Donal C. O'Brien, Jr. Sanctuary and Audubon Center in Corolla

Behind the Gates: Winter at Pine Island

There’s more to winter at Pine Island than cold weather and waterfowl. Join award-winning photographer Bryan Putnam for a tour.

Sanctuary Director Robbie Fearn and Educator Pamela Fearn were recently joined by award winning photographer Bryan Putnam at our Donal C. O'Brien, Jr. Sanctuary at Pine Island for a special look behind the gates. 

The sanctuary protects 2,600 acres of globally rare habitat on Currituck Sound—from extensive fresh water marshes to upland maritime forest—making the sanctuary one of the most important places for birds in the hemisphere. More than just habitat for migrating waterfowl to rest and overwinter, the sanctuary is home to all manner of creatures, from turtles, deer, and insects to wading birds, hawks, bluebirds, and more. No matter which way you turn, there will be birds! 

Join Bryan, who was named 2023 Cape Fear Living Photographer of the Year and featured in the Audubon Photography Awards Top 100, for a tour of Pine Island and some of its spectacular winter residents. 

Great Blue Heron standing in the mud with its wings close to its sides
Photo: Bryan Putnam,, #artsubliminaphotography

I better nor get any of this muck on my fine feathers. Wind Tides expose marsh edges creating excellent foraging for Great Blue Herons. 

Yellowlegs searching through the marsh for food
Photo: Bryan Putnam,, #artsubliminaphotography

Mirror, Mirror on the pond, with a tasty bug – I'll abscond.  Yellowlegs taking advantage of a waterfowl impoundment. 

Hawk standing on a path preparing to fly away
Photo: Bryan Putnam,, #artsubliminaphotography

Preparing for take-off! Coopers Hawk on the alert. 

Eastern Bluebird perched on a weather vain
Photo: Bryan Putnam,, #artsubliminaphotography

Staring into the NW wind – looking for signs of Spring. 

Yellow-Rumped Warbler perched in a tree
Photo: Bryan Putnam,, #artsubliminaphotography

Yellow-rumped Warbler using a wax myrtle – looking for lunch! Unlike other warbler species that migrate further south, Yellow-rumpeds are able to survive the winter in North Carolina because they can digest the waxes found in wax myrtle and bayberres. Some 185 bird species call Pine Island home. 

two eastern bluebirds perched on a purple martin house
Photo: Bryan Putnam,, #artsubliminaphotography

These Martin houses look nice! Maybe we should take the leap.. 

Martin houses on the sanctuary are used by large colonies of nesting Purple Martins in the spring and summer but serve as a nice perch for resting birds in the winter. Including these Eastern Bluebirds who commonly use single-occupancy bird boxes during the nesting season. 

Deer standing on the road to pine island
Photo: Bryan Putnam,, #artsubliminaphotography

Grassy shoulders on an entry road make good grazing for big bucks (and many of our other 21 mammal species). 

close-up on a box turtle on the road at pine island
Photo: Bryan Putnam,, #artsubliminaphotography

Warm days bring Box Turtles out to catch some Coastal Rays. They are amongst the 18 reptile species that call Pine Island home. (The amphibian species- some 9 species – are mostly quiet in the cold months). 

grasshopped perched on a tree
Photo: Bryan Putnam,, #artsubliminaphotography

Camouflage in the lichen helps late season grasshoppers survive. Pine Island has 73 species of lichen and thousands of insect species – we are still counting! 

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