting good! These guys were certainly a bit nervous about my presence but as long as I allowed the wind and current to move me towards them, rather than paddling, I was able to get reasonbly close. In my mind this is a fairly exotic looking duck and I was pleased to be able to add a few images of the species to my collection.

Since it was nearly high tide and time was quickly sliding by I decided to see if I could cut through the shallow channel across the island rather than retracing my steps back the way I’d come. As it worked out it was no problem paddling through the channel to Taylor’s creek. However, I don’t think there’s anyway it could be done at low-tide. The short-cut reduced my return to the boat ramp by almost and hour from what I’d originally planned, leaving me a bit of extra time to get ready for my afternoon commitment.

I’m awe struck by the variety of birds I saw in this short, two-hour paddle. While I didn’t photograph every species of bird I saw I observed the following: Little Blue Heron, Tri-color Heron, Grackle, Osprey, American Oyster Catcher, Marbled Godwit, Dunlin, Willet, Lesser Tern, Black-bellied Plover, Great Egret, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, and White Ibis. Truth be told I probably forgot a few! The abundance of birds to be seen along the Crystal Coast in the spring is simply astounding. Well worth the effort of exploring the area by kayak.

A Tri-colored Heron found on the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve, Beuafort, NC

American Oyster Catchers tend to congregate during high tide.  At low tide they'll spread out and look for a meal.

A Red-breasted Merganser swims in Back sound.

A Marbled Godwit shares space with other shore birds along North Carolina's Crystal Coast.

American Oyster Catchers are a very colorful bird. A Willet found along the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve.

The Black-bellied Plover is an extremely small bird, easily overlooked.

A Great Egret with a fine catch.

A Dunlin searches the estuarine waters for a meal.

A final look at the American Oyster Catcher.

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