The Dance of the Dung Beetle

IMG_4058Really, I thought these guys only lived in Africa. But in all truth, I have never really done much research on dung beetles, or how they carry out their business.

However, while taking a walk recently, this rather large object moving across my path caught my eye, so I moved closer to investigate. And what I saw was this massive dinosaur-sized beetle, rolling what looked to be a ball of poop. Backwards.

I immediately grabbed my phone to record what I was sure was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon in the Northern Neck.

Not knowing what it was exactly, I started with dung beetle because of the whole poop ball aspect of the situation.

Bingo.

So I did a little reading and found an hilarious video about dung beetles on You Tube, which explained a lot of what my dung beetle was up to. So in case you have never seen a dung beetle in action, check out my video. And be sure to watch the You Tube video too, because in spite its lighthearted presentation, there’s a lot of good info in there, too.

Three Northern Neck Organizations Receive $10,000 Environmental Grants From The Dominion Foundation

The Menokin Foundation, the Northern Neck Land Conservancy and Stratford Hall, all located in Northern Neck, have each received a $10,000 grant from The Dominion Foundation to support their environmental projects. The Foundation is the charitable arm of Dominion Resources and the parent company of Dominion Virginia Power.

The Menokin Foundation and the Northern Neck Land Conservancy’s programs focus primarily on the Cat Point Creek watershed—one of the most pristine examples of tidal freshwater systems remaining in the Chesapeake Bay region and the entire East Coast, according to the Nature Conservancy—while Stratford Hall’s project enhances the nature trail experience on its 1,900 acre property in Westmoreland County.

“Providing grants for environmental projects is one of the mainstays of our corporate giving program,” said Paul D. Koonce, chief executive officer of Dominion Virginia Power. “We know supplying electric power affects our world, so we focus on obeying environmental laws and regulations, operating our units efficiently, and giving back to our communities.” Grants are funded from corporate profits, not customer bills.

The Menokin Foundation will apply the Dominion grant funding to develop and implement its Meaningful Watershed Education Experiences Program.  The program is centered at Menokin’s 500-acre site in Richmond County along Cat Point Creek.  Targeted to students in grades 6-8 in the region, the program meets the need for off-campus trips and field investigation offered at no charge to the schools.

“The Menokin Foundation is so pleased to receive this generous grant,” explained Executive Director, Sarah D. Pope. “The objective of our program is to connect students to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed through their shared sense of responsibility and action.”

The Northern Neck Land Conservancy’s grant goes towards their outreach efforts to the community about land conservation needs, particularly in the Cat Point Creek watershed.

Jamie Tucker, Executive Director of the Northern Neck Land Conservancy (NNLC) stated, “Funds from the Dominion Foundation allows the NNLC to provide educational activities and public presentations to our local community such as a guided canoe trip on Cat Point Creek by a local botanist, planned for June 29.  The upcoming Boots & BBQ public event at Naylor’s Beach on September 15 will feature information about protecting the land and wildlife around Cat Point Creek.”

Stratford Hall plans to use this funding towards providing a new nature trail experience for its visitors.

“We are pleased that The Dominion Foundation has recognized the importance of Stratford’s nature trails through awarding of this grant,” said Paul Reber, Executive Director. “As we seek to upgrade our nature trails, provide our visitors with new maps and signage, this grant is a significant step toward accomplishing our goal.”

Stratford’s six nature trails on the 1,900-acre property span from the historic area around the Great House down to the beach on the Potomac River. They include the Spring House, Vault, Little Meadow, Silver Beech, Mill Overlook and Mill Pond Trails. The trails serve as a natural resource for leisure and education and are used by a growing number of visitors.

Dozens of environmental groups in Virginia will share $500,000 in grants this year from the Foundation to preserve wetlands, plant trees, monitor water quality and more. The first wave of grants – $275,000 –was awarded in April 2013 to 17 organizations.

A complete listing of recipients is available at https://www/dom.com/about/community/pdf/spring-2013-env-grants-awarded.pdf.

Dominion (NYSE: D) is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy, with a portfolio of approximately 27,000 megawatts of generation 11,000 miles of natural gas transmission, gathering and storage pipeline and 6,400 miles of electric transmission lines.  Dominion operates one of the nation’s largest natural gas storage systems with 947 billion cubic feet of storage capacity and serves retail energy customers in 15 states. For more information about Dominion, visit the company’s website at http://www.dom.com.

For more information about each of the three grant recipient organizations, visit:

www.menokin.org
www.nnlc.org
www.stratfordhall.org

Killdeer Cam – The Final Episode

Update – July 11, 2013

Having consulted with Mama Killdeer, Alice and I settled on a quiet theme of Gravel with Scattered Leaves for the nursery. With all preparations done, we settled in to wait for the big arrival with Mama and Papa killdeer.

What a busy week we had!

On Monday, there were only three eggs in the nest. I assumed that my worst fear had come true, and a predator had stolen an egg. Both parents were highly agitated and we left them alone with their grief.

On Tuesday, Sarah and I were in Richmond at a meeting. Alice was holding down the fort with a visiting group of about 40 Master Naturalists here for a lecture about bats. Needless to say, the parking lot was buzzing and there were too many cars too close to the nest. But! With three eggs still in the nest, the MN reported that they had spotted a baby following the adults around. Whew. No snake.

On Wednesday, we had two more hatch. And while we never saw all three at one time, I did sit for awhile to watch the toddlers and saw at least two together.

That last egg still lay in the nest, and we wondered if and when it might join the brood. I had parked my car in such a way as to discourage foot and auto traffic from the area.

The Lone Ranger
The Lone Ranger

By this time, Mama and Papa had gotten pretty used to Alice and me. So when I packed up to leave yesterday evening, Mama was on the nest and didn’t budge when I started loading up my car. Just a few feet from the nest, and with my back to her, I quietly got my camera out of the bag, turned it on and got it all ready to go.

Mama gave me the stink eye, thought about it briefly, and decided she didn’t like it. Off she hopped, with two babies scuttling behind her. In the nest, snuggled together, were #3 AND #4, though at first it was hard to tell them apart. But when #3 ran off to join the family, #4 – obviously freshly hatched – remained in the nest.

Mama scolded from the grass a few yards away, but I did get a few great shots before leaving them alone.

Web_killdeer-mom-and-baby

So glad I did, because when I got to work this morning, I was alone. These birds had flown. (Sorry, sometimes I can’t help myself). The nest was empty and there was not a killdeer in sight. What fun we had having them here. Hopefully they’ll nest here again in 2014.

Update – June 26, 2013

Boy, are we ever lucky to have Hullie Moore on the Menokin Board of Trustees. Renowned landscape photographer of the Shenadoah National Park, Hullihen Williams Moore has turned his lens (along with myriad other talents) to Menokin.

Hullie was here for an Education Committee meeting yesterday and I introduced him to Mama and Papa Killdeer. While I stalked the nest, he took these gorgeous shots of their defense and distraction methods.

June 19, 2013

Late last week, I noticed a killdeer sitting in the gravel drive that circles in front of the Menokin Visitor’s Center. She wasn’t doing anything odd, but her stillness and lack of activity caught my attention.

The next morning, Alice and I drove in (same morning as the “turtle sighting“) and she was back. Different spot, but just sitting. I remembered back several years ago when one laid eggs right in the parking lot at Nunnally’s in Warsaw, and commented to Alice that I bet that bird was going to lay some eggs in our driveway.

I approached where she was sitting and she hopped up, scolding and dragging her wing in an effort to lead me away from her spot. Not fooled, I scanned the area closely to see if I could find a nest.

Nothing.

I was out of the office the next morning, but called Alice to check on the situation.  The killdeer was back again, same spot. Much to the bird’s annoyance, Alice approached to see if there was any activity. Eureka! Two eggs. Mama and Papa Killdeer scolded, limped and yelled, but brave Alice took a picture anyway.

Excited as two expecting moms, Alice and I went into supreme protective mode. Alice dragged two old pallets to block the nest from any vehicles and we started picking out names. (Iris and Rosalie.)

Day three, Alice and I were busy discussing nursery colors and preschools. I went outside to look in on our budding family. Hot tempered Mama (or Papa, as I soon learned) – still displeased with the interruptions – revealed a surprise. Another egg! Three! (New name – Susan.)

Iris, Rosalie and Susan
Iris, Rosalie and Susan
A Killdeer nest is a shallow depression scratched into the bare ground, typically 3-3.5 inches across. After egg-laying begins, Killdeer often add rocks, bits of shell, sticks, and trash to the nest. Curiously, these items tend to be light colored, and this tendency was confirmed in one experiment that gave Killdeer the choice between light and dark sticks.

By now, we have hooked Sarah in on the excitement. What in the world will we ever do with triplets? Too anxious to let a day go by without any news, I stopped yesterday to check on my girls. Mama KD rolled her eyes and obligingly hopped off the nest, too used to me by now to make much of a fuss. Or maybe she was tired from her night’s labors. Because where there once were three, are now four.

We are out of names. What will we do?

Thinking that surely we will have hatchlings by week’s end at the speed we are going, we Googled the gestation period of Killdeer eggs. Much to our disappointment, this part of the process is not speedy.

Baby birds that hatch with their running shoes on are called precocial. Precocial means “ripened beforehand.” (The word comes from the same Latin source as “precocious.”) Killdeer babies are precocial. They hatch with their eyes open, and as soon as their downy feathers dry, they start scurrying about, following their parents and searching the ground for something to eat.

And then there were four.
The parent killdeer start sitting on the eggs to incubate them as soon as all the eggs have been laid. The killdeer embryos inside the first-laid three eggs do not start developing while the eggs are sitting out in the cold. But when they feel the warmth of the parent killdeer, all four killdeer embryos start developing at the same time. So even though the first-laid egg spends a longer time in the shell than the last-laid, all the killdeer chicks have the same development period. It takes 24 to 28 days of incubating for the chicks to hatch.

So, while we wait for the babies to come, here are some stunning shots of Mama (or Papa) at work, making sure that we stay far enough away from the eggs.

It’s a Boy! Eastern Box Turtle at Menokin.

The Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is a subspecies within a group of hinge-shelled turtles, normally called box turtles. T. c. carolina is native to the eastern part of the United States.

This handsome fella was crossing the lane at Menokin this morning on our way into work. Alice and I stopped to say hello. We remarked on his beautiful coloring and striking red eyes.  A little research into the Eastern box turtle revealed just what those eyes mean.

Eastern box turtles have a high, dome-like carapace and a hinged plastron that allows total shell closure. The carapace can be of variable coloration, but is normally found brownish or black and is accompanied by a yellowish or orangish radiating pattern of lines, spots or blotches.
Eastern box turtles have a high, dome-like carapace and a hinged plastron that allows total shell closure. The carapace can be of variable coloration, but is normally found brownish or black and is accompanied by a yellowish or orange-ish radiating pattern of lines, spots or blotches.
Skin coloration, like that of the shell, is variable, but is usually brown or black with some yellow, orange, red, or white spots or streaks.  Eastern box turtles feature a sharp, horned beak, stout limbs, and their feet are webbed only at the base.
Skin coloration, like that of the shell, is variable, but is usually brown or black with some yellow, orange, red, or white spots or streaks. Eastern box turtles feature a sharp, horned beak, stout limbs, and their feet are webbed only at the base.
Males normally possess red eyes (irises) whereas females usually display brown eyes.  In the wild, box turtles are known to live over 100 years, but in captivity, often live much shorter lives.
Males normally possess red eyes (irises) whereas females usually display brown eyes.
In the wild, box turtles are known to live over 100 years, but in captivity, often live much shorter lives.

Just think, this turtle may have been around when Menokin was still standing.

Francis Lightfoot Lee served in World War II

What? Wrong war, right?

Nope. Francis Lightfoot Lee did take part in World War II – as a Vessel Type EC2: Liberty Ship.

The call went out to American shipbuilders to mobilize for construction of a new fleet of troopships in 1941. “Built by the mile and chopped off by the yard,” and delivered at the rate of one a day, American ingenuity and can-do — facing a global challenge at the end of 1941 — transformed its shipbuilding industry and produced more than 2,700 Liberty ships in five years to move men and materiel to the front.

The Liberty ships — a vast new fleet for the war effort — was built in a national “Virtual Shipyard” that harnessed skills, resources, and facilities all across America. From 1941 to 1945, the United States increased its shipbuilding capacity by more than 1,200% and produced over 2,700 Liberty Ships.

Upon seeing the design for the Liberty ship, which was based on a British ship first built in 1879, President Roosevelt named her “the ugly duckling.” Here are some interesting facts about Liberty Ships:

  • Liberty ships were built in 1943 in as few as 16 days.
  • A Liberty ship could carry an amount of cargo equal to four trains of 75 cars each.
  • Libertys sailed with no name painted on their bows so as to give the enemy no hint as to their mission or cargo.
  • Services of more than 40 skilled trades were required to build a Liberty ship.
  • Every Liberty ship had its own distillation system to make sea water drinkable.
  • The first Liberty ship was named after Patrick Henry. The last 100 were named for merchant seamen who died in wartime service.
  • One hundred and fourteen Liberty ships carried the names of women; eighteen Liberty ships were named for African-American individuals.
  • Our favorite Liberty ship was named for Francis Lightfoot Lee!
FRANCIS L. LEE (E26) Francis L. Lee on February 3rd 1944 in convoy at position 36°56'N 75°00'E east of Cape Hatteras. Owned by U.S. Department of Commerce and operated by Seas Shipping Co. Inc. under WSA Service Agreement form GAA.
FRANCIS L. LEE (E26)
Francis L. Lee on February 3rd 1944 in convoy at position 36°56’N 75°00’E east of Cape Hatteras. Owned by U.S. Department of Commerce and operated by Seas Shipping Co. Inc. under WSA Service Agreement form GAA.
  • Ship Name:      SS Francis L. Lee
  • Namesake:      Francis Lightfoot Lee
  • MC Hull No.:     26
  • Ship type:        Standard
  • Laid down:      13 October 1941
  • Launched:       14 March 1942
  • Fate:               Scrapped 1965

Here’s an invitation from the Menokin Foundation. If you were a crew member on  the Francis L. Lee, or a friend or family member of one of her crew, or a person who helped build her, we would love to hear from you. We welcome your stories and pictures. We also welcome you here at Menokin, the home of your ship’s namesake.