A Surprise Around Every Corner in our Natural Paradise

Boardwalk at Bluewater Cove

Boardwalk at Bluewater Cove

There are places in the world which can help heal your soul.  I happen to live in one of those places.  I came to it at a time when my life was full of challenges and I had come close to forgetting how important it is to appreciate the natural world around you.

Anyone that follows my writings  and pictures knows that the years since 2006 when we moved here have changed my life.  At one time when I was working for Apple, it seemed as if I hardly had time to check whether the sun was up or down.  I was too busy trying to survive and watching my back.

Today my connection with the natural world is a priority.  The only thing higher would be my family and friends. Fortunately my dedication to being close to the world of nature also helps me nurture many friendships and my family.

After a couple of cups of coffee, a typical winter day begins with at least an hour of hiking around the marshes in our subdivision.  Sometimes I completely lose track of time and I end up spending closer to two hours wandering the woods and wetlands.  Those days breakfast tastes very good when I finally get back home.

When I start out on the boardwalk close to home, I never know what I will find around the corner.  It can be a great blue heron, some great egrets, a kingfisher, or any of a variety of ducks.  Recently I have had great fun with a pair of river otters.

This is a special area. I often describe the area as a place hemmed in for its own good by the Croatan National Forest, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and the Atlantic Ocean with a little protection by Camp Lejeune and the Marines.

A big part of our world is the White Oak River which luckily drains mostly wilderness and farmland.  The White Oak is a big but short coastal river with a strong tide and plenty of oysters.  Often the water is so clear that you can easily see for yards.

The White Oak is just intimidating enough to outside boaters that we rarely see crowds on it in the summer.  In the winter except for a few crab pots, the river is close to deserted.  I am happy to have it to myself like I did on Christmas Day 2012 when I kayaked for most of the morning.

My morning walk often takes me along Raymond’s Gut which empties into the White Oak.  I sometimes feel like I am in a bird sanctuary.  The other morning I stood and snapped shots of bluebirds swarming around a tree.  I have watched baby pileated woodpeckers waiting patiently for their parents to deliver food.

Even during the colder months, I often take to the river in my kayak or skiff.  I try to be on the river at least a couple of times a week twelve months of the year.  Instead of a long walk, in the summer I’ll often take my skiff to the marshes on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway near Swansboro.   I enjoy a little early morning fishing before the day heats up.

In both spring and summer I can be found walking the beaches especially the area that we call the Point.  Usually I finish my day with either another walk, a trip into the river by kayak or a sunset cruise in the skiff.  Watching the sun slide down behind the trees on the other side of the White is my idea of a great finish to a day.

The beaches, the marshes, the sound, the ocean, and the White Oak River are all part of this wonderful natural world that has helped me recover and learn to appreciate the great natural gifts we are so lucky to have access to in our world.  It is a great place to live.

Certainly the bottle-nosed dolphins, the river otters, and the hooded mergansers would all agree with me that this is a wonderful spot.

Time to Enjoy the Inlet

Bluewater Cove in December 2012

Bluewater Cove in December 2012

The holidays are almost upon us and winter has decided to visit us.  For those unfamiliar with the Crystal Coast, I define a winter day as one when the temperature does not reach 50F.

We endured some colder weather earlier in the fall.   It did pass and we have enjoyed some magnificent weather in December.  The first few days of December were in the upper sixties.  The second week only had a couple of days stuck in the fifties.  Even better the week leading up to Christmas had a day close to seventy degrees.

The river water returned to nearly 60F which is not bad for December.  With warm water and mild temperatures December has been a great time to enjoy the area’s waters.  Earlier this week before Christmas I spent an afternoon fishing the White Oak River in my kayak. It was warm enough that a long-sleeve t-shirt was all that I needed to be comfortable.

While I did not catch any fish, I had a great time being out on the river in such perfect weather.  I also got to watch several bottle-nosed dolphins feeding in the river.  I cannot remember the fall kayaking weather being any better since we moved down here over six years ago.  I know that I have been out in my kayak more this year than any previous year.

Unfortunately even here on the Crystal Coast we have to deal with the changing of the seasons.  The evening of Thursday, December 20, a front came through, and it feels like our really nice weather will disappear for a few days.  We are lucky because most years we get some nice days sprinkled all through the winter.  It is not unheard of for us to have several days in the seventies during January, but we can also get some snow.

Usually whatever snow we get is gone by noon, but strong winds and cool temperatures can make boating more challenging.  While I am dedicated to getting my skiff out on the river at least one day a week even if it requires a little ice-breaking,  I tend to stay in our inlet with my kayak once winter is officially here.

A trip in the kayak like I took earlier this week puts me about 1.5 miles from home.  When the water starts to cool and the winds start to below, I can find plenty to keep me occupied closer to home in our own inlet.  I can sneak out in the river a little ways and still be protected by a point of land sticks out into the White Oak but mostly I enjoy the warmth of our sheltered inlet.

If the weather turns bad, I can paddle home in under ten minutes. Our inlet is a great place for some easy winter kayaking.  There is plenty of wildlife to keep me entertained.  Usually my neighbors which include a great blue heron, a kingfisher or two, a great egret, and sometimes even a pelican are around to keep me company.  When the weather is nasty, we get even more of the big birds.

Even if the birds desert me, I can usually count on a beautiful winter sunset.  Somehow being confined to the Inlet for a few weeks isn’t such a big deal when your surroundings are so scenic.  I have plenty of wonderful memories of warmer weather to keep me going for a month or two.   By the end of February, the North Carolina sunshine is starting to warm things up, and I know it won’t be long before the tomatoes are in the ground once again.

So far this year’s weather has been easy to enjoy.  I hope it stays that way.

December Waters

On the White Oak

On the White Oak

Most people would be surprised to hear me say that December is a good time of the year to be living by the water.  This will be our seventh winter here on the Crystal Coast and experience says that we have a reasonable chance of having some great days on the water.  It is a little early to declare December 2012 a really nice month, but the forecast for the first week looks very good.

When six out of the first seven days in December have a high temperature at sixty degrees Fahrenheit or above, you will hear no complaints from me.  We had a similar run of shorts weather in December 2011.  Unfortunately there are no guarantees with the weather.

We can hope, but we have to take what we get.  The winter of 2010 started out much different from the winter of 2012.  On December 8, 2010, I wrote a post called “Nothing but Ice.”  That year the ice wasn’t a surprise since we had an early Saturday in December when the temperature only rose to 43F.  The weather was about as cold as it gets here on the Southern Outer Banks of the North Carolina Coast.

Unfortunately it even got worse that year.  We had snow on the dock on December 26.  As we got into January 2011, it was clear that it would be an old-fashioned winter and one for the record books here along the Southern Outer Banks.

That was not the kind of weather we expect here in Eastern North Carolina.  Many of us live here on the coast because most years you can enjoy the water twelve months out of the year.  I might be a little bundled up when I take a ride down the White Oak in January or February but I do it so that I can appreciate the heat in July and August.

Even during the notorious cold winter of 2010-11, I managed to grab some time on the water in February.  However, I prefer winters like last year when it is warm enough not only for boat rides but also for walking the beaches.

While we went through a wet, cool spell in the fall of 2012,  there have been more than enough days with great weather that offers an opportunity to enjoy our local waters.  Fall is fishing season here at the coast so I like to focus on the fish in my backyard.

The fall of 2012 has been a very good fishing season.  While I don’t catch something every time that I go out,  I have done very well this year.  I have the choice of fishing with a kayak or skiff, but in the fall I love to fish in the White Oak with my kayak.  Sitting out by the oyster rocks in the middle of the river is a good way to enjoy the peacefulness of my surroundings.  Sometimes there are even some tasty rewards like this flounder that I cooked less than an hour after I caught it in the White Oak.

I often work the oyster rocks in the river and the marsh grass on the edges.  I also have good luck fishing our inlet.  This year the fish seem to be close to home.  I caught this nice puppy drum weighing about four pounds about 350 feet from our home.  It was one of those days when I had worked a lot of the water without any fish including some in the middle of the river.  It was persistence that got a fish that close to home.

I have lost count of the number of puppy drum that I have caught and released this fall, but it has been my best puppy drum fall.    I haven’t caught a trout as nice as the one I caught last fall when I got this one that weighed over two pounds, but I have gotten a trout or two.

Last year, I caught a lot of trout out in the middle of the river, this year all my fish so far have been caught inside the Red Sixteen buoy.

Fishing is just part of the fun for me.  I enjoy sneaking up on the great blue herons and other birds.  In the kayak, I can get some really great pictures of our own big bird.  It is even possible to get some shots of the kingfishers which rarely stay in one spot for very long.  This one posed for me in the afternoon sunlight.

Beyond birds and fish, you also get to enjoy some spectacular sunsets.  I got a number of great sunset shots the evening of December 1, 2012.  This one which I call Kayak Evening is one of my favorites.  A number of folks enjoyed this one which I call Fire in the Water.

With fish, birds, and the opportunity to view great sunsets, I don’t know what there is to not like about December on the water as long as we can keep the cold temperatures up North where they belong.