Photo essay: Freshwater pearl stringing

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Arkansas Freshwater Pearls. The little beauties brought me to Jacksonport State Park where I attended a pearl-stringing workshop with my  mother and two aunts. Jacksonport is located on the White River in Newport with a rich history tied with the Civil War. It was the former Jackson County seat and was overrun with Union soldiers in 1962. It was eventually recaptured by the Confederate.

Still, trouble persisted in the once vibrant community after the war. The community built the above $80,000 courthouse in 1872 but refused the Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad’s request for a land grant. It eventually went to Newport aiding that town’s growth instead. A fire would then burn 12 businesses with homes followed by a flood ruining more.

In 1892, the county seat moved to Newport with the courthouse standing empty for years. According to the state park, it became home to a number of community operations and businesses over the years starting with a public school. It later housed, at separate times, a cotton gin, a poorhouse, a granary and eventually wild animals.

The Jackson County Historical Society purchased it in 1962 to refurbish it and it now houses the community’s history including artifacts from its pearl-diving heritage.

It was in the late 1980s that pearls were discovered. According to the state park, the pearls were worn by the Indians as beads  and locals scoured the White River for as many as they could find. A button factory opened in Newport with locals providing the mussel shells.

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What’s interesting is how residents looked for the freshwater mussels holding the pearls. Arkansans know a thing or two about making do with what you have. People would use garden hoses to breathe through while under water along with diving helmets (above) made out of old fire extinguishers, hot water tanks and even an old torpedo casing (according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas). The discovered pearls fetched about $10 each during the depression era, which was about a week’s worth of wage.

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We didn’t use local pearls for our pearl-stringing workshop. We discussed the community’s history with freshwater pearls before heading upstairs to our work station.

For our necklaces (or in my case bracelet), we used a 12×7 mm filigree oval fish hook clasp; white lotus cultured pearls; size E white silk thread; flexible beading needles, a metal yard stick, needle nose pliers, and scissors. It was also extremely handy to have two experienced park rangers on hand to correct our mistakes. We were among the first to arrive and the last to go (by 30 minutes).

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Luckily, the park rangers had a cheat sheet for us explaining each of the 13 steps. The steps, as written, are:

STEP 1: The first being to determine the length of the necklace we wanted;

STEP 2: Cutting the length of thread 4-times the determined finished length. Size E silk thread.

STEP 3: Thread your needle. At the end of the threads, tie an overhand knot, securing the two ends together;

STEP 4: Thread on two beads and the clasp. Slide them down toward the knot.

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STEP 5: Pass the needle back through the bead closest to the clasp.

STEP 6: Pull the working thread until the clasp is snug against the first bead and 1″ of thread remains between the first and second bead. Tie an overhead knot using the tail end and the working thread. Pull the knot tight so it rests against the pearl closest to the clasp.

STEP 7: Pass the working thread through the second bead then slide it against the first knot.

STEP 8: Make an overhead knot using the tail thread and working thread. Slip the knot over the nail. Work the knot while it’s still on the nail down to the bead. Then slowly work the knot off the nail and using your fingernails to push the knot tight against the pearl. Try not to tighten the knot until it’s touching the pearl.

STEP 9: Thread on the rest of  your beads. (Optional — put the pearls on 2-3 at a time) Space the beads 8-10″ from the beads that are already knotted. Slide the bead next in line up against the last knot. Repeat Step 8 until placed knots between all of the beads except for the last two.

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STEP 10: Thread the other piece of the clasp onto the working thread. Bring the thread back through the last strung brad. Pull the thread so the beads are tight against the clasp.

STEP 11: Tie a half-hitch knot between the last two beads. Pull tight.

STEP 12: Bring the working thread through the second to last bead.

STEP 13: Trim the thread on both ends of the necklace (or bracelet). Optional: Apply glue to the first knot on both ends.

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The above is my finished project — yes, I was too lazy to make a full necklace. It still turned out great with one exception. It was too large (see below).

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I spent a good while reworking the clasp before handing it over first to a park ranger to fix and eventually my mother. My mother was the one to finally correct my overlarge bracelet. And it looks great! 🙂 I ended up finishing first so I toured the upstairs courtroom. Below, are more pictures:

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Photo essay: A Jolly Rogers good time!

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A Bonaparte’s Gull comes out of the water with a fish at Jolly Roger’s Marina while other Bonaparte’s Gulls and a Ring-Billed Gull circle above.

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A Yellow-rumped Warbler watched us eat at a park.

2-Bonaparte's Gull, first winter herring gull, Ring Billed Gull

A Bonaparte’s Gull (from left), a first winter Herring Gull, and a Ring Billed Gull flying. The Herring was being chased by the other two at one point.

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The Bonaparte’s Gulls were the most abundant.

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Bonaparte’s Gulls dive for fish.

5-Bonaparte's gulls, common loon

Bonaparte’s Gulls fly above a Common Loon resurfacing with a fish.

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We headed to the farthest point in the marina dock and was met with a pair of Canada Geese.

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Eventually, the female laid down beside us. The next day, she laid three to four eggs in the same spot.

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The male tolerated us in their area, but not other Canada Geese. He would chase them away and then swim back in the above place.

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A Common Loon was the first to bravely swim near us.

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Later, we would spot a Pacific Loon with other Common Loons.

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eventually Red-breasted Mergansers joined the Common Loon.

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More Red-breasted Mergansers swam past us to where the boats were docked.

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The darn gulls wouldn’t leave the Red-breasted Mergansers alone.

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A Common Loon and a lone Bufflehead get scared off along with a Bonaparte’s Gull.

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Near the end, the gulls went a little crazy with the Red-breasted Mergansers and the loons (not pictured) at the center.

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Finally, the Bufflehead Ducks headed in.

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We finally decided to leave our new Canada Geese friends and head home. I couldn’t resist this picture.

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I had just called it quits when this Eastern Phoebe appeared as I was leaving a Little Rock birder’s home. A nice way to end the day.

The Mountain Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird (top) and Mountain Bluebird (bottom, right)

Eastern Bluebird (top, left) and Mountain Bluebird (bottom, right)

On Friday, word went out that a Mountain Bluebird was in Arkansas — the second sighting in Arkansas on the books. The Mountain Bluebird is pretty common on open woodlands  … in the west. But, Arkansas is just east of its range.

So, naturally, I went searching for it on Sunday. It was found in an open field off of Hwy. 113 in Oppelo and, at first, I went to the wrong location. I reached out on the Arkansas bird listserv and immediately got help in getting to the right location.

It was great timing — I immediately spotted the Mountain Bluebird resting in the grass just below an Eastern Bluebird. The only difference between the two is that the Eastern has a deeper blue with red chests. The Mountain Bluebird eventually moved closer to us. Here’s some other pictures:

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Mountain Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Male and female Eastern Bluebirds

Photo essay: Great Horned Owls

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I finally saw my first owl. Well, actually it was three Great Horned Owls — a mother and two juveniles nesting near the top of a pine tree. I visited the area twice, taking pictures from across the street before I finally saw the first baby. I was pretty excited.

Great Horned Owls are common to the United States year-round. However, it was still my first time to clearly see an owl in the wild. I visited the nest mid-morning and late afternoon and, surprisingly, the mid-morning visit yielded the best results.

After the sighting, I had to go to allaboutbirds.org to read up on the Great Horned Owl. It was neat to learn that it is the “only animal that regularly eats skunks” and that they often take large prey, such as other owls, nesting Osprey and falcons.

The Great Horned Owl is also regularly harassed by flocks of American Crows that mob owls and “yell” at them for hours. According to allaboutbirds.org, “the enmity of the crows is well earned, however, as the owl is probably the most important predator on adult crows and nestlings.”

Here’s some more pictures of the Great Horned Owl nest:

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A wild turkey surprise

Wild Turkey1 (adult male southwestern)

I’ll admit I pass the hour driving to Arkansas’ state capital looking for birds. Typically, I’ll look for hawks, ducks and geese. I just never expected to add a Wild Turkey to the list!

I spotted this Wild Turkey, an adult male southwestern, earlier today near the only section of the trip that’s swampy. He was just walking along in the patch of grass between the road and the swamp like he had business to attend to in the small town that edges the swamp. It was random, but definitely worth the time to stop and take pictures.

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Canadians and Mallards

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Canadian Geese and Mallards were the main birds we saw Sunday and this morning. They basically had the run of our hotel and restaurant parking lots (which surrounded a small pond).

Most of our time was spent with family. My great-aunt lived a full life, and I was surprised to learn that she moved to France with her husband and small son in the late 1940s.

Her husband was stationed near a small village, and her son said the French did not like Americans even at the end of WW2. When his father worked nights, people would come bang on their windows throughout the night to scare them.

My great-aunt would also keep a pistol under her pillow just in case. Still, they weren’t too afraid. Her son said he could remember fetching fresh bread for his mother.

This is the same lady who happened to be in town when I was born. She was my “grandmother” so she could visit my mother and hold me.

We ended up having three hours of free time after the visitation so we visited Fort Harrison State Park.

It was a nice break and the park was fantastic. I could definitely see me using it as often as possible if I lived here.

It also had family history since my great aunt and her family were stationed at Fort Harrison before it became a state park.

On Sunday, the birds and a super fat squirrel greeted us at the cemetery. It was funny to see the geese surround us. I mean literally surround our car while we were leaving. There were even three geese on the roofs watching us.

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We’re now heading back to Arkansas. Just counting the hours until I can pick up my dog and be home out of the rain.

Reaching Indiana

We finally saw snow – discarded on the side of the road and sidewalks.

It’s 3:14 a.m. We’re finally in Indianapolis after an eight+ hour drive.

A death in the family spurred the last minute trip and, so far, we’ve seen about six deer, a bald eagle and an assortment of other birds.

Here’s some more quick pictures from the drive:

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