Carolina Wild Photo (the blog)

Wild Horses After The Storm

by on Oct.07, 2018, under Locations

The wife and I headed to Beaufort this first week of October to try for some new wild horse photos, now that it’s been a month since Hurricane Florence pounded the coast and inundated eastern North Carolina. The wild horses of Beaufort and Shackleford Banks seem to have weathered the storm with grace, as they have for hundreds of years along the Outer Banks.

These wild horses run along the ocean beach where great dunes stood only a month before, now completely flattened.

The weather certainly did not feel like October. It was 85 degrees daytime and a humid 75 at night, which made for uncomfortable trekking. On day one we arrived too early to check in at the motel, so we took a ferry across Taylor Creek and hiked on Town Marsh Island (Rachel Carson Reserve) to scout out how the island had fared in the storm. When we reached the marsh and “watering hole” where we expected to find the horses, we discovered that the watering hole was under water…. salt water to be exact. The marsh where the horses like to feed was completely covered by an unusually high tide, which we later learned had been occurring all week. These tides had forced them to shift their habits and locations. But even more surprising, the great 20-30 foot dunes on the ocean side of the marsh were completely gone… flattened into a low sandbar separating the marsh from the ocean. I hardly recognized the place. I began to worry this trip might not turn out as fruitful with images as those of the past. With no photos to show for a hot afternoon of trekking we returned to the ferry pickup point to call it a day.

Perfect light of a late afternoon with horses feeding on the west end of Town Marsh Island.

The morning of day two began with a private charter boat ride to Cape Lookout for some shelling. The hurricane had washed an eye-popping bounty of shells onto the beach, and we ran about like Sandpipers trying to decide what to pick up first. There were so many to be had that we tossed shells we normally would have been excited about just to make room in our 5-gallon buckets for better ones. After an hour or so we simply had to quit, as we could not carry any more. On our ride back to Beaufort for lunch we scouted along the sound side of Shackleford for horses. Then we checked out the sound side of Carrot Island and Marsh Island along the reserve to plan for the afternoon’s photo session.

A stallion heads toward the watering hole, backlit by a low afternoon sun.

The afternoon of day two took us to Rachel Carson Reserve to play hide and seek with the horses. We finally tracked them down on the extreme western tip of Town Marsh. I had never seen them in that location in either Spring or Fall, the two seasons I frequent this place. By the time we reached them the sun was already setting, and I had to crank up the ISO higher than I liked. Late afternoon and evening are the times you will most likely catch them “horsing around”, or even fighting. I was not surprised when the dust started flying as stallions began scuffling and chasing on the beach. I did the best I could with the conditions, and managed a couple of fair shots before we gave up for the day.

Late day horse play among the stallions stirs up sand and dust on the beach.

Stallions chasing on the beach as the sun sets.

Day three began with our charter guide, Captain Monty of Seavisions Charters, taking us out to the eastern end of Shackleford Banks, across from the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. First we photographed horses on the small tidal islands in sight of the lighthouse, managing to get the lighthouse in the background. The only problem is that you’re always shooting into the sun here in the morning to get the lighthouse in the shots. But we made the best we could of it.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse rises behind this Shackleford pony wading between islands.

Then we rode over onto the main island where half a dozen horses were feeding on the dunes near the beach. As usual, they were too busy eating to give us any good head up poses, but that’s the norm with these wild horses. You’re always hoping for some interaction between the horses, which adds so much personality and interest in the photos. About noon we headed back to Beaufort for a break and to get ready for the afternoon shooting on Rachel Carson Reserve.

These horses on Shackleford graze high atop the dunes overlooking the Atlantic.

The afternoon of day three started out by spotting the horses location from the boat. They were hanging out by the watering hole again, so we rode around the island to the access point to hike to the watering hole. Of course, by the time we arrived on foot, the horses had wandered off, again headed to the far western tip of the island. So, back to the boat and around the island to reach them. By now it was late afternoon again, with a low sun. But the good news was that the light quality was simply outstanding, and we were treated to rich color and soft light for our photos.

Near sunset on our final day the light was as good as it gets, making for amazing color on these horses grazing the salt marsh grass.

The sand bars on this end of the island had attracted a flock of Black Skimmers, providing an opportunity for some bird photography as well. So I divided my attention between the horses and the skimmers as the sun drooped lower and lower toward the horizon.

In the fall you can find flocks of Black Skimmers.
In the fall you can find flocks of Black Skimmers.

Too soon the failing light of sunset brought an end to our last day of photography at Beaufort. We took last minute shots as we headed back toward our charter boat, where a mare with her yearling watched us as we went by. On our ride back to the yacht basin we saw more dolphins to top off our day, and watched the colors change in the sky as the evening closed in. Perhaps we’ll return later in the fall when it’s cooler. Maybe the horses will be back to their old familiar habits as the area recovers from the ravages of Hurricane Florence.

A mare with her yearling.

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