Outer Banks Facts

by Judith Bailey on Outer Banks Facts, things you may have thought about ...

One evening recently, a few out-of-town friends and I had a good time in my new studio discussing all things "Outer Banks" and we hit upon an interesting game that I thought I would share with my readers.

It seems as though those who visit frequently here begin to have questions about things they observe but are too embarrassed to ask a local, "what meaneth this?" My friends are comfortable with me and know I won't think they are stupid so we had a good round of the game, "stump the local." I was able to answer all their questions and they were actually very good ones.

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I thought I would pass on the top 5 here and invite my readers to share any I haven't covered and I will try to answer these Outer Banks facts in later articles. So here goes:

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Question 1: We have observed that seagulls and ospreys like to sit on or glide near the bridges which sometimes seems to be sort of a fatal attraction. If it is so dangerous, why don't they learn and stay away so they aren't smashed by trucks and fishing poles on trucks? What is the point of this?

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Answer: Bridges are warmer than the air and create updrafts, otherwise called thermals. If you will observe next time, you will see that they aren't flapping their wings. This allows for effortless flight. Fish love to congregate around structures and bridge pilings are one of the best locations to find fish. So the birds are effortlessly searching the water below for a fish they can dive down and get. Sometimes, they get a little caught up in this and forget to watch for trucks. But usually, they can do this without incident because they are also watching traffic.

Question 2: If both the ocean and the sound are saltwater, why do folks say the dolphin pods come into the sound at certain times of the day to feed, where they are safe from predators. Why don't the sharks come into the sound as well?

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Answer: This is an excellent question. The sounds, we have more than one here, are saltiest near the inlets. They become less salty the further they are from the ever refreshing flow of ocean water through the inlet. A few fish, like Rock, can live in both salt and freshwater. But most are one or the other. Commercial fishermen I know have told me that have seen everything, including sharks, in their nets or in the sound when they fish near the inlets. Conversely, the sound near Currituck County is very nearly freshwater and you will find typical lake fish there.

Question 3: We have read that there were large sand dunes all the way from Whalebone Junction to the Virginia border. What happened to all these dunes and why is Jockey's Ridge the only one left?

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Answer: Well, J. Ridge, as we affectionately call it, is not the only one left. There are several near the Nags Head Post Office, part of the Seven Sisters range, there are many in Nags Head Woods and there is Run Hill and also Kill Devil Hill where the Wright Brothers Monument sits. There were several in the Corolla area that have been bulldozed. J. Ridge was saved largely by the efforts of Carolista Baum and a campaign by locals who lobbied the state government to make it a park when it was discovered, one day, that it was private property and the bulldozers were already in motion. A great example of grassroots environmentalism.

Question 4: Where are all of the rabbits during the day that we see along the road on Roanoke Island and on Highway 12 in the morning or evenings? Do they really have webbed feet? Do they drown in hurricanes?

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Answer: Those rabbits you are seeing in those locations are known as “Marsh Rabbits” and they do indeed have webbed feet. Their ears are shorter and coats blacker than cottontails. They are able to swim for short distances and also, unlike cottontails, they build lodges similar to muskrats. A photographer friend was trying to photograph them along the marsh and would hear a tell-tale plop, plop as her wary quarries bailed into the water to get away. They are also crepuscular which means they feed at dawn and at dusk so that is why you don't see them in the daytime. And yes, during times of intense sound flooding they can drown. I have only seen that happen one time in my 30 years here, but not to fear, because they rebound quickly. They multiply just like, well, RABBITS.

Question 5: We have been reading about the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene and the inlets that were cut into Hatteras Island and how Oregon Inlet is closing up with sand. Why do they work so hard to keep one inlet open and so hard to close others? Why not just build a bridge over one and fill the other one in?

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Answer: This is also an excellent question and the answer varies depending upon who you talk with. But the short answer is that, in modern times, roadways tend to be fixed, not subject to the vagaries of nature. And on the Outer Banks, we have a lot of vagary. Sometimes we forget that we are living on a fragile little sliver of sand that the wind and the waves can easily push around. In olden times everyone traveled around in boats. So if an inlet closed and another one opened, no problem. Just use the new one. But nowadays, millions of dollars are involved and solutions are not quite so simple. But, to get to the heart of the question, inlets are a very real and constant feature of the Outer Banks. I got out my book by David Stick, “The Outer Banks of North Carolina,” and showed my friends the list of inlets we have had in 400 years. It is quite a long list and nature remembers all those weak areas in the islands. Inlets are not formed by the ocean, but rather, by the soundwaters being pushed toward the ocean during a hurricane. You cannot predict where an inlet will be cut, but you can appreciate the fact that the narrower parts of the islands are prime candidates. Hatteras Island is a beautiful place and a great community of people and we are praying for a speedy repair of Highway 12 so that we can all appreciate all of our islands of the Outer Banks once again.

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