Photography by Bill Birkemeier: Blog en-us . ( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) Thu, 24 Mar 2022 21:34:00 GMT Thu, 24 Mar 2022 21:34:00 GMT Photography by Bill Birkemeier: Blog 120 120 New 2015 Outer Banks In The Lens Calendar It's fall on the Outer Banks.  The weather is fantastic and the fall bird migration is well underway.  2015 is around the corner.  Get ready for the new year with a copy of our 2015 Outer Banks In The Lens Calendar.  Thirteen new images to remind you of the Outer Banks.  This is our seventh calendar and it's beautiful.  Give it as a holiday gift; get one for yourself.  To see the images and to place an order, click here: 2015 Outer Banks In The Lens Calendar

As an added bonus, with your purchase you'll get free access to the images - perfect for computer screen wallpaper.

If you're on the Outer Banks this fall, you can find the Outer Banks In The Lens Calendar at these locations: The Christmas Shop and Island Art Gallery, The Bird Store, Downtown Books, The Island Bookstore, Books to Be Red, Yellowhouse Gallery and Duck's Cottage.  Besides carrying our calendar, these wonderful Outer Banks shops will have just what you need to complete your holiday shopping.

( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) 2015 NC c2c4c467e8c9586e17da calendar obx outer banks photographs Sat, 20 Sep 2014 22:24:07 GMT
Baby Green Heron Update - Day 27 I last posted about our 4 baby Green Heron's on June 9th, which was Day 11 after hatching.  Day 24, almost 2 weeks later, was the first day that they did not return to the nest.  Today is Day 27 and although we have seen a couple of the young green herons through the leaves in nearby trees, they have not returned to the big Pine Tree or their nest.  We do expect to see them again along the banks of our canal learning how to fish - but for now they are on their own.

Jump to Day 12 in the gallery to start where the last post left off, or click any of the photos here to go to the gallery (use your back key to return)

This has been an interesting experience.  Having observed the entire process we realize just how lucky we were that the nest was in an easy to observe location; a different tree or a higher branch would have made for a different viewing experience.  We're impressed too by the parents smart selection of the location - on an open branch in the pine tree, easy to protect and to keep an eye on from afar; close to other trees that can be reached by climbing and jumping, and near water which provided a close source of food. 

I was fortunate to have been able to take photos every day - in fact at times it was hard to leave because I didn't want to miss the action.  I've posted one or more images from every day and while day to day changes were small, weekly changes were amazing.  We were also impressed by the parenting effort.  The female and her 25 days of patient nest sitting followed by 10 days of sitting on the nest with the chicks along with their constant attentiveness, care for each other and on-time feeding.  We watched hour after hour of essentially no movement, punctuation by chaotic feeding moments when the parents would swoop in, pass off the food and exit as fast as possible (under 5 sec on Day 23).  

I found myself watching the Green Heron's on Father's day (Day 17) with juvenile Bluebirds, Catbirds, Carolina Wrens, and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers all swooping over my head.  Their Dad's were zooming around trying to be everywhere at once - challenging squirrels and other birds that got to close; finding food for their kids and like all Dad's, teaching, preaching, protecting and feeding.  They were helping their kids get started on life.  You can learn a lot about Dad's from watching birds and I'm grateful to my Dad for my love of the outdoors, birding, photography and science.  It was a nice day to reflect.

Amongst all the watching and photos, there were moments that stand out.  The evening of Day 18, when they first left the nest for the nearby Oak Tree, one of the chicks lagged behind.  It knew that it had to go, but was clearly reluctant - carefully picking its way down the branch of the Pine Tree, slipping once and recovering but finally making it over to the Oak Tree where the 3 other kids were waiting. Two days later during a morning feeding frenzy, one of the chicks (maybe the same one) found itself launched from the Pine Tree, landing in a more distant Oak Tree hanging onto a thin branch with only it's wing, whoops!  You could see, and feels its surprise.  But in less than a minute it was able to get a grip and then carefully figured out a path back to the Pine Tree and safety all on its own.  I gasped and in 20 seconds took 14 images (4 are in the gallery).

Feeding time was always chaotic, with the kids running, jumping, biting, and wing flapping to vie for position and food.  So we waited for 3 or 4 hours for a few moments of intense action.  We learned to expect chaos whenever a parent would arrive - however on Day 17, after Dad showed up with food, we observed Mom and 4 attentive, calm chicks - almost like she was holding class. That was captured in a short video.  We know it's Mom because of her yellow legs (Dad has orange legs).

Starting with Day 17, the nest would be empty at dusk (they are nocturnal feeders) but would be full again in the morning.  This happened a few days in a row, until Day 23 when the didn't show up in the nest in the morning, but instead assembled, all in a line, on a branch in the Oak Tree.  They quickly left for a feeding in the Oak Tree, but then returned to the same branch and lineup, where they stayed for almost an hour.  I took "graduation photos"  until they made a final exit into the distant trees - and we've not seen them together again.

What a great experience; a bit of Backyard Wild which we shared with other photographers in the local Carolinas' Nature Photographers AssociationCheck out Eve Turek's Green Heron photos and blog

Photographing the Green Herons

The Green Herons provided an interesting photographic experience, which may be of interest to other photographers.

If you aren't a photographer, stop reading!

I used my two cameras: a Nikon D300 with a Nikon 300 mm f4 lens and a 1.4x teleconverter (630 mm equivalent focal length), and an Olympus OMD EM-5 with a Panasonic 100-300 mm lens (200-600 mm equivalent).  Since the Olympus is better in low light, I sometimes used the Nikon 300 mm f4 lens on the Olympus camera using a simple adapter.  Even so, most images have been cropped to 25-50% of the original.  Both cameras were tripod mounted with shutter releases (mirror up/shutter shock on).  When the chicks were in the nest, I used the interval timer on the Nikon to snap a photo every 30 seconds.  This made for lots of deletion work, but proved useful to keep track of the nest and to not miss a feeding.  A 30-sec interval missed the most intense action, so I used the Olympus for rapid sequences, different angles, and videos.  The short videos (all < 100 sec) turned out to be useful in showing the action. 

The location of the nest to the south meant that it was in shadow and backlit most of the day.  While this made for stunning backlit images of the fluffy chicks, it also resulted in a lot of dark photos to keep the highlights in check.  Fluttering leaves in the background often through off he exposure meter, so I switched to manual settings.  The dark subject required wide-open apertures (~f5.6), longish shutter speeds (1/125-1/250) and higher than desired ISO settings (500).  Fortunately Green Herons move slowly, so these shutter speeds were fine - until feeding time when a 1/1000 or higher was needed.  The lighting was best around midday but by then the overhead sunlight made for very contrasty conditions.

Because these setting resulted in a very narrow depth of field (DOF), and because clusters of pine needles were in front of the nest, focusing was critical and challenging. Auto focus was often tricked and missed the bird's eyes, so I used auto focus only to establish an initial focus and then manually focused. On the Nikon I used Liveview to zoom in and fine focus through the pine needles.  I then switched the camera to manual focus just to insure that it would not accidentally focus.  This worked but was awkward as Liveview is hard to see outdoors.  On the other hand, the Olympus with it's electronic viewfinder (EVF) was easy to fine focus by magnifying the scene either in the viewfinder or on the tiltable LCD screen.  It was also easy to re-aim and re-focus using the magnified liveview.  One problem I had was that the minimum magnification of 5x was a bit too much, 2.5x would be better (2.5x is available using the camera's digital teleconverter, but that feature is somewhat awkward to use).  Even with all my focusing care, I still deleted many images with well-focused pine needles and out-of-focus birds. 

Capturing the action at feeding time was mostly an unmet challenge - pine needles were usually in the way, manual focus of the action took too long, and even a fast shutter speed of 1/1250 didn't stop the motion.  However, most of the feeding images had to be deleted because they didn't show identifiable birds, just a mass of feathers, feet and beaks and pine needles.  That was frustrating!

All images were processed as raw files in Lightroom 5.5 to reduce highlights, brighten shadows, reduce noise and crop.

I've kept about 600 of the thousands of images taken - about 40% taken with the Olympus (love that EVF) and the rest with the Nikon (great interval timer and sharp lens).

It was a marathon photography event for me; I learned a lot and am better prepared for the next nest in the yard.  That could be soon, as there's another Green Heron mom incubating a nest on the other side of our backyard - but they didn't chose their location as smartly and it's not conducive to photography, so I may sit that one out.....we'll see.

Thanks for reading, enjoy the photos!




( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) 2014 green heron nesting obx outer banks photographs shore bird Wed, 25 Jun 2014 00:53:54 GMT
A fascination with 4 baby Green Herons May and June been exciting as our yard has seemingly erupted with nesting and baby birds; Chicadees in the bluebird house, Bluebirds nesting next door, Robins nesting in the front yard, House Finches in the Purple Martin house, Canada Geese in the canal - not to mention the Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Carolina Wrens, and hummingbirds.  Baby birds have been flying everywhere - fun to watch.  Among all this great activity, we've been captivated by two Green Herons who have nested high overhead in a perfect location for us to observe.  We've seen Green Herons before and a cute juvenile Green Heron even made our 2010 Calendar, but we've never seen a nest.

But I digress, this story begins April 27th when we noticed a Green Heron frequenting our Dogwood Tree and breaking off dead branches.  The branches were for a nest up in a big pine tree.  The nest was completed and eggs laid on May 4th.  Then after a long 25 days, we saw our first tiny chick on May 30th, just a glimpse of white fluff deep in the nest under Mom.











Since hatching, we've been focused on the nest and chicks, not wanting to miss any of the excitement.  Today is Day 10 and it's the first time that the chicks have climbed out of the nest (Oh no, don't fall!).   We haven't wanted to miss any of the action, so I set my Nikon D300 to take an image every minute, and then used my other camera for action shots and short videos.  Looking at the images has been interesting - Green Herons are stealthy and deliberate hunters, so not much happens most of the time.  She can sit on the nest for hours and hardly move (I get 60+ photos that all look the same....).  Lately she's been off the nest standing watch and you wouldn't even know she was there.  However, she's quick to move should a squirrel or another bird intrude.










Dad shows up to feed every hour or so and that creates a lot of excitement that fill the nest, two adults and 4 bobbing heads and flapping wings.  Even during the incubation period, Dad was seldom seen, though we're pretty sure he was always nearby.  During the heat of the day, the nest is exposed to direct sun.  Mom opens her wings and the kids gather underneath in the shade.  You can tell they're uncomfortable.

We've uploaded a few of the best images and short videos from each day to a special gallery.  You can also click the images above to get to the gallery.  Once in the gallery, select slide show and sit back and enjoy.  This gallery will automatically update as I add images, so check back.  We learned a lot from the videos, including how quickly the chicks are house broken (or nest broken).  A clean nest is a healthy nest.

We expect them to leave the nest in a few days, but hopefully the family will stay close by for a while.

Learn about Green Herons at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology





( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) 2014 green heron nesting obx outer banks photographs shore bird Mon, 09 Jun 2014 17:50:21 GMT
Finding Red Knots Red Knots ignore the sunrise on Ocracoke, NCRed Knots ignore the sunrise on Ocracoke, NC

One of our rites of Spring is to head to the beach looking for migrating Red Knots.  We discovered our first Red Knots while on a Mother's Day beach trip to Ocracoke in 2007.  We were captivated by these birds with Salmon-red plumage frenetically running in unison at the water's edge.  They were beautiful and challenging to photograph - fast, back-lit (since Ocracoke is South-facing), and since they run as a group it's nearly impossible to keep them all in focus.  I took a lot of shots, but only a couple were keepers.  We were hooked and 7 years and lots of images later, we are still looking for that perfect Red Knot image. Our first two Red Knots of Spring, found north of Corolla, NCOur first two Red Knots of Spring, found north of Corolla, NC

If you're not yet familiar with Red Knots, they make one of the longest annual bird migrations, wintering in Terra Del Fuego at the southern tip of South America and flying ~9,000 miles, north to the Arctic to breed.  Critical to their marathon migration is a May/June stop in Delaware Bay where thousands of Red Knots gather to feast on the eggs of spawning Horseshoe Crabs.

Some Red Knots skip the long flight and winter locally and we found large flocks on Ocracoke Beach last November (top photo) and again in March.  That was a surprise (for us anyway), but not unusual.   Our first Spring sighting was of this single pair of Red Knots in breeding plumage on May 11th north of Corolla, NC.  That was exciting. They were on the move and in perfect afternoon light. 

We recently did a May trip to Ocracoke, Portsmouth Island and to Swansboro, and Red Knots were easy to find.

We left mid week and were surprised that we had to wait for the Hatteras/Ocracoke Ferry, even though the summer schedule had begun (ferries every 30 minutes) and it was still off season.  We found a few Red Knots on the north end of Ocracoke Island and then headed into town.  As evening approached we used Ramp 72 to access the Ocracoke Inlet Point.  Ramp 72 is always interesting and we found baby Mallard Ducks and a Black-necked Stilt searching for food in the marsh. 










Two Black Skimmers fishing the water's edge at twilightTwo Black Skimmers fishing the water's edge at twilightA photo by Bill Birkemeier When we reached the beach, there were no Red Knots to the south, so we turned north. It was late with the sky turning pink.  No Red Knots, but flying right at us were two adult Black Skimmers right at the water's edge.  Skimmers are my most favorite shorebird.  They are barnstorming flyers, fun to watch and hard to photograph.  I was able to snap a few shots and was amazed that some were actually in focus.  We see Skimmers at Oregon Inlet (and look for them), but this was the first time seeing them on Ocracoke, a real bonus. 


Right after the Skimmers left, we found a small flock of Red Knots, and still had some good light and I was able to capture this image (1/1000 sec, f4.8, ISO 400).  A line of Red Knots on Ocracoke BeachA line of Red Knots on Ocracoke BeachA photo by Bill Birkemeier

With the sun setting we left the beach and were treated to a spectacular sunset over Silver Lake.  A spectacular sunset as the Skipjack Wilma Lee sails past the entrance to Silver Lake, Ocracoke, NCA spectacular sunset as the Skipjack Wilma Lee sails past the entrance to Silver Lake, Ocracoke, NCA spectacular sunset as the Skipjack Wilma Lee sails past the entrance to Silver Lake, Ocracoke, NC: A photo by Bill Birkemeier The sun sets over Silver Lake harbor, Ocracoke, NCThe sun sets over Silver Lake harbor, Ocracoke, NCThe sun sets over Silver Lake harbor, Ocracoke, NC: A photo by Bill Birkemeier










The following morning, we took a ride to Portsmouth Island.  Our second visit and a bargain at $20 round trip.  The Island is part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore and Portsmouth Village, which thrived in 1800's, is pretty much left as it was when the last person went off island in 1971.   We had four hours to tour, which was not enough time but we did get a few nice shots of the village.  I'm particularly pleased with the image of the Life Saving Service Station with the storm clouds building in the distance.

The main street in Portsmouth Village, NCThe main street in Portsmouth Village, NCThe main street in Portsmouth Village, NC The Portsmouth Lifesaving Service Station









After walking through the village, we had to walk a little 3.5 miles to the beach to meet the boat for our return.   Portsmouth Island is known for the veracity of its mosquitoes but we had been lucky there had been a bit of a breeze and our repellent seemed to be working, until we reached the trail to the beach - during that half mile walk from the Lifesaving Service Station through shrubs the to the open sand dunes, we were bombarded by hundreds of bugs, not mosquitoes but biting green headed flies (they're worse).  We couldn't swat them fast enough or walk fast enough to get through them - but fortunately for us, we didn't get bit.

Three Red Knots take flight on Portsmouth Island, NCThree Red Knots take flight on Portsmouth Island, NCA photo by Bill Birkemeier

When we made it to the  beach, it wasn't long before we started seeing Red Knots - even met a Ornithologist with the National Park Service who was counting Red Knots and had just counted a flock of 105.  They were in constant motion and didn't let us get very close for pictures, but I did get this nice image of three taking flight.


Back in Ocracoke the weather changed with the night-time passing of a major storm front bringing rain and winds. Since our Cedar Island Ferry was delayed, we had time to head back to the beach at the north end of Ocracoke Island where again we found more Red Knots. Using our truck as a moving blind, we were able to stay dry and to get pretty close and captured a few images including this short video. 


Red Knots on Ocracoke Beach

Red Knots facing the wind on Ocracoke BeachRed Knots facing the wind on Ocracoke Beach

We took the Cedar Island Ferry and spent the night in Swansboro.  Peg headed to a meeting, while I took the ferry to Bear Island at Hammocks Beach State Park which is a NC state gem, a State Park with great facilities that's accessible only by passenger ferry or private boat.  After being delivered to Bear Island, its a half mile walk to the beautiful fine sand beach.  I was just out exploring and had no expectations, but shortly after arriving I met up with a flock of about 10 Red Knots, and for the most part they were too busy to notice me.  So I was able to sit on the beach and snap photos.  It was noon, so the lighting was terrible, but every once in a while they would turn to the light. That was as close to a group of Red Knots as I've ever been.  This is one of my favorite photos(1/2000 sec, f6.7, ISO 400).

So in our three day trip, we covered ~170 miles of North Carolina Beaches and found northward migrating Red Knots at most every stop.  We hope they make it to Delaware for the feast of the Horseshoe Crabs and then on to the Arctic.

There are lots of Red Knot resources on the web:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a good starting place

Red Knots are in the Outer Banks news concerning their long-term survival

Track their sightings on ebird

Learn about their Delaware Bay feast from Delaware Audubon


Equipment List: Nikon D300 w/300 mm f4, 16-85 mm, 70-300 VR I lenses; Olympus OMD-EM5 w/14-150 mm, Panasonic 100-300 mm lenses


( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) 2014 beach nc north carolina obx ocracoke outer banks portsmouth island portsmouth village red knots Thu, 29 May 2014 14:48:29 GMT
Epic Outer Banks Snowfall We've been living on the Outer Banks for 34 years and although it does snow here on occasion, when it does, it's always an occasion.  Of our snows, it's only been epic a very few times (see my earlier White Christmas 1989 blog).  Epic here means that the snow accumulated enough to matter.  Last week it was epic with 6 to 8 inches of snow. 

(My apologies to all of you tired of, and buried in snow)

An unusual storm from the south dropped 6-8" of snow overnightAn unusual storm from the south dropped 6-8" of snow overnightA typical steet in Southern Shores with the snow still coming down.

Anyway, last Wednesday we had enough for Outer Banks photographers to take to their 4-wheel drives and for displaced northerners to dust off their snow shovels, sleds and toboggans.

We've been caretakers for 3 ruby-throated hummingbirds that decided to migrate only to the Outer Banks.  We've had some every year and our job is to keep the sugar water flowing.  When it's below freezing I aim a light at the feeder to keep it from freezing.  When I hang the feeder just before sunup, the hummingbirds are usually on it in a flash - and they still compete with each other for ownership.  On this snow-day morning, two met me at the feeder and landed even before I could hang it up.  They had been waiting for me. We're impressed that they survived - but there's still a lot of winter left to go.

Snow dunes at the beachSnow dunes at the beachSnow covering the dunes, is an unusual sight for the Outer Banks





Camera in hand it was off to the beach.  Pictures of the beach with snow can be a challenge since the wind, changing tide and salt water combine to move or melt the snow near the water - so it looks like any other beach shot.  However, this time we had enough snow to cover the dunes and the snow in the dunes complements the storm clouds in the sky and the white of the breaking waves.





Thursday, we decided to head north to Corolla to take photos with hopes of finding some of the wild horses in the snow.  The snow had stopped but it was still cold and grey.  We were not the first people on the beach in the 4-wheel drive area after the snow, but we had the beach pretty much to ourselves.  We found no horses on the beach, but the blowing snow and sand patterns were beautiful and the layers of sand and snow made beach driving challenging in places.

Drifting patches of sand and snow on the beach in CarovaDrifting patches of sand and snow on the beach in Carova Snow and sand-covered beach and dunesSnow and sand-covered beach and dunesA photo by Bill Birkemeier

Still looking for horses, we headed over the dunes and onto the sand roads of Carova Beach.  No horses in the usual places, but the cool, twisted branches live oaks covered in snow made for some nice images.  Nice in B&W too.  Peg took the color one, I took the B&W.  If you look close in that image you can see Peg at work.

Snow covered Live OakSnow covered Live OakA photo by Peggy Birkemeier Snow covered Live OakSnow covered Live OakA photo by Bill Birkemeier

We started to head home and luck was with us as we passed a herd of six horses digging in the snow for grass and munching on the trees.  They took us and the snow in stride and we just sat in the truck enjoying the action and the snow. 

Corolla Wild Horses in the SnowCorolla Wild Horses in the SnowA photo by Bill Birkemeier

With horse photos accomplished and the sun setting, we did a quick stop at the always beautiful Whalehead Club (lots of photographer footprints there) for a few images including capturing a sun star from the front porch.

  The Whalehead Club in ice and snowThe Whalehead Club in ice and snowA photo by Bill Birkemeier WhaleheadClub_20140130_18WhaleheadClub_20140130_18

The snow is now long gone and not missed.  We're back to our usual Outer Banks winter with a Nor'easter predicted for the weekend.  We'll see what that brings.






( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) NC corolla corova beach outer banks photographs snow wild horses Thu, 06 Feb 2014 01:52:00 GMT
Backyard dredging and a first time-lapse A lot of activity in our backyard gave me an opportunity to make my first time-lapse video.  We live on a canal that was originally dug in ~1970 and is part of an extensive series of canals that run throughout Southern Shores.  These canals have never been maintained and many sections are too shallow for boats, so this winter they are being dredged.  First here's some video of the action.

Short video of Southern Shores Canal Dredging, 2014A video by Bill Birkemeier

Since the dredge spent a  a few hours behind our house, it gave enough time to try out the interval timer on my Nikon D300 and I let it click away every 15 seconds, creating 363 images which I've assembled into this 80 sec time-lapse video using ProShow Gold which is a powerful slideshow builder.

Time Lapse video of Southern Shores Canal Dredging, 2014A composite of 363 images taken between 1016 amd 1224 on 15 Jan 2014

The canal is narrow and we were impressed by the speed and skill of the excavator and barge operators.  Once the barge is filled, it takes the material to a drop-off location up the canal where another excavator moves the material from the barge to a truck.  The truck then takes the material off-island.  It's a slow process with many swings of the excavator and all-day barge hauls, since October 1st.  To learn more about it, take a look  at a video produced by the town of Southern Shores.

( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) NC canal dredging coastal north carolina southern shores time-lapse Thu, 16 Jan 2014 23:17:05 GMT
Bad weather, Shipwrecks, Snowy Owls and Winter Fun The Outer Banks, along with much of the mid and eastern US, has been buzzing about this winter's irruption of Snowy Owls.  One was first seen at Cape Hatteras Point around Thanksgiving and there have been many sightings since (Avon, Oregon Inlet, Southern Shores, Ocracoke).  Peg and I traveled to Cape Hatteras, but we missed seeing it.  Then we walked all around Oregon Inlet and we saw a lot of other birders but no owl.  So when Peg had a meeting in Ocracoke on January 12th - we had high hopes of seeing one of the two still being reported there. 

Sunrise brought rainy and windy skies as we headed for the Cape Hatteras Ferry.  The ferry schedule had changed giving us the opportunity to head to the beach near the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum and head south.  Not far from the ramp we came across a big shipwreck part - not new, but new to us.  We'd driven the same section of beach at the end of November and it wasn't there then - but it was exposed now and made an interesting photo subject.  I've since done some web searching about it, but came up empty - it may be part of a wreck off of Frisco that drifted west, or just another wreck that comes and goes with the waves and sand.

Shipwreck remains under a stormy skyShipwreck remains under a stormy skyRemains of a shipwreck lie on the beach near the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

After photographing the wreck it was off to the ferry and Ocracoke Island, dodging torrential rain bands and strong winds along the way. The weather on Ocracoke was just as stormy but we headed straight to the beach using the ramp near the airport and drove south, scanning the beach and dune line for anything that looked like an out of place large white bird.  But no luck.  We drove all the way to the south point and back, and then all the way north to the end of the 4-wheel drive area, and there at the highest point of the dune, was a Snowy Owl - wow! Big, White, Beautiful.  As bands of rain continued to move in, we stayed in the truck with the window opened, took photos and watched.  We had no place to go and neither did the owl.

Snowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeSnowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeA photo by Bill Birkemeier Snowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeSnowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeA photo by Bill Birkemeier Snowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeSnowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeA photo by Bill Birkemeier

We would have stayed for hours, but Peg had a meeting with the Ocracoke Foundation (If you want to support Ocracoke, check them out).  I returned to the beach to look for the second owl and found it south of Ramp 72, again on the highest dune around - with a commanding view of the wide open beach.  The beach was different than our last visit, with no hoodoos to be found.  The tide was rising, and water everywhere including up against the dunes, and although I carefully guided the truck through the water to get close enough for a few photos, the owl was just too far away for a good shot.  So back I went to Owl #1 who hadn't moved.  There was even less light, but I captured a few more photos

Snowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeSnowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeA photo by Bill Birkemeier Snowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeSnowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeA photo by Bill Birkemeier Snowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeSnowy Owl on the Dune in OcracokeA photo by Bill Birkemeier

I left the owl to enjoy the rain and headed into the village where I did get a few nice photos of the Ocracoke Lighthouse, while the rain continued to pour.

The Ocracoke Lighthouse overlooking Silver LakeThe Ocracoke Lighthouse overlooking Silver LakeThe Ocracoke Lighthouse overlooking Silver Lake: A photo by Bill Birkemeier

Ocracoke is wonderful this time of year, pretty quiet with just two hotels and a couple of restaurants open - which worked out just fine for us.  We stayed at the Captains Landing, good people and nice accommodations.  It rained all night with tornado warnings - but by Sunday the rain was gone and the winds were offshore. 

I think we were the first truck on the beach while we waited for sunrise, but it wasn't too long before we met Bob and Robby, a couple of bird photographers from Virginia who asked us about the Snowy Owls - Peg told them where we had seen them on Saturday.  I was certain that Owl #1 would still be in his same place, but I was wrong.  After looking, we headed south, pausing to watch a Merlin scattering feathers everywhere as it munched on a small bird. 

A Merlin and its preyA Merlin and its preyA photo by Peggy Birkemeier

Past Ramp 72 we again met up with the Virginia photographers who had encountered one of the owls with some photo success - but this morning the owl was on the move landing briefly and flying - and we last saw it sitting on the top of the Ramp 72 sign before flying off into the dunes.  So we started looking for the second owl.  Bob and Robby went North, Peg and I headed south to the point, scanning the beach and dune as we drove.  No luck. 

We made it to the point, then turned around.  We were alone, the beach was completely empty and conditions were windy, so imagine our surprise when we encountered a Snowy Owl out in the open beach, right in our path.  It saw us first and flew off into the 4-wheel drive, out-of-bounds area - too far for my camera gear.  Peg gave Rob and Bob a call and they headed our way.  Much to our chagrin,  the Snowy flew even further away, but landed nicely aligned with the Ocracoke Lighthouse.  Robby and Bob decided to "zoom with their feet" hoping to get close but not scare it.  Robby (Left) and Bob (Middle) stalk a Snowy Owl (right)Robby (Left) and Bob (Middle) stalk a Snowy Owl (right)A photo by Bill Birkemeier The distances were big and it took them a long while, but they both got into nice positions.  I followed behind and got the shot shown here - its good, but distance and camera gear matter, so be sure to check out the great shot that Bob Schamerhorn got and also the one that Rob Sabatini took. The magic didn't last long and soon our owl was off and flying.

Bob Schamerhorn gets close enough for a great shotBob Schamerhorn gets close enough for a great shotA photo by Bill Birkemeier The Snowy Owl keeps an eye on the photographersThe Snowy Owl keeps an eye on the photographersA photo by Bill Birkemeier

Peg and I had to check out of the hotel, after which we decided to make one last pass on the beach.  This time the owl was easy to find, holding court in the dunes with a growing group of birding photographers in attendance.  Our fascination with the Snowy Owls is universal - a visual treat for us all.  They won't be around long, so if you get an opportunity to see one - take it.

After flying back into the dunes, the Snowy Owl poses for the paparazziAfter flying back into the dunes, the Snowy Owl poses for the paparazziA photo by Bill Birkemeier

On our trip home we were pleased to see a new boat anchored in the marsh on Ocracoke, where one had been missing; one of my favorite seascapes is whole again.

Fishing boat in the marsh on Ocracoke IslandFishing boat in the marsh on Ocracoke IslandA photo by Bill Birkemeier

We drove to Cape Hatteras Point, no Snowy Owls (we looked), but spectacular intersecting waves breaking on Diamond Shoals. 

Clapotis Waves at Cape Hatteras Point on a clear dayClapotis Waves at Cape Hatteras Point on a clear dayA photo by Bill Birkemeier

Lots of other action too including these Pelicans in flight with the lighthouse in the background.  A fitting image to complete our weekend.

Pelicans over Cape Hatteras LighthousePelicans over Cape Hatteras LighthousePelicans over Cape Hatteras Lighthouse


( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) 2014 beach birding cape hatteras ocracoke outer banks snowy owl Wed, 15 Jan 2014 15:06:50 GMT
Memories of an Outer Banks White Christmas and a Shipwreck Christmas on the Outer Banks is always special. Our visitors are gone, winter has yet to set in, our winter birds are here and the beaches are deserted and great for beachcombing.  Most Outer Banks residents like that it doesn't snow much here. However around Christmas, some of us displaced northerners wish for the magic of a white Christmas, knowing full well that it never happens.

Except in 1989 – and it hasn't happened since.

1989 was a long time ago, before digital cameras (I had an Olympus OM-2), before the internet, even before cable TV (we had just 4 channels, if we were lucky). 

Looking out the window Christmas Eve 1989

The snow started on Christmas Eve and began piling up. It was a classic Outer Banks Nor'easter with howling winds and blowing snow. My parents were visiting from Illinois and I still remember my Dad's comment, “If I had wanted snow I would have stayed home.” Boy that would have been a mistake. At the time I had a new 4-wheel drive truck and the storm gave me the first opportunity to try it in the snow – and it worked great.  Good thing too since eventually we had ~16 inches of snow and there are no snow plows here. So back in the woods 4-wheel drive was the only way out.  Looking for an excuse to drive, I did a last minute shopping trip to the drugstore looking for a camera for our youngest daughter (always good to get an early start in photography).

It was a big storm which peaked on the 24th with winds at the coast in excess of 50 mph and 20 ft waves. Strangely it only snowed south of Norfolk, VA, far south – all the way to Wilmington, NC. While we were tucked in our beds waiting for Santa to arrive, out on the Atlantic a Navy Oiler, the USNS Benjamin Isherwood (T-AO-191) was under tow from Philadelphia....and things were not going well. Christmas morning sunrise

We awoke to a winter wonderland with snow everywhere. The sun was out and it was an absolutely beautiful morning and a memorable white Christmas for the Outer Banks. The presents surrounding the tree were quickly opened and enjoyed by all. During the day we learned that a big ship had run around, so we bundled up and headed north to Ocean Sands, just south of Corolla.

The Benjamin Isherwood had broken its towline in the storm and repeated attempts to reconnect were unsuccessful. With just a few people on board, the ship simply drifted ashore and as the storm abated and the water level fell, she became firmly stuck in the sand. The crew was safely lifted off by helicopter unharmed, but for them it had to have been a most memorable, albeit scary Christmas Eve.

The Navy Oiler aground off Ocean Sands, NC Helicopter moving the crew off of the stricken ship

When we arrived in the afternoon, the sun was out and the waves were gone.  It was not hard finding the Benjamin Isherwood as she towered above the oceanfront homes. It was an amazing sight. It even looked to me like the ship was bowed a bit by sitting on the sandbar. The Outer Banks is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, a title earned from the thousands of shipwrecks that have occurred here – but a shipwreck is an unusual event today (much like a white Christmas). So we soaked it in and marveled at the sight of this giant ship so close to shore.

My Dad on the beach with the Benjamin Isherwood

Because it was so close I thought it would be there for a long while, but a couple of weeks later, it was gone, pulled offshore during a high spring tide. The Navy was lucky. The Benjamin Isherwood was not so lucky and never saw service, read that story here.

It's been fun remembering, I hope you've enjoyed the story and the photos. Let me know if you were there.

Have a wonderful holiday, give your family a hug and take photos.



( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) 1989 Benjamin Isherwood Henry J. Kaiser class ship beach navy oiler outer banks photographs shipwreck snow white christmas Wed, 25 Dec 2013 00:30:01 GMT
A One Day Adventure to Cape Hatteras Point The forecast for December 20th was for 70 degrees, way to nice to stay inside – so we planned a day adventure to Cape Hatteras to see what we would see and to take photos. So is it a stretch to call a drive from Kitty Hawk to Cape Hatteras an adventure? Well a few weeks ago a wayward Snowy Owl dropped in at Cape Hatteras Point creating a buzz in the birding community who flocked in from near and far. At almost the same time, it was discovered that the bridge over Oregon Inlet was unsafe and without warning it was closed. Some of our photography friends made it to Cape Point, saw the owl and made it across the bridge just before it closed. But others missed the owl and were caught by the bridge closing. They had to take wait for an emergency ferry and 12 hrs later were finally home. That's an adventure!

The bridge reopened two weeks later – and since there was a chance that the owl was still there, we left Kitty Hawk and headed south. With beautiful morning light, it was hard not stopping at our usual spots like Bodie Island Lighthouse, Oregon Inlet spit and Pea Island (though we slowed enough to see White Pelicans in the distance). We arrived first at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse which was unusually scenic at midday with nice clouds above and drippy stones below. I'm including a couple of shots we really like: a reflection of the lighthouse in the Keepers House that Peg took, a detail shot of the massive stone base (also Peg's) and a somewhat surreal shot of the lighthouse with the sun shinning through the lens. This is an HDR composite image using three exposures, one for the clouds, one for the lighthouse (which was back lit) and one in the middle. It was nice being the only visitors. The old light needs a coat of paint, but it remains a strong symbol of Cape Hatteras and the Outer Banks.  

After lowering our tire pressure, it was off to Cape Point and the edge of the treacherous Diamond Shoals. Even on this relatively calm day the intersecting waves crisscrossing the Point were putting on a cool clapotis show.

We're both beachcombers and on this day, the very tip of the Point had an immense pile of shells with lots of big whelks. We arrived a bit late, as one of the local shell collectors told us that this shell treasure trove had appeared two weeks before and that over the past 4 days she had collected 200 perfect whelks. Wow!

We looked but never saw the Snowy Owl. Instead, we enjoyed the frenetic actions of the large flock of Double-Crested Cormorants wintering on the Point. They seemed to be everywhere – on the beach, in the ponds, in the air, in the water. Such activity!

There are a lot of deer on Cape Hatteras and their tracks are everywhere and it wasn't hard to find some deer willing to pose for us. We also walked the trail behind the British Cemetery and enjoyed being in the big pine forest.  There we found Holly plants with red berries (perfect for the Christmas season) but even better – we discovered a tiny tree frog hanging onto to a small twig – it kept a close eye on us while we took photos.

The sky turned overcast, the nice light disappeared and with the sun setting we headed north with our memory cards full. One stop remained – the day-use area in Salvo to catch the sunset. With the cloud cover we didn't expect much – but out here you never know, and we were treated to a spectacular sunset. A great ending to our one day Cape Hatteras adventure.


Selecting any of these photos will take you to a slideshow which includes several more photos from our adventure.

While we missed the Snowy Owl, someone else reported seeing it behind the dunes and in Avon. We're already planning a return trip.


( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) 2013 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Outer Banks beachcombing cormorants obx photography shells Tue, 24 Dec 2013 18:35:53 GMT
Sand hoodoos found on Ocracoke; Cormorants too We just returned from two days in Ocracoke, our second trip in a month.  Ocracoke is an easy escape for us and we love going there in the fall and spring; it's quiet but always offers up something to discover.  We like driving on the beach and while out on Ocracoke Inlet spit, we found a huge field of sand features I'll call Sand Hoodoos (like those found in Bryce Canyon).  They were shaped by water  running through the tire tracks in the sand and smoothed by the wind.  The hoodoos were everywhere and no two were the same.  I had fun with my ultra-wide angle lens - lots of interesting shapes, shadows and textures.  Can you see a face and hands in this one?

(note clicking on any of these images opens them in their gallery - use your back button to return to this blog)

Sand Hoodoo formation caused by wind and waterSand Hoodoo formation caused by wind and waterSand Hoodoo formation caused by wind and water: Looks like a person emerging from the sand. See the face and hands?

To get a better idea of what these hoodoos were like, watch this short video taken with my camera flying over and around them (turn down the sound all you'll hear is the wind). 

Sand Hoodoo formations caused by wind and waterA short video of the hoodoos using a 15mm ultra-wide angle lens.

What we did expect to see this time of year in Ocracoke were the cormorants, and we were not disappointed.  We found them at sunrise the next morning in the same place as the hoodoos. Thousands and thousands of Double-crested Cormorants crowded on over a mile of beach.  The flight action was frenetic but strangely quiet - just the sounds of the waves and gulls.  We've seen this action before but have never been so close.  You can get a sense of the scene from the picture below, but pictures really don't capture it.  We watched in awe - a dramatic display of nature.

Actually as I write this, I realize that this stretch of beach has been special before.  During our first visit this year, we were surprised to twice find this Peregrine Falcon hanging out in the same area.  We both checked each other over and I was able to capture enough shots before we got bored and drove away (how often do birds pose so patiently?).

And years ago, we were driving the same stretch of beach on a windy Mother's Day when we notice purple Marginal Sea Stars at the water's edge.  No one else seemed to have noticed as they were crushed in the tire tracks.  Lying on the ground, with my wide angle lens in hand, I captured one of our most favorite images ever, these Marginal Sea Stars with a wave just about to run over them.  I got up just in time to save me and the camera from a soaking.

Marginal Sea Stars, Ocracoke, NCMarginal Sea Stars, Ocracoke, NCMarginal Sea Stars, Ocracoke, NC: In 2007 we were enjoying a nice Mother's Day exploring Ocracoke Island. The wind was blowing such a gale that it was a challenge to even walk the beach. As we drove along the beach we were surprised to find one spot covered in these beautiful Marginal Sea Stars, uncommon this far north. Of the photos we took, this is our favorite - snapped the shutter and lifted the camera off the beach just as the wave passed.

As you can see, this spot on the Ocracoke inlet spit is a magic place for us - one we're sure to go back to. 


( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) beach cormorants obx ocracoke outer banks photographs Tue, 26 Nov 2013 20:35:40 GMT
New 2014 Outer Banks In The Lens Calendar We're excited to be releasing our 2014 Outer Banks In The Lens Calendar packed with 13 great images.  This is our sixth calendar and we have them just in time for holiday giving - or get one for yourself, a great way to start 2014.  We're a little late in printing, but as a result, we were able to include three images taken just this fall, like the spectacular sunrise that greeted us in Ocracoke in November.  To see all the images and to order one click here: 2014 Outer Banks In The Lens Calendar

( Photography by Bill Birkemeier) 2014 NC calendar obx outer banks photographs Mon, 18 Nov 2013 23:41:12 GMT