Branson arrival

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We arrived in Branson, Mo., late last night for a four-day getaway with my aunt and grandmother.

The decor at the Stone Castle Inn tickles me. The hotel is jammed packed. Christmas lights are already going up and, while traffic is busy, it’s not too bad.

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For once, we have no plans. It’s off to shop and visit a nearby state park.

Marshes and autoliners

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It has rained every day.

The rain comes typically in the afternoon giving us plenty of time to do all we want to. So far, we’ve mainly wanted to look around, reacquainting ourselves with the island. We last visited more than 10 years ago.

Jekyll Island was originally an exclusive winter retreat, The Jekyll Island Club, for U.S. elite. It was purchased in 1886 and hosted families such as the Rockefellers, Morgans and Pulitzers.

It became a Georgia state park in 1950 – unique to me since it is a “barrier island” off Georgia’s southeastern coast. It has tons of marshes, hotels and tourist-minded businesses.

We spent part of Saturday and some Sunday just looking around. The views are great, and Dad was fascinated with the huge ships carrying cars (Hoegh Autoliners). My only complaint? As the sole birder, I am unable to get pictures of some of the birds we pass in the marshes bordering the road. One such bird – a Roseate Spoonbill.

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Our home away from home

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We’ve finally arrived at our Jekyll Island rental. After 15 hours in a car (we stopped and napped along the way), my first priority was a shower.

We’re now about to unpack and head out to reacquaint ourselves with the place until it’s time to pick my sister and her husband up at the Jacksonville airport.

Here’s some pictures so far:

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Georgia bound

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I’m on the road, just five hours late. My sister, her husband and I loaded up my car with our gear, two boogie boards and tons of food and drinks.

Next? The task of fitting my carload into my parents already half-full impala.

It was a close fit but we did it. We’ve also managed to kill most of the mosquitoes that were in the car.

Now, we’re finally on our way to Jekyll Island. Only 11 hours and 13 minutes to go.

Bayou Meto springtime

Barn Swallows
Barn Swallows

I typically visit the Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area in the fall and winter — never spring and summer. I broke tradition this year by taking a late afternoon drive through the area with Izzie. Boy, was I glad I did. There were Barn Swallows, Dickcissels and Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds at the Halowell Reservoir while Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks lined the roads leading to and from the reservoir. Overall, it was a pretty drive with a gorgeous sunset (see the last pictures).

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Barn Swallow
Blue Grosbeak, Female1
female Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak, male
male Blue Grosbeak
Dickcissel, pair
A pair of Dickcissel

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Goose, Snow and Greater White-fronted
Geese — a snow and a greater white-fronted — that each had a drooping wing.

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Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting
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female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
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male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
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Spotted Sandpiper

sunset

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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!

1-Bonaparte's Gulls w:Ring-Billed Gull w:fish
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.
18-Yellow-rumped Warbler
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.
3-Bonaparte's Gull
The Bonaparte’s Gulls were the most abundant.
4-Bonaparte's Gulls w:fish
Bonaparte’s Gulls dive for fish.
5-Bonaparte's gulls, common loon
Bonaparte’s Gulls fly above a Common Loon resurfacing with a fish.
6-Canada Goose3
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.
9-Common Loon2
A Common Loon was the first to bravely swim near us.
10-Common Loon, pacific loon
Later, we would spot a Pacific Loon with other Common Loons.
11-Common Loon, Red-breasted Mergansers
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.
14-Common Loon, Bufflehead
A Common Loon and a lone Bufflehead get scared off along with a Bonaparte’s Gull.
15-Red-breasted Mergansers, gulls-bonaparte's and herring
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.
17-Flowers
We finally decided to leave our new Canada Geese friends and head home. I couldn’t resist this picture.
19-Eastern Phoebe
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.