Tag Archives: wildlife refuge

The Wilder Side of Menokin

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” – Aldo Leopold

GUEST BLOGGER: Maeve Charlesworth

Menokin is most recognized for its cultural and historic significance. What many people don’t know, however, is that this historic landmark is nestled within a pristine natural setting with so much to offer. The trails and kayak launch allow you to explore the property and experience the natural heritage in addition to its rich cultural heritage. And, the site is dog-friendly!

Connecting with this wild side of Menokin allows for a better understanding of what the site’s original owners witnessed on a daily basis.

On a morning in late June, my fiancé Joey and I, along with our beagle, Gypsy,  took one of our monthly birding trips to Menokin. As we entered the gate, Joey and I rolled down the windows to listen. Across the field and echoing from the trees beside us rang out the songs of Ovenbirds, Hooded Warblers, Yellow-throated Vireos, and Eastern Bluebirds. Up ahead over the trees we saw Turkey Vultures riding the thermals, getting their day off to a start.

At 9am, it was already warm, but nonetheless a beautiful day. We slowly made our way down the gravel road towards the visitor’s center, and on the way we saw a pair of Eastern Bluebirds taking food into the nest box behind the Menokin sign.

Juvenile Eastern Bluebird

We also heard the distinctive “bob-WHITE” call of a male Northern Quail bouncing off the trees from across the wheat field. Eager to hear what else was at Menokin today, we hurried to park the van.

At that point in June, bird migration was over, but that didn’t mean the birds that breed here were a disappointment! Our goal for the visit was to document as many confirmed breeders as we could.

Joey and I are active volunteers in the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas. (More information can be found at http://amjv.org/vabba/the-atlas/). The Eastern Bluebirds were our first confirmation for the day. Carrying food into a cavity or nest box indicates there’s either an incubating female or chicks inside!

Right away we found our second confirmed breeder: Barn Swallows! Several nests were tucked up under the eaves of the building, and many swallows were seen and heard chittering over the cornfields as they swam through the air gulping bugs to bring back to their young. As we made our way past the office toward the tree line by the Remembrance Structure, Brown Thrashers, Chipping Sparrows, White-eyed Vireos, and Indigo Buntings sang from the small trees and corn. Once we hit the woods edge, we saw flashes of coral flying out over the corn as both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers were fly-catching insects in the sun.

Scarlet Tanager

As we made our way toward the overflow grass parking lot, we stopped to take in the change of landscape. We were about to enter old, mature hardwoods that stretch all the way down to Cat Point Creek. We heard Wood Thrushes, Eastern Wood-pewees, and Hooded Warblers down the gravel road.

A pair of Northern Cardinals was acting very strange; they moved around frequently, constantly vocalizing, and we heard what sounded like recently fledged young. We watched and waited, but unfortunately the vegetation was just too thick for us to know for sure. So on we went into the canopy of the towering hardwoods, on either side of us two male Hooded Warblers battling out the boundaries of their territories with their voracious songs.

On the edge of the road was a large patch of our native Spicebush shrubs, host plant of the Spicebush Swallowtail. We look for signs of munched on leaves, and rolled up leaves where caterpillars like to hide. We couldn’t find any, but maybe next time. 

Farther down the road we stopped at our favorite bench to just listen. Red-eyed vireos flitted amongst leave above us, a ruby-throated hummingbird whizzed by our heads, and in the road was a female Eastern Box Turtle.

Eastern Box Turtle

Females are differentiated by their brown eye, rather than the red eye of the male. We started the descent toward the creek, and above us sang Yellow-throated Warblers, Acadian Flycatchers, and

Eastern Wood PeeWee

Ovenbirds. When we reached the fork in the trail we stopped at thesecondbench for another listen. CarolinaChickadees chattered in the trees beside us, and way up in the canopy were Tufted Titmice flitting around erratically, accompanied by what we thought were fledglings, judging by the noises they made. Another confirmed breeder? Unfortunately they stayed too high to see and moved on from our location.

As we made our way toward the kayak launch, something hopped under Gypsy’s paws. What appeared to be a young Fowler’s Toad was in the middle of the trail measuring only about half an inch in size. We came across a few more on our way towards the water.

Fowlers Toad

Right at the parking lot we stopped to observe what could potentially be our native Turk’s Cap Lily! It was about 6 feet tall and the flower buds were still green; everything about it indicated that may be what we found. Neither of us have ever seen one outside a garden setting, so we made a mental note to plan our next visit to see it in bloom, to know for sure what species of lily we found.

On the edge of the water I heard what sounded like baby birds crying. We sat and waited patiently (Gypsy not so much), and soon enough a Chipping Sparrow appeared in a nearby tree with a mouth full of food. It looked around, checking for any threats, and flew into the pine tree when it felt the coast was clear. The begging babies got very loud, then suddenly silenced, and the adult left. Chipping Sparrow: confirmed!

Along the water’s edge we look to see what flowers we recognize. Swamp Milkweed, a host for the Monarch Butterfly, is growing in a small patch. No signs of caterpillars here. We need to make sure to check again in the fall when they’re migrating back through. A few young Pickerelweed plants are also sprouting. Hopefully next spring they will be mature enough to bloom their beautiful purple flower spikes. There’s only one way to find out for sure!

Gypsy and I head back up the road and take the trail that follows the creek. A nice hedgerow of Sweet Pepperbush lines the trail, and soon enough it will be blooming. A wide variety of pollinators love to visit this shrub. After meeting back up with Joey at the bench, he tells me he heard the loud rattling call of a Belted Kingfisher around the trees. We make our way up the hill and I catch movement in the huge Spicebush patch low to the ground. We stop, wait, and finally see movement again. It’s a Hooded Warbler – but not just one. Fledgling-type noises are coming from a few feet away. We watch and wait for about five minutes when we are finally rewarded with seeing not one, but two Hooded Warbler fledglings! It’s so exciting, especially because many birds are deceived by nest parasites like Brown-headed Cowbirds that lay their eggs in the nest of others. We had already seen several pairs of them flying around so we had to make sure.

Overall it has been a wonderful and successful birding trip to Menokin. There’s something about visiting that takes you back in time, aside from the historic structure. The natural heritage of the area is evident through the birds, animals, and plants that inhabit the fields, woods, and creek surrounding the home. Our native flora and fauna have been doing the same thing year after year long before the house was even built; breeding, raising young, blooming, bearing fruit. It’s important to step back and realize that there is more history to this place than the house alone. History is more than important dates, artifacts, and stories told from one generation to another. It’s seeing nature doing what it’s designed to do before we came along. We are lucky that a unique location like Menokin has so much to offer.

For a full list of the birds we observed and heard, follow this link: https://ebird.org/atlasva/view/checklist/S57534881

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.

You’re Invited

Menokin Is Hosting A Reception and Show of Entries from the
Menokin Photography Contest

Please join the Menokin staff, contestants, trustees and contest judge Hullihen Williams Moore on the evening of November 30, 2012 from 6 pm until 8 pm for a light wine and cheese reception and the results of the Menokin Photography Contest.

On display will be selected works by Mr. Moore from his collection of Menokin photographs.

There is no fee to attend, but a reservation is required. Please respond to menokin@menokin.org or by calling 804.333.1776 no later than November 26, 2012.

The reception will be held in the Martin Kirwan King Visitor’s Center at Menokin, located at 4037 Menokin Road, Warsaw, VA.

No wild weather for this year’s “Go Wild” event

Yesterday was the 2nd annual “Go Wild” event at the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge’s Hutchinson Tract in Essex County, VA.

After the cold, windy, rainy day that greeted last year’s eventers, the clear blue October sky and 75+ degree temperatures were a welcome change.

The wind still  had a few tricks up her sleeve, however,  and there were examples of human ingenuity all over the place as exhibitors tried to hold down tents, brochures and displays. My husband Ben, the master of all things rigged, “Bengineered” this bungee bracing system to keep the Menokin display board upright and in place.

I was there representing Menokin, and informing visitors about our nature trails and waterfront on Cat Point Creek, and explaining that 300 of our 500 acres are, in fact, part of the refuge.

There were all kinds of exhibitors on hand – from Native Plants Societies, Master Naturalist and Oyster Gardeners, to bluebird house building, reforestation surveyors and wildlife rehabilitation experts.

Our booth was next door to The Wildlife Center of Virginia, where their educator and handler, Rayna, brought out a series of rehabilitated birds to share with the public. You can find out these birds stories on their website.

Grayson, a broad-winged hawk, gave me the stare down.
Edie, an American Kestrel, is very comfortable with humans.

The Raptor Society of Virginia was also on hand with a few of their birds. This little screech owl won me over with her big green eyes and haughty, knowing air.

Fire, an Eastern screech owl

Congressman Rob Whitman spoke briefly, after being introduced by Refuge Administrator Andy Hoffman and RRVNWR Friends President, Anne Graziano.

Rob Whitman addressed the crowd
Andy Hoffman and Anne Graziano both spoke

The Give and Take of Indian Pipe

Yesterday, a visitor spent long hours in the morning hiking the trails of Menokin. She shared this photograph of Indian Pipe that she found growing along the trail.

Indian Pipe (photo by Beth Sanders)

I did a little research and found out some interesting facts about Indian Pipe.

  • Indian Pipe doesn’t have chlorophyll, the stuff that makes plants green. It is a waxy, whitish color (though this plant is a lovely shade of pink). It turns black when it gets old.
  • Indian Pipe is usually seen from June to September. It grows in shady woods with rich soil and decaying plant matter. This plant is often found near dead stumps.
  • Since Indian Pipe has no chlorophyl, it can’t make its own food like most plants. Therefore, it has to “borrow” nutrients, either from decaying plant matter, or from another organism, such as a fungus.
  • Meanwhile, the fungus itself has another relationship going on with a tree. The fungus’s mycelia also tap into the tree’s roots. Many fungi and trees have this type of relationship — it’s called a “mycorrhizal relationship.” The fungus gives nutrients to the tree and the tree gives nutrients to the fungus. Both organisms help each other out.
  • Even though Indian Pipe gives nothing back to the fungus or the tree, it is a food source for small bumble bees, which visit flowers for nectar. The bees return the favor by pollinating the Indian Pipe. 

You are probably already humming the “Circle of Life” Lion King theme song in your head or out loud by now. Hope you have enjoyed this little nature lesson. Share your own photos of Indian Pipe if you have them.