Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pluff Mud Perspectives Offers Calendars for Sale to Benefit Charleston Audubon

                Yes, I did say calendars!    For many years I have been creating nature calendars as Christmas gifts for family and friends.  They have now become a much anticipated Christmas tradition.  I am flattered to say that some of my family and friends have actually cut the pictures out and framed the images for home decor.

                  About 3 years ago, Charleston Natural History Society (aka Charleston Audubon) began buying them to sell at the Annual Holiday Oyster Roast.  This year, I am now able to make them available for sale on-line with no financial risk to myself or to Charleston Audubon.    All of this is possible due to a change in the printing company to   Careful!  If you want to check out MY calendars, there are a few direct links below! 

                  First, let me tell you about your options.  There are 2 versions -- named Southern Currents & Pluff Mud Perspectives -- and 2 sizes of the wall calendars.  Then, there are 2 versions of the desk calendars, also named correspondingly -- Southern Currents and Pluff Mud Perspectives.   The desk calendars follow the same basic designs as the wall calendars with a few changes in the photo selection.  Both versions of these calendars give a peek at nature as I have seen it from late 2013 through 2014.  Most of the photos celebrate birds and other wildlife of the beautiful South Carolina Lowcountry.  A few images come from my 2014 summer trips to Tennessee, Maine and New Brunswick.   These calendars are printed on high quality photo cardstock and hold their shape well when hung on the wall.  This product has Cathy's seal of approval for quality.  I can promise you that I am darn fussy!  I am donating all proceeds from the sale of this calendar to the Charleston Natural History Society (aka Charleston Audubon), a chapter of the National Audubon Society, to support its educational programs as well as to support the McAlhany Nature Preserve.  Warning:  The Southern Currents Wall calendar has a handsome photo of an Eastern Cottonmouth (snake).  For the squeamish, I recommend the  Pluff Mud Perspectives Calendar which has no snakes.  

               Without further ado, I reveal the list of links to the page where you can preview and purchase these calendars.   Think Christmas gifts!  And remember that if you give this calendar, you are giving twice -- once to the recipient and once to Charleston Audubon.  

Southern Currents Nature Calendar 2015 (wall)

Southern Currents Nature Calendar 2015 (desk)

Pluff Mud Perspectives Nature Calendar 2015 (wall)

Pluff Mud Perspectives Nature Calendar (desk)

              To all family and friends who have regularly received the calendar as a gift:  Yes, you are still receiving a calendar this year from me.  But perchance you have wished in the past that you could make gifts of the calendar that you enjoy each year.  Well, now you can!  Do not hesitate to take a peek and purchase the calendars  for people on your gift list.  The tradition continues -- you are still on my list.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Attention Friends: Time for the Annual Charleston Audubon Holiday Oyster Roast!

Advertising the Best Oyster Roast in the Lowcountry --  Photo Credit: Lesser Squawk, November/December 2014
Do not miss Charleston Natural History Society's (aka Charleston Audubon) Annual Holiday Party -Fundraiser - Oyster Roast -- December 7, 2014, from 2 to 5 pm at Bowens Island!       

               Wow!  I feel for all of the blog readers who do not live her locally in the Charleston area.  You are going to miss out!  Charleston Audubon is once again hosting the BEST Oyster Roast at the BEST Possible Oyster Roast location, Bowens Island (talk about local flavor -- this place is quintessential down-home, coastal Lowcountry), with the BEST Oysters.  Why are they the best oysters?  We are going to be slurping down the tastiest Lowcountry, Pluff Mud grown oysters available with a serene down home view of the creeks and marsh where these babies are harvested.  I have eaten oysters from France, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Florida and Louisiana and I can say that these scrumptious Lowcountry oysters are the richest in flavor.  The secret lies in the Pluff Mud, you know.  You have not truly experienced the best of this critter until you have tried ours!

Charleston Audubon enjoys Bowens Island oyster at annual oyster roast -- December 8, 2012

Juicy Lowcountry Oyster --

Shapely Lowcountry Oyster

           For those of you who do not partake in oysters, there will be several varieties of homemade chili, breads and yummy holiday desserts to fill you tummies.  And to assuage your thirst, we offer soda.  There will also be a keg for those who like beer.  Donations are appreciated. 

Liquid Sunshine adds to the ambiance-- view from the covered dock where the roasted oysters are served at Bowen's Island CNHS Holiday Oyster Roast 2012 -- December 9, 2012

Brother Jimmy comes by boat sometimes -- Photo taken from dock at Bowens Island Restaurant -- CNHS Holiday Oyster Roast 2012 -- December 9, 2012

Not only will we be enjoying oysters, chili and views, we will also be entertained with the wonderful music of the talented duo, Dan Rainey and Dallas Corbett from the band, Wrenwood.  This is a treat well worth the entry fee with or without oysters, chili, and view.

Wrenwood -- December 9, 2012

Wrenwood -- the most excellent band that plays for the Charleston Audubon Oyster Roast -- December 8, 2013
           That's not all, folks!  We are also offering a fabulous gift selection via Silent Auction.  You can find the perfect Christmas gift here.  Make the winning bid and you will come away with a great gift  and the knowledge that your dollars are going to support our educational programs and our preservation efforts on our McAlhany Nature Preserve.  

         Now you can pre-pay for $25 per person for all you can eat or pay $30 at the door using this printable online form.   Alternately, you can go to the Charleston Audubon webpage and click the "donate" button, then send $25 per person through PayPal (you don't need to be a PayPal member); your name will be logged along with the donation.  Tickets will not be mailed.  Instead, a list of pre-paid names will be at the door.  

          Just picture it -- being outdoors on the coast on a southern December afternoon with that soothing view which has inspired many an artist, with the aroma of the Pluff Mud marsh combined with the delicious smell of steamed Lowcountry oysters, the camaraderie of fellow nature lovers, the fab music with local mucisians, and a little spicy chili, yummy desserts -- there's no beating it!  You should all come -- those who live near and far!  Do not miss out!  If you live a piece down the road, come make a weekend of it with the oyster roast being your final stop before heading back home.  You will not regret it!  See you there Sunday, December 7, from 2 - 5 pm! 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Christmas is coming! Calling all Birders! Christmas is Coming!

Birders, Roger Smith and Brad Dalton, on the 2013 Santee CBC -- Santee National Wildlife Refuge -- December 20. 2013

                 Yee haw!  Yes, Christmas is coming!  And all birders should be doubly excited -- I know that I am!  Not only do we celebrate this important holiday in all the traditional ways --  spending time with family & friends, feasting, caroling, decorating, going to see the lights, shopping, etc. -- we birders have an extra little spark of excitement in our eyes as we anticipate 3 weeks, from December 14 to January 5, of Christmas Bird Counts!  South Carolina serves as a wintering destination for many species that breed further north.  This 115 year old Citizen Science project serves a worthy purpose as we take a census of these birds in their winter habitat.  The data accumulated via these counts help scientists to estimate the health and viability of bird populations and then serve to inform important decisions on methods needed for conservation.

                To help those of you who do not know much about Christmas Bird Counts, I have found 6 short videos on the Audubon site to help you learn more about this rich (and exciting!) opportunity to experience the great outdoors, to see fabulous birds and to contribute to their welfare by participating in a count.  The first 2 videos embedded below will help you to understand the history of this wonderful annual event.

The video below tells the story of one of our oldest birders in the US.  It is an endearing film.  I hope that I am still birding with my beat-up binoculars when I am that old!  Watch and be inspired!

Audubon's Christmas Bird Count told by Chan Robbins from Audubon Science on Vimeo.

         And kids!  We need to encourage the children to go find the birds with us!  They are the future care-takers of this planet and we need to engage their interest in the beauty and in the necessity of conserving our natural world.  When you watch this video, you will see how one Audubon member in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is helping local children to learn about the importance of birds.

Kids who bird on Audubon's Christmas Bird Count from Audubon Science on Vimeo.

              The next video will show you what a South Texas Christmas Bird Count looks like both out in the field and at the countdown afterwards.  Not all Christmas Bird Counts can host countdowns but the feelings of camaraderie and satisfaction are strong in a room of birders having completed the counts for their territories!  It is a positive experience indeed! 

The next two videos show what it is like to count birds during an irruptive year.  An irruptive year is one in which massive numbers of normally northern dwelling birds move further south than usual.  This most often occurs when food supplies are insufficient in their normal winter habitats.  The first of these two videos shows a birder in the snow-covered North Woods of Maine.  You cannot help but note the sheer joy in this man's expressions as he listens and looks for species which in irruptive years move down from Canada! 

Christmas Bird Count Irruptive Species from Audubon Science on Vimeo.

This second of these 2 videos on irruptive species carries an inspirational message as photographer, Bob Sacha, talks about and shows his photos of irruptive owls.  Watch this one and you will be awed and hopefully moved to action.

Audubon CBC-IrruptiveSpecies@BobSacha from Audubon Science on Vimeo.

As he says, these birds are the messengers, and it is our responsibility to act on the message!  And we can start by doing such activities as participating in Christmas Bird Counts and in sharing our love of birding and our desire to conserve the planet for all life forms.

            Finally, while writing this post, I found one more video on Christmas Bird Counts, called Counting on Birds.

This special hour long documentary, which first aired last Fall on New Hampshire Public Television, was produced by NHPT's Windows to the Wild with host Willem Lange, (a impressive nature series similar to our SCETV's Patrick McMillan's Expeditions).
Willem Lange birding in New Hampshire during the filming of Counting on Birds -- Photo credit:  New Hampshire Public Television

The 30 second clip below serves as a short teaser. 

This show traces the history and the goals of the Audubon Christmas bird count and then depicts how people from New Hampshire, Ecuador and Cuba participate in the Christmas Bird Count!  You can actually watch the whole program on line below within this blog.

Or better yet,  by clicking on the  Counting on Birds logo above, you can see the high definition version on the NHTV's site!  For more on this documentary, visit the Counting on Birds website.

            So, Calling all Birders -- novice, expert and everyone in-between!  Christmas is coming!  Christmas Bird Counts begin December 14.  Once you begin, you cannot stop!  I promise -- the CBCs give a whole new meaning to the Christmas season.  You have a 3 week opportunity to get out and enjoy the great outdoors and help with the census taking on our wondrous birds.  Local area (Charleston) residents interested in participating should check for information on the calendar on the Charleston Audubon page.   Carolina birders can make use of the Carolina Bird Clubs list of Christmas Bird Counts to find one close-by.  Others should visit the National Audubon Christmas Bird Site to find a count close to home and to learn more.  Or, you can check with your local birding organizations.

            Carl and I have presently signed up for 5 different counts within a 2 hour drive of home.  I am contemplating adding a 6th one.  This just may be my favorite time of year!  If you could see me, you would see the gleam of excitement and anticipation in my eye.  Come out and experience the joy with us in this best of treasure hunts -- Christmas Bird Counts!  Calling all birders ..... 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Crisp Fall Day at Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

Fall Foliage -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

               Cool and crisp temperatures have descended upon us and I, for one, am delighted!  Shorter days mean we must make the most of our opportunities to go outdoors and enjoy the beauty that nature provides to those who look.  And yes, you do have to look a bit to find Fall color in the SC Lowcountry.  But seek and ye shall find it at Caw Caw Interpretive Center near Ravenel, SC.

             Saturday a week ago,  I decided to join up with the Saturday morning bird walk conducted at Caw Caw.  When I arrived, the temperature was down in the upper 30s but the morning was warming nicely.  My friend and birding buddy, Keith McCullough, naturalist for the Charleston County Parks was leading the walk.  Fellow birder and member of Charleston Audubon, Patrick Markham was also in the group.  As always, it is good to bird with people you know!  There were a few others that I did not know.  It is equally nice to bird with the newcomers, novices and experts alike.  The novices bring a wonderment to the experience as they ooo and ahh over common species, and the experts help all to see the birds!  The cool temperature and the chilly wind initially kept some of the smaller songbirds at bay.  But we enjoyed the views of wading birds, gallinule, and ducks along the dikes.  A Great Egret and Bald Eagle treated us to a couple of nice fly-byes.

Bald Eagle -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

Great Egret -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

 A large flock of Fish Crows flew past the moon providing me with a nice photo op!

Fish Crows and Moon -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

 As I became caught up in the photographic potential that morning, I began to lag behind the group.  This was certainly not a problem as I know my way around the park. 

             I stopped to watch a beautifully lit Great Blue Heron fishing in a canal.

Great Blue Heron -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

My presence and the shutter clicks did not distract the heron from his mission one bit.  On the other hand, I presume that my shutter clicks did disturb some critter in the woods that began rustling about.  Both the heron and I stopped and looked in the direction of the noise ....which also stopped for a  moment.  Thankfully, it was too cold for a gator to be thrashing about like that.  So we, the heron and I, continued to go about our business -- he, searching for fish, and I taking some portrait shots when, all of a sudden, there came much more thrashing and then loud wing beats.  A huge Wild turkey flew out of the woods right over the heron.  He was gone in a moment.  He was much too quick and my field of view too limited for me to capture him in a photo.  What a cool sight it was though!  A beautiful, exciting memory made to be recorded in words rather than in image. 

The heron had no luck in the shallows and thus waded out to deeper waters.  Here, he found success!

Great Blue Heron head plunge -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

Prey in beak -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

A contented. well-fed heron returns to the shallows -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

                    The group had long moved on.  Inspired by the scenery and the wildlife, I was happy to be able to move about at my leisure and to attempt to capture the artistic beauty in the subtle signs of a Lowcountry Fall.   Before leaving the dike area for the woods, I shot this towering top of groundsel shrub in its last fuzzy, glorious moment shining brilliantly in the sun.

Groundsel, aka Sea-myrtle, a favorite with Monarch and Gulf Fritillary butterflies -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

       Then, continuing to bird, I made my way towards the boardwalk in the swamp.  By this time, it had warmed up a good bit.  Out of the wind, the songbirds were a bit more active in the woods.  I found plenty of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, Blue-headed Vireos and Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets.  But what really captured my attention and inspired my artistic impulses at the moment, were the bright red leaves of the Sweetgum and the Red Maple trees.  A blend of red, orange, yellow and brown leaves carpeted the forest floor and the water's surface.  The light shining through the red leaves with the blue backdrop of the sky reminded me of stain-glass masterpieces in the gothic cathedrals of France.   Below you will find my attempts to capture Nature's annual chefs d'oeuvre.

Sweetgum leaves -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

Sweetgum -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

 A deeper hue of blue reflected off the dark water broken up by the fallen leaves reminded me of rich, dark tapestries.

Red Maple, Sweet Gum and Black Gum leaves -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

I need some help identifying some of these leaves -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

A few brilliantly-lit leaves created enticing reflections on the water's surface. 

Sweetgum -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

Making a circuitous route, I took the Swamp Sanctuary Trail towards the Laurel Hill settlement area and then the Rice Fields trail back towards the Interpretive Center.  This choice provided me with even more opportunities to view and photograph Nature's colorful back-lit handiwork. 

Red Maple leaves -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

Sweetgum -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

Sweetgum -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

           I also found a small flock of White-Throated Sparrows who sadly did not cooperate for a photo.  Nor did the Swamp Sparrow, the flushed American Bittern, the Common Gallinule or the Song Sparrows. Not willing to be outdone by a bunch of dieing foliage, this perky Northern Cardinal  provided his own version of bright red, posing quite nicely for several shots.  The best of which is below.

Northern Cardinal -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

This Ruby-crowned Kinglet either had no ruby crown to flash or was simply unwilling.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

          At this point, the birds began to garner more of my attention again.  And this is when I got my Bird of the Day!  Not 50 feet from me, perched on a short bare tree out in the marsh, I found this fabulous juvenile Sharp-Shinned Hawk!

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

I was pretty sure that he was a Sharpie due to his tiny size.  But I looked for other features, which were difficult to discern due to the fact that he was grossly backlit.  The notch in his tail was another indicator of Sharpie.  And his small head and broad shoulders pointed to Sharpie.  Thankfully, he accommodated me by flying to another nearby perch.  His wingbeats were erratic and quick and in flight he looked to be the size of a dove.  On his new perch, I was able to see the coarse striping on his breast and I caught a glimpse of his pencil-thin legs.  By this point, I was convinced of my ID -- he was a beautiful Sharp-shinned Hawk who patiently allowed me multiple shots.

Sharp-shinned Hawk -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

Though the next photo is not as sharp, it does give a peek at his pencil-thin legs.

Sharp-shinned Hawk with a view of his pencil-thin legs and coarse belly streaks -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014

           What a wonderful Fall morning!  Caw Caw, as always, provided a feast for the eyes and the soul.  My morning blend of being with birders and then being solo was perfect for me that day.  My busy schedule has kept inside working more than I would like.  Thus, this excursion was a wonderful reprieve --   time to share in a passion with fellow birders and then to also have solo time to contemplate nature's treasures -- the flora, the fauna and the scenery.  I returned home, renewed and serene.  Thank you Caw Caw!

Sweet gum leaves -- Caw Caw Interpretive Center -- November 15, 2014