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Sunday, January 30, 2011

A nice place for wintering humans and birds

The weather is finally starting to break our way with Sunday, January 30, seeing a high temperature of 69F.  That was just about the perfect temperature for an afternoon winter walk which became more of a stroll since there were so many people out enjoying the weather

Actually the last week of January has been a very nice week.  I think that I only missed one day of going for my afternoon hikes.

Our small subdivision of forty some homes is a little over three miles up the White Oak River from where it empties into Bogue Sound not very far from Bogue Inlet which leads to the Atlantic Ocean.  We have more marshes, water, and pine trees than anything.

Being in a nice area for people and wildlife is one of the benefits of being sandwiched between the White Oak River and the 158,000 acres of Croatan National  Forest while having the 56 miles of Cape Lookout National Seashore on guard in the Atlantic.

With all that wild land, it is not surprising that we have plenty of birds, including some of our bigger shore birds like pelicans and herons.

With an address like "White Heron Lane," it is no shock that we have a good dose of herons.  We have blue ones and green ones.  What used to be called "white herons" are now called great egrets, and they seem to enjoy hanging around here.  We also have kingfishers living in the neighborhood.  Once when I was out in my kayak, I got to see an osprey dive bomb a fish.  We see some hawks in the area and have even had an eagle visit the woods behind our dock.

There are plenty of ducks and cormorants to go along with the other birds.  I really have enjoyed the hooded mergansers who have been visiting in our waters this winter.  In addition to the bigger birds, there are number of small birds around.  Just today I saw a northern flicker, a red headed woodpecker, a downy woodpecker, a cardinal, and  some still unidentified small birds. We had an early morning hooded merganser visit, and the usual collection of herons were around most of the day.

If you have a look at this map of one of my hikes, you can get a pretty good idea of the opportunity that there is to see some of our neighborhood birds while never being very far from our home. While the aerial photo leaves out a new road which has no homes along it yet, the map is otherwise accurate.   Raymond's Gut, the water which runs right behind our home, connects us to the White Oak.  The gut offers some amazing opportunities to get close to some of the larger birds.

Twice this week I have been able to use the fish cleaning stand on our dock as a heron blind.  Once I got very close to a great blue heron.  This Sunday, January 30, just after we came home from church, I noticed a great egret walking in the shallows of the water towards our dock.

I had not even had time to change from my church clothes, but I crouched and made my way slowly to my ad hoc bird blind.  I poked just my head and the camera over the top and started snapping pictures.

With the weather warming up, the pelicans seem to have deserted us, but that just means that the herons have come back in force.  On top of that I saw a bunch of robins this past Friday.

With a great mix of woods, water, and marshes, it is hard to beat our spot for a nice place to enjoy our coastal winter birds.  We often get to watch herons or egrets and sometimes even pelicans feeding in the morning while we are sitting at our table eating breakfast.  It is a morning show that I prefer to any that they might cook up on television.

In spite of some recent but actually rare snowstorms, North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks is a neat place to winter for humans, especially any who enjoy watching some nice feathered neighbors.  We also have snow fairies to handle any snow shoveling.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

On the river one week after the snow storm

 It was on January 22, 2011, just a week before I wrote this post, that the Crystal Coast got hit with a pretty good snow storm.  We had four inches along the White Oak River, and a few miles away near the Emerald Isle beaches, they had seven inches of snow.  It even stuck to the roads which is very unusual here.

As it was snowing that Saturday, I made a promise to myself.  As soon as the snow stopped, I would try to get on the river if the tides and winds cooperated, and the temperature got above 50F.

These pictures provide a pretty good idea of the snow that we got from the storm.  Saying that it was the third snowstorm that we have seen this year makes it sound like we live in a North Carolina snow belt.

Fortunately is not nearly as bad as it sounds.  This last storm was by far the largest of the three that we have had in the winter of 2010-2011, but even with this largest storm our driveway melted clean by noon of the next day.  I bet I know some northern inhabitants who would trade their last storm for our "blizzard."

All week after our snow, the weather here continued to improve while the Northeast was being pounded with snow.  We even woke up one morning to 54F.  It was great to return to more normal temperatures, but the tides remained very low until late in the week, and I did not want to chance getting stuck off my lift so my skiff stayed at the dock.

With the nicer weather, and my boat still on the lift, I returned to my afternoon hikes which the coldest weather had stopped..  To have some computer fun I started using the My Tracks app on my Android powered Droid phone to record my hikes.  With the link you can see one of my afternoon hikes on a map.

While there is a very new road missing on the aerial photos of our subdivision, you still can get an idea of how my hike took me on the edge of the marsh, through our boat yard, over some open land and up to the lake at the center of Bluewater Cove.  I was looking for hooded mergansers, who have been delighting us with their showy plumage, but there were no ducks on the pond that afternoon.

When I finally decided to make good on my promise and check the river out, it was twenty minutes to noon and the temperature crawled over 50F.  I was bundled up with a vest and hooded jack which were both on over my life jacket suspenders. I added a nice cap and sunglasses and then pulled my hood up.  I would prefer headed down the river with just shorts and a tee-shirt, but we got a ways to go on that.  I have to go back to late November to find some close to warm boating.

It probably should be lesson one in boating.  The air temperature around you is most often going to be close to the water temperature.  Today was no different.  The water temperature was in the mid-forties, and if you add something close to 35 MPH for a windchill, riding in the skiff actually felt like I was outside in a temperature in the low thirties to upper twenties.  You might say that it was still pretty nippy out on the river.

The ride idling out the gut to the river wasn't too bad. but when I turned and gave the skiff some throttle and headed down river, I could really feel that wind chill.   As you can see from the map, I made it almost to Jones island near Swansboro.

There were no clouds in sky, everything was a beautiful blue but it was still too cold for much of boating even bundled up like I was.

On my way back, I took to circle near the red sixteen buoy so I could safely to check in with Foursquare with my cell phone.  While there is little danger of someone stealing my honorary title as Mayor of Red Sixteen, you cannot be too safe these days.

The cold weather has turned the gut which runs from our house out to the White Oak river into a big bird sanctuary.  I have gotten a number of great bird pictures which I have posted on the web.

With the weather warming, our big bird population has dropped somewhat.  Still I photographed a couple of nice white herons sunning themselves in the pines behind our home the same afternoon as my chilly boat ride.

This winter has been one to remember, but I am hoping that my boat trip sent a strong message to winter.  We have had enough already, just ship whatever cold weather and snow that is left over to Canada and New England. 

After all most of those frozen Northern souls choose to live there, and secretly enjoy shoveling the white stuff.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Finally a normal winter storm on the NC coast

This has been something of a challenging winter so far along the Southern Outer Banks. In an area where the normal high temperature averages about 50F even in the depths of January, even 40F has been a hard to find temperature this winter.

Last year on January 20, 2010, the first significant snow in six years arrived in the area.  A storm with even more snow hit in February.  This year through the first twenty-two days of January, we have already had three snow storms that more than covered the ground.

This last storm on January 22 not only covered the ground but it also stuck to the roads.  Until this storm our high temperatures seemed to be stuck in the low to mid thirties, a near perfect temperature for snow.

Fortunately this next January 25 storm which is sweeping out of the south is staying closer to the coast with the consequence that we are on the warm side of the storm.

Our temperature on Saturday, January 22, hung around 32F all day with the result that we ended up with four inches of snow.  Areas as little as ten to fifteen miles farther inland had no snow and actually experienced a sunny day with blue skies while we were getting whacked with a snow storm that delivered up to seven inches of snow to Emerald Isle and some of the other beaches.

We are facing a different scenario on January 25.  Our daytime temperature is close to 50F.  We are actually going to be even warmer tomorrow with the temperature approaching the upper fifties.

It will be a true winter scenario for areas to the west and north of us.

Until you get to the mountains, the farther from the coast you go tomorrow, the more likely you will find snow in the afternoon.

Rain on the coast during a winter storm is a fairly normal weather pattern for the Southern Outer Banks.  Storms swing across the South, collide with the warmth, moisture, and instability of the air over the Gulf Stream.  A strong storm, most often a Nor'easter forms and depending on its track, some areas can get tremendous amounts of snow while other areas suffer through a mixture of precipitation types along with strong winds and high waves.

We can get hit with wintry Nor'easters or with just wet ones.  This one is forming just far enough away from us that we will just get some rain and maybe wind.  Except for this year, a wintry Nor'easter is an uncommon visitor to our beaches.

Having rain and sending our northern neighbors a wintry mess is a more normal pattern for us, and after our winter so far, it is a welcome return to normalcy.  I hope the folks up north survive this latest onslaught without too many difficulties.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

No Boats in Bogue Sound Today

We are a little over a week into the new year.  While the weather has been a little better this first week, we are still not regularly hitting our normal average temperatures for January.  Normally western Carteret County has a January average high of 55F and an average low of 35F.

We had a good start to the month with a couple of days in the mid-sixties followed by another couple of days when we managed to make it over 50F.  However, since Wednesday, January 5, we have not managed to break 50F.

Saturday, January 8, we managed to get to 47F and have some sunshine, but there was a fairly persistent breeze so it felt colder than that.  With the air temperature in the upper forties and the water temperature in the lower forties, the thought of being on the water in a boat was not exactly pleasant.  I was not surprised to see no boats in Bogue Sound when we crossed over the Emerald Isle Bridge. The picture at the top of the post was taken from the bridge Saturday afternoon.

Emerald Isle was also a little bit like a ghost town.  There was a huge difference in traffic between this weekend, and New Year's weekend when we had those warm days in the upper sixties.  Today when I stopped at the beach, there were no people walking on the beach. There were lots of people a week ago when we had temperature twenty degrees warmer.

I guess we have to consider ourselves lucky.  We are part of that shrinking portion of the United States that does not have snow on the ground.  If predictions are correct for the upcoming week, even coastal North Carolina might fall victim to a snowstorm with the potential to bring winter weather from Dallas, Texas to Atlantic Canada. Looking at the Boone, NC forecast this morning, I was not surprised that it looked more wintry than the part of Canada where I lived for sixteen years.

There is nothing you can do about the weather, especially when it has gone haywire.  This year areas as diverse as Great Britain, Florida, California, and even Arizona are joined with most of the US east coast in the common misery of some nasty weather.

Right now I will continue to enjoy the quiet of Raymond's Gut and our feathered winter visitors.  I will let the memories of a much warmer Bogue Sound lull me to sleep. Warmth will make it to the Carolina coast, it always does. Until we get the warmth from the sun, we will just have to settle for what we get from our gas logs in the fireplace.

Just maybe this will be the last serious shot of winter here on the Southern Outer Banks,  we can always hope.

Cold weather is a good time to do some inside work. I even got my real estate websites updated this week.  The cold was not severe enough to stop my afternoon walks.  I only missed one day and that was because we were in Morehead City, but it was cold enough to make me wish for some of that August heat.