Pouring rain and rolling thunder couldn’t deter a crowd from gathering at Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary for the annual "Storks and Corks" fundraising dinner.

Over 122 people congregated in the center’s education building for a silent auction and socializing hour. Some were relatively new to the sanctuary in Jackson; others had been coming for decades.

“We were at the first Storks and Corks,” said Jene Howard, who came to the dinner with his wife, Joan. "It’s got to be at least 20 years (ago)."

The Howards can recall when Storks and Corks was first held in a vineyard – and that they ran out of wine at the dinner. Jene Howard has also photographed some of the sanctuary’s wildlife over the years, and some of his pictures hang in the center’s office.

After the auction, attendees head out for the main event of the evening. After the rain and thunder stopped, they trekked out to the stork ponds to view some of the local wildlife.

Birders got the chance to see ibises, herons and a flock of around 200 wood storks. One of Silver Bluff Audubon's greatest achievements as a wildlife sanctuary is helping the local wood stork population, which was placed on the endangered species list several years ago, rebound in the area.

The National Audubon Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental conservation, particularly for birds. Wood storks are just one of many species the 42 Audubon centers nationwide have helped protect.

Aside from providing dinner and a chance to view the local wildlife, Storks and Corks serves as a major fundraiser for facility upkeep at the sanctuary. The education building, which Aiken County schools visit throughout the year, needs to be replaced. The education program at Audubon outgrew it a few years ago.

"We are in a desperate, mad dash to try to raise funds to try to replace this building so that we can be fully operational for a full schedule of 50-plus school classes that are coming here,” said Sharon Richardson, executive director of Audubon South Carolina. “This is our big fundraiser.”

Richardson, who traveled from James Island in Charleston County for Storks and Corks, said the Silver Bluff sanctuary is a “major asset” to the Audubon society due to the amount of ecological resources and educational opportunities it provides to the area.

“I just love this place,” Richardson said. "I always thought of it as kind of a diamond in the rough."

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.