Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wrapping up our stay at Santee NWR


As we were wrapping up our stay here at the Refuge, talking to Garrett, I mentioned that I never made it to two of the four units within the Refuge, and hadn’t seen many ducks at all.  He said, “Well, we’re going to have to fix that before you leave – we’ll get you out in the field!”

Santee NWR is made up of four separate units – The Bluff Unit is where the Visitor Center, Indian Mound and our volunteer campsites are located, so I’ve been all around here; the Cuddo Unit is where the Wildlife Drive is, and we had driven around it several times since we’ve been here – although that drive is only a very small area of the unit.


Pine Island is primarily a waterfowl impoundment area, although Marcie says there are some pretty big alligators out there, and Dingle Pond is a Carolina Bay – an elliptical depression in the ground, for which there is no explanation or known origin.

So, for my day in the field, we set out in the truck with me in the shotgun seat – Tom got demoted to the backseat for the day!  Our first destination was the Cuddo Unit – Garrett wanted to see if there were more ducks around now that temperatures up north had turned colder, and he had to check the hog traps.  We drove over by the impoundments first, and it looked pretty quiet when we got there.

Looks like a quiet day at the Refuge

Garrett continued along the service drive, and started to flush some ducks out of their hiding places.



Then more – he was pointing out mallards, black ducks, teals, wooducks,

More ducks











but they all look the same to me!  He was pointing out differences in how they fly, and size, and other clues he uses to identify them . . . but it would definitely take me a while to get the hang of it!

On a side note – on Jeopardy tonight there was a clue that included a picture of a duck where you had to know that it was the blue variety of a duck with another color in it’s name . . . I knew it was a blue-winged teal, and none of the contestants did!

LOTS of ducks

We watched the ducks for a minute longer, then left the area so they could settle back down.

We looked for hogs running through the woods, and although we saw evidence of them rooting through the ground, we didn’t see any hogs.  We exited the impoundment area, and continued along the wildlife drive.  When we arrived at Alligator Alley, we saw something we hadn’t seen on any of our previous drives – an alligator!

Cuddo Alligator

With our biologist tasks complete at Cuddo, we headed over to Pine Island to check water levels.

Pine Island Unit

Pine Island










I spotted a Great Egret in the water, and a Great Blue Heron flew past the truck as we checked water levels.

Great Egret

Blue Heron flying away

Biologist at work . . .

Checking water levels

and that was about all that was happening at Pine Island. 

As we drove around on our way out, we startled a Bald Eagle and it flew off in front of the truck, but I was too slow to get a picture.

We also passed by these duck nesting boxes that had been built by some scouts, but I can’t remember the kind of duck they are for (that’s about when the Bald Eagle flew up in front of us, so I was kindof distracted).


I’m not sure if Garrett was impressed by all my questions about ducks, or annoyed, but he kept answering them!

Dingle Pond Trail


Our last stop of the day was the Dingle Pond Unit.  Garrett wasn’t familiar with the trail, so we opted to park the truck at the entrance and walk in.

Dingle Pond

We stopped at the Observation Deck overlooking the water, and spotted more ducks.

Dingle Pond

We were in an exploring mood, and it was a nice day, so we took a walk along the trail, and then around the Dingle Pond Boardwalk loop.

Sun setting

Boardwalk over the water

somebody needs to get out here and clear the leaves from the boardwalk, though . . . add that to the “To Do List”.

Dingle Pond Loop

It was a nice day, and fun getting out in the field for a change . . . and now I’ve officially visited all four units of the refuge!

We really enjoyed our time spent at the refuge – this was our first experience volunteering in the national system, and it went really well.  The staff and volunteers at Santee are super nice, and we consider them friends.  If Nicolas stays in Charleston, or comes back to Charleston at some point, we would definitely come back here again.

As a bonus, in exchange for our hours of volunteering, we received a free National Park annual pass – great deal!


Yesterday we said our good-byes, and after getting most of our stuff packed up and cleaned up, we drove down to Charleston to take Nicolas out to dinner one more time.  Being close to Nicolas was our favorite thing about spending these three months in South Carolina, and even though we had to say good-bye for now, it won’t be for long.  We’ll be back through in the Spring!

Ready to hit the road!

Ready to roll!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas Celebrations

Christmas presents

Following Nicolas’ Graduation ceremony, we all changed clothes, picked up Casey and Nicolas’ car that had been packed the night before, dropped off our Jeep at the Wildlife Refuge, and hit the road for Michigan

Our plan was to go the entire distance in one day, and we had some potential winter weather moving into Ohio and Michigan, so we were anxious to get going.  We pulled out of the Refuge at 12:30, with an estimated arrival at my Mom’s house around midnight – we had our fingers crossed that all would go well!

I took the first shift, and got us through South Carolina, then Nick took over to get us through the mountains.  We were doing really well and making great time, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset in Tennessee.

Tennessee Sunset

Tom took over the driver’s seat in northern Tennessee and got us into Ohio, and at that point our midnight arrival was still looking pretty good.  Nicolas was sleeping, so Tom kept driving until we got north of Dayton.  We stopped to top off the gas tank so we wouldn’t arrive on empty or have to worry if the weather turned bad – that turned out to be an omen!  Nicolas took over the drive for the last leg, and the weather took a bad turn!

Drizzle quickly turned to freezing rain, and in no time the roads had turned into a sheet of ice!  Nicolas slowed WAY down!  The last 140 miles should have only taken just over 2 hours, but in those conditions it took us over 4-1/2 hours!

We watched semis jack-knife right in front of us, cars and trucks spin out on overpasses, and we had to stop every 15-20 miles to clear ice off the windshield and wipers.  It was not fun . . . although Nicolas thought it was!

A thick layer of ice

Clearing the windshield


WE all had to take our coats and sweatshirts off in the car because we had the heat turned up so high to try to keep the windshield clear, we were burning up!

I must say, Nicolas did a great job – he stayed calm and in complete control of the vehicle at all times.




At 3am, we finally pulled into my Mom’s driveway!

We arrived!

Whew – I’ve never been so relieved to arrive somewhere!

Baking cookies


The next several days were spent on appointments, shopping, baking, wrapping, and visiting with family.








Evenings with Grandma

Casey waiting for Santa












Visiting with their buddy, Tom!


Nicolas and Bryce added some new ornaments to Grandma’s tree.




The holiday weekend arrived, and as is tradition, we celebrated on Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with Tom’s.

But first, Bryce decided we needed to open our presents to each other on Christmas Eve . . . he just couldn’t wait!

They got each other shirts that represent their own teams,

Each sporting the other's team

and Tom got an MSU “ugly” Christmas sweatshirt!

Tom's MSU sweatshirt

Christmas Eve at my Mom’s house is definitely the louder, more animated celebration.  There’s a new generation of great-grandkids, including the newest family member, Emma.

Newest family member - Emma

Soon enough, she’ll be running around with her cousins, Jaxon and Graysen, but for now she sticks with Mom, or Grandma & Grandpa.

Emma with Grandma and Grandpa


It was a wonderful evening of presents, food, and fun.

Bryce, Diane and Tom

Donnie, Tina and Alex










Danny wasn't feeling too good


Graysen is ready to open presents!

Graysen decided to attack Sandi

Time for some cards











Almost too much fun . . . by 2am, it was time to break the party up!

Almost done!

After breakfast with Grandma on Christmas morning, and a few more small presents, we headed up to Tom’s brother’s house for the next celebration.

The kids exchanged gifts,

Bryce's new hat




and Grandpa gave them all lessons on the fine art of Yo-Yo-ing.

Grandpa schooling the kids


Showing his stuff

Bryce getting lessons

After a delicious prime rib dinner and vintage game on Monopoly, we said our good-byes and headed back to my Mom’s to get the car packed up.

Nicolas needed to report to ELT school at 7am on the 27th, so it would be another marathon day of driving for us on the 26th.  Bryce would be sticking around for a while yet (his classes don’t start up until January 9th), though, but our visit was over.

We got an early start on Monday morning, and enjoyed a much nicer driving day,

Blue skies and mountains ahead!

Through the Smoky Mountains


although it was still almost 9pm by the time we arrived at the Refuge.

It was a quick trip to Michigan and back, but it was nice to see all the family, and we enjoyed our visit!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas 2016!