Wild Horses of the Crystal Coast Trip Report


I’m sitting here at a desk in a condo overlooking the Beaufort NC waterfront. The sun will be setting soon, that rich golden light is beginning to dance upon the water, and across Taylor’s Creek I can see two horses lazily making their way along the beach toward the complex of salt marsh and exposed oyster beds that these two particular horses seem to favor. I have taken to calling them Romeo and Juliet. While the rest of the herd functions as one coherent group, making their way in unison around these islands, Romeo and Juliet seem to operate with a certain degree of self-imposed ostracism from the group. Yeah, I’ve come to know these horses pretty well over the years.

Yesterday we finished up this year’s October installment of my Crystal Coast trip and I wanted to give folks something of a trip report.

This year’s trip was a bit different than those in the past. With a new moon working its magic on the tides overhead, several days of north winds prior to the workshop, and an approaching cold front the tides this week have been truly outrageous here. A new moon creates what we call a Spring tide, which is the highest of astronomical tides throughout the month. A north wind along the Outer Banks, while draining the back island sounds of water further north, in turn flood the sounds and surrounding islands along the Crystal Coast. An approaching cold front only adds to the phenomenon by sweeping in strong northwest winds and further flooding the landscape. The result? Areas where we normally photograph horses were sitting several feet underwater!

Despite this small set back however, we still had an incredible week of photographing “Down East.” Some of the unique highlights that were non-horse related from the trip came in on the first and last mornings. The first morning was filled with a beautiful sunrise on the water that we experienced and photographed from the boat, followed by a session at the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (accessible only be boat!). Horses of course entered the lineup, as did a great session at Bird Shoal photographing the brown pelican rookery with a Birds in Flight 101 lesson for everybody. On our way back in, we were detained for half an hour by a massive pod of coastal bottlenose dolphins.

The last morning of the workshop, the cold front had finally blown into the area and temperatures had dropped nearly 20 degrees with a stout 20+ mph wind to boot. We worked the complex of islands known collectively as the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve that morning. As to be expected with a big front like this, the horses were tucked away deep inside of the maritime forest, while mind bending numbers of birds had descended upon the area over night with the front. We had the opportunity to photograph the largest group of black skimmers I have ever seen in my life! We estimated that there were between 3 and 5 hundred on one little shoal. After our bout with the skimmers we changed gears completely and headed into the Croatan National Forest where we photographed the carnivorous Venus Flytrap, Yellow Pitcher Plant, two different species of Sundews, and several different orchids that were blooming in the longleaf pine savannas. The Venus Flytrap only grows within an 80 mile radius of the city of Wilmington and nowhere else on Earth. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for folks to see and photograph something like this in the wild.

All in all this was an awesome trip that was punctuated with some great diversity in photographic subjects! 

This entry was posted in Trip Reports.