Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter on the Marsh

The marsh along Raymond's Gut has settled into its winter pattern.  We have days when the promise of warmth is fulfilled followed by a day or two of what passes for winter here along the Carolina coast.  As I write this it is early February and on a recent trip to Wilmington, we saw a few trees blooming.  We've had daffodils blooming in our neighborhood for two or three weeks.

Our winters are a far cry from those areas to the north of us. Still once you get used to this climate, our winter weather feels as cold to us as a nasty day in Maine.

Frank, the great egret winter visitor from Canada

The one constant here when the weather has turned cold or nasty is that the big shore birds find that our little inlet offers some protection from biting winds and cooler temperatures.  On really bad days we see a steady stream of birds jockey for the prime spots.

You do not live along a marsh for very long before you figure out that great blue herons are among the most feared of the birds.  It is rare that another big bird get close to a great blue. Even a pelican will not challenge them. Great blues have a nasty enough disposition that they have a hard time getting along with themselves.

Still a marsh stands still for no creature not even territorial great blues.  Most days the prime spots change hands several times.  Sometimes one of the river otters will even intrude to shake things up.  An oblivious cormorant or a well-focused loon will swim through the marsh inhabitants without causing much of a ruckus.  However, the cormorants spook easily and will do panic take-offs when they feel threatened.

In spite of all these interactions between the inhabitants, most of the visitors and regular residents are focused on one thing, eating fish.  The otters do not even mind if you watch them enjoying their fish Popsicles.  Some of the marsh inhabitants can get a little carried away like this kingfisher tenderizing his fish.  Beyond those events things don't change perceptibly in the marsh from one winter day to the next.

The storms come and go along with the tides. We have windy days and days when the sun makes you mindful that you are living in North Carolina and perhaps we should bottle some of this cool air to use in the few weeks of August when we really feel the heat.

One thing that has been different this winter is that an identifiable visitor has chosen to hang around our neighborhood.  Back in late December on a return trip from kayaking out on the White Oak River I noticed a great egret with red spots on his wings.  It was almost dark and he was a long way off.  I soon figured out a few days later that he was wearing tags.

As he became a more regular visitor, we got curious and finally learnned that he is a Canadian bird.  Along the way he has picked up the name of Frank.  You can read his full story at this post of mine, There Are Lots of Egrets, But There Is Only One Frank.  Frank has gotten popular and now has a Facebook page.  His popularity puffed him up so much that he got a Twitter account and did his first Tweet recently.  Frank likes to hear from his fans so send him a note on Twitter @frank29x.139