Nature to meet art at Grand Bay NERR

April showers bring May flowers. The old saying not only explains that April can be a particularly wet month, but also that May is a time when everything is definitely out of winter hibernation. Animals are active, and flowers are spreading their leaves to get as much spring sun as they can. With all of the beauty of nature fully expressed in May, the Grand Bay NERR is taking the opportunity to bring nature and art together in another batik art workshop.

“Batik art is basically drawing with melted wax on fabric,” said Ayesha Gray, Grand Bay NERR’s director, ecologist and artist. “It is an ancient art form originally thought to be from Indonesia, but also used around the world. The wax acts as a resist to paint and dye. The fabric is usually painted and dip dyed, and as the wax cracks it makes a unique look on the fabric. Batik combines drawing, fabric painting (very much like watercolor) done in layers, and then dip dyeing.

“The process is long, which is why we do it over two days. The artist must release all their intention with the art, as they have to wax over their carefully painted portions, and crumble the piece for dip dyeing in a bucket,” added Gray, who will be the instructor for the upcoming workshop.

Moth-batik Nature to meet art at Grand Bay NERR

Artists attending the workshop have the option of staying overnight at the reserves, dorms. All skill levels are invited to attend, but space is limited to only 16 participants. 

For information and registration, contact at Avery Sward at avery.sward@dmr.ms.gov or at 228-697-0553.

The cost for the workshop is $60 with an additional $15 for the dorm stay.

 

Learn more »
Comments Off on Nature to meet art at Grand Bay NERR

Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation

17758573_10154729347034412_7066742658905596963_o Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation

Click the image above to view larger.

Imagine that you have never visited Jackson County before. You aren’t from the area at all, and you want to know what to do on your first visit. Considering this area of Mississippi is home to one of the largest free-flowing rivers in the United States, that is a site that should definitely make the agenda, and one of the best ways to see it is through Eco-Tours of South Mississippi.

 

Owned and operated solely by Captain Kathy and Jeff Wilkinson, the couple bought the business in the spring of 2006 after Hurricane Katrina.

“My husband and I have had boats and spent time on the water our wholes lives, so it was just a natural progression,” said Kathy Wilkinson. “All along we had hoped to do some kind of business that involved boats. We tossed around a lot of ideas over the years, and we settled on the eco-tours because the river is such a valuable resource. We thought it was important for people to get out and see it and the wild life and ecosystem first hand. They can also see the importance of conserving it because it’s such a unique resource.”

 

17758573_10154729347034412_7066742658905596963_o Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation
17758573_10154729347034412_7066742658905596963_o Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation

They enjoy being one of the unique small businesses in the Jackson County community.

“We’ve had guests from all over the world,” Kathy explained. “We feel like we’re making a good contribution to the economic impact that tourism has on our area. Visitors tell us they will plan their eco-tour before they even leave their homes, so they ask us where to stay and where to eat. That gives us a chance to refer them to local small businesses, and we enjoy that opportunity. Your typical eco-tourist appreciated the opportunity to patronize small businesses.”

 

The couple also works to do community outreach with their small business.

“This Saturday we are partnering with the city of Gautier for Earth Day and offering free boat tours,” she mentioned. “We also do little outreach events through out the year like that one. We will donate boat trips to charities and fundraisers. In fact, one of the offshoots of our Eco-Tours business is that my husband started a nonprofit to promote having litter-free waterways.”

Kathy said there were instances when she would be conducting a boat tour and as the boat turned a bend, there would be coolers and refrigerators littering the area.

“It distracts from the message that this is supposed to be a pristine, natural environment. It’s kind of shocking for some people to see that, but it also relays to people the importance of volunteering in the community. When I hear people complain about any trash they may see, I tell them don’t wait for the city to do it but to go out yourself. I try to stress the importance of securing things so they don’t blow out of your boat or truck and get washed into the river.”

The Wilkinsons will try to pick up any trash they do come across during any tours, but it’s not easy keeping the area clean.

“We don’t go out looking for trash or make it it a mission to pick up all the trash because we just wouldn’t finish our tours in time if we picked up every piece of trash we saw.”

Not only does the business offer motorboat tours, but also kayak tours, overnight trips and rides out to the barrier islands. 

“We started our business doing two-hour motorboat tours. We spent more and more time doing those motorboat tours and I ended up not having time for my personal kayaking, so I decided to add that to the business. We decided to add the trips to the barrier islands because we love to go out to Horn Island and Petit Bois Island, which are both nationally designated wilderness areas. We like going to those islands because not everyone gets the chance. There aren’t any ferries going to those islands, and I hope there never are. Ship Island, for example, is a lot more developed, but Horn Island and Petit Bois Island aren’t like that. It’s not for everyone, but it’s something really special and unique for people to do. We figured the more services we offered, the more opportunities have to serve people.”

Because the couple are the only ones that operate the business, they have a lot of responsibility.”

“We work really hard and work year-round. We do everything. We maintain the boats and wash kayaks and do the tours. We when have overnight trips we do all the food prep. We work together to do it all, so it’s a really good bond for us too. We enjoy working the business together.”

However, this also offers some flexibility.

“We’re able to offer tours all year long and we can customize our trips to do just about anything, except fish and jet ski.”

17758573_10154729347034412_7066742658905596963_o Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation
17758573_10154729347034412_7066742658905596963_o Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation

While they do operate a business, the Wilkinsons are still very passionate about conserving the Pascagoula River.

“It’s a great experience, taking people out there. It’s another opportunity to show people how important it is to conserve natural resources and preserve our area. It’s unique in its designation as a wilderness area. It gets to be a teaching moment. Like, the ride out to the barrier islands is interesting because you can see different sea birds and dolphins and stingrays. At this time of year the water is really clear. It’s not necessarily a secret because a lot of locals go out, but some people don’t really understand what a barrier island is or where they are located. It’s really a great experience.”

After speaking with Kathy about the business, it is clear this couple is passionate about what they do.

“If you can find a business to do that’s your passion, it’s not like work at all; it’s just fun. We get to meet people from all over the world, and they are just like sponges. They are ready to be informed and they’re interested. I feel like it is a privilege for us to be able to do this, and the fact that we make money from it is icing on the cake.”

To get your own Eco-Tour experience, visit their website for details and call to book a reservation.

Pay it Forward Fridays:

JaxCoHome would love to hear about people doing good in our community. If you know someone that is a champion for our community, the environment, education or local business, fill out the nomination form by clicking here.

Learn more »
No Comment

Moss Point students visit Audubon Center to prepare for state test

With help from volunteers from Chevron Pascagoula Refinery and the Audubon Master Naturalists, 15o students from Magnolia Middle School in Moss Point got an early Earth Day celebration at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center

In preparation for the MST2, 8th graders from Magnolia Middle School spent April 13 at the Audubon Center.

“This is one of the ways to help support them, encourage them, help them review but also for them to have a lot of fun,” said Erin Parker, Programs Manager at the center.

Six different stations were set up for the students to rotate through to see how what they are learning in their science classes can apply to real life.

“Today the kids are doing things like testing the water quality at Rhodes Bayou, which runs right behind the center and continues back to Magnolia Middle School, so the kids know it,” Parker explained. “We have a meteorology and weather station where they are looking at patterns in hurricane formation and doing a lot of data and graphing today. There is a stations, so they’re learning a bit about astronomy and the tilt of the earth and what causes seasons. There is a station about native plants and pollinators, and they’re looking at animal adaptations and how plants and animals have evolved to sort of be collaborators. There is a station where they are looking at bird beak adaptations. The model organism they are using are little brown beans in a field, and it’s really hard for some beak adaptations that they’re using to capture enough food to survive. They have a final station where they are learning about trophic levels and we’re using all kinds of organisms from the bayou.”

The Audubon Center offers field trip programs for students of all ages, and it is extremely easy to book a visit. For many students, hand-on learning with real-world applications makes the lesson more memorable. Parker noticed an energy in the visiting 8th graders.

“They’re high energy and seem to be having fun, and the teaching staff is great that came with them over from Magnolia,” she said.

To book a field trip to the Audubon Center, visit the website for details.

 

Learn more »
No Comment

Scientist preaches importance of estuaries

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is filled with unique ecosystems provided by its estuaries. Estuaries are usually found where rivers meet the sea, creating a body of brackish water, which is a mixture of fresh and salt water.

Often called nurseries of the sea, estuaries provide vital nesting and feeding habitats for many aquatic plants and animals.  Estuaries also help to maintain healthy ocean environments. They filter out sediments and pollutants from rivers and streams before they flow into the oceans, providing cleaner waters for marine life. Birds, fish, amphibians, insects, and other wildlife depend on estuaries to live, feed, nest, and reproduce.

NERR-frog Scientist preaches importance of estuaries

With how many species depend on estuarine environments, places like the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the people who work there are so important, such as Dr. Ayesha Gray.

NERR-frog Scientist preaches importance of estuaries

Gray is the director of Grand Bay NERR who studies aquatic ecosystem functions and the effectiveness of habitat restoration projects. She develops and conducts ecological research with her colleagues to better understand how fisheries are supported by wetlands.

“We aim to understand how this special estuary works and what it does, so we can know what actions are best in managing it,” Gray said.

However, Gray doesn’t just focus on working with her team, but also educating the community on the importance of estuaries by developing the reserve’s outreach programs.

NERR-frog Scientist preaches importance of estuaries

“I think it is important for people to understand what ecosystems do, because they do such important things for us – create food, clean our water and air, absorb storm surge, etc.,” Gray explained. “Estuaries are important nurseries for fish and shellfish, where commercially caught fish often grow up before moving offshore.”

However, Gray’s focus isn’t just on education, but also on allowing people to enjoy the estuaries.

NERR-frog Scientist preaches importance of estuaries

“I also think estuaries are beautiful and special places than enrich the human soul,” she said. “We often conduct kayak tours and encourage our visitors to see the marshes from the water. Kayaking is especially nice way to see the marshes because it is a quiet way to travel and you can see all the birds and fish and other critters as you go along.”

In short, Gray just wants to make sure the Jackson County community understands the beauty and importance of the many local estuaries the way she does.

“Estuaries are vital to the coastal way of life, and I find the more people know about them, the more people love them and want to protect them.”

Pay it Forward Fridays:

JaxCoHome would love to hear about people doing good in our community. If you know someone that is a champion for our community, the environment, education or local business, fill out the nomination form by clicking here.

Learn more »
No Comment

Local scientist works for education, conservation

lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation

Click the image above to view larger.

Boasting numerous educational programs for all age groups, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center has become a staple in Jackson County.

Serving the largest free-flowing river in the United States, the center promotes education about the river and leads conservation efforts to the surrounding environment. Leading the effort the whole way is Dr. Mark LaSalle. 

Mark LaSalle is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award. As the Director of the Audubon Center in Moss Point, LaSalle is responsible for coordinating the continued development of the center as well as expanding the center’s educational programs.

“My focus has always been on environment education and wetland restoration, so it was natural that when I learned about the possibility of this center coming to be that I wanted to be part of it,” he said. “I’m always looking for a challenge, so building something like this from the ground up for the past 10 years has been fun for me.”

LaSalle is a wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. Not only does he help to educate visitors to the Audubon Center, but also everyone in the surrounding community about the unique resource that is the Pascagoula River. 

“I work promoting and protecting this resource,” he said. “I like to think of conservation as a three-legged stool that is held up by educational programs, the science to back it up and public policy to make it all happen. We are constantly working on engaging the community about a resource we are trying to protect. We work to be a partner with the community and promote nature-based economic development. My world is education.”

lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation
lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation
lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation

However, LaSalle stressed that nothing would be possible without his partners at the center who execute everything he dreams. 

“I couldn’t do it without them.”

Another passion of LaSalle’s is to educate the youth of the community on the area’s natural resources. He feels they are the future.

“I feel like this younger generation is not as connected to nature as when I grew up, with all of the technology that is now so readily available,” he said. “Also, children are the building blocks for keeping resources like the river protected. I can get current elected officials on my side, but if I don’t work on the future elected officials then I’m in trouble. Yeah, not everyone will run for office or get elected, but these children will grow up and vote. We might not get an immediate result from these education programs we coordinate, but we will see it down the road.”

Anyone who has the chance to speak to LaSalle about his work can easily hear the passion in his voice about everything he does. He offers a great piece of advice that can apply to anyone, no matter their interests.

“You have to love what you’re doing or you have to do something else,” he said. “Find something you love doing because you’re going to be it a long time.”

Pay it Forward Fridays

JaxCoHome would love to hear about people doing good in our community. If you know someone that is a champion for our community, the environment, education or local business, fill out the nomination form by clicking here.

 

Learn more »
No Comment

Audubon Center holds spring break programs

17796024_1463180050380388_8764190110847778968_n Audubon Center holds spring break programs

 

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center will offer programs for students during spring break.

The Vacation Day programs are half-day programs for students to explore, through hands-on activities, nature and natural phenomena.

Designed like a typical summer camp day, students will learn about a topic through science, art, games, and more. 

Friday, April 14: Natural Egg Dyeing and All Things Spring

Let’s get creative! Each participant will take home at least 6 naturally-dyed eggs. We’ll do a nature scavenger hunt, plant some spring seeds, and learn about signs of spring. Pre-registration is REQUIRED by 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 12th for the natural egg dyeing program!

Session 1: 9 a.m. til noon for grades k-2

Session 2: 1 p.m. til 4 p.m. for grades 3-5

Tuesday, April 18: Wild Weather 

Have you ever wondered about the weather in Mississippi? During this vacation day program, we’ll make a weather wheel and learn to use weather equipment. We’ll also talk about how to be safe during different types of wild weather!

Session 1: 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. for grades k-5

Wednesday, April 19: Migration Station

Did you know that many birds from all over North America migrate through the Gulf Coast? Our beautiful coastal environments provide food, shelter, and rest areas in the fall and spring. We’ll learn all about birds, flight, migration, and more at this camp!

Session 1: 9 a.m. til noon for grades k-5

Thursday, April 20th: Life Aquatic

What lives in the bayous and bays that make up our backyard? Join us to get up close and personal with our fish and other aquatic creatures that call our coasts home. 

Session 1: 9 a.m. til noon for grades k-5

Friday, April 21st: Reptile Rendezvous

Our cold-blooded neighbors- from lizards to snakes to alligators- love our warm spring afternoons. Learn about how to safely find, observe, and identify the scaly critters that call Mississippi home. 

Session 1: 9 a.m. til noon for grades k-5

Outdoor Adventure Programs for Middle and High School Students 

Looking for something to get your middle or high school student out of the house over spring break? Try one of our afternoon outdoor adventure programs!

Kayaking Rhodes Bayou 

We’ll learn the basics of kayak strokes, how to use a map to figure out where we are and where we’re going (and how to get back!), and get a chance to explore the Bayou and Beardslee Lake via kayak. ALL participants must wear a life jacket (provided) and something more substantial than flipflops. Please dress to get a little wet and enjoy an afternoon of adventure.

Session 1- April 12: 1-4 p.m. grades 9-12

Session 2- April 19th: 1-4 p.m. grades 9-12

Session 3- April 20th: 1-4 p.m. grades 6-8

Cost is $10 for members and $12 for non-members. Each Vacation Day program requires pre-registration, including complete student paperwork. Visit the Audubon Center website for details.

Learn more »
No Comment

Attract Hummingbirds to your Backyard

March 15, also known as the Ides of March, doesn’t have a sinister connotation in Jackson County. It’s the day that marks the annual return of our summer residents, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. 

2015-09-17-13.53.46-224x300 Attract Hummingbirds to your Backyard

A Ruby-Throated Hummingbird rests on a twig

These fast-moving nectar-drinkers return from their winter habitat in Central and South America in mid-March each year just as the first flowers appear on our native cross vine and coral honeysuckles. 

Hummingbirds spend the summer in Jackson County, seeking out nectar from flowers and feeders. During their nesting season (June-August) they will spend more time seeking out insects, particularly caterpillars, to feed their young and you may see less of them during this time. 

The best way to attract hummingbirds to your backyard is to provide them with plenty of nectar sources. A combination of  native plants, a few special tropical blooms, and nectar feeders will help keep your hummingbird visitors happy and healthy. 

Here are some tips and tricks to attract hummingbirds to your yard:

Nectar Feeders

 Simple nectar feeders can be filled with a mixture of water and white table sugar, in a 4 parts water to 1 part sugar ratio. Do not fill your feeders completely full, as the sugar water tends to ferment quickly in our hot climate. Add a small amount to your feeders and keep the rest in your refrigerator to slow spoilage. 

Feeders will need to be cleaned regularly (at least weekly) during the warmest months as the sugar water attracts ants, bees, and can quickly grow mold. Scrub the parts (inside and outside) with hot soapy water and a dash of vinegar, rinse well, and refill. You’ll often find your resident birds impatiently awaiting the return of their favorite feeder!

It is NOT recommended that red food coloring be added to the nectar solution, and some evidence indicates that red dyes may be harmful to hummingbirds.

Native Plants

Planting native plants with tube or trumpet shaped flowers encourages hummingbirds and other winged pollinators to your garden. Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), and various salvia species provide plenty of nectar.

Native plants are adapted to our Coastal climate, are typically more tolerant of our native insect pests, and provide habitat and food for a variety of wildlife. Native plants generally require less from gardeners (except maybe some pruning when they overgrow their space) than plants adapted to other weather and climate regimes. 

Tropical Plants 

There are some wonderful tropical plants that can be added to encourage hummingbirds as well. The bottlebrush tree (Callistemon citrinus) is a familiar sight, though it is actually native to Australia, and its beautiful red flowers bloom just as the hummingbirds return to Jackson County, making it a great addition to a bird-friendly backyard. Many tropical plants can be grown as annuals here along the Coast as they cannot survive even our mildest winters and are welcome garden guests during the summer. Fuschias (Fuschia magellanica), cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), and other bright and cheerful flowers can keep hummingbirds well fed and gardeners happy. 

 

Learn more »
No Comment

Audubon Center offering summer camps

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center is offering fun, nature-based summer camp programming for a variety of age groups.

Elementary, middle school, and mini-camps run from 9 a.m. until noon at the center. Our high school junior naturalist program runs 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. each day, and is field-trip based. Dates for the camps are listed below.

 

 

  • Mini-Camp for children entering kindergarten or first grade
    • Session 1: July 18-20
    • Session 2: July 25-27
  • Elementary Camp for children entering second through fifth grades
    • Session 1: June 5-June 9
    • Session 2: June 12-June 16
  • Middle School Camp for students entering sixth through eighth grades
    • June 19-23
  • High School Junior Naturalist Program students entering ninth grade through twelfth grade
    • June 26-30

 

Elementary and middle school camps costs $100/week per child for non-members and $90/week/child for members. Each week of camp includes a boat trip with McCoy’s River and Boat Tours.

Our high school junior naturalist program is $135/child for members and $150 for non-members.

The shorter mini-camps run Tuesday-Thursday and cost $50/camp/child non-members and $45/camp/child for members. We do not take the youngest campers on the Boat Tour. 

Visit the Audubon Center’s website for more details and to download the registration forms.

 

Learn more »
No Comment

Spring Nesting Season Has Begun

bluebird-nest-5-eggs Spring Nesting Season Has Begun Eastern Bluebirds commonly lay 4-6 turquoise eggs

 

According to the North American Bluebird Society, a non-profit that oversees bluebird conservation and education, the Eastern Bluebird nesting season begins on March 1st. Try telling that to our local Jackson County bluebirds, however, that started constructing their nests in early February.

By March 1st, many nest boxes not only were full of the pine needle and grass nests that are typical of Eastern Bluebirds, but the first clutch of 4-6 turquoise blue eggs were already laid.  

Bluebird eggs, like many songbirds, hatch after about two weeks of incubation. Bluebird parents both take an active role in raising the young ones, feeding them large quantities of insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates. The young birds rapidly grow from featherless and helpless to noisy feathered “teenagers” begging for food. Within three weeks of hatching, these babies will be fully fledged and ready to fend for themselves. 

Once the fledglings leave the nest- some willingly and some encouraged by the parent birds- the adult male helps to feed them while the adult female starts the process of laying a new clutch of eggs. In our warm coastal climate, songbirds like bluebirds can raise four or more clutches in a season. 

Encouraging nesting birds in your yard is as simple as putting up a nest box appropriate to the species you hope to see and protecting it from predators. Bluebird boxes may also attract Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, House and Carolina Wrens, and more. Patterns to make a nest box can be found online for a variety of species. It is important to protect your nest boxes from predators- everything from raccoons to snakes to neighborhood cats like to eat bird eggs and young. 

It’s also critically important that we don’t disturb, touch, or collect nesting birds. Songbirds, as well as all of their nests, eggs, and feathers; are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

If you observe a baby bird that has fallen from its nest, continue to monitor it without touching it. In many cases, it is learning to fly and simply misjudged the landing. The parents are typically watching it and feeding it regularly. If the fledgling is in danger from predators, traffic, or something else, you may scoop it up and put it on a nearby branch out of the way, but where the parents can still observe the baby and feed it. 

Help our songbird populations have a successful nesting season by putting up nest boxes, keeping them clean and free of predators, and observing the babies from a safe distance. 

 

 

Learn more »
No Comment

NERR Hosts Estuary Day

Capt-Lee NERR Hosts Estuary Day

Click the image above to view larger.

Chevron Pascagoula Refinery recently pitched in to help the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) with its annual Estuary Day event.

This awareness and education day drew more than 30 people to the reserve, which is located to the east of the Pascagoula Refinery. Attendees boarded small boats, including Chevron’s Captain Lee, to visit with scientists out in the reserve and learn more about the work of the Grand Bay NERR.

Special thanks to Pascagoula Oil Spill Response Team (PORT) member Mike Dean (M&R, PORT Team) for captaining Chevron’s vessel, and to Dale Shirley (PGPA) for spearheading Chevron’s participation.

Learn more »
Comments Off on NERR Hosts Estuary Day