Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wooden Surfboard

One of our friends here at Outside South, Darrell Brown. He made this awesome wooden surfboard and gave us the opportunity to ride it! Thanks Darrell....hope to see you next year!

Fall and Winter

From all of here at Outside South we would like to thank you for your support and business. We had a great season with kayaking and surfing and are totally excited about next year. I will be updating the blog frequently so stay tuned! Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Sightings

After a long summer seeing the same birds day after day - Green Backed Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored Herons and a few others - it's really fun to have new faces fly into the territory. Last week I kept seeing this small black and white bird that looked a lot like a woodpecker, but certainly didn't act like one. This little guy was a definite fish eater and was really quick. He reminded me of a kingfisher, but the coloring seemed too dark - local kingfishers are blue. Well after a few more encounters where I saw the bird hoover & dive and finally heard him trill loudly, it was confirmed that the bird is indeed a Belted Kingfisher. He looks black and white to me, but must simply be a very dark blue because it displays classic kingfisher behavior. Kingfishers live in the Holden Beach area year round, but stay inland during the summer and come back to the coast during winter. This guy had just returned for the winter season.
Another great sighting was a Bald Eagle viewed on a tour about 2 weeks ago. It was only the second Bald Eagle I've ever seen and my first at Holden Beach. Bald Eagles live in this area during the summer (for breeding) so I may not see him again until next year. Other large birds of prey seen in the area are Osprey (summer resident) and Red Tailed Hawk (year round resident).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cormorant Rescue

The Double Crested Cormorant winters in the Holden Beach area and lives year round south of us in Florida. Yesterday I saw my first cormorant of the "fall season" - a juvenile marked as such by its white chest. I knew what is was immediately as they are a distinctive looking bird often called the "snake bird". They are black, relatively large, have a long snakelike head and a somewhat hooked beak. They are unique in that they have very little oil on their feathers which allows them to dive for food underwater. This also makes it so they have to dry themselves off after a swim. Cormorants are often seen on pilings with their wings spread out drying themselves.

The cormorant I saw yesterday was sitting on top of the water like a duck. This is not typical cormorant behavior. If you see them in the water, they're usually mostly submerged with only their snakelike head above the water. I knew something was wrong and, as I paddled closer, realized that the bird was caught in a gill net. Gill nets sit in the water, buoyed at the top and weighted at the bottom. This one was about 20 feet long, and the bird obviously swam into it underwater and got tangled.

Luckily my tour group was all about saving the bird - especially a 15 year-old named Christine. We pulled up along side the bird and while Christine held my boat I used my first aid scissors to cut the bird out of the net. Freed from the larger mass of the gill net, the bird was still horribly entangled. I carefully put the bird in the back hatch of Christine's kayak while it violently tried to attack me. The cormorant's head was the only thing not entangled.

Christine and I pulled up on the nearest bank, threw a towel over the bird's head, removed it from the kayak and proceed to cut it free. It took at least 6 or 7 minutes to carefully cut all the net away. Once the net was all removed I told Christine to back up and removed the towel. I was afraid the bird would be angry and might attack, but it was simply tired and walked away looking back over its shoulder at me like it wasn't exactly sure whether to say thank you or not. The bird found its way to the water and swam away. Hopefully it was okay and will stay away from gill nets in the future.

We saw a loggerhead turtle later on in the tour, just past the nets and up into the creek we tour by kayak. Hopefully he didn't suffer a similar fate.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Funky Fish

The classic NC coastal fish is the mullet - a medium sized silvery fish that travels in large schools and are often seen jumping out of the water. Mullet have the classic fish shape with one eye on each side of the head, pectoral fins on its sides, a dorsal fin on the back and a traditional tail fin. We often see mullets jumping out of the water while paddling in the Intracoastal Waterway.

Two not so classic looking NC fish are the oyster toadfish and the burrfish. Both can be found in the backwaters of Holden Beach, and both have been sighted on our kayak tours. Just this week I saw a burrfish hiding in the marsh grass and found two "Mud Toads" in abandoned crabpots along our tour route.

Oyster toadfish are a truely ugly fish - but sort of "so ugly they're cute". They are brown, have forward facing eyes, funny little pectoral fins, scaleless, wrinkled slimy skin and nasty sharp teeth. They can reach a length of 15 inches, but the ones I found were both under 6 inches long. Oyster toadfish eat crabs, anemones, clams, shrimp, sea urchins, mollusks and small fish. The males make a grunting noise to attract females and have the unique task of guarding the eggs lain by their mate. When pulled out of the water, they often make a distinctive gasping noise.

Burrfish are another funny little fish with forward facing eyes found in the marshlands behind Holden Beach. They have no teeth and instead have a beaklike jaw they use to eat mollusks, crustaceans, and sea urchins. Like a puffer fish, burrfish blow up when threatened, but where puffers are smooth, burrfish have obvious rigid spines on their bodies. The burrfish I encountered (who was only about 3 inches long) puffed up huge when he saw me, then darted away once I drifted by in my kayak. They are rather cute and look much like a cartoon fish.

While oyster toadfish can be eaten (if handled carefully, as they have a nasty bite), the flesh of the burrfish is toxic and shouldn't be consumed. Getting a good look at a fish without a hook and line isn't easy, but it can be done. Come take a tour with us and see for yourself.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mollusk Egg Casings

One of the coolest things about leading kayak tours for Outside South Adventures is discovering new things. While leading a trip earlier this summer, I found an interesting object floating in the water, but wasn't sure what it was. It was round and looked a lot like a suction cup ball, but the texture gave it away as something marine. Just last week I found another one, which was larger and looked more like a brain. It's pictured below.

After a little internet research and a call to a good friend, I determined that the above is a Florida conch egg casing. Prior to working in Holden Beach, I spent 15 years just an hour north in Wrightsville Beach, NC, and had never seen a casing of this sort. Nor have I ever seen a Florida horse conch in that area. Apparently North Carolina is the northern most range for the Florida horse conch and for whatever reason few are seen around Wilmington, NC. It's southern range is Mexico, and it's Florida's state shell.

Three types of whelks (a similar mollusk) are found in North Carolina - lightning, channelled and knobbed, but these are distinctly different from the Florida horse conch. Whelk egg casings look like coins stuck together in a string, and are a common sight on NC beaches. One is pictured below with the Florida horse conch casing.

Every day on the water is different, and you never know what you might find or see. Come on a tour with us and see for yourself.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Surfs Up!

Outside South Adventures offers private surfing lessons for ages 6 and up and surfing camp for ages 10-14. We are located in Holden Beach, NC - about an hour south of Wilmington and an hour north of Myrtle Beach, SC. Holden Beach is known for its familiy atmosphere and gentle sloping beach which makes it a great place to learn how to surf.

Check out 10 year old Jeb riding down the line during day two his first surf lesson!

Pricing (board is included)

Private lessons are $75 for 2 hrs

Semi-private $50 per person for up to 5 participants

Surf Camp is $200 per person for 3 days of lessons from 9:00-11:30am (T-W-TH, 4 person minimum)

Eco Scavenger Hunt by Kayak

You never know what you'll see in the marshlands behind Holden Beach, but you almost always see more creatures at low tide when the water has receded from the creeks and the animals are out feeding.

This summer Beach Fun Rentals at Holden Beach started a new division called Outside South Adventures. We offer surfing and kayaking adventures, and one of our most popular trips this year has been our eco scavenger hunt from kayaks.

Common sights include fiddler crabs, blue crabs, laughing gulls, great egrets, red tailed hawk, mud snails, marsh periwinkles and shrimp jumping in the boats (no kidding!). On the less common end of the spectrum, we've also seen the following on scavenger hunts this year - dolphin, sea turtles, glossy ibis (below), osprey, great blue herons, Florida conch egg casings, stone crabs and diamond-back terrapins (a marsh turtle).

The eco scavenger hunt is great for kids of all ages, but come prepared to get out of the boats and walk around in the marsh (CLOSED-TOE SHOES REQUIRED). The hunt is done as a team game and you'll earn points for all the creatures you find and correctly identify. You'll be playing against all other teams from prior eco tours so come prepared to score big. For a list of all the past teams and their point totals go to our Outside South website. Don't worry, we educate you before you go and give you cheat sheets to take along.

If walking around in the marsh muck looking for creatures isn't your bag, but you'd still like to get out on the water and try kayaking, go on our Marshland Tour. We run the Marshland Tour at high tide which allows for deeper exploration of the backside creeks - and cleaner feet at the end of the trip. Come check us out!