A Morning at the Rachel Carson Reserve

The Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve is one of the jewels of the Crystal Coast. There was a time I’d visit it two even three times a week. Then life got busy and I neglected paddling my kayak to and around the reserve.

The Reserve

Located across Taylor’s Creek from Beaufort, North Carolina, the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve is made up of several small islands, shoals and oyster beds. In the Spring and Fall it is a wonderful place to view and photograph migrating birds. Through the summer it serves as a nesting place for many species of shorebirds. Residents include foxes, raccoons and, perhaps the stars of the show, wild horses!

Access to this wonderful resource is via boat. I tend to kayak over though there are several local tour operators that offer drop-off service to the reserve. I’ve written about my preference for making photos from a kayak before. For example, https://carolinafootprints.com/wild-horse-photos-from-a-kayak-you-betcha/

My Morning Trip

It had been a year or two since I paddle over to the reserve. I had loaded my kayak into my pick-up truck the evening before and set my alarm to get up early. When the alarm went off I got up to discover it was raining and raining hard! I thought my plans were shot but the rain quit after a couple hours. It was a later start than I’d planned, meaning harsher light than I really wanted for photography, but I was determined to make the trip. I made the sort paddle across the creek, beached my kayak and headed out on foot to look for the wild horses and whatever other photo opportunities might come my way. A typical visit usually nets me some wild horse photos, bird images and even a few shots of wild flowers and interesting trees. The visit did not disappoint.

The Photos

The following images are the result of my visit. Keep in mind that the wild horse photos were made using a telephoto lens. It is important to give these animals some distance. In fact, it is even the law to get no closer than 50′ to these magnificent animals (approximately the length of a school bus).

Beaufort by the Sea, a small community in eastern North Carolina, has recently been getting a lot of attention as a travel destination. With good food, historic places and a short drive to the Crystal Coast beaches, it’s little wonder. Of course the area also offers some wonderful fishing and kayaking opportunities. But perhaps not as well known, there is a herd of wild horse living across the creek that forms the town’s waterfront! The Outer Banks is well known for its wild horses. There are herds located at Corolla, Ocracoke, and Shakleford Banks. A lessor konw, more recently established herd also exists on Cedar Island. Perhaps even less well known is are the horses living within the boundaries of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. Unlike North Carolina’s other coastal horses, which are true Spanish Mustangs, this herd is a mix of domestic breeds and Banker horses. The islands can be reached by boat, kayak or ferry. When visiting the horses it is important to give them space. It is illegal to get closer than 50 feet to any of these wild animals. That’s roughly the length of a school bus. Respect their freedom, recognize their wildness and observe from a safe distance.
This Indian Blanket wildflower, Gaillardia pulchella, was photographed on Carrot Island in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve, Beaufort, North Carolina. Native to NC, this wild plant is also know as a Firewheel or Sundance flower. With their colorful red-orange and yellow blossom, they are also a popular addition to native flower gardens. Loved by Honey Bees, honey produced by pollinators that regularly visit these lovely blooms is a dark amber brown. These wildflower prefer sandy soil and direct sunlight. They are draught resistant. They’re frequently seen on sand dunes along the barrier islands of the Outer Banks.
Live along the coast can be a struggle. Plants and animals must endure strong winds and storm surges. Often times salt water incursions will end the life of a young tree. The skeleton left behind can be a thing of beauty. This dead tree is located on Carrot Island in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. Nearby is the busy coastal town of Beaufort North Carolina. Wild horses share the island with a variety of plant and animal life.
A pair of wild horses feed on marsh grass on the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. All of the islands that make up this preserve were recently incorporated by the town of Beaufort North Carolina to allow local officer to add an enforcement arm to the property. All hunting is prohibited on these islands and there are common sense regulations in place to help protect the horses.
A Wilson’s Plover, Charadrius wilsonia, goes on alert, standing in an erect position. Easily confused with the Piping Plover, these medium sized plovers have a larger head and heavier bill. All of the variants living on the US east coast, except for Florida, winter in Brazil. Those living in Florida and Mexico do not migrate south. These birds are foragers that feed on crabs, marine worms and insect they find on the beach. This photo was made on the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve, Beaufort North Carolina. This sandy area known as Bird Shoal is attached to Carrot Island. The reserve is host to a large number of breeding and migratory birds every year.
A wild stallion stands on top of a sand dune in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. He is standing watch over his harem, making sure the strange human presents no threat. Horses have been living wild along the North Carolina coast for nearly 500 years. While life is hard on these desolate islands they have managed to survive. While some biologists consider them an invasive species, with a five century history on this continent I think it seems fair to think of them as a naturalized species. It would be a shame if they were removed from this landscape.

This entry was posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Kayaking, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography, Uncategorized, Wild Horses, Wildflowers, Wildlife Photography.


  1. Steve Heap June 24, 2022 at 2:14 pm #

    Another place unknown to me! I love the photo of the erect bird. Very proud! Makes me wonder why it doesn’t stop it’s migration in Florida rather than continuing to Brazil? Strange!

  2. Jim Cook July 2, 2022 at 12:53 pm #

    Wow, googling this location now. Looks like we are about 6 to 7 hours away. We love kayaking and now because of viewing your photos this is on our list to visit. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Louis Dallara July 3, 2022 at 8:55 am #

    Wow, Bob, great post, thanks for all the info. I hope to visit in a couple of weeks, I’ll be in Corolla Beach.

  4. Rebecca Herranen July 13, 2022 at 11:22 am #

    So beautiful and we are now in the west. It is a dream of mine to capture wild horses. You have done a beautiful job. That stallion is just gorgeous.

  5. Pencil Paws October 8, 2022 at 1:30 am #

    Wow it looks so stunning there! Especially love the photographs of the wild horses.

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