2014 Dora Kelley Nature Park Frog Watchers Brave Roller Coaster Season

by Kasha Helget

A dedicated team of neighbors who live near the Dora Kelley Nature Park in Alexandria withstood the erratic weather for more than three weeks, from February 27 to March 23, to track the movement of frogs to the park’s marsh area where they breed in the late winter. This was the second year for the patrol in which individuals note the movements of frogs (primarily Northern Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) and Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus). These frogs winter in the adjacent woods and make the annual trek to the marsh where they likely were born. We then share the information with Mark Kelly and Jane Yeingst at Buddie Ford Nature Center for their frog database.

The neighbors partnered every other evening on an average for about an hour to count the frogs that crossed a path to and from the marsh and note the conditions –– temperature, wind, noise level, and other area observations.

Northern spring peeper on path photographed 3-24-14. Image courtesy: Linda Shapiro.

Northern Spring Peeper on path photographed 3-24-14.


Wood frog in marsh photographed 3-19-14. Image courtesy: Linda Shapiro.

Wood Frog in marsh photographed 3-19-14.

Continue reading

Saturday, April 5: Habitat Restoration in Four Mile Run Valley

by Jim Hurley

On the northeast corner of S. Walter Reed and S. Four Mile Run Drives is the only remaining patch of woodland on the north side of the Four Mile Run stream valley in the Shirlington area. This woodland remnant has some of the same steep topography, underlying geology and hydrology (perched seeps), and plants as Barcroft Park, which is located on the opposite side of the valley.

Restoration site along S. Four Mile Run Drive at S. Walter Reed Drive. Photo from Google Map.

Restoration site along S. Four Mile Run Drive at S. Walter Reed Drive. Photo from Google Map.

Recently, Arlington County proposed to develop its part of the woodland. This proposal was opposed by a number of individuals, groups, and organizations that value the woods, so little of which is left. Nora Palmatier of the Tree Stewards made a commitment to initiate a cleanup of these woods––invaded by all the usual suspects (English Ivy, Japanese Honeysuckle, Bush Honeysuckle, Porcelainberry, etc.)––if the site were left undeveloped. (Thank you, Nora!) The County pulled back from its proposal just last week.

This Saturday, April 5, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., Arlington/Alexandria Tree Stewards, Master Naturalists, and residents of neighboring condominium associations will begin the promised restoration work. Arlington County Parks will provide trash bags for the debris.

The public is welcome to join in this effort. We recommend that volunteers wear long sleeves, long pants, and gloves, and bring hand clippers and/or pruning saws to cut ivy and other invasive vines from the trees. See you there!

Habitat Restoration Along the W&OD Trail in Falls Church: Sunday, March 30, 10:00 am–12:00 pm

by Jim Hurley

Join our friends from the City of Falls Church on Sunday, March 30, 10 am-12 noon, as they begin work to restore the natural area along the W&OD Trail between Grove Ave. and N. Oak St., only a block from where the trail crosses the bridge over Broad St. There are large thickets of Porcelainberry and other invasive vines along the bike path, which in its current state serves as an effective migration route for these plants up and down the trail, and into many of our parks arrayed along Four Mile Run.

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata
Origin: China, Korea, Japan and Russia
Photos by Jil Swearingen, NPS

In a trailblazing cooperative effort among the City of Falls Church Environmental Council Habitat Restoration Team, the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority, Dominion Power, volunteers, and naturalists, the invasive plants will be removed and the area landscaped with native plants and butterfly gardens. Similar work is already underway along the W&OD in Arlington at Bluemont Park with some 200 yards of invasives cleared last fall, preparing the way for a native meadow. Eventually, we’ll connect these two dots, and the three miles in between!

Organizers will provide tools and snacks. Please bring your own gloves.

Seeds of Hope: American Chestnut Replanting

by Catherine Howell

As the late afternoon light began to fade and frigid air penetrated gloved hands, the last of the Arlington replanted American Chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) was patted into place on a slope in Glencarlyn Park on a gray day in mid-December, 2013. There, with some serious luck, it could grow into a sturdy tree with viable fruit and possibly help reverse the bad fortune of the iconic American Chestnut––once one of the most common tree species in the northeastern United States, but now largely decimated due to a virulent fungus.

Vincent and Jerry backfill the last hole of the day on a slope in Glencarlyn Park while County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas tamps down the soil.

Arlington County Forester Vincent Verweij and ARMN volunteer Jerry Cowden backfill the last hole of the day on a slope in Glencarlyn Park, while County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas tamps down the soil.

Chestnut Blight Fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America through Japanese or Chinese Chestnuts; those species co-evolved with the fungus and are not affected by it. American Chestnuts, however, soon succumbed to the novel pathogen. More than three billion native chestnuts perished, removing a species that was a valuable source of timber and a prolific native producer of fall mast for wildlife.

American Chestnuts survive locally in a very limited fashion. Most grow as shoots from stumps of decimated trees and rarely reach 20 feet in height. December’s replanting project involved the distribution of a hundred saplings grown at the Earth Sangha nursery from viable seeds collected mainly in the northern Blue Ridge. Unlike the hybrid trees that are bred from American and Chinese Chestnuts (with an effort to back breed the American species’ characteristics while maintaining blight resistance), these saplings represent true American Chestnuts. Continue reading

Snowy Owls at Gravelly Point

By Steve Young

This winter, Snowy Owls from the Arctic have been showing up unusually far south, including in the metro Washington, DC area. This rare kind of bird migration event is called an “irruption.”

Irruptive movements may be driven by weather, breeding success, or prey scarcity up North. Snowies have been seen recently at Dulles, Manassas, and Reagan National Airports, some of the Atlantic beaches, and even in downtown DC. The owls may be attracted to airports and beaches because such places remind them of their native tundra.

Two Snowies have been spotted at Reagan National for several weeks. On January 27, 2014, David Farner organized an informal late-afternoon gathering of ARMN volunteers at Gravelly Point to look for the owls. Both were seen. I arrived at about 5:15 pm and got good looks at one of the owls.

A snowy owl at Gravelly Point. Photo by S. Young.

A snowy owl at Gravelly Point. Photo by S. Young.

The photo is a “digiscope,” made when I held my smart phone camera lens to the eyepiece of my spotting scope. This owl appears to be a scofflaw, as it is brazenly ignoring the threatening language on its sign perch. It made an interesting bobbing motion with its head a few times. I thought this might be a territorial display, but it seems it may be a motion made to help the owl discern prey movements.

Snowy owls are special birds, not often seen here, so catch the show if you can!

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists Spring 2014 Training Course Announcement

By Caroline Haynes

VMNClrTyp_cornerYou can make a difference in our community by becoming a Master Naturalist volunteer! The Virginia Master Naturalist program trains volunteers to provide education, citizen science and outreach to conserve and manage natural resources and public lands. Master Naturalist volunteers gain certification through state-approved natural history courses and a commitment to volunteer service. Fun and interactive training is provided by recognized experts in a wide range of disciplines such as ecology, botany, herpetology, ornithology, forest and aquatic ecosystems, and much more.




Arlington Regional Master Naturalists will be conducting evening training this spring, beginning February 25 through June 10, 2014 on Tuesday evenings from 7 pm to 10pm at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. Additional field training will be scheduled on four Saturdays. Applications are due February 7, 2014.

For more information and to complete an application, visit the Arlington Regional Master Naturalist website at www.armn.org.

Virginia Master Naturalist programs and employment are open to all, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status.

114th Annual Christmas Bird Count Season Begins 14 December

The Christmas Bird Count season is here once again. There will be opportunities for ARMN members to participate in this great citizen science effort with a 114-year history this season.

The first counts begin this Saturday, 14 December 2013 and the last counts take place Sunday, 5 January 2014. Popular for ARMN volunteers are the DC Count on 12/14/13 and the Fort Belvoir count on 1/5/14.

This great Virginia Society of Ornithology page lists the known counts and points of contact in Virginia and links to a Maryland site:  http://www.virginiabirds.net/cbc.html

Jim Olivetti, a graduate of the first ARMN training class in the fall of 2008, sent this photo of a snowy owl taken near his home in Massachusetts.

Snowy owl seen on 8 December 2013 at the Massachusetts Bay beach causeway leading to the town of Nahant, 12 miles north of Boston.

Snowy owl seen on 8 December 2013 on the Massachusetts Bay beach causeway leading to the town of Nahant, 12 miles north of Boston.

A friend of Jim’s took this photo on December 8 on the Massachusetts Bay beach causeway leading to the town of Nahant, 12 miles north of Boston. Jim follows ARMN activities from afar and sends this photo with holiday greetings to all.

There are also reported sightings of Snowy Owls at Manassas Battlefield and at Dulles Airport. Volunteers participating in this weekend’s Christmas Bird Count may be in for a treat!

There is still time to sign up for the 114th annual Christmas Bird Count: http://birds.audubon.org/get-involved-christmas-bird-count-find-count-near-you.

Participation counts for volunteer hours and may count for advanced training.

Steve Young and Jim Olivetti contributed to this post.

Falls Church Environment Booth at Farmers Market

by Kent Taylor

When purchasing fresh, organic and locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats, honey and bread at the Saturday City of Falls Church Farmers Market, be sure to stop by the Falls Church Environment (FCE) booth.

Falls Church Environment Booth - Falls Church Farmers Market

Falls Church Environment Booth – Falls Church Farmers Market

The FCE was formed to provide environmental outreach and education, filling a void created when the City of Falls Church defunded its environmental outreach program. The goal of FCE is to instill a sense of community ergo a level of ownership by promoting local initiatives. The FCE is a collaboration between members of the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists and other local environmental organizations, such as the City of Falls Church Habitat Restoration Team, Fairfax Master Naturalists, Fairfax Master Gardeners, Green Springs Master Gardeners and Fairfax County Tree Stewards.

The FCE booth is currently operated on Saturdays from 8 AM to Noon, October through November. At the booth, educational materials are provided to assist residents in recognizing the impact that their life styles have on the environment, and what they can do to mitigate the impact.

Along with the FCE booth at the City of Falls Church Farmers Market, the Falls Church City Environment Web provides information online to facilitate environmental outreach.

ARMN President Caroline Haynes:  Many thanks to ARMN member Kent Taylor, who has taken a leading role in coordinating these efforts!

HOG Pull, Saturday, November 2, 9-11am, Haley Park

HOG Pull, Saturday, November 2, 9-11 AM
Meet at Haley Park, 2400 S. Meade St., Arlington, VA 22202

HOG Pull is a continuing project on the first Saturday of each month to reclaim the natural area between Haley Park, Oakridge Elementary School, Gunston Middle School from Invasive Plants. It is a RiP (Remove Invasive Plants) and ARMN approved project.


The locally rare frosted, or waxyfruit hawthorn (Crataegus pruinosa) is bearing abundant fruit this season at HOG woods.

The locally rare frosted, or waxyfruit hawthorn (Crataegus pruinosa) is bearing abundant fruit this season at HOG woods.


  • Appropriate clothing, including good footware.  Some parts of the area are steep and contain poison ivy.
  • Gloves
  • Tools – weeders, clippers, whackers, small saws
  • Drinking water
  • Insect repellant

We will provide extra gloves and tools.



Marti Klein, cummingslc@aol.com

Jennifer Frum, frumjb@gmail.com

Bill McLaughlin, billmcnative@gmail.com

ARMN Member Home Is Showcase for Native Plants

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists who are engaged in the Audubon at Home Program found real inspiration in a visit to the home of member Kasha Helget.  The Audubon at Home certified property is beautifully landscaped almost completely with native plants in both formal and informal styles around the house.  The tour included a plant list and Kasha’s narration of the techniques for turning several challenges such as steep slopes, stormwater issues and a large stand of bamboo into attractive assets for the home.

Tour of Kasha's garden.4

In the front, the property uses a permeable paver driveway with a channel drain and a six foot deep dry well to capture and infiltrate runoff from the adjacent street.

Along the driveway, a shrub and perennial border contains large sweeps of native plants for a variety of seasonal interest including American Beautyberry, Wild Blue Indigo, Threadleaf Tickseed, and several varieties of both Asters and Mountain Mint.

Tour of Kasha's garden.8Tour of Kasha's garden.5 St. John’s Wort (Hypericum frondosum) is sheared as a low formal hedge surrounding a paved area. 

Unlike many traditionally landscaped local homes, most of the foundation plantings (against the base of the house) are deciduous – Clethra, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Coralberry – which is quite freeing from a design standpoint and one that allows the textural interest of the plants and the design of the patios and walks to shine in the winter months.

Evergreen plants – Junipers, Hollies, Wax Myrtle – are concentrated along the edges of the property for screening of neighboring property views and from weather.

Kasha's garden.9

Rainwater is directed around the foundation of the home using a sinuous system of dry creek beds lined with attractive stone. A small pond set into the dry creek bed along the side of the house is a beautiful accent and reminds one of the function of the creek stones.  The existing (invasive but beautiful and functional) bamboo clump that serves a s screening between properties is kept from spreading further by a poured concrete border several feet deep.   As the property slopes steeply downward along the side of the house, pervious steps, terracing and edging manage the grade change.

Tour of Kasha's garden.7Tour of Kasha's garden.6Tour of Kasha's garden.3

Numerous species of often little-used native plants are used in a variety of ways with very attractive results: Hog Peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata) is used as a ground cover below other perennials and on a deeply shaded slope;  Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is used in containers on the shaded deck;  Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) is used as a foundation planting in front of a low window;  and both Blue Wood Sedge (Carex flaccosperma var. glaucodea) and Purple Lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) were used as bed edging plants in shade and sun, respectively.

Tour of Kasha's garden.1

Overall, the Helget property is a testament to good landscape design using appropriate native plants.  Over 115 species of trees, shrubs, perennials and vines flower and produce fruit and seeds throughout the season.  These large sweeps of perennials and shrubs provide cover and food for numerous species of wildlife and four-season landscape interest for the owners and visitors.  The large variety of species vastly increases the biodiversity of the site and, during our short visit, we saw and heard many birds and species of pollinating insects visiting the garden.