Monday, December 31, 2012

Icy Morning on the Gut

There are some years when when ice comes to our spot on the Crystal Coast earlier than others.  The year 2012, is not one of them.  We have enjoyed some great weather in December.  I even spent the morning of Christmas Day out in the White Oak River in my kayak.

The icy picture in the post was taken the morning of the last day of 2012.  It finally got cold enough to create some ice on Raymond's Gut.  The gut flows behind our home and heads out to the White Oak River.  We are subject to tides so you never know exactly what is going to happen with ice, but this time the ice disappeared by the middle of the afternoon.

The only reason that I got to see the ice is that I usually take an early morning walk of a couple of miles around the marsh that is near our home.  My first stop after I leave the house is the dock behind our home.  It takes me about five minutes to walk from there over to the boardwalk around our clubhouse.  There the sun is usually just getting to the tops of the big pine trees when I walk onto the boardwalk.  I snapped the picture at the top of the post just before I left the boardwalk.

It was December 31, when I was greeted by some ice in the gut and an otter enjoying an icy morning swim.   There was a pair of them and one even swam over to check me out.  It not unusual  to come upon wildlife on my morning walk.  We live in a natural paradise populated by egrets, herons, kingfishers, ducks, and other birds.  We also apparently have a good supply of fish that they enjoy eating.  At least that I what I assume since they keep coming back.

The icy morning I finished my hour and one half walk by checking out the water by our dock once again.  I found one of the otters looking for fish not far from the dock.  I only watched a couple of minutes before he caught one.  Luckily I had my video camera with me so I took a video of the otter enjoying his very fresh morning breakfast of fish.  The fish-eating otter video is now posted on YouTube.

People often ask me if I get tired of walking in the same area.  I do try to get over and hike the beaches when the weather isn't so cold, but I rarely am disappointed with my walk around the marshes.  While the cast of characters is often the same, I usually find them in a new spot or doing something different.

The numerous great blue herons that visit are my favorites.   It takes some patience and care to sneak up on a great blue and actually take a few photos.  It is a challenge that I enjoy.

I figure that my passion for taking pictures of wildlife is a great hobby.  It gets me outside, but it is a lot easier than owning a dog.  I also get to take pictures from our skiff and my kayak.  I have gotten some fantastic pictures from the kayak.  For some reason it is easier to sneak up on the big birds in the kayak than it is on foot.

You can enjoy many of the photos that I have taken in the area this fall at this photo album.  If the photos make you want to come for a visit, you can find more information at this page.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Before the Blow

We're lucky to be living tucked in by the water not far from the beaches of Emerald Isle, North Carolina.  Being protected just off a big river without pine trees close around your home is a pretty good recipe for staying out of trouble in the winds and storms of the Crystal Coast.  It is also very convenient when you want to enjoy the area's waters.

Our home is on Raymond's Gut a little more than half a mile from the center of the White Oak River.  The White Oak depending on how you measure its width is close to two miles across where we live.

Swansboro and the Intracoastal Waterway even with some zigging and zagging around oyster rocks are only about three miles down river.  The beach over by the Point at Emerald Isle is about six miles away as a pelican flies. 

A trip down the river in our skiff takes only six or seven minutes once you have idled out our inlet.  The total ride is about ten minutes and another ten minutes will put you well out Bogue Inlet and almost in the Atlantic Ocean.  We live in a place where the water provides easy access to many neat areas including Hammocks Beach, the Point, and Bogue Inlet.  These pictures of a ride down to the marshes south of Swansboro provide an idea of the beauty of the area.

It does not take many years of living near the beach to learn to appreciate a few miles of separation from the Atlantic Ocean.  Usually the wind blows a lot harder over by the beaches.  The cold seems to penetrate a little more by the ocean, and in the spring it seems to take a little longer to warm up the ocean compared to the river.  The beach is a little cooler in the summer, but I have heat pumps for that if I can't find some water to cool my body.

I truly enjoy going to the beach, but I don't mind the short commute from our home.  It comes with a lot of advantages.  One of those is protection from most storms.  As we are sliding toward the holiday season, the weather is definitely changing.  We are seeing more frequent storms and being a little farther away from the incubator of the storms is definitely an advantage.

In the last three weeks, we have witnessed Hurricane Sandy and two Northeasters.  When the storms are coming that regularly, any protection from the power of the Atlantic Ocean is welcome.  Of course as we have all learned, no place is immune from the power of Mother Nature.

Timing and location are often very important.  We have been lucky to to be witnesses to the formation of the Northeasters instead of seeing them at their peak power.  We also ended up on the less powerful end of Sandy.  My wife and I were traveling in Canada when Sandy started up the coast.

As soon as we realized the magnitude of Sandy, we turned and headed down the coast.  It seemed like we were seeing the stormy weather of Sandy from over a thousand miles away.  Yet being those six miles inland often provides a more protected life on the coast even with a huge storm like Sandy.

Barrier islands and marshes are the keys to protecting homes from storms.  We're really lucky to have Emerald Isle and its well-treed hills standing tall between our location and the power of the Atlantic Ocean.

As the wind and rain was slamming against our home on this Sunday before Thanksgiving 2012, it was easy to imagine just how much stronger the winds might be over on the shore.  I would love to open my door and go down to the beach to fish.  However, that pleasure comes with a bit more challenging weather than we have inland.

We often can tell when the weather is going to be bad.  The pelicans and herons will often abandon their more coastal haunts and come ride the storms out in our inlet.  They seem to enjoy the protection of our trees and marshes that keep much of the wind away from their perches.

I've written before about one spot where the Herons go to hide.  I'm very fortunate to be able to see that place from our upper deck and our dock.  One of the especially protected corners of the aviary requires a walk over to the community boardwalk, but I have seen several herons in there at one time.  When there is more than one heron in there, you know the weather is going to be bad because herons are not noted for being social.

Sunday morning before our latest Nor'easter, we had a pelican swimming behind the house and two great blue herons jostling with a younger great blue heron for a prized perch in the rookery.   I knew with all those big birds wandering around our cove that we would likely get a dose of nasty weather.

The rain and winds came early Sunday afternoon, but we just turned on the gas fire place logs and had a peaceful nap while the weather raged outside.  The knowledge that we were just far enough away to miss the worst of the storm made our nap just that much more peaceful.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Life by the River

Living on a coastal river is a very different experience than living on a river in other places.  One thing is that coastal river are often very wide.  The river near where we live is close to two miles wide.

While rain often causes flooding along rivers that are in the hill country or the mountains, if you live on a coastal river that is close to the ocean, the tide can often take care of a lot of problems.

In the summer of 2010 I wrote a piece called How to Enjoy a Coastal River.  Now that I look back at it, I was only beginning to understand the White Oak River when I wrote that post.

It is no joke to say that a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since the summer of 2010.  In September of 2010, we had a freak rain storm in Bluewater Cove, the subdivision where we live.  We got over twenty inches of rain in less than twenty-four hours.

I have seen the Roanoke River where we lived in the mountains have serious flooding with less than half that amount of rain.  Fortunately for us the day we got the twenty-plus inches of rain on the coast, it came just as the tide was reaching its peak.  As soon as the tide turned, the high water at my dock started dropping even as the rain continued.

That the tide could take away all that water left a lasting impression on me.  Still the river had other lessons to teach.  In August of 2011, Hurricane Irene came for a visit.

Irene was an impressive storm, but our area came through in good shape.  Our power was out less than four hours.  The day after Irene came through the area, we went over to Emerald Isle and enjoyed ice cream cones.  I am certainly not belittling the power of hurricanes in saying we managed to survive in "good shape."   Another day things could have been different.

However, hurricanes are not strangers to the area.  People try not to have too many trees close to their homes here.   People in areas that are flood prone have foundations that let waters move through them.  Fortunately our beaches and marshes have not been over developed.  There is plenty of vegetation on Emerald Isle compared to many other coastal areas.

Our geography also helps us a little.  Just a little north and east of us, the Neuse River is much more subject to flooding because there is no land mass to slow the water of Pamlico Sound from blowing into the Neuse when conditions area right.

Even with these advantages life on the river has still been full of surprises.  On May 30, 2012 a very rare event happened.  We were brushed by a tornado.   Before May 30, I had heard that tornadoes normally dissipate as they approach the ocean waters.  It turns our that while it is very rare, we can have tornadoes just like the rare tornado that visited our friends in the mountains by Pulaski, Virginia.  Fortunately both in Pulaski and here in Peletier no one died from the tornadoes.  Our tornado lasted less than a minute.

The lessons of the last few years have taught me to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.  No matter where we live, we all live close to very powerful forces of nature.  Those forces are closer than we care to admit.  We just have to realize that we cannot control mother nature.

In spite of getting a close hand look at the power of nature, I would not trade where we live for any of the many places that we have lived or even the ones that we have visited.  There is incredible scenic beauty here on the coast.  While there are times to be very respectful of the forces that surround us, there are other times when it almost seems that nature opens its arms for us.

The third week in April of 2012 I anchored my kayak in the middle of our river.  Sitting there are the oyster rocks, it was hard to think of a more peaceful place.  Especially one that can so easily renew your appreciation of the world where we live.

It often seems like our world along the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina is one which has no walls.  There are times that the water, the horizon and the sky seem to merge in a world of blue.

Because our water is so accessible, it is a big part of our life.  The morning of June 25, 2012 on my boat ride down river I saw hardly any ripples.   The same river nine hours later is a mass of white caps and foam.  The morning river ride was a wonderful pleasure.  Yet even I wouldn't challenge the river and its impressive whitecaps later in the day.

Respecting the weather and the water comes naturally when you have seen the awesome power that mother nature can unleash.  That the calm water pictured in the post can have whitecaps on it in the same day is just one of the wonders of being alive.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March Winds on the Coast

Spring has arrived on the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina.  While we might be surprised with the early dose of warmth that 2012 has delivered to us, no one who lives here on the coast is surprised by the wind which is nearly a constant companion this time of year.

It does not matter whether you are on the river in a skiff as in the picture at the top of the post or walking along the beach.  Things are usually all stirred up by the winds through much of March and April.

We live on a very sheltered cove just off the White Oak River.  It is not unusual for spring winds to blow directly into our cove and create waves on our normally very quiet little inlet.

Waves on our inlet are not much cause for worry, but waves out on the river and sounds are a different story.  When you are trying use a skiff to get from one point to another and there are white caps on the river, you have to get your boat up on top of the waves and hold it there even as the winds and waves change.

If you don't, it can be a bumpy ride it. Handling a boat on top of the waves takes some practice, and even then sometimes things get rough.  A ride down the river with choppy water is nothing like a ride down the river on a quiet summer morning when the river is glassy smooth.  Still riding on some rough water is part of spring.

While we have great days in spring, there is no shortage of wind in the spring.  While the winds make the water rough for a time, they don't keep us at the dock all of the time.

As one of my fishing buddies is fond of saying, "All you have to do is find the right spot, and you will be out of the wind."  Sometimes in the spring and even in the fall, we will use Bear Island (Hammocks Beach State) as a windbreak.  There is a great channel behind the island.  It is often sheltered from some of our more persistent winds. Where there is will, there usually is a way to get on the water.

No one questions that our world of dazzling water exposes us to lots of wind and weather.  However, we are fortunate that we can count on our weather to nice more often that not here along North Carolina's Crystal Coast.

How many ofter places can you plant your tomato plants and go wading in ocean water in March and the next day cool off in the neighborhood swimming pool after mowing your yard for the first time in 2012?  I wonder how April 2012 could possibly top March? Then again, April 2011, was certainly a month to remember.

Maybe the winds will stop in early April this year.  It is the coast, and since we usually don't know the weather until we wake up in the morning, I wouldn't be surprised. Whatever happens, you will find me on or near the water most days because living here is all about the water.