A Boat Ride for the Birds

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Willets in Flight

Willets in Flight

If you have read many of my posts, you will know that it is no secret that I spend a lot of time watching birds and other inhabitants of the marsh.

I have written many posts about the feathered visitors to our marsh including this one, For the Love of Feathers. Most of our visitors are anonymous birds but we do have one celebrity, Frank 29X. This is the third winter that Frank 29X has joined us for the winter and early spring. While Frank 29X was reported less than two miles from us the week of April 15, 2015, most of our big birds seemed to have moved to the big marshes of Bogue Sound since the waters have warmed.

We still have birds around, but each spring there is a time when it is easier to seek out the birds instead of waiting for them to come to us. The task of getting to the birds turned out to be very easy this spring. I was working on luring the older of our two daughters down for a visit. She loves doing things on the water so I forwarded an email to her about a birding boat ride hosted by the North Carolina the Coastal Federation. It was not long before she took the bait. She even went ahead and booked the trip for us.

That was a few weeks before the event and as most people know, getting to spring on the coast can be a roller coaster. Even once you make it to spring, you can be teased by the warmth only to end up wondering what happened because you are having a hard time standing out in the wind and rain.

The spring of 2015, has not been like that. April was a relatively dry month on the coast and as you can see our temperatures have been moderate all month. Of course when you plan an outdoor event and someone drives seven hours to take part in it, you can almost guarantee the weather will not be perfect.

All week before the event we heard dire warnings of bad weather on the Sunday when we were scheduled for our boat bird trip. Knowing that our weather is so localized that it is often a riddle that only is solved as the weather unfolds kept us hopeful.

We managed to get over to Hammocks Beach Park in plenty of time on Sunday morning. There was blue sky when I went for my early morning walk, but it was gone an hour later when we arrived at the dock. I love blue skies, but I also enjoy seeing birds so I remained hopeful. It was not long before we boarded the Lady Swan with Captain Tim at the helm and local birding expert Joann Powell scanning the skies, marsh grass and oyster rocks.

We were not even away from the dock before some birds were sighted, but they were not nearly as exciting as the oyster catchers that we saw a few minutes after pulling away from the dock. We took a little different route getting over to Cow channel and the backside of Bear Island and then headed over towards the Point at Emerald Isle. We just got past the trees on Bear Island when we headed down what I have heard called the West Channel. It is one of the few places in the area that I have not explored.

The list of birds that we saw is long. We sighted Yellowlegs, Oystercatchers, Blackbellied Plovers, Royal Terns, Lesser Terns, Great Egrets, Canada Geese, immature Ibises,Snowy Egrets, Laughing Gulls, Willets, Sanderlings, Red-Headed Mergansers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and a pair of Ospreys. There are some pictures of them at this link.

While the weather was not perfect, we still had a blast. When we were on the back side of Huggins Island, I did remember to turn on MyTracks on my phone so you can see a tiny portion of our trip at this URL.

The area behind Bear Island is an area that I visit regularly, so I have plenty of blue sky pictures of the area. I was most impressed with our guide’s knowledge and with Captain Tim’s handling of the Lady Swan. I hardly missed the blue skies and we got to see many more birds than I expected.

Actually our timing turned out nearly perfect. I wandered down to the kayak ramp at the park to ask the kayak rental agent what their hours were. Just as we were finishing our chat, I felt some drops of rain and headed to the car to keep my cameras dry. We made it to the car without any problems and headed off to lunch at Highway 55 in Swansboro where I enjoyed a shrimp Po’Boy. What a great way to finish a great morning.

I doubt it will take much arm twisting to get me to register for the next cruise in May. Also my daughter now wants to visit the beach part of Hammocks Beach State Park. It is one of my favorite places and its beaches rival any along the coast.

We managed to get in an afternoon visit to Morehead City to see the Nina and Pinta docked and a quick cruise along Front Street in Beaufort before the rains started. We got a little over an inch of rain that Sunday night, but it did not matter since we had already enjoyed another great Crystal Coast day.

Our most recent newsletter went out the first week in April and can be see at this link. We will be getting another newsletter out around the end of April.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information, please consider purchasing our extensive Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We update it each year and I alway provide instructions on how to get the update in our newsletter.

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The Water is Ready

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White Oak River, April 2015

White Oak River, April 2015

Boating happens twelve months of the year along the Crystal Coast. However, January, February, and March are not months for lingering on the water.

Sometimes the water warms by the end of March and then there are years like 2015 when we have to wait until early April before the water temperature is right. While going out on the river in our skiff is safe when the water temperature is under fifty degrees, I would rather not be on the river in my kayak until the water temperature is in the mid-sixties.

When I took my skiff out on the river on March 8, 2015, I found the water temperature to be 51.5F. I was unable to sneak any time for a trip on the river later in the month. However, based on the March water temperatures collected by Dr. Bogus and his daily posts which also include the sound which is always similar to the river, I knew the water was very slow to warm this year.

According to Dr. Bogus we have had an “Unusually cold start to 2015 with both February and March ocean temps at Bogue Pier averaging below 50 degrees.”

Easter week here on the Crystal Coast was nearly perfect and we finally started getting some warm nights instead of the thirties and forties that were typical of March. It was with great anticipation on Saturday, April 11, that I finally got some time to exercise the skiff and get out on the water for a few minutes.

What really surprised me was how high the river water temperature has risen in such a short time. My reading in the middle of the White Oak was 71.8F. That rise of over twenty degrees Fahrenheit in less than a month is something that I have not seen recently.

Last year on March 22, 2014, the White Oak was at 62.9F. I went kayaking for the first time of the season on April 12, but by April 21, the river temperature had plunged back to 58F.

Water temperatures like the weather can be very unpredictable in early spring. The good news is that it is spring and with the recent warm-up, we are more likely to have some relatively stable temperatures especially since the forecast for the balance of April looks pretty normal.

The marsh is coming alive and it looks pretty nice out on the river even when making a wave or two. We are going through our spring low tides as you can see from this high-tide picture of an oyster rock that is normally well covered by our summer high tides.

If the wind will just die down a little this afternoon, I am hoping to make my April 12 first kayak trip an annual tradition.  It would be nice to look forward to that every year.

Unfortunately weather impacts ofter things besides water temperature.  The cold February and March created many problems.

While the water temperature has recovered nicely, lots of things have not. Last year at this we had already picked strawberries twice. Weather here on the Crystal Coast is always interesting and sometimes memorable. I will not forget the ten hours of below freezing weather on March 28, 2015. I lost several tomato plants that night even though they were all covered.

If I can catch a fish or two this April, that will remove the sting of having to wait for strawberries and losing some tomato plants.

Our most recent newsletter went out the first week in April and can be see at this link.  We will be getting another newsletter out around the end of April.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.  If you need more information, please consider purchasing our extensive Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99.  We update it each year and I alway provide instructions on how to get the update in our newsletter.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter