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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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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Great Drying Weather

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Pine trees along Raymond's Gut

Pine trees along Raymond’s Gut

It has been over thirty-two years since I cut a field of hay. Even now when a great stretch of perfect drying weather hits, I have the itch to knock down a field of grass and start making hay. The smell of grass turning into hay is something you never forget.

It turns out the same kind of weather is very effective for drying out our over-saturated ground. After the rain that devastated South Carolina and drenched Eastern North Carolina, some great drying weather is very welcome even if I have no hay to make.

We had a wet summer but the rain came in such intense short bursts that we also had a very nice summer for finding your own beach. Such was not the case with our early October storm. It stole our blue skies and hid the sun from us for a few days.

Our yards were too wet to walk on much less mow. Farmers’ crops were stuck in the fields and everything that could hold water was full of it. High water was everywhere.

Then the weather completely turned around. The skies cleared, the sun came out, and the wind started blowing. The relative humidity dropped and things started drying out. We even had a good dose of Indian summer before we got a shot of Canadian cold air across our bow.

As hard as it is to believe I had to water our green beans and tomatoes on October 20. Yes, fall gardening can very successful here. This year we are expecting to harvest some green beans in early November and with a little luck we might also have some Umberto tomatoes not long after that.

That is life on the Crystal Coast, we can have weeks of great weather then some bad weather and before we know it we are back into the fantastic weather.

Even during the amazing rain event that almost washed away South Carolina, we got a break. Saturday, October 3, was a beautiful day here. I went kayaking in the high water and my neighbor went fishing in his skiff. I kayaked in places that are impossible to reach during most of the year. Someone just a few days earlier had asked me about a lot that is for sale nearby.

It is a large river front lot and I often walk on the marsh edge of it during the winter. I told the people looking at it to make certain that they checked it out during high water. Sure enough that Saturday with all the high water and our flooded inlet, I was two thirds of the way up in the lot in my kayak.

In the end the high water receded, our tides became normal and we got the great fall weather that is often the norm here on the Crystal Coast. Now we have not seen in rain in over two weeks and there is no in forecast for the next week.

The waters have cleared and there was even a flounder blitz at the pier this week. The story is that over 40 keepers were caught in one morning and one weighed in at nearly six pounds.

I cannot claim any success like that, but I did get a two pound flounder not long ago and I expect to soon be out in the kayak chasing drum and flounder. Great weather like this should be bottled and brought out in February when we really need it.

The picture in the linked post looks great but I took an even better one on October 20, 2015. Great weather in the fall is a tradition that seems to be well entrenched on the Crystal Coast.

There is more information about our summer at my SOBX Coastal Paradise site.

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 before the end of October.

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August Is Not the End Of Beach Season

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August 25, Third Street Beach, Emerald Isle, NC

August 25, Third Street Beach, Emerald Isle, NC

Labor Day weekend is within sight and already many tourists are gone from our beach area. With children back in school, many families have disappeared from our shores.  While it is nice to have smaller crowds on our beaches and in our stores, it is a little sad to see so few people on the beaches just as the best part of the beach season arrives.

While there are never any guarantees with weather other than it can always surprise you, fall on the North Carolina coast is usually a very special time. While many will argue that fall is a season of the mountains, I have to disagree and believe that Fall Belong To The Southern Coast.

I love the beach anytime of the year but much of the summer the beach can be harsh if you want to avoid the heat and the sun that seems to burn a hole right through the ozone. Our summer trips to the beach tend to be late in the evening or early morning if I am fishing. When fall rolls around, mid-day becomes a real possibility.  Even noon can be a very nice time to be at the beach in the fall.

While fall will still bring lots of warm days and more humidity than most of us like, the real heat and humidity start going away around the middle of September. We’re left with warm salt water and pleasant temperatures which often last into November and sometimes even into December.

We have fewer people, generally better weather, and the warm is still warm. It is hard not to like this time of year and then there is always the icing on the cake, the fish usually start biting in the fall and there are some festivals to keep us entertained.

I really enjoy hiking the beaches in the fall. In the spring the cold waters can take some of the pleasantness away from a beach hike but the warm breezes off the water in the fall are just the opposite.

Then there are the local oysters that come in during the fall. Of course the shrimp have had all summer to grow so they are also at their peak.

With still warm sands, water temperatures in the eighties, fewer people, fish biting, and some local seafood at its peak, it is hard to ask for more.

It is also a great time to go boating, the summer thunderstorms start to die down and the area’s waters are perfect for boating or kayaking.

If you have never been to a beach in the fall, you really owe it to yourself to visit during the season that is universally loved by all of us who live here. It just might give you a different perspective on life at the beach.

Our most recent email newsletter about our beach area went out Friday, July 10, and can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out before Labor Day.

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 extensive five-star rated 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. Later in the fall we revise the guide each year and all year long provide additional information in our newsletter between updates.  Once you buy the Kindle book, you can easily get the updated version each year.

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