Twelfth Tour with Collette–North to Alaska

Billie and I have just completed our twelfth tour with Collette Vacations—the Alaska Discovery Tour, Including a 7-Day Princess Cruise.

Trips with Collette Vacations

  1. June, 2006          National Parks Tour
  2. January, 2008    Panama Canal
  3. October, 2008    Exploring Greece and Its Islands
  4. August, 2009      Trains of the Colorado Rockies
  5. March, 2010        Italian Vistas
  6. August, 2010       Hidden Treasures of the Maritimes
  7. July, 2011             Exploring Britain and Ireland
  8. October, 2012      Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
  9. August, 2014        Resorts of the Canadian Rockies
  10. June, 2016            Spotlight on New York City
  11. September, 2016 Treasures of Northern California
  12. June, 2018            Alaska Discovery Tour, Including Princess Cruise

Vantage River Cruises

  1. May, 2013             Vantage River Cruise—Amsterdam to Budapest
  2. April, 2015            Vantage River Cruise—Paris to Normandy and Back

Trips on our Own

  1. January 2007 Spain
  2. April 2011 Kentucky Bourbon Trail
  3. January, 2017 Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island

We have traveled with approximately a dozen Collette tour managers, and Kathleen Fil certainly sits at the top of our list for service and efficiency.  Kathleen handled the Alaska Discovery tour to perfection, juggling what seemed like endless detail and information on multiple excursions offered by multiple tour companies, all without a single misstep.  She met us at the airport as expected even though it was midnight, and she was there at 4:00 am when we departed for our flight home.  Her informational meetings throughout the tour kept us up to speed with tour events and coming excursion opportunities, and her evening “love letters” slipped under our door kept us prepared for the events of the following day.

Thank you Collette for providing excellent Tour Managers like Kathleen Fil to make our travel experiences truly “experiences of a lifetime.”

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Church of the Cross

This week we visited with friends from Boone, Asheville, and Durham, NC at the Colleton River Plantation home of mutual friends from Boone.  This annual retreat has become a regular event in our lives since we moved to Sun City-Hilton Head, and this year’s edition was another satisfying hit.

We chose a book to discuss during our retreat, “A Religion of One’s Own” by Thomas Moore.  We read the book before gathering in Colleton Plantation and Billie and I led the discussion during two morning sessions.  We think the experience was appreciated by all, and the discussion seemed to focus our thoughts on trying to identify spiritual persons (not necessarily religious persons) in our lives.  Give that a try–it’s not so straight-forward as it seems!

We went on a field trip to Old-Town Bluffton where we toured the Church of the Cross with the assistance of Allan Strange, a docent on duty there.  This church is an historic Episcopal Church on Calhoun Street in Bluffton, SC.  It was built in 1857 and added to the National Register in 1975.

Church of the Cross, Bluffton, SC

Our friends Ralph McCoy, Nancy Spann, Billie Rhyne, Emily McCoy and Bunk Spann listen attentively to our docent Allan Strange as we hear the story of this historical treasure.


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The Goldfinches are back!

A couple of days ago we saw a pair of goldfinches flitting about our birch tree beside the lagoon, and we immediately put out our feeders filled with niger seed.  They took no heed that afternoon, but by the next day they settled in and fed happily in spite of the construction noise next door.

Hopefully these are advanced “scouts” returning from their winter havens and if so we expect many more of these beautiful birds in the coming weeks.

Expect more photos…


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Cedar Waxwings on the move…

What do you call a gathering of cedar waxwings?  A flock?  A flight? A pod? The Oxford English Dictionary lists these three options for birds in general but no term specific for cedar waxwings.  Today we were visited by a “tree full” of these beautiful birds, so I have invented my own collective noun to pay tribute to them before they leave for wherever their migration takes them.

The cypress tree out back on our lagoon was heavy with them today just as the rain began, and it must have seemed like a good location to weather the storm because they didn’t move until after we left for our yoga class.

  They are such beautiful birds that I always thrill to see one, let alone a tree full of them.



Update:  They are still here the next morning, and the early sun shows off their colors well.  Note the spots of red “wax” on the wing tips…



I wish them well in their migration travels.



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New Leaves

It’s almost spring here in the Lowcountry, and one of my favorite sights is the developing new leaf display which comes out just after budbreak.  Today I photographed a few clusters of new leaves on our Sunday morning walk here in Sun City-Hilton Head.

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Honeyhorn Camellias

I dropped by Honeyhorn Plantation on Hilton Head Island last week to check out the camellia garden.  I had thought I might have missed these beauties this year, but I was pleased to see they were still blooming.  Although I didn’t have time to linger, I took a few photos for later enjoyment and posted one to Instagram right away.  Here are a few more:

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Family Portrait

Billie and I often walk through the Hidden Cypress wetland boardwalk, especially at this time of year when the baby alligators have just hatched.  This week we took this route again and found to our delight a host of new babies posing with what we assumed to be their mother.

We counted five babies clustered around the mother in this family portrait, some posed in a jumble in front of her, one peeking over her nose, and one perched on her back.  Not far away we found three more babies soaking up some sun in another pile, so this hatch had at least eight new gators.

We understand that young gators have a perilous existence and are in danger of being eaten by male alligators, so the female provides some security in the early part of the babies’ lives.  Most, however, apparently do not survive to adulthood.  And maybe that’s OK, since with litters this large we would soon be deep in alligators!


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Double Vision VI

Today we started Double Vision VI, an art show jointly sponsored by the All About Art Club and the Photography Club of Sun City-Hilton Head.  I chaired the setup committee and spent yesterday and today getting art panels moved from storage in the art room to the Pinckney Hall ballroom and then set up in the pattern specified by the committee responsible for hanging the art.

Photos and paintings were checked in starting at 9:00 am, and the show was prepared and opened with a reception at 5:00 pm.  I haven’t seen the entire show yet but I’m sure it is a fabulous collection of art.

My photographic print entry is “The Watchers” which I took at the Tampa Bay shore of Anna Marie Island last summer.  I was surprised to learn that my framed print sold during the first hour of the show!

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Turkey Vulture

The cold January weather and the unusual snow cover must have generated some grazing obstacles for our birds, and the traffic in our back yard has been as unusual as the weather.  I’ve seen a wood stork, several merganser ducks, chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, bluebirds, the ever-present mockingbirds, and a turkey vulture.

The vulture was the most surprising of all since this visitor landed on the other side of the lagoon and then walked around to our back yard.  Turkey vultures and black vultures are not at all uncommon here (in fact, some residents have proposed that they be the official bird of Sun City), but they are mostly flying and I’ve not seen one grazing this far on foot in the past.  I was afforded a close-up view from our sun room as the bird didn’t seem at all disturbed that I took photos from various angles to get the best shot.

The mockingbirds claim ownership of everything around here, particularly the tree with berries outside our breakfast nook.  This guy is taking a drink at our birdbath while keeping a watchful eye over the shoulder for intruders who need to be chased away.

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We just had a very unusual winter storm that dropped four inches of snow on us here in Bluffton, SC.  The name of the storm was Grayson, and the fact that it was named suggests that it was unusual.  But in case you don’t fully realize the unusual nature of this event be aware that the last time Bluffton had snow was about five years ago and the last time we had as much as four inches was some thirty years ago.

The snow was beautiful and, unlike those years when we were living in Boone and needed to go to work, we had no where to go so we simply stayed home.  We didn’t lose power so we were nice and warm throughout the experience and we binge-watched old TV shows.  Walt and Henry of “Longmire” have become new friends, almost as well-liked as Raylan and Boyd of “Justified” from a few years back.

Weather has returned to our usual temperatures this week and we are adjusting to being out and about in the moderate winter-time weather.  Maybe it takes an event like Grayson to remind us of how well we have it here in the southern tip of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

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