Holiday White Oak River Rides

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December 27, 2015 on the White Oak River

December 27, 2015 on the White Oak River

It is not unusual for me to be out on the river during December, January or even February. However, it is a little different to be headed down river with the boat up on plane on December 27 and to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

On our Christmas boat ride last year on December 26, 2014 my daughter, Erin, and I found the water temperature just under 53F. It does not take anyone long to figure out that the air temperature close to the surface on a big river is pretty close to the water temperature. In December and January we can see some cool water temperatures. On January 4, 2014, the river water was at 43.5F.

What cold water in the river means is that you can have close to 80F air temperatures like we enjoyed on December 27, 2015 but still have a cold ride on the river if the water is down below fifty degrees especially when you add the 20 to 30 MPH wind chill from the moving air of a skiff riding on top of the water.

That was not the case on December 26, 2015. Because my GPS unit is broken I could not tell the exact water temperature in the White Oak like previous years, but I could guess that it was somewhere in the upper sixties. Based on other reliable reports and how comfortable we were riding down the river in shorts and t-shirts, the water had to be close to 70F.

Since the air temperature was very warm at almost 80F around our home just off the river, our December 27 boat ride was even refreshing. That happens to be the whole point of boat rides. You do not get a boat to be miserable riding around in it.

I have written much about the White Oak River, and I get very close to it since I also kayak the river and walk its shores. I find that being close to the river and its marshes lets the peace of nature find me. It is the best way to unwind from the tensions of modern life. Among the many choices here, kayaking is perhaps my favorite way of unwinding. My wife fails to understand how being in a kayak just twelve feet long in the middle of a choppy tidal river close to two miles wide could possibly be relaxing but I guarantee that it is.

December kayaking is even more special and if the weather and water temperature holds, I might even get in some January kayaking which is indeed a rare treat. Our waters can briefly freeze over in January and it takes a long time for them to warm. Once the water gets below fifty Fahrenheit, my only trips out on the river are in our skiff since cold water can be deadly if you flip your kayak. Usually the water warms to kayaking temperatures about the time that the strawberries ripen which is sometime from the end of March until the middle of April. That means that normally there is no kayaking for me in January, February or March. I have to make do with a few warm days, lots of marsh walks, some chilly boat rides down the river, and a few magical winter beach walks.

However, each morning sunny or not, I usually manage to walk our neighborhood boardwalk. It gives me a chance to check out the visitors in our marsh.

This year it has not been cold or stormy enough yet for the big birds to need to visit the sheltered area of Raymond’s Gut where we live. It is a little bit of win-lose situation. If our winter is warm, we have fewer marsh visitors and the bird feeder goes begging. A cold winter means there is a big bird around every corner.

Winter will find us soon enough though it is going to be tough to let go of the Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and spring onions that we are still enjoying as the New Year draws close. You do not often pick a tomato for a sandwich like we did on Christmas Day 2015 even in coastal North Carolina.

Wintering at the coast is a pleasant adventure and there are always some surprises to keep us on our toes. Just maybe the cold weather will help us get another visit by our famous egret, Frank 29X. That would almost make the cold weather worth it.


Update December 29

There was great excitement in the marsh around Raymond’s Gut this morning.  Frank 29X did show up for a visit.  This is now four straight years that Frank 29X has visited us during December.  It is a long flight from the Ontario marshes where he spends the summer. It was not surprising that we saw Frank 29X on a very windy day and that he was chasing fish in a marsh spot that I call  Where The Egrets and Herons Go To Hide.  You can get a good perspective of Frank 29X’s foraging spot by checking out this photo shot from a drone this past Thanksgiving.


Our most recent email newsletter, Changing Coastal Seasons, went out on October 29. The previous one, Still in Summer’s Embrace, can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out hopefully around New Year’s Day.

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Almost A Seasonal Wrap

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The Point Emerald Isle, NC

The Point Emerald Isle, NC

Christmas is looming and winter is planning a quick shot across our bow as we begin the countdown to the new year while some memorable months are still fresh in our minds.

From my perspective in the marsh a few miles up river from Swansboro this has been an interesting year with some wins and some losses. I will get the loss out of the way quickly.

This has not been my fishing year. There has been little time to devote to chasing fish and when I have been out there trying to find them, they have mostly chosen to ignore me. Though we have less than two weeks left, the water has not chilled yet so I will probably try for some trout at least once or twice more. It would have to a really nice trout to rescue the year.

While fishing has not gone my way, gardening has been amazingly successful especially considering the unbelievable amount of rain that has come during the growing season. As of December 18, I have recorded 61.28 inches of rain since June 1. While that might drown many areas, it has not impacted us nearly as much as one might think.

We did lose many of our late August and September tomatoes because of the wet early fall. However, because of the warm weather this fall we are still picking cherry tomatoes even after the middle of December. There is a very good chance that I will pick a very nice, big tomato just as Christmas arrives. Our lettuce this year has been unbelievably good and we have enough Romaine lettuce coming in around the holidays to swamp us. It is reminiscent of our February and March lettuce oversupply last spring. We ate so much lettuce that we were tickled when hot weather got the last of it.

Luckily our area also saw no serious storms this year. We did get some high water during the lunar high tides when South Carolina was being flooded. However, our big river drains worked and certainly there was minimal to no damage in Western Carteret County.

Every area has a slightly different ritual to get ready for winter. The Crystal Coast is lucky because yards quit growing in early October instead of December like the bluegrass and fescue areas west and north of us. Like lots of people we always plant some bulbs in the fall and put down some pine straw. We also do a little paint and deck cleaning while still managing to enjoy our fall garden. The garden goes into the ground between the third week in August and early October. The closest thing to a down season for our planting areas is late February and early March.

Our work and favorable weather resulted in a very successful fall crop of green beans. We are still pulling green onions and picking a few sugar snap peas each day. Even I am amazed to still pick some of our miracle December cherry tomatoes each day. Our Swiss Chard and Rutabagas will be ready in January and February. It is hard to believe but I will be planting some tomato seeds by January 15. Then we are off and running for the next season just as we are finishing up the last season.

While I have not been to the beach since Thanksgiving when my son took the picture that graces this post with his drone, I know neighborhood children who swam in the slightly over 60F ocean water last weekend. Swimming in the ocean in December is not normal even by our standards. However, I have worn my normal summer uniform of shorts, t-shirt, and crocs for almost all of the fall. In that respect this fall has been a real winner.

I have enjoyed the richness of the area from the kayak, skiff, and while hiking the beaches. Aside from a few days visiting our grandchildren, we have been blessed by the Crystal Coast’s treats almost every day. The beach seemed busy this summer but it never to got to  the point of feeling overcrowded.

Beyond taking in the beauty of the outside world, I have a great year baking and have perfected some sourdough bread that I love. My biscuit making success can also be counted on these days. There will be biscuits for breakfast sometime during the holidays.

As the time to enjoy the big water and to be seduced by the river passes, we will go through the seasonal reversal which results in the beach areas being warmer than the mainland areas. It lasts for just a couple of months and by March the mainland is often warmer than the beach areas.

I plan to enjoy the last of the warm water. It takes almost until strawberry time before the water is warm enough for kayaking.  As the weather cools our inlet will turn into a natural paradise and a winter refuge for many of the big coastal birds.  Hopefully we will even get a return visit from Frank 29X.  Frank has come back for three years in a row so we are counting on him not to break his string of visits.

My New Year’s wish is that the fish are in the river like they were in 2014 when I had a great year fishing. Just maybe in 2016 we can stop some of the net madness that is decimating fish stocks.

All things considered,it has been a great year. I hope next year treats us as well with just a few more fish.

Beyond that hope, may the blessing and the peace of the season be upon you and your loved ones.

May the year 2016 also be your chance to enjoy to your heart’s content the warm saltwater and beautiful coastal rivers of the Crystal Coast. To start your thoughts of the coming beach season off right, enjoy this collection of drone shots of our area.

Our most recent email newsletter, Changing Coastal Seasons, went out on October 29. The previous one, Still in Summer’s Embrace, can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out hopefully before the New Year.

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A November to Remember

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Last Sunday in November Beach Crowd

Last Sunday in November Beach Crowd

There are perhaps a number of reasons to remember this past November. One of the most poignant for me is that this is the first month in the last eleven years that I did not have the time to write a single post for the web.

I did find a few times when I could enjoy the Crystal Coast with my skiff, kayak, and through the camera on my son’s drone. Even with the challenges that have kept me mostly off the water, it has been a wonderful month.

Looking back a year, it is hard to believe how different the weather has been in 2015. Last year I was writing about unusual cold. That November was memorable mostly for how cold it got.

This year it is hard to write about our weather without mentioning the unusually heavy precipitation that has fallen since June 1, 2015. Currently our rainfall total since then stands at 59.40 inches. In just a few hours on the afternoon of November 19, we received 7.1 inches of rain. That downpour of rain is typical of some of the storms we have seen this summer except it was even more intense. Over six inches fell in just three hours. We had a sheet of water four inches deep flowing down our street.

With all the rain, fishing in the White Oak River has not been a way to get fish into the pan. While the water temperature was holding at sixty degree Fahrenheit the last weekend in November, it will likely drop into the fifties by the first weekend of December. That is hard to believe given that our high temperature on December 2 was 77F. However, high temperatures after Wednesday when we saw the 77F are not going to get out the fifties until the weekend. Low temperatures are also going to dip into the upper thirties. The river water will get colder fast. The last hope for fish might be finding some trout. Last weekend I tried the river and found no trout in the usual places but I remain hopeful.

Still it was stunningly beautiful out on the river in my kayak. I was even lucky enough to paddle by a couple of otters swimming in golden water. Fortunately November has been a great month for gardening. We only had one frost and were able to protect our tomatoes and lettuce from any damage. Our buttercrunch lettuce crop has been the best ever and we finished our fall 2015 harvest of green beans on November 23 just before the one frost that found us. We are starting to get a few tomatoes. A December tomato is a rarity even here on the North Carolina coast.

November is special for photographers because the area’s waters have a habit of turning golden during the month. It seems to be a regular occurrence and I enjoy capturing the spectacular scenes like the ones with the otters. Even more fun has been seeing the area through the lens of my son’s drone. Last year he was down for a few days and only experimented a little during that Christmas.

Mostly those shots got me excited for his next trip.  Seeing our area from 100 to 250 above the ground is not something that is easy to do in our land of no hills. Fortunately the drone and pilot were here for a week this Thanksgiving.  It gave us time for a major effort to photograph some of my favorite spots. He got some great shots of the White Oak, Raymond’s Gut, the Point, and even Bogue Sound. He also did a panoramic movie of the Point.

While I did not have as much leisure time as I would have liked this past month, it is hard to complain when there is plenty of great weather and I have enjoyed some of it from the kayak and on the beach. The picture at the top of the post was taken from Bogue Inlet Pier on Sunday, November 29. It looks like I was not the only person enjoying November. There were a number of surfers on the other side of the pier.

It has been another great fall and you can read about our equally nice but wet summer at my SOBX Coastal Paradise site.  Early fall is covered in this post.

Our most recent email newsletter, Changing Coastal Seasons, went out on October 29. The previous one, Still in Summer’s Embrace, can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out sometime in early December.

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