Tag Archives: National Wildlife Refuge

First Day of Fall at Menokin

Fall is finally (kinda, sorta) in the air in the Northern Neck. A drizzly morning, that has since transformed into a sunny day, offered an extravaganza of autumny images for my itchy shutter finger. Enjoy my walk through the Menokin landscape.

And Happy Autumn!

 

 

Audubon Club Members Survey Birds at Menokin

Armed with binoculars and embraced by some rare nice weather, members of the local Audubon Society chapter met with Alice at Menokin on April 3rd.

The purpose of the visit was to orient themselves with the trails and get a feel for the number and types of species available here for birding enthusiasts.

flyway-path-4Menokin is situated in the Atlantic Flyway, which is a migratory route for many species. From the forests of New England, where birds like the Wood Thrush nest and breed, to the beaches and marshlands that stretch down the coast and provide habitat for Piping Plovers and Saltmarsh Sparrows, Audubon is employing tactics as diverse as this flyway’s ecosystems to protect the millions of birds that depend on this flyway. All migratory birds depend on healthy nesting grounds, healthy migratory stopover sites, and healthy wintering grounds. Audubon’s work with forest owners in the eastern United States is helping to ensure that dozens of birds have the habitat that they need to raise their young successfully. Their work to protect urban parks and coastal migrant traps and to reduce building collisions along the heavily urbanized Atlantic seaboard is helping maintain safer migratory pathways, and their growing partnerships in the Caribbean and Central America will help us protect the winter homes of these birds too.

Fifteen species were identified during the one-hour Menokin bird walk. Here is the list. Each picture links to complete species information and various recorded bird calls. Enjoy!

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove

 

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Loon
Common Loon
Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Blue-winged Teal
Blue-winged Teal
Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Horned Grebe
Horned Grebe
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle
Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebird

Menokin’s Doubtful Guest

The window in my office frames a beautiful view of Menokin. The native plants and shrubs around the visitor’s center bring me a constant and varied cast of feathered guests.

There are the regulars – Eastern bluebirds, goldfinches, hummingbirds, vireos. I more than occasionally spot wild turkeys and bald eagles grazing and hunting in the fields beyond the yard. Some rarer appearances have been made by migrating songbirds – scarlet and summer tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks and orioles.

What I don’t see – and this may come as a surprise to you – are pigeons. We just don’t have them in these parts. Doves, yes. Pigeons, not so much.

So imagine my surprise when a movement outside my window caught my eye recently and I looked out to see a pigeon pecking in the mulch under my window.

“Odd,” I thought. “That looks like a pigeon.”

IMG_8298Just then, a board member, stopping in for a meeting, came through the front door and asked if we were keeping pigeons as pets. “There’s a tagged pigeon wandering around right outside,” he said. “Does he belong to one of you?”

And, because of the aforementioned scarcity of pigeons, and the fact that we are The Intrepid Menokin Ladies, we leapt into action. Well, Mavora did. After heading outside to see the pigeon for herself, she made a call to a local wildlife rescue service to report in.

“Oh, that’s probably a racing pigeon,” she was informed. “They’re very used to being around people. Just take a box outside and he’ll walk right into it. Then bring him to us and we’ll take it from there.”

IMG_8297Wrong. The pigeon, while not apparently alarmed by our proximity (by this time, I had joined the adventure), kept a healthy and stealthy distance from any semblance of cardboard and/or would-be captors. At one point he even flew up onto the barn roof, alleviating our fears that perhaps he was injured.

We ditched the box idea and came back inside. By now it had been a few hours since the discovery of the pigeon’s arrival and we figured he was IMG_8295probably hungry and thirsty. We grabbed a box of Cream of Wheat and filled a bowl of water and went out to tend our flock of one. After hunting around we finally found him roosting in the lean-to on some of the large dress stones from the house (it must be a pigeon thing). He seemed mildly annoyed that we had discovered his hideout, but did allow Mavora to eventually get close enough to read the letters and numbers on the tag on his leg.

Leaving him to his meal we went back inside and did what all ingenious preservationists and conservationists do – we googled “Lost Racing Pigeons.” Bingo. Up came the website with all kinds of information about racing pigeons. I garnered a brief but thorough educational insight into the sport, then wrote down the phone number and gave it a call.

I don’t know why I expected the person who answered to be amazed that we had a misplaced racing pigeon. She wasn’t. It was probably her 168th missing pigeon report of the day. Upon entering our pigeon’s tag information into her database, she was able to tell us (in a voice reserved for reading the ingredients on a Cream of Wheat box) where the pigeon was from (Maryland), which club he belonged to, and the name and phone number of the club’s president.

IMG_8293I was in awe that there is a whole PIGEON NETWORK out there, flying all around us, that I had never been aware of until then. It inspired me to go outside and sit with the pigeon, who continued to keep a safe distance, and tell him all about Menokin and the Northern Neck.

After awhile he fell asleep and I went home. The next day he was gone. We never got a call back from the club president. It was probably his 168th “we have your pigeon message” of the week. We are certain that our pigeon made his way back to Maryland and told all of the other racing pigeons about the crazy ladies at his last stop who chased him with a box and fed him breakfast cereal. All that fuss over a pigeon?

You betcha.

Bug of the Week – Eight-spotted Forester Moth

This Eight-spotted Forester Moth (Alypia octomaculata) was feasting on the flowering winterberry bush outside my office window. Those puffy orange knees caught my eye and I had to go out to investigate.

The first few photo attempts were fruitless, as the moth flitted away as soon as I got close enough. Persistence paid off, however, and this flashy fellow got used to me and let me snap away.

First google search of “black and white moth with orange legs” hit the jackpot with enough information to make you a virtual  Eight-spotted Forester Moth Expert.

Here are the tidbits that I found most interesting:

  • The EsFM is a smallish (1 ½ inch wingspread), flashy, day-flying moth that is often mistaken for a butterfly when it’s nectaring on flowers. While not knobbed like a butterfly’s, its antennae are slim (simple), not feathery. It has black wings with two cream-colored spots on each forewing and two white spots on each hind wing (= 8). Its body and legs are also black, accented by yellow “epaulets” called tegulae on the thorax at the base of each wing and by startling tufts of orange hairs at the tops of its first and second pairs of legs. One theory is that the orange tufts resemble the packed pollen baskets of a bee.
  • Their body and wings are black, there are two yellow spots on each forewing and two white spots on each hindwing….and of course those gorgeous orange tufts on their legs, that seriously look like stockings. The eight distinctive spots on their wings is where their species name comes from….octomaculata literally translates into 8-spotted.
  • The moth flies from April to June in one generation in the north. In the south it has a second generation, which flies in August.

A few other flying friends were at the party. This lightening bug seemed to think that the winterberry blossoms tasted just fine.

Exploring The Watershed Through Art

web_Complete-MuralThe students of Mrs. Ptucha’s 6th-grade science classes at Richmond County Intermediate School had the opportunity to dive into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed recently – with paint and brushes. The students participated in a Project WET activity, Make-a-Mural.

They created a mural depicting various aspects of the Northern Neck watershed area, including its landscape, people, cultures, and natural residents – both plant and animal.

The objective of the project was for the students to define the term watershed;web_mural-painting identify their local watershed and illustrate it, including water resource issues within it.

Using resource information such as an Enviroscape of Menokin and Watershed Maps, and a diagram of the main components of a watershed (Air, Land, Water, People & Transportation, Architecture, History and Tradition) the students listed examples of each category that are included in their local watershed.

web_watershed-map

Lastly they studied History & Traditions: what are ways resources have been used in the past that are different from how they are used today? Using the example of Menokin’s cultures and traditions, these ideas were discussed:

  • The biggest influence on the watershed can be understood through the categories of People and Traditions.
  • Menokin’s people begin with the Rappahannock Indian Tribes, Francis Lightfoot Lee and subsequent owners, including the current Menokin Foundation.
  • The Land and its use has changed some over time. Originally used mostly for farming and grazing, most of the land is now under a conservation easement and only a small portion is cultivated.
  • The Menokin Foundation is now developing the site as an educational and cultural center with a focus on historic and environmental education. As a result, more buildings may be added to the landscape to accommodate these goals. There are also plans to further develop the trail system for visitors use. In doing so, what sort of BMPs (best management practices) should need to be considered for each area of the watershed?

With all of this new-found knowledge and food for thought swirling in their heads, web_paint-and-brushesthe students were then asked to begin on the mural. Using foam core panels, and acrylic paint, each student worked on designated portions of the watershed – air, land and water.

As you can see from the finished mural above, the results are outstanding. Using color and expression in a way only children can master, the finished product is a true work of art web_kids-paintingand is hanging in the hallway at the school.

Funding for the A River Runs Through Us Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience was provided by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

Programming funds were also made possible from a generous environmental grant from the Dominion Foundation.

The program was coordinated by TREE (Three Rivers Environmental Educators) and Alice French, Education and Outreach Coordinator at The Menokin Foundation. This was the first of several programs developed by TREE for Richmond County School and their STEM initiative.

A Match Made in Heaven – Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School and Menokin

In spite of the pristine scenery and recreation – not to mention the tranquil lifestyle afforded by living on the Northern Neck – this geographical area, along with the Middle Peninsula counties across the Rappahannock River are under-served in many ways.

The rural, agrarian economy means incomes – and tax revenues – are lower than the national average. Schools are not fancy, and faculty and students alike struggle with the dichotomy of gaining a quality education with very limited resources.

Therefore, we are very fortunate to have an excellent community college system, Rappahannock Community College, with three campuses in the region; one of those is right here in Warsaw. These campuses are also home to an academically  challenging program for high school students called The Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School (CBGS).

The Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School for Marine and Environmental Science provides high-ability students from the Northern Neck and the Middle Peninsula with a rigorous curriculum through enrichment, exploratory, investigative, and career awareness experiences. Through the integration of math, science, technology, and research, woven with marine and environmental sciences, students have the opportunity to foster an appreciation and respect for environmental issues.

CBGS provides a community of learners the opportunity to explore connections among the environment, math, science, and technology in order to help develop leaders who possess the research and technical skills, global perspective, and vision needed to address the challenges of a rapidly changing society.

And here sits Menokin, ten minutes from the Warsaw campus, in the middle of a wildlife refuge and with access to Cat Point Creek, one of the most undisturbed tributaries of the Rappahannock. We are a 500-acre classroom teeming with opportunities for research, exploration, inspiration and education of all things Marine and Environmental.

It is, obviously, a match made in heaven. And the courtship began in earnest in early November when the CBGS sophomore class from the Warsaw Campus came for an introductory field trip. Instructors Jim Beam (no, I’m not making it up), Daniel Maxey and Bethany Smith lead their eager students through the property to snatch up as much of the experience as possible during their brief stay. With field notebooks in hand, students scribbled notes about archaeology, geology, flora, fauna and conservation. Brain’s churned with ideas for senior projects that will be serious business in the not-too-distant future.

We look forward to continuing our relationship with CBGS students and teachers, and encourage all with the same passion for learning to take advantage of the resources here at Menokin.

Menokin: Education, Exploration, Enrichment – Day One

These words describe the very soul of Menokin’s mission. They represent all that Menokin has to offer, and when they are followed up by “A 500-acre classroom for heritage and natural resource conservation,” you can really get a picture of what goes on in this peaceful corner of the world.

Our mission was really put to the test this week, as Menokin played host to three different field trip groups from area schools. Each school represented a different age group and learning environment. But one thing was abundantly evident with all three. Kids love to learn, they love to explore, and they love to play.

DAY ONE – Tueday, November 6th
Aylett Country Day School, Millers Tavern, VA

Aylett is a small, private school in Essex County, VA, which is across the river from Richmond County, Menokin’s home. The school serves children from Preschool through the 8th grade. Students from Aylett come from many surrounding counties, including Essex, Richmond, King and Queen, King William and Middlesex.

The 8th-grade class visited Menokin on Tuesday. While they toured the visitor’s center, the conservation barn and the house site, the main purpose for their visit was to complete a community service project for Menokin. Armed with cans of orange spray paint, which managed to stay off the students, they hiked through the woods at Menokin with staff members Sarah Pope, Alice French and myself, marking the otherwise not-so-obvious path along the bluff overlooking Menokin Bay on Cat Point Creek.

A stop along the way introduced them to Thane Harpole of DATA Investigations, and his team of archaeologists conducting a survey here in conjunction with the Chesapeake Gateways Grant secured by Menokin earlier this year. The hike concluded with gathering water samples from Cat Point Creek and returning to the Visitor’s Center to test the water for oxygen and acidity levels.

The last few minutes before leaving were well used exploring 21st century  uses for colonial toys.