Shackleford Banks really does offer some incredible opportunities to photograph some truly unique behavior. Considering the limited food sources on the main island, horses will routinely swim out to surrounding marsh islands to feed upon the spartina and other marsh grasses that are growing there. This is by no means a small feat. These small islands are really sand shoals that have built up along the edge of Barden Inlet – a notoriously dangerous inlet with swift moving currents and a bull shark population of fame. Sea urchins abound through this area, as well as flesh slicing oyster beds as well. Yet these horses have survived this way for some 400 years.
Upon landing our skiff on a shoal, I shouldered my dry bag that doubles as a photo pack on these shoos and jumped off the bow into the sand. Horseshoe crabs were everywhere on the exposed shoal, trying desperately to bury themselves in the cooling sand to escape from being roasted by the sun. A harem of horses was grazing in the marsh just on the other side of the slough from us and so we waded out into waist deep water with tripods and gear. The tide was low and therefore the entire area took on a tropical appearance with aqua blue water and white sandy shoals interlaced in a watery labyrinth that could keep a 10 year old kid busy exploring for days.
As another band of horses began to make their way out into the marsh just along the backside of Shackleford, our horses we had been photographing pushed on to the end of the island and out into the water. This was what we had been waiting for. This was why we where here. One by one, the horses slipped into the water, wading deeper and deeper until only their heads were exposed and their hoofs kicked free of Terra firma. We had decided to work out in the water for this reason. Once the horse made their move, we would be eye level with them as they made the arduous journey out to the next island.