Topsail and Bumblebees

Topsail definitely has buzzing bumblebee insects, but this post is about a different one called Operation Bumblebee.

Prior to World War II, only boat access was available to the pristine, 26-mile-long barrier island known as Topsail Island. Area residents frequently made this short trip and picnicked on the sandy shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

At the beginning of World War II, the US built a large, temporary anti-aircraft training base at Holly Ridge and took possession of Topsail Island.

At the end of World War II, the Navy established the US Naval Ordnance Test Facilities at Topsail Island, North Carolina, for Operation Bumblebee, a top-secret, experimental project to develop and test ramjet missiles, which advanced the nation’s jet aircraft and missile programs. Named after a bumblebee, which although aerodynamically unable to fly, does not know this and flies anyway.  This operation lead to the maturing of supersonic aircraft and shipboard missile design in the mid-20th century.

Topsail Island was the first permanent ground for missile testing. The Topsail Island site, placed in operation in March 1947, incorporated rigid structures that were designed and built for specific uses related to the assembly, firing, monitoring, and perfecting of experimental ramjet missiles.  This watercolor is of one of the remaining observation towers built to watch the missiles as they soared into the ocean.

During 18 months’ time, an estimated 200 experimental rockets, each measuring 6 inches in diameter and between 3 and 13 feet in length, were fabricated at the Assembly Building, dispatched to the launch site, and fired along a northeasterly angular deflection of 15 degrees to the shoreline for a maximum clear distance of 40 miles.

Operation Bumblebee Missile Observation Tower, Surf City, Topsail Island

Operation Bumblebee Missile Observation Tower, Surf City, Topsail Island

The testing program was dismantled in 1948 and the island was given back to the original owners.  The roads and bridge built by the military were left intact, as were the missile observation towers, and so began the development of the island.

Several missile tracking towers still stand along the island, including a few which have been incorporated into the floor plans of beach homes. This tower is near Surf City, (I believe it is Tower No. 3), and although it has fallen into disrepair it holds an amazing history.   I’m not sure that it qualifies as a #NatureDoodlewash, but it certainly is an inherent part of this island.


Turtle-y Awesome! #NatureDoodlewash

Meet Alpha, a loggerhead turtle that was nursed back to health at The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, first housed on Topsail Island.  Alpha was admitted to the Center in August 2013 after ingesting petroleum products that were in the water near her favorite marina.  She was literally on death’s door many times for the first months into her rehab, but after an almost two-year stay at the turtle hospital she was successfully released back into the Atlantic. We visited Alpha and the other patients at the hospital last year, and this painting is based on a photo taken by my daughter-in-law, Maura.

Alpha, the Loggerhead Turtle

Alpha, the Loggerhead Turtle

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is staffed by volunteers and run on donations.  Their mission is the protection and watching over of the 26-mile beach of Topsail Island. They are committed to the health and welfare of sea turtle egg sites, hatching of the eggs, caring for sick and injured turtles, eventual release of the turtles back to the ocean, and public education.

Turtle Nest in Surf City, Topsail Island

Turtle Nest on Surf City, Topsail Island

The hospital really is extraordinary, and if you’d like to learn more about how exactly they accomplish their mission daily, here is a link to their website. and their Facebook page

Fortunately we experienced a couple of turtle release events, which are a big deal on Topsail with hundreds of folks gathering to watch and cheer for the turtles as they swiftly make their way down the beach and back to their native waters.  You can almost see the smiles on the little turtle faces.

Large Turtle in a turtle "snuggy," being walked down to the ocean for release

A larger turtle in a turtle “snuggy” being carried to the ocean’s edge.

Even a medium-sized turtle needs a lot of brawn to get him to the ocean's edge.

Even a medium-sized turtle needs a little brawn to get him to the surf.

Smaller turtles are hand carried to the surf.

Smaller turtles are carried individually to the waves.

To feel the pomp and circumstance of a release, here is a link of a drone video taken over the ocean where the turtles were released this year.  You can see firsthand the happiness of the turtles as they flap those flippers back into the ocean for the first time since their rehab.

Turtle Release Event, More than 400 people in attendance

Turtle Release Event – More than 400 people in attendance

To learn more about North Carolina sea turtles in general, here is a terrific link explaining nesting habits, hatchlings, plights, and rescues.

Thanks to Maura for sharing her photos for this post, and Happy Birthday to Barb, my turtle-loving friend!

Topsail Treasures #NatureDoodlewash

Here are a few of the fun nature treasures we found this year.  Yes, that is a praying mantis in the middle, and I painted him because I had never seen one so tiny.  He was gracefully crawling across my shirttail, and to put it in perspective, from the tip of his antenna to the back of his feet this little guy was a little smaller than my index fingernail (which is cut short).  After observing him for a while, we put him in the tall grasses off the deck, but I sure hope the anole didn’t have him for a snack!

Topsail Treasures 2016

Topsail Treasures

Anyhow, starting on the top left are some pieces of beach glass we found.  Going clockwise is a cockle shell and a coquina shell.  The bottom row is a small selection of the shark teeth we found throughout the week.  Thanks for joining me today for this #NatureDoodlewash.

Beachcombing #NatureDoodlewash

I love the look of loose watercolor painting but find it a challenge as it does not come naturally to me.  However, when reviewing vacation photos I knew this one would be a perfect candidate for a loose style and a #NatureDoodlewash.  This is my husband, Jerry, walking along the surf one peaceful morning, and I am sure he was diligently looking for shark teeth.  We have a friendly family competition to see who can find the largest one each year, and this year Jerry won the bragging rights.

Beachcombing Hubby

Carolina Beach Combing

This NC beach is generally uncrowded and serene, and looking at this painting reminds me what a restful place it is.  In the lyrics of James Taylor, “I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind.”


Carolina Anole #NatureDoodlewash

This quick, little lizard made many appearances on our deck at the beach this year.  He is a Carolina Anole and was mostly a bright green color when we saw him, although he can sometimes have a gray-brownish hue.  Most fascinating was his bright red throat, also called a dewlap, which would inflate and deflate like a big red balloon as he skittered across the deck.  Evidently he displays the dewlap in order to attract a female and also to give warning to other anoles that might be invading his territory.

Carolina Anole

Carolina Anole

I wonder if he was warning another lizard or maybe us as he constantly flashed his read alert signal, not that we tried to get too close to him.  My motto has always been to let a lizard have his own space, although he is a lot of fun to watch from a distance, and he made a perfect subject for a #NatureDoodlewash.



Lion’s Paw Scallop #NatureDoodlewash

When we go to the beach as a family, our goal is to relax and reconnect.  A favorite activity is simply walking along the beach, observing and exploring, looking mostly for sharks teeth and any novelties that wash ashore.

A few years ago I spotted a bright orange color in the surf at low tide, just as the tide was starting to creep up.  I figured what I saw was probably a washed away beach toy but wanted to see for sure. The orange object was covered by the quickly rising tide a couple of times, but I was able to keep track of it under the waves because of the bright color.  Reaching for a third time I finally had this great Lion’s Paw scallop shell in my grip.  It was such fun to paint, too, because of its unusual color.

Lion's Paw Scallop Shell in watercolor

Lion’s Paw Scallop Shell in watercolor

Over the next few weeks I will share paintings of other beachy goodness as I participate in the #naturedoodlewash adventure.  Again, thanks to Charlie for hosting the event.

Hope you all have a terrific weekend!