Great Egret fishing in their winter pond

One of our visiting great egrets fishing in their winter pond

We have enjoyed some almost summer days in December of 2013.  The temperatures have managed to be between 70F and 80F more than once.  However, the seasons move relentlessly even here on North Carolina’s stunningly beautiful Southern Outer Banks.  Winter even here, not far from the south facing beaches of Emerald Isle, cannot be put off forever.

On December 10, 2013, we awoke to a low temperature of 64F and watched the temperature rise once again to nearly 70F before noon.  By 2PM a front had passed through the area and a third of an inch of rain fell on the area in just a few minutes.  The skies cleared to a beautiful blue, but the temperature starting falling rapidly.  By 6PM we were down to 44F.

Cooling temperatures and winter winds bring back our marsh friends.   Many have been visiting since early December including our most famous great egret of all, Frank 29x.  While great egrets and great blue herons seem to be happy in the summer to drop by for a quick visit or low tide wading snack, when winter approaches I am never surprised when I get squawked at late at night by one of the egrets or herons who have decided to spend the night near our dock.  It is an unusual winter morning when we have no large shore birds behind our home.

Anyone who has been around the big birds will quickly tell you that great blue herons are not exactly the friendliest of neighbors.  They often see you before you see them and that almost always results in a harsh squawk as they get in the air to escape whatever evil we had planned for them.

Great egrets are much friendlier birds and often will almost ignore you once they have seen you several times. You rarely get a loud noise out of them and they are not nearly as territorial as great blue herons.  However, Frank 29x is little bit of an exception.  He is pretty territorial for a Canadian and has been know to rout great blue herons from his patch.

We can often watch the large marsh birds while we are sitting at our kitchen table.  Sometimes later in the winter our marsh becomes so busy that we need air traffic control.  We have had dozens of cormorants come to visit at one time.  The cormorants are often followed by a handful of pelicans and it is not unusual for a couple of kingfishers to add to the excitement by having a few dogfights over the gut.

If we are lucky we also get a few ducks to add into the mix.  We often have the tiny grebes but sometimes we get lucky and have some beautiful hooded mergansers.

While feathered friends are often the most visible, some of our most entertaining visitors are otters.  Last year a pair of otters graced our inlet for several weeks.  This year we have seen one otter so far.

Of course we have other birds from pileated and red-headed woodpeckers to bluebirds and cardinals with us most of the winter.  During our summer in December the birds have really been enjoying themselves and with their chatter it often sounds more like spring than winter.

We are fortunate that the marsh rarely freezes over.  Even when it does, the ice usually melts before noon.  The one time we had ice that lasted more than a day, I dropped my skiff in the water and turned it into an ice breaker.  After watching a great blue heron try to learn how to skate,  I thought it was the least that I could do.

With luck, the winter of 2013 will not last long, and we can get back to enjoying the water whenever we please instead of waiting for a really nice day.  In the meantime, we will enjoy the company of the big and little birds and hope the otters find their way back here to entertain us.  Life on the edges of the marsh is pretty neat as you can see from all the photos that you can reach from the linked post.

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