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Monday, November 12, 2012

Migration

So often on the boat, things do not go as expected.  This weekend the weather was forecast to be sunny, breezy and warm.  Well, two out of three ain't bad.  We froze.  The wind chill was a killer and Friday we woke to frost.  It was cold.

But, as always, it seems, we had a ball.  Because it was so breezy, we made a beautiful long sail on an easy broad reach to the wilderness area at Judith Marsh.  On the way, we passed a house that has captured my imagination.  The house is completely isolated in the middle of the marsh looking south across the Pamlico River.  You can see this house for miles and it's so far from any civilization you can't believe it's there.  It has a wide screened porch and is perched sturdily on piers for the inevitable flooding.  I wish I could capture it on film, but I can't.  Maybe with a helicopter.  Eric thinks it must be a government research station of some sort.  I wonder if I got another degree in marine biology if I could get to stay there.  I want to stay there, like for a month.

As we were passing the house, I noticed some unusual-looking birds.  It's migration time for waterfowl and Pamlico Sound is prime resting territory.  On closer inspection with binoculars and a consultation with my beloved bird book, I identified them as surf scoters.  The males were velvet black with a stark white widows cap on the backs of their heads.  I think they are the most beautiful birds I have seen so far.  But there were more.

Judith Marsh near Swanquarter, NC

On our incredible sunset paddle we upset dozens of nesting sandpipers.  As I realized we were scaring them, we quickly paddled away.  I hope the mothers were not too long away from their nests.  We saw them again the next day flying around a tiny marsh island in Swanquarter Bay.  It is fascinating to watch them fly in sync, darting up and around so sharply and so perfectly synchronized, you just have to wonder how they do it.  There seem to be dozens of species and they move so fast and are so flighty, I couldn't get a proper identification.  Probably there were several of the likely species.

Tacking back toward Judith Island, we got a good look at a large, swift-flying bird I saw briefly at our anchorage the evening before.  I swore it looked like a raptor, but couldn't imagine what it could be.  When we got a better look I saw a hawk-like face on a dark bird with a clear white patch on its rump.  A check of the trusty bird book determined it to be a marsh hawk, most likely a female.  I wondered what they might be eating, since I doubt there are many rodents on the marshes, they are too wet.  Turns out they eat the smaller marsh birds.  Poor sandpipers!

Sadly, we turned back toward North Creek and decided to take a shortcut behind Judith Island.  I wish I could properly capture this place on film, but I haven't managed it at all.  The marsh grass goes on for miles, with watery channels all running through it so all you see is water, grass and sky all around.  When the sky is blue, the water is blue and at dusk and dawn the grass turns all shades of brown, gold and rust.  It's very quiet sailing in there.  The water is smooth and gentle, protected by the marshes, everything is wild and free.  We find this deeply soothing.

Herring gull, Judith Island, NC

The wind came up and we abandoned our quest to spend the night in Abel Bay, the downwind being less fun than a nice broad reach.  Instead we made for Oyster Bay, one of our very first anchorages here and made it on one very long, very satisfying tack.  Next morning, we were treated to a predawn show of Venus next to a crescent moon, fading as the sun came up.  The sunrise was no disappointment either:

Sunrise in Oyster Bay

The wind never came up Sunday and we motored with Trusty all the way back to North Creek.  It was hard going home with the sun shining and the temperature finally making it to the promised seventy degrees.  We passed a flag on the road home and consoled ourselves that at least it wasn't flying.  No wind.  Maybe next weekend.