A piece of Chesapeake history at Hoffler Creek

If you have ever stopped by the HCWF Headquarters while on a visit, you may have noticed the beautiful old lamp on display in the front window. This lamp has a unique connection to the Hoffler Creek property, dating back to a time when the Ballard family was still plowing the soil of the area that now makes up Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve.

This lantern was found in the early 1920’s by John W. Ballard, Jr., when he was a boy. It washed ashore here, at Floral Point Farm, and has been treasured by the family ever since. Little was known about the lantern but the family had it cleaned and refurbished in the 1980’s. The lantern is currently on loan to Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve by John W. Ballard, III.

Recently, historian and author, Larry Saint has provided us with previously unknown information about this beautiful piece of history. It is a post lantern that was in service somewhere in this region of the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries in the early 1900’s. During the severe winter of 1919-1920, 21 post lanterns were lost in our region of the Chesapeake Bay due to tidal ice flows moving up and down the bay region. One of these ice flows brought this lantern to the site of Floral Point Farm. Records show requests to the Department of Commerce for the year ending June 30, 1920 to appropriate funds to replace these lost lanterns.

These lanterns, also called 8-day post lanterns, were used to aid in navigation along our tidal waters. They have a reservoir that holds enough oil to burn for 8 days, day and night, at which point they would be refilled and relit. To see this post lantern and learn more information about this piece of Chesapeake Bay history, stop in the Hoffler Creek Wildlife Foundation Headquarters on your next trip to the preserve.

Elmo, a sad tale

While taking a quick walk Friday afternoon to enjoy the new warmth in the air and survey the trails, I came across a sad sight.  I found Elmo lost in the woods of Hoffler Creek.  Not only was Elmo lost, he had been abandoned purposefully but without as much as a thought, I can assure you.  Elmo had come in on a happy child who was lucky enough to be out on a beautiful spring day enjoying nature. Obviously, Elmo’s family understands the importance of sharing nature with children. So, I am not sure what circumstances would have lead to the decision to deliberately and neatly wrap up Elmo and toss him into the woods along the Lake Ballard Trail, leaving Elmo in a place that is otherwise as devoid of trash as humanly possible.  

Elmo, you see is a disposable diaper - a used disposable diaper that had been sitting there just a short time, but long enough to be bursting at the seams from rain water saturation. If I had not found Elmo when I did, he could have literally lay next to that tree for the next 500 years, the amount of time it takes a disposable diaper to break down. While lying there, Elmo could have been eaten by a confused animal and poisoned them with some of the harmful compounds found within or, while slowly decomposing, put toxins into the environment that can cause hormonal disruption to the resident fauna of Hoffler Creek.

elmo.jpg

So, you will be glad to know that Elmo wandered back to the office with me. He will now take a trip to the landfill where he will decompose for the next 500 years.  But, at least he will be decomposing in the right place.

At Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve, we ask that you pack out all of your trash. We do not provide trash receptacles for the safety of our wildlife and to keep our operating costs down so that we can remain open free of charge to our visitors. Please, please come prepared to take your trash out with you after your visit. It can be inconvenient but it is extremely important. It is part of respecting the wildlife here. This is their home, and it’s the only one they have.

Fish for Breakfast...

Who eats fish for breakfast at HCWF? Bald Eagles!

Chances are, if you have been involved at Hoffler Creek Wildlife Foundation for a while, you have heard of the Regal Eagles of Hoffler Creek.  Unfortunately, the pair of eagles that previously settled at Hoffler Creek was not successful. They have since left and their nest is gone.

But all is not lost!  A juvenile bald eagle has been sighted at Hoffler Creek several times in the last few months.  Last week, I (Programs Director Kirsten), was walking along the Kids Trail, minding my own business when I interrupted his (or her!). He (or she!) was not at all happy about it and almost got revenge by coming very close to dropping a fishy breakfast on my head.  This wonderful encounter left me curious to learn and share more about bald eagles.

Eagles eat mostly fish, but they will also harass other birds for food, eat small rodents and birds, and scavenge.

Eagles eat mostly fish, but they will also harass other birds for food, eat small rodents and birds, and scavenge.

Bald eagles mate for life and can live up to 30 years in the wild.  Nesting pairs will often use the same nest year after year, though they do not always breed every year.  If one mate dies the other eagle will usually take a second mate. A fully grown eagle can be up to 3 tall and have a wingspan of 7.5 feet.It takes a while, however, for an eagle to reach maturity.  The juvenile eagle I saw last week could be several years old, but not yet ready to mate.  Young eagles do not reach maturity until the ages of 4 or 5 which is when their distinctive white head feathers grow in, signaling that they are ready to mate.  Eagles have amazing sight.  The human norm for sight is 20/20, but an eagle can see at 20/5.  This means that an object a human would see clearly at 5 feet is seen by an eagle clearly at 20 feet. 

The bald eagles has been the emblem of the United States since 1782. It was once endangered by indiscriminate hunting and pesticide use.  In 1963 there were fewer than 500 nesting eagles in the US.  Through concentrated conservation and legislation eagle populations are now flourishing where they were once struggling.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are now over 9,000 nesting eagles in the US. 

Maybe in 3 or 4 years the juvenile eagle who nearly dropped breakfast on me will settle down at Hoffler Creek.  But if not,  it is nice to know that eagles are doing well and are thriving in Hampton Roads. 

 

Young eagles have mottled white and brown feathers.  The dark body and white head feathers grown in once they reach maturity.

Young eagles have mottled white and brown feathers.  The dark body and white head feathers grown in once they reach maturity.

Sources:

http://www.livescience.com/18658-humans-eagle-vision.html

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/bald_eagle/id

http://www.baldeagleinfo.com/eagle/eagle4.html

http://www.fws.gov/midwest/eagle/recovery/biologue.html

 



Winter migrants arriving

November 26, 2013

Besides the plummeting temperatures along Hoffler Creek, there is a surefire way to tell that winter is coming – the winter migrants arrive.  Sometime in early November I started to notice a peppering of small waterfowl on Lake Ballard that wasn’t there the last time I looked.

The first to arrive were my wintery waterfowl favorites, the buffleheads. These cute, little, chubby seaducks hang out in small groups together on the lake, constantly diving down to gather the submerged cornucopia of Lake Ballard. Someone recently told me they refer to them as “popcorn” ducks because of the way they pop up out of the water as they return to the surface from their dive. They are easy to spot because of the male’s large white patch stretching from eye to eye which seems to grow as they fluff their feathers and shake their somewhat oversized heads.

Joining the buffleheads has been an unexpected cluster of ruddy ducks. This is another compact little diving duck that is characterized by the male’s rust-colored body, a bright blue bill and a large tail often seen upright at “attention”. While our little colony of buffleheads is busy diving and bobbing the day away, the ruddy ducks are usually sleeping on the lake’s edge protected by the overhanging shrubs, saving their activity for the nighttime. These birds did not winter over with us last year so I am curious to see how long they will stay.

Looking ahead, I anticipate more winter arrivals. Last year we saw ring-necked ducks and hooded mergansers also sharing Lake Ballard. While not waterfowl, we have recently noted activity from a young bald eagle in the area. Hopefully, he is considering Hoffler Creek as his permanent home. And, in other bird news, the great horned owls have been heard vocalizing at dusk over the last few weeks.

So, I guess it is safe to say that this winter looks pretty promising for bird watching. I hope you will grab your binoculars and come out for a visit.

Don’t forget to take advantage of our monthly Early Bird Walks at 8 a.m. on the second Saturday of every month. Gates close at 8:15 a.m. so don’t be late. No registration is necessary and it is FREE (though donations are always appreciated) December’s bird walk is being lead by the “bird lab” team from Old Dominion University. These walks are a great way to enjoy the quiet of the preserve and see more wildlife before the gates opens to the general public.

Helen Kuhns, HCWF Executive Director

We have a website!

 

November 13 2013

Well, today is a BIG day at the Headquarters for Hoffler Creek Wildlife Foundation and Preserve.  We are rolling out our new website!  We know it will be a work in progress as we learn the “ins” and “outs” of updating the site and keeping it current for you. So, in advance, thank you so much for your patience.

We have been without a website since mid-June when apparently our web carrier was abducted by aliens. Our website and those of other nonprofits just disappeared and the company on which we relied also disappeared.  Fortunately, our knight in shining armor came in the form of web designer Patrick McCarty of eVolv Design in Norfolk has us back on our feet and ready bring Hoffler Creek to you via the web, whether at home or on your tablet or cell phone.

So, on behalf of the HCWF Board of Directors and staff, thank you, Patrick, for holding our hands and guiding us through the e-world so we can again bring the natural beauty of Hoffler Creek to our web-family once again.  We are so happy that you are on our team.

Helen Kuhns, HCWF Executive Director