Taste of Summer in April

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It was only as the last weekend in March arrived that winter seemed to release its hold on the Crystal Coast. After a relatively warm February, we had serious visits back into winter-like weather.

We saw our first snowflakes in three or four years on March 12. On March 15 we began a series of three days when the temperatures fell into the mid to upper twenties. One day it only got into the mid-thirties and was so cold that some of my tomato plants that were hardening off inside the garage ended up with some damaged leaves.

Fortunately April has been a wonderful month so far. Sunshine, blue skies and warming temperatures have defined April 2017. Our grandchildren were on spring break the second week in April and it was a dandy with no precipitation, nearly perfect beach temperatures and no extreme wind.

The next week has been almost as nice with a couple of windy days and some clouds thrown in for variety. On April 21, we got to 84F by 11:30 AM. It feels summer-like outside and everyone has been enjoying outdoor activities. The winds continue to be more than the previous week and we are getting dry. The forecast for this weekend may solve the early dryness of our growing season.

Our garden plants which get water as needed are doing great. The Romaine lettuce, spinach, green onions and broccoli are some of the best we have ever grown.

Based on a few trips to Emerald Isle during Easter week, I would say that the tourist traffic was brisk. Food Lion was a bit of zoo at times when I ventured over.

This week we have enjoyed a few nights when the temperature stayed close to 70F which seems to be the magical number for warming the water up. The surf is already in the mid-sixties and the river is above 70F. Right on cue, someone in our neighborhood landed a short red drum. Our spring birds like the killdeer are also showing up.

I was out earlier in the spring in my kayak but since then my free time has coincided with the stronger winds so I have not made a second trip but I am more persistent than the winds so I will be back on the water soon. This is also the time of year when you will find the beach substantially cooler than inland areas. You certainly will not be cold but winds, cooler temperatures, and still chilly water can make a big difference if you get wet.

Certainly you can wade a little in the water but I would wait a little longer before getting seriously wet. It will not be long and the water will be really nice.  The Crystal Coast is as nice a family beach as you can find and early spring is a great time for a practice visit to line up your summer vacation.  Almost everything stays open all year on Emerald Isle.

If you are new to the area, do not forget to check out our books including, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. It is available in print or as a Kindle book.

Vestiges of Winter in the Marsh

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It has been over two months since I have written a post on my Crystal Coast Life website. It happens ever now and then that you just need a break from writing even if writing is something that you enjoy very much. If there is a good time for some time off from writing, it is winter and if there is a good place to restore yourself, it is the marshes along the North Carolina coast.  I am back now and refreshed from the break and hopeful that we are seeing the last vestiges of winter.

The winter of 2016-17 has been an easy one so far in the Raymond’s Gut marsh on the edges of the White Oak River. We had one serious cold spell from January 7 to Jan 10. We experienced 15F, the lowest temperature in our ten plus years on the Crystal Coast. Fortunately for those of us along the coast there was no frozen precipitation to go along with the very cold temperatures.

Winter brought our usual cast of characters including our most famous visitor, Frank 29X and a new friend, an otter who has been named Emmet. Frank 29X is a great egret born in Canada who first visited the Raymond’s Gut marsh in December 2012. He is a true snow bird with his trips south each winter. He has not missed a winter since 2012 and is somewhat famous in birding circles.  Emmet is a young river otter who seems to have developed a fondness for our marsh. There was one stretch when he was around for almost two weeks. I am guessing that Emmet is one of the otters that were born here in the marsh last year. The marsh did get iced over during our one cold spell but that is long gone and the duration of our cold spells is shorter and shorter as we get closer to spring.

As winter slowly releases us to spring, we can still expect some cold nights but often the brilliant North Carolina sun can make you forget about cold temperatures well before 10AM. Winter winds often linger and become spring breezes which given the length of time that it takes for the waters to warm up are only marginally warmer than the cold winter winds.  It does not take much to change the quiet inlet in the post picture to a wind whipped inlet.

Another part of winter that takes a long time to change is the reddish brown of our mostly centipede lawns. This area by our boardwalk is green in the summer but stays brown until April usually. While it is not unusual to see green grass in central North Carolina in early March, it takes much longer for our brown centipede lawns to turn green. If you see green grass at the coast early in the spring, it is likely that someone over-seeded their centipede yard with annual rye grass. We actually hope the centipede grass does not turn green until into April. A late March frost can turn a centipede yard brown and it has to start greening up all over.

The roller coaster weather that we have on the coast also keeps our area waters which were cooled by the winter’s cold temperatures from warming up quickly. Cool water temperatures are the most maddening vestiges of winter. The warm days of spring often tease us but experience has taught us that the beautiful waters of spring are often deadly cold. We might end up being lucky this year with the water temperatures already in the mid-fifties, but I am not counting on it yet.

All it takes is for the northern half of the country to be snow covered and for those cold north winds to sweep across the fields of snow to keep our spring damp and cool. Still we know that spring is drawing nearer by the day. We have already picked up almost an hour of daylight. Our daffodils have responded with beautiful blooms. And in what might be a surprise to many people our wagon train tomatoes are still producing ripe tomatoes. We already have tomato seeds planted and it will not be long before we are planting cold tolerant plants.

It will take a while for those last vestiges of winter, the brown centipede grass, the cold winds, and cold water to disappear but we are on the downward slope to better weather. We will soon be thinking about spring festivals and walks along the beach.

Our most recent Crystal Coast newsletter, Paddling Into The Holidays, was sent out on November 17.  The previous one before that was Back to the Beach, which was emailed out on September 12.

Our books are especially useful if you are planning a visit to the Crystal Coast in 2017.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below.  The first newsletter of the new year is late but should be out late in the week after Valentine’s today. It will just in time to provide information on the first spring festivals.

Glassy Water Dreams

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A Calm Day on the White Oak River

A Calm Day on the White Oak River

February can be a teaser of a month and sometimes a very cruel mistress for those of us in love with the water. It is hard to say where February 2016 falls in that scale, but it has not been one of those months when it is easy to fantasize that our waters are ready for boating.

Whatever warmth we have enjoyed has been more than balanced by cold temperatures and rain which almost make spring seem like a fantasy. On the Crystal Coast by this time of year, winter is usually on the run. At least this year, we have gotten through the winter without Raymond’s Gut being completely iced over like we were in January 2014. I also did not have to use my skiff as an ice breaker like I have in the past.

I was disappointed when I dropped my skiff in the water for a late winter test this last week of February. I found the water temperature a cool 49.8F. While it could have been colder, the fisherman, boater, and kayaker in me was hoping for warmer water. It is one of the challenges of this time of year. The water looks enticing but it can be dangerously cold. Between the cold water and the shallow tides of early spring, reality sets in quickly for most of us boaters in the spring. It only takes a few minutes on the river to remind you that even if the air temperature on land is 65F, the air just above that 49.8F water will be pretty close to 50F and that is without the breeze from running down the river at 30MPH.

Beautiful sunsets like the one I used in this post help but as much as I like sunsets, I would rather be dreaming of warm water. Certainly our February marsh diversions are far better than a blizzard or storm up north.  Still time on the water is so close that we can taste it and it almost hurts.

With the water and weather teasing us we have to enjoy what we have which includes a fair number of winter visitors to the marsh. That means otters and our standard fare of great blue herons, great egrets, kingfishers, pelicans, cormorants, grebes and even some random ducks that have escaped to live another day.

While sneaking up on ducks is good entertainment, it is easy to confess that I really want warm temperatures that stay around long enough to start that sometimes long spring process of warming our waters. I say long process but often the waters here warm quickly. That is especially true in our shallow, dark-bottomed marsh which can sometimes warm very fast once we get to March. I have joked about charging for the warmer marsh waters that we send down the river.

Even with our still cold water, our soil which has had something of break from the intense rainfall of January and early February (over thirteen inches) has warmed enough to allow planting of lettuce, onion sets, spinach, and other other cool weather crops.

It is a good start towards spring and I will soon start thinking about a late winter hike over on the Point to see what changes winter has brought. Usually a hike on the beach will make me remember that it does matter where you live and the place where I live lets me say that I am living my dream here in a Coastal Paradise.

Our most recent email newsletter, Happy New Year from the Coast, was published on December 31.  The previous one, Changing Coastal Seasons, was sent out on October 29. Our next email newsletter should be out in March.

Vacation plans for this summer’s trip to the beach should be on the horizon.  Do not forget our travel guide. The Kindle version is $3.99 and Amazon has the full color, 180 plus page paperback version for $24.95.

Updates to our travel guide are coming. Our target date for the new 2016 versions is the April.  New versions are always free to Kindle purchasers and Kindle books work on anything including iPads and iPhones.

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Winter in the Cove

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Raymond's Gut, January 9, 2016

Raymond’s Gut, January 9, 2016

It is a little strange to think about winter when the temperature is hovering around 67F on January 10, 2016. However, I know better than to pretend that winter will not find us. We all know that the good run of warm weather this year has to end sometime.

As hard as it is to believe, we are still getting a few cherry tomatoes from our garden and some sugar snap peas. I managed to cover the last tomato plant and protect it from the one short spell of cold air that found our cozy spot near the White Oak River. The sugar snap peas made it through without any help like some of our petunias and roses that are still blooming.

It is not unusual to have some nice January weather on the North Carolina coast. We generally get pretty spoiled and complain about how miserable we are if we get some cold days. Our cold days get us little sympathy from our New England and Canadian friends. I almost hesitate to say it, but we consider it a cold day if we do not make it to fifty degrees Fahrenheit.

I can appreciate their feelings since I have endured my fair share of winter weather on a mountain near Roanoke, Virginia and in the heart of a snow belt north of Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada. Winter is a totally different beast in Canada than it is on the Southern Outer Banks.

While the days and weeks before winter in Canada are usually a mad rush to get everything done before a deep snow suspends daily activities, waiting for winter to come is usually an exciting time on the coast. The months before winter are some of the best on the Carolina coast. We fish, boat, and hike the beaches. There are no crowds, the humidity is gone and the water is often still warm. This winter I saw people in the surf in early December and my daughter and I took a holiday ride down the river after Christmas. I wore shorts and a t-shirt.

Even if the winter turns harsh we will likely only have six or seven weeks weeks of cold weather left.  While it is possible that Raymond’s Gut could freeze over like it did in 2014, it is more likely that we will stay on the weather roller coaster to spring.  That will give us brief periods of cold weather broken up by short spells of ever warming weather as the North Carolina winter sunshine gets its strength back.

Wintering here on the coast can give you a little climatic whiplash, but I would rather have it that way than continual cold or no cold at all. A little taste of winter is fine. However, I did not move to the beach for snow so I am always happy to get to that time in February when I can say that winter’s back is broken.

Maybe I had too many long walks to the barn in the winter to have any desire for yet another snowstorm. The first winter we lived in Tay Creek back in the early seventies, we recorded twenty-three feet of snow. That year the snow came before November 1, and stayed on the ground well into May. On top of that we had just moved from Nova Scotia where my wife had gotten more than a taste of a September snow just after we got married the previous year.

Winter is not so bad at the coast and even now I can almost taste spring. Once again our Canadian great egret friend, Frank 29X, seems to have decided to spend some of the winter with us. Actually he has been in our inlet, Raymond’s Gut, since December 29.  He was behind our home on January 8 and came back to gobble up some fish from the marsh behind our house as we had our lunch on January 9.   The truth is that I would rather have a Canadian great egret as company than a Canadian winter.

Our most recent email newsletter, Happy New Year from the Coast, was published on December 31.  The previous one, Changing Coastal Seasons, was sent out on October 29. Our next email newsletter should be out in February.

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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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Cue The Great Weather

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Swansboro Harbor

Swansboro Harbor

We are just past the middle of September and already the worst of the heat of summer has disappeared. We have recently enjoyed some of the nicest weather since spring and the beach has been stunning.

However, coastal weather is tricky and even great weather can be a tease. We had a few perfect days early in the week of September 14. We took advantage of the clear skies and headed down to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina where we went for a marsh walk, ate barbecue instead of seafood and visited friends. The urban-high rise world of Myrtle Beach is only about 3.5 hours and a complete mind shift away from the beaches and National Forests of the Crystal Coast. While we skipped all the shopping, we had a good time and there was hardly a cloud in the sky for our drive down and back.

We got back and the next day I managed to go for a blue sky boat ride down to Swansboro. I was barely back at the dock when a bit of humidity came back with some clouds. The less than perfect weather has been here for a couple of days.

It is a transitional pattern that often keeps us on our toes during September. Even thunder clouds can rise up and tower over our inlet. Fortunately there is more great weather on the horizon for this third weekend in September and there is supposed to be a reinforcing shot of cool air early next week.

It is not unusual for the weather to change quickly on the coast. I kayaked for two hours on Thursday, September 17 and there was hardly a hint of blue sky. I came in for dinner and barely had time to sit down at the table before a golden sunset framed with blue skies surprised me.

I took it as a sign that the great weather is getting ready to settle into the area. Once it does, we hope to enjoy another great fall on the Crystal Coast. With high temperatures in the low eighties and low temperatures dipping into the fifties and sixties, you will not hear any coastal residents complaining.

With a very wet and warm summer still fresh in our memories, it is easy to welcome some different weather with open arms. That is especially the case because the water temperatures are still in the eighties and the fish have even started biting. Today was only my third or fourth fishing trip in my kayak this summer. Until today, I was only harassed by a few small croakers. Today I got a couple of gulps chewed in half by what I think were small bluefish. I also hooked a small drum and enjoyed a couple of short runs before it threw the hook.

With a little luck the next fishing trip I will bring home a fish for dinner. The great thing about living here in our little bit of coastal paradise is that the weather in the fall is often so nice that you want to bottle it. There are also times when you feel that getting pinched would wake you from a dream of perfect weather.

It is possible to have wonderful evenings on the beach in October and even after Thanksgiving. It is not out of the question to have shorts weather into December.

Beyond just being on the beach in November, it also possible to still do lots of boating even out by what I like to call the big water. When it gets a little chancy out by the ocean, there is always an opportunity to be seduced by the river and enjoy some time kayaking.

It is truly hard to beat the Crystal Coast in the fall. Even the unheated pools can still be enjoyed for another week or so in September. On top of that you will find lots of beautiful scenery to go along with all the beautiful birds and butterflies that grace the area in the fall.

If you have a chance to visit in the fall, you probably will agree that our area is a coastal paradise.

Our most recent email newsletter about our beach area went out Friday, September 4, and can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out early in October.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our five-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The color paperback version is 180 pages of information, maps, and pictures, Prime eligible, and under $25. The Kindle version has exactly the same information for a lot less money.

The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. Later this fall we plan to revise the guide for the fourth time.  All year long we will provide additional information in our newsletter between updates.  Once you buy the Kindle book, you can easily get the updated version each year for no additional cost.

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