It feels surreal to return somewhere for the first time after a long while and see it from a completely different perspective. That is how I viewed the Outer Banks last weekend. The last time I was there I was a misguided teenager. Now I am a nature photographer and that is how I see the world. Upon my return to the Outer Banks I was in awe of the scale of never-ending beaches and those giant dunes. And the birds. The thousands upon thousands of birds was awe-some.
To make matters more interesting, the weather was all over the place. The atmosphere was thick with fog as dense as chowder. Driving over those tall bridges that span miles of open water was a bit eerie at night. I knew there was water below but all I saw was a wall of white. I drove up there to meet up with my friend Sally Siko, who has accrued a wealth of knowledge relating to birds and photography, which she enjoys sharing. She is an amazing teacher, but more importantly, her friendship is most appreciated.
My primary objective for this trip was to add as many birds to my list as possible in hopes of reaching my goal of 200 different species of birds by the end of this year. We saw something like 30 different species of birds, 11 of which were lifers for me, bringing my total to 191! (193 as I publish this.) We also saw a bear, stood on a pier in gale force winds, captured photos from sunup to sundown, watched a glorious sunset through our telephoto lenses, shared some delicious meals, talked about birds a lot, talked about life, and talked a lot more about birds. I came for the birds and left with a solid friendship.
When we met at dawn we kept expecting the morning fog to burn off, but it continued to surround us. I swear, my beard was dripping from all the moisture. We were really in a cloud at sea level. Finally, around noon, the fog slowly began to dissipate. As our visibility increased we observed a white rainbow take shape in the distance. It was one of the most unique natural phenomenons I have ever experienced. It was a rainbow, making a complete arch, but it was void of any color. As I am typing this it sounds far stranger than witnessing it with my own eyes, so I just Googled it and confirmed that we were not hallucinating. It is a thing. A magical thing.
The afternoon became clear and we were able to get some pretty nice photos. Sally has established a partnership with Lensrentals.com and offers a discount code to anyone who rents their equipment through her website. I am in the market for a new camera, so I decided this trip would be a great opportunity to test some new glass. I had arranged for the high tech new Canon lens to be delivered to my home the day before my departure. Alas, the courier service did not deliver the package on the expected delivery date. Sally got right on the phone with her Lensrentals.com representative and they happily overnighted the lens to me in the Outer Banks! I am still blown away with their outstanding service.
I am set up with the nicest equipment I have ever used. (Sally also loaned me her mirrorless full frame Canon R5 to accompany my Canon RF f4.5 100-500mm telephoto lens along with a 1.4X and 2X extender which doubles the zoom range to 1,000mm) A couple of Sally’s delightful and inspiring friends have joined us now as we watch large flocks of Northern Gannets dive-bombing their prey out at sea. It was extra-special to share this experience with this group of great folks. About the time the lighting became too dark for decent wildlife shots, we discovered the sun was setting behind us, so we turned around and kept shooting until it was pitch black.
Again, we met at dawn and this morning began fairly clear. By ten oclock the rain had moved in and by noon the temperature had dropped over 20 degrees with wind gusts upwards of 30 miles per hour. Flocks of birds were flying sideways and the rain was coming from every direction, mixed in with sand for good measure. We decided to hunker down in a photographer’s blind built along the marsh. We were already pretty wet from spending the morning photoing birds in the rain, but at least the wind was off us in the blind. The birds didn’t seem to mind the bad weather. Or maybe they did. They were squawking quite a bit.
It was a great time. The wind and the rain and the sand blasting our faces as we fought our way through the storm is a memory I will fondly remember forever. When we left, the dunes were blowing onto the road making it difficult to see where the road ends and the dunes began. It was like driving through a blizzard with 30’ snow banks on either side. While all that might sound unpleasant, it was beautiful. It was invigorating. The only bad thing about the trip was that it had to end. But the good news is next week we will be on another adventure. We are finishing up the year by going offshore on a pelagic bird tour, which is a fancy word for seabirds, birds who spend their whole lives at sea. It’s going to be freezing cold and wet and windy. I can’t wait.