Oregon Inlet and Dolphins

Before Hurricane Irene came Brian and I visited Oregon Inlet the day the point opened. Oregon Inlet is where the sound meets the ocean in Southern Most Nags head, Outer Banks. It’s called ramp 4, and usually the end (the point) near the bridge is closed during summer months for bird nesting season. Some birds that are protected are the Skimmer, the Piping Plover, and Various Terns. I have mixed emotions on the closings in the outer banks… I’d rather not say but I believe the situation is very unfortunate, I’m torn because I love the birds and love driving on the beach. You can form your own opinion by visiting a few websites… OuterBanksBeachPreservation.com (OBPA), PreserveBeachAccess.org  or you could just watch the video “piping mad“. I don’t want to get into it because I could ramble on and on about this mess. So, back to this 4×4 only awesome beach spot called Oregon Inlet, Which is now no longer accessible because of a wash over due to Hurricane Irene……at least we got to enjoy it one last time.taken with iPhone 4We decided to take my jeep, Edith… Shes a 1994 Jeep Wrangler YJ and does very well in the sand. We drove down without the doors on… It was so fun! We spent most of the day sitting in our chairs near the shore line. taken with iPhone 4As the day came to an end we took our dog skippy for a walk and took our cameras with us. There’s always a lot of birds at the point, we even spotted a few Black Terns. I love goning to this end because of all the birds hanging out here, especially when the nesting season is over. Every year I seem to see something I’ve never seen :)

(Photo – Top left : Willet. Bottom left : Juvenile Brown Pelican. Top Right : Skimmer. Bottom Right : Marbled Godwit.)

One of my favorite birds… The Oystercatcher. A black and white wading bird with a long bright red bill. Their bill is used to break into shellfish, and each individual inherits a particular technique from its parents. Despite the name, oystercatchers are not known to eat oysters and in fact favour mussels. Oystercatchers are primarily shorebirds, although they do sometimes breed inland by rivers.

We waited until the sun started to set and headed back towards the ramp. At this time of day the Ocean was smooth as glass… and we could see dolphins playing and jumping clear out of the water. I have lived near the ocean and on the bay my entire life…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen dolphins off the shore and swimming near our boat. BUT I HAVE NEVER seen them jump out of the water the way they were this day. I enjoyed it so much! All of these shots were taken from the driver’s side of my jeep :)

Of course I had to make a sequence shot! This is my first post using my Canon Rebel T1i and my iPhone 4. I use both cameras religiously.

I made this with an app called PicFrame… but the photos were taken with my canon. If you like the beach shot and my jeep shot, I took those with my iPhone4 and used the Camera+  app. My favorite filters are Clarity, and HDR … I like this app because you can control the intensity. Here’s another shot from Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, where we usually air our tires back up and we also air down there.

“Its a sweet, sweet life…Livin’ by the salty sea” – Jimmy Buffett

P.S. If you haven’t become a fan of my photography, please do! It’s greatly appreciated.  ITS EASY!! If you have facebook, just click “LIKE”
Crystal Thornton Photography

DayTrippin’ – Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

I’m sorry Folks, I’ve been a busy bee. Brian and I have been to Key West, camping in Newport News, camping in Hatteras, day trips to Carova Beach, Oregon Inlet, First Landing Park, Munden Point and so on! Plus I work for the city of Virginia Beach Parks and Natural Areas department, so I have been neglecting the whole blog thing, which is kind of sad because I love it so much!

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Alligator river is an amazing place. It’s an 154,000 acre refuge that has tons of roads to drive and explore including a few places to to launch your kayak or canoe and also a couple of walking trails…Today, our objective is to look for bears and red wolves… We started our trip in Moyock, NC (where we  now live) and drove down 17 through Elizabeth City, Hartford, and Columbia… The Town of Columbia is a really cute older waterfront area… I recommend stopping and checking out their wildlife center for the sounds. It’s beautiful! There’s a pier-style trail to walk and who knows – you may even have a chance of spotting a bear!

We stopped and ate lunch at Mikes Kitchen in Columbia just over the bridge. This place was actually realllly good, I will definitely be looking forward to going there again! Usually when Brian and I go to Alligator River Refuge we try to just go down whatever driving trails  are open… because you never know which ones are open and if it is you should go down it, because you might not be able to go down that trail again until the following year. We drove around and spotted tons of Tree Swallows and Yellow-rumped Warblers… along with a few Sulphur butterflies fluttering around.

….And as we were driving on one of the roads, we saw a large bird fly into a tree next to the Jeep….

Originally I thought it was a hawk of some sort, but then it turned and looked at us and Brian says “Holy Shit!! — look an owl!” I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t know what to do….. I tried to hurry up and turn on my camera, but as usual when I want it to turn on quickly it takes FOREVER then I have to change the settings to manual and blah blah blah, because remember I use a Point and Shoot….ha..so I tried to get a shot before he flew off. This is the only shot I got….

Barred Owl

Honestly, I was happy with that single shot I had gotten, but then…the owl decided to fly across the road and landed on a branch…It looked back at us, not really worried about us being there.

Barred Owl checking us out

I decided to get out of the Jeep.  Figured if the owl wasn’t that worried about me, then it wouldn’t mind if i tried to get a few more shots! Well, once I got out of the Jeep the owl flew off again, but not that far. I decided I would walk down the road a little – very quietly and try once again to get another shot of this beautiful owl! It was almost impossible for me to find this amazingly camouflaged creature. I kept loosing sight every time I would have to take my eye off of the owl for a split second to raise my view finder to my eyeball. Oh man, It was insane how much it blended in with its surroundings!

Camouflaged Barred Owl

On our way out I saw a Cormorant diving in one of the “ditches”…. when Brian passed him, he was going sort of fast. I asked him to stop and reverse because there was a bird I wanted to get a shot of…. He said, “Won’t the bird fly off?” I said, “Nah, probably not this one” and sure enough, there was the Cormorant…now out of the water. He posed…. several times, and then we drove off. Oh it was great. I can’t wait to visit this place again. Every season is beautiful!

 

Cormorant Drying Plumage

Double-crested Cormorant

Beach Day – Ocracoke Island, NC

I can’t begin to explain how relaxing it is to have sand between your toes, whispers of ocean breeze play with your hair, and the sun kissing your skin. It’s my idea of a perfect summer day!

Beach go-ers and Willets relaxing on Ocracoke Beach

Have you ever been to a beach where you can drive straight down to the water? Honestly, You will never want to tote your chairs, coolers, toys and what not down a mile long trail to the beach while your feet burn in the sand EVER AGAIN! All beaches should be like this really. It would make the beach experience that much better. I feel very fortunate to live so close to the outer banks. There’s beach driving on several beaches within an hour or two of our home. I know it sounds silly for me to drive that far when I live blocks from the Chesapeake Bay Beaches and within minutes of Virginia Beach Oceanfront – seriously folks – those beaches are nothing in comparison.

Brian and I started our trip in Chesapeake; we would have gone the usual Caratoke Hwy way through Nags Head BUT– it was bumper to bumper with people heading to their beach rental homes or hotels. So, we decided to take the longer route down 17 and over to 64 through Alligator River and Manteo. We expected to get there an hour later than going the other route, but I think it may have been 20 minutes longer than taking our usual route. We stayed the night at Avon Hotel which online it’s reviews are horrible, but people need to get off their high horse, nothing is perfect! If you pay a small amount for a hotel in an area where they are all very high, chances are its not going to be what you expected. It’s an older hotel, with older TVs ect…but I love it! I love the OLD beach feel, oh and I like the price tag… because when I go somewhere the only time I spend in the hotel room is when I’m sleeping…so who cares!? Plus All the money we saved on the hotel, goes toward doing more fun stuff! whoo hoo!

Cape Hatteras Light House

In the morning we stopped at the best bakery ever. The Orange Blossom Bakery. If you happen to stop in there, you HAVE to get an Apple Ugly. They are amazingly delicious!! After getting breakfast we stopped at the Hatteras Light house ramps. We were really anxious to check out the beaches but the sand was really soft, so we turned around and went on our way to Ocracoke Island. I really wanted to be sitting in the sun!

We hopped on the ferry and scooted across the Pamlico Sound over to our destination. On the ferry ride to the island we saw lots of wildlife including dolphins, pelicans, and skimmers – one of my favorite birds!

White Ibis struttin' his stuff after catching a small mud fiddler - Taken from the Ferry

Spotted Sandpiper

Ocracoke is way too beautiful to describe. Its just miles of inhabited beach and sound. The water is absolutely Stunning! Brian and I could see our toes in the water!! The beaches I hang around have a sort of green color to them. This was simply amazing to see! we could see the shells in the water, even as the waves were breaking and huge crabs swimming by in the current. I felt like I was in Florida!

/

Ocracoke turquoise colored ocean

We sat on the beach and enjoyed the day relaxing and watching the birds. Right before we left, the Skimmers kept coming by….I felt like I could sit there for hours watching them delicately skim the wave break-line hoping to catch a fish or small crustacean.

Black Skimmer delicately skimming the waves for food

Black Skimmer heading back down the break-line for more food

…and persistence pays off!

Black Skimmer with his catch!

YUM! Did you know black skimmers have webbed feet but rarely swim in the water

Brian and I spent the entire day on the beach. It’s so relaxing…I can’t imagine life with out days spent on the beach. n our way home we stopped at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to switch drivers. I asked Brian if we could walk down the trail a bit and get a picture of the sun setting….on our way down the trail I could hear the loud call from an Eastern Towhee, a bird I hear often…but hardly see.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee singing his heart out in the sunset

Pea Island Refuge Sunset

Hey rangerous! Where ya been?!

I’m definitely ashamed that I haven’t been able to write lately… And even more ashamed that I took a few iPhone pictures and a picture of a fly eating sugar while I was on a three day camping trip at Chippokes State Park…I KNOW! I better get it in gear and share my photos and travels with my internet buddies!

"Nom nom nom" a black fly enjoys sugar from a pop-tart

I downloaded a new app for my phone that does PANORAMAS! I LOVE IT! I have the 3G model of the iPhone but I bet the panos taken with the 3GS or even the new 4G are probably stunning! The app is called Pano and you can purchase it from apple iTunes for about $1.99. Here’s a couple I’ve taken:

First Pano : Mackay Island NWR...user error, but still great for an iPhone!

Oregon Inlet Beach, NC

Cobham Bay, James River - Chippokes Plantation State Park in Surry, VA

I have to say, I’m really impressed with this app. I also use Camera Plus Pro app. It’s 99 cents, but gives you more things to do with your pictures, and tons of camera features!  Enough about my phone…let’s get back to what I’ve been doing. Brian and I love to take day trips to places. A couple of weeks ago we visited Mackay Island NWR, which has got to be one of the coolest drive through wildlife refuges! This place is always well taken care of, and never crowded. We were surprised they opened a little more of the drive trail! Here’s some pictures I took, including a Panorama taken with my Nikon p90.

The Red winged Black Bird's graceful balance on thin reeds

Ruddy Duck enjoying the last golden rays of sunshine before the sun goes down

Mackay Island NWR drive trail. You definately want to click to enlarge.

I have just been so busy trying to get things in my life accomplished, personal things that is. Really I am just falling behind with the internet thing. My passion for wildlife will never fade or die out. This I promise…. I took buddy for a walk the other day to Great Bridge Locks Park. Its a cute little city park with a boat ramp, fishing areas, wildlife trails, and a play ground. There must have just been a brood of little wood satyrs because they were EVERYWHERE! Every time we took a step, two or three would flutter about. It was so beautiful! I managed to get a quick snap of one of them. I love how they have so many eye spots on the top and also on the bottom of their wings.

Little Wood Satyr Butterfly - Great Bridge Locks Park, Chesapeake VA

AND don’t worry I’ll keep posting! ALSO, If you go camping or take any kind of trips this summer, DON’T forget your camera!!!! Take pictures of wildlife you see and upload it to wildobs.com! Happy Trails!!!

George Washington National Forest

Elizabeth Furnace recreation area, located in George Washington National Forest just north of Fort Valley, Virginia is the comfy and very awesome campground we stayed in this weekend… It was a 5 hour drive, but well worth it! The campground was packed but we ended up finding a spot that was mostly private. All of the campsites are pretty private and well spaced and come with a tent pad, a fire ring, and a picnic table. Brian and I arrived at the campsite a little late in the afternoon .. we set up our tent, took a short walk to make sure we got the best campsite..then did a little relaxing in the tent. We hung out for a little while  discussing what we would do the next day and eventually went to sleep. The next morning I woke up early as usual! and as I lay there, I could hear two chickadees calling to each other outside of our tent window. I Got  up.. quickly got dressed and went outside to check out the little bird couple. I sat outside at the picnic table for a little  and noticed the female kept flying towards our lamp-post….because I’m too short, I couldn’t see down inside of  the lamp-post so I put my camera down in the hole and tried to get an idea of what she was so worried about…Well, apparently she had a nest down in there! The little chickadees eventually understood that we meant no harm to them and started going down in the lamp post to tend to their eggs. It was such a cute couple to watch!

Ma & Pa Chickadee

Mama Chickadee at the campsite lamp-post where her eggs are hidden

Papa Chickadee standing guard while his mate tends to their eggs

very cleverly hidden chickadee eggs

We were so lucky to have several other chickadees visiting our campsite as well! I love these tiny little birds. Did you know, Carolina chickadees are able to lower their body temperatures to get into a state of hypothermia. They do this to keep energy during extremely cold winter. Chickadees find a place they can hide in and lower their body temperature and can stay in a state of hypothermia for up to fifteen hours!

We took a nature walk around the campground on our way down to the Shenandoah river. WOW! It was a hot day! We really couldn’t wait to get near the water where it was much cooler…. Along the way we spotted a couple different types of  Pretty wild flowers and  a few birds… The Baltimore Orioles were singing high in the tree tops and were very pretty! I also saw lots of little Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Eastern Phoebes.

Eastern Phoebe

Gray Catbird

Once we arrived to the very comfortable river edge, we cooled off and put our feet in. Brian brought his chair to relax in while I ran around looking for things to take pictures of : ) The water was flowing over the rocks and down into a big pool…oh my was it clear! We could see the fish swimming! The water is nothing like this in the area I’m from. It was very breathtaking…

fish swimming in the clear Shenandoah water. I counted 7, how about you?

Canada Darner (I believe) munchin on a leaf

We headed back to the campsite to unwind for the day. Brian cooked me an yummy dinner and built us an awesome fire. We had a beautiful day, and it was nice to relax with the stars above us and a nice warm cozy fire to sit by.

Cozy Campfire - of course we made s'mores!

The next morning we both woke up early. Brian and I wanted to drive the entire Skyline Drive, A beautiful 35 mph 105 mile windy but smooth drive along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park.There are 75 breath-taking overlooks!  We made breakfast before we set out on our journey, and got visited by a few tiny critters.

Eastern Tent Moth checkin whats for breakfast

Tiny Brown Jumper Spider

We quickly packed up and headed to Shenandoah National Park to drive down the scenic Sky Line. This drive has to be the most peaceful drive I’ve ever been on… The sights, the smells, the wildlife, It really just doesn’t get any better! We stopped at literally every other lookout and checked out “SkyLand“, a really neat resort area and its elevation is 3680 which is the highest point on Sky Line Drive! Driving down skyline we usually see tons of deer, but this time we only saw one…she was older and didn’t seem to mind the cars riding by. About half way down the skyline we came across a bear in a tree over the road! It was just sniffin’ around in a tree and looked a little confused. Brian and I agreed it looked younger, and didn’t want to wait around for mom to come around.

Black Bear sniffin around in a tree

When we finally arrived home, 11 hours later… We went to Chicks Beach on the Chesapeake Bay and watched a stunning sunset. It was a perfect ending to a fun-filled day from the mountains to the bay!

Sunset - Chicks Beach on Chesapeake Bay

Camping at Chippokes Plantation State Park

Chippokes Plantation is one of the nicest campgrounds I’ve ever been to. The campsites aren’t on top of each other and the bathroom is conveniently located. There’s so much to do! (be sure to read my earlier post) Brian and I had a great time checking out The Chippokes Farm and Forestry Museum and we got to meet a cute little pot-bellied pig  with so much personality! His name was Taz and he was the sweetest little guy! We spent two nights at the campground and met wonderful camp hosts, Doug and Cathy, very nice folks and very helpful! I will definitely visit this campground again.

Eastern Bluebird after an early morning shower

Our first night went kind of fast, we didn’t get out of the house till late but we managed to get to the park before it got dark. We set our tent up and built a campfire. It was a beautiful night the stars were out and we were relaxing around the fire with s’mores yum! The next morning I work up early – this was our first camping trip of 2010, so of course I was overly excited! It rained a little in the morning, but the sun shined through and pushed out the clouds. I didn’t want to wake Brian up so I took a quick walk through the campground to check out the birds.

Chipping Sparrow foraging in a campsite

Bald Eagle soaring high over the campground

On the way back to the campsite I got to see a few smaller butterflies. I was very fortunate for them to land and let me take their picture.

Horace's Duskywing Skipper Butterfly basking in the sun

Eastern Tailed-blue having a short rest on a clover leaf

A very curious Silver-spotted Skipper

I walked back to the campsite after watching the little butterflies flutter around. We made a bowl of cereal and discussed what we were going to do first. We walked to the beach and the visitor center. Lots of Zebra Swallowtails fluttered by on our way down the shady road. when we got to the visitor center we looked through the binoculars and checked out the James River. I spotted a Blue Heron who was on the hunt.

Blue Heron hunting

After leaving the beach & visitor center we went and looked at all the farm and forestry exhibits, we headed over to the plantation house. I don’t think i could ever get tired of walking through the garden – It’s such a beautiful place!

Five-lined Skink basking in the sun on the plantation house

Close your eyes, make a wish...& BLOW!

On our way to the car, I stopped to look at the beautiful bluebells again…to my surprise there was a tiny white crab spider! I think they are the most interesting looking spiders.

White Crab Spider guarding a set of Bluebells

I really didn’t want to leave Chippokes… but on our last day we decided to get up early, get on the ferry ride it over to Jamestown and ride the entire colonial parkway to Yorktown. Once we got on the ferry we were literally 10 ft from an osprey in the middle of constructing a nest, and once we got to the other side of the James river I could see inside an Osprey’s nest from the top deck of the ferry. It was so awesome!

Osprey building a new nest

Osprey Mom from the top deck of the ferry

Yorktown Battlefield National Park has a lot to see as well, but we only drove through this time. I got to see a Mute Swan very briefly. They are so graceful to watch glide through the water.

Beautiful Mute Swan

Brian’s Mom Sibyl and Her Husband Norris Live in Yorktown. It would have been silly for us not to have stopped by and at least say hello for a bit while we were in the area. We chatted, caught up on what everyone was doing and Sibyl told me they had Canada geese babies at their little pond in front of their neighborhood. It was so sweet to see them!

Momma Canada Goose and Goslings

Valentines Day in Hatteras, NC

For Valentines Day we spent the weekend in the outer banks.  We did a little four wheeling on the beach in my brand new 1994 Jeep Wrangler YJ!! Brian and I stayed in cute cabanas on the beach. They were all one room cabins on stilts and were privately owned so each one had its own personality! When we got to Hatteras National Seashore, we checked out the light house and the snow started coming down! Quite a sight!

Cape Hatteras Light and heavy snow coming down

When we got to the tip of Hatteras, where all the fisherman usually are…..we sat and watched hundreds of thousands of Great Comorants fly in from the south in the snow. We were so amazed! We drove around a little on the beach, but it was cloudy and snowing so we decided to head to the Cabana for the night. We had homemade meatballs and rice. yum! The snow finally stopped and the moon came out. It was beautiful!

The next day, we went back to the seashore and drove on the beach a little more.  I was kind of hoping to see purple sandpipers. But instead I saw a Black-bellied Plover! I probably have seen these guys before, just didn’t know what they were. This little one was hanging out near lots of seagulls and sanderlings all by itself.

Lone Black-bellied Plover

I was also pleased to see the Forster’s Tern return. They have such tiny legs!

Forster's Terns Preening

A couple of months ago, we found a short trail that went behind the dunes. We usually see a small family of deer back here. They had two little ones with them this time. I coudln’t get a shot with all of their heads up! This little one ran right out in front of the jeep! I read that Hatteras has tiny deer like Florida has, but I’m not sure if this is just a white-tailed deer. Cute little deer – isn’t it?

Tiny Deer

I think it is so fun to watch the little sanderlings searching for anything they can hide behind to protect them from the wind… just to catch a light snooze.

Sanderlings hiding from the wind

We Left Hatteras to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. My FAVORITE place!! I could never get tired of this refuge. Always tons and tons of birds…. AND GUESS WHAT?!? I FINALLY GOT TO SEE SNOW GEESE! Oh I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was! Brian and I were driving to the parking lot of pea Island and I about had a heart attack. They were literally 50 ft away. I made him pull over on the side of the road so I could capture the moment but most of them flew away when we stopped.

My winter goal - to Photograph Snow Geese!

After snapping a couple shots, hoping at least one was in focus, We headed up Route 12 to Pea Island’s parking lot…

OH MY GOD BRIAN PULL OVER!!!!

A bittern was on the side of the road… Literally on the side of the road.  I couldn’t believe it! I made him turn around and creep up slowly  so I could snap a shot of this elusive bird. A lifer for me…. I’ve heard their distinctive mating call at my camper, but have never seen one. I managed to snap a few shots before he did a really cool move into the reeds. We took off, only to see another only 15 ft away!

American Bittern - A Lifer Bird

When I got home  and reviewed my pictures, I had in fact seen 5 that day! WOW! Bitterns will freeze, stretch their necks up with bill to the sky and sway side to side to imitate reeds! neat huh? Another lifer bird for me was the White Pelican. I’m sure people see them all the time, but I have never seen one of these birds before. They were so HUGE!

White Pelican in Flight - Breeding Male (Lifer)

Once we made it to Pea Island’s parking lot. We set out to walk the trail. There were tons of birds! Tundra Swans, Shovelers, Pintails, Weigons, Coots, Mallards, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Egrets, Blue herons, and lots of Brown Pelicans. I think they dive for fish very oddly…. I watched one fall to the surface of the water and PLOP! I thought he was dead! But he had an awesome catch apparently!

Pelican Gobbling down his catch

I Enjoyed watching the Buffleheads forage. There were so many at the refuge. I think pictured here is a juvenile and a female. Maybe mom is teaching the little one to dive for food? Anyways, it has a pretty nice size frog!

Buffleheads - One with a Frog Dinner!

Pretty Female Bufflehead

It was sort of a windy day, so we didn’t walk the whole trail. On our way back we saw tons of white ibis. I have never seen a juvenile. They sure are different looking.

Juvenile White Ibis with two Adults

I had a really great birding weekend!  I’ve only seen ring-necked ducks at Pea Island one other time, but they were too far away to photograph. I had a couple swim close to me while walking the trail. I’m happy I could get them together in a picture! :)

Sweet Ring-necked duck couple

Brian treated me to a very nice weekend for Valentines Day. What more could a girl want – Birding, Beach Cabin and Four-wheeling in her new JEEP!? Hell yah!

Brian in my 1994 Classic YJ Jeep Wrangler