A Red-shoulder’s Red Letter Day

by Mary Martha Churchman

On July 11, a Red-shouldered Hawk soared into the trees at Turkey Run Park, as an excited crowd of about forty fans––including ARMN members––watched and applauded and four local TV news channels filmed the release.

The bird’s journey to that moment began one evening in early April, when Mark Stein was walking his dog in the woods at Turkey Run. He noticed a large bird on the ground near the path and was concerned enough to go back the next morning to check on the bird, which was still there. He called the National Park Service Police and stayed with the injured bird until the park police arrived, along with National Park Service (NPS) Biologist and ARMN friend Erik Oberg, to capture the hawk and transport it to Raptor Conservancy of Virginia for recovery and rehabilitation.

According the press release issued by the NPS, “this hawk was likely struck by a vehicle on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. It suffered a concussion and leg injuries but did not have any broken bones.”

Erik Oberg and Gabby Hrycyshyn with the rehabilitated red shouldered hawk

Erik Oberg of NPS and Gabby Hrycyshyn of the Raptor Conservancy with the rehabilitated Red-shouldered Hawk (Photo by Sherrie Burson)

At the Raptor Conservancy center, the adult hawk was treated for its injuries and fed. Once it was medically stable, it was put into a large flight cage to regain its strength for flying––and eventually, hunting.

Before the rehabilitated bird was released, Oberg introduced Mark, the Good Samaritan, who seemed pleased to see the results of his intervention, though slightly embarrassed by the attention, especially from the TV reporters with their notebooks, microphones, and cameras.

As songbirds in the trees loudly signaled their distress, Gabby Hrycyshyn of the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia displayed a flightless Red-shoulder, trained as an education bird, and explained the important role raptors play in local ecology.

When the moment arrived just after noon, Gabby removed the rehabbed hawk from its cardboard pet carrier, held it for a moment while the TV cameras rolled, and then gently tossed the bird aloft. It knew just what to do and soared immediately into the woods, perching on a high branch just long enough to look back over a red shoulder at its admirers before returning home.

 

ARMN Announces Fall 2014 Training Class

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists is offering a Fall 2014 Basic Training Course beginning September 8 through December 8, 2014, on Mondays from 9 am to 3 pm at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington, and other locations around the county. (Please note that here will be no class on October 13.) Classroom training will be scheduled for the mornings with field training to follow in the afternoons.

Join a great group of folks of all ages and backgrounds who are interested in learning more about the natural world and our local natural resources –– and how we can all pull together to take care of them. No experience? No problem! Get into or get back to nature by taking the ARMN basic training course.

The deadline for applications is Monday, August 18, 2014. For more information, click on the  Basic Training and Apply tabs above.

Citizen Science: Turkey Run Park Insect ID

Citizen Science: Turkey Run Park Insect ID

 

 

Confessions of an Invasives Hitman

By Steve Young

For years, while mercilessly killing non-native invasive plants at Long
Branch Nature Center, I have harbored the admitted fantasy that the
invasives removal will magically reveal some cool, unexpected native
plants. And to be sure, I have seen some nice native plants and have been
able to track how many of them respond positively to the removal of the
invasives. For example, native tree seedlings pop up again in places where
they were choked out before. Plants like Mayapples poke up happily in
vigorous patches where the invasives are gone. I contemplate how plants
like Mayapples are survivors that evolved to cope with the fall of giant
trees on top of them, able to come back years later when the conditions
improved.

Back in April, as I enjoyed whacking dense ground webs of Japanese
Honeysuckle, something caught my eye. Around me were many white-flowering
plants of Star (or Great) Chickweed, an under-appreciated native. But this
white-flowered plant was different. A vague memory offered up Dwarf
Ginseng, but I thought “Naw, no way, it’s something else, more common, that
I should recognize.”

Dwarf Ginseng

Dwarf Ginseng (Photo by Steve Young)

Continue reading

An Interview with Stumpy, Arlington County Spokes-turtle

 

Stumpy, Long Branch Nature Center’s three-legged eastern box turtle, is one of only a few wildlife rescues at Arlington County nature centers that have been given individual names. Most animals on exhibit answer to generic monikers, such as Ms. Owl or Mr. Ratsnake. This is to remind people that the resident animals are not pets, but belong in nature, whether or not they will ever be able to return to their natural habitats. Stumpy, however, is a special case, as he would be the first to tell you.

Stumpy, Long Branch Nature Center's celebrity box turtle

Stumpy (Photo courtesy of Amanda DuPrey)

 

In advance of the annual Turtle Trot fundraiser on Saturday, May 17, at Lower Bluemont Park, a volunteer with the Arlington County Master Naturalists (ARMN) visited Stumpy at his residence at Long Branch to get his take on life and the importance of the Turtle Trot. As the interviewer was not fluent in box turtle (well, at least not in the eastern dialect), Amanda DuPrey, a Long Branch staff naturalist, assisted with the translation.

ARMN: You’re an eastern box turtle, Stumpy. I notice that you’re not in a pond habitat like some other turtles at Long Branch. Can you tell us something about box turtles and their lifestyle?

Stumpy: Everyone thinks that turtles belong in the water, but I much prefer the terrestrial life. In my opinion, the grub is much better. Worms, mushrooms, insects––oh, my! I’m drooling at the thought of a worm. There is really so much to say about turtles. We are great! Turtles are one of nature’s longest-lived creatures. I take pride in my long life span and leisurely lifestyle. I’m hoping to break that record of 138 years old. I say, 140 years old or bust! Part of the reason we live so long is because we don’t have a lot of enemies. Our shells keep us well protected and we can close ourselves up just like a box when we are scared or in danger.

Continue reading

ARMN Receives 2013 Bill Thomas Award

On April 22, 2014, ARMN president Marion Jordon accepted the 2013 Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Award from the Arlington Parks and Recreation Commission at the County Board’s regular meeting. The award is given in the name of lifelong parks volunteer Bill Thomas and honors both individuals and groups who have demonstrated a “passionate dedication and support” for Arlington’s natural resources and public open spaces.

ARMN members with County Board Chair Jay Fisette at Bill Thomas Award presentation

ARMN members with County Board Chair Jay Fisette at Bill Thomas Award presentation

The award was presented by Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Caroline Haynes, who noted that her unusual circumstance of being both a current ARMN member and former ARMN board member, along with fellow commission member Elizabeth Gearin, made it necessary to recuse herself from the consideration of the group award.

Wearing her Parks and Rec hat on the night, however, Haynes described ARMN as “an incredible group of dedicated volunteers” and cited the organization’s very impressive 10,000 hours of volunteer hours in 2013 alone, which included 2,350 hours in environmental education, 4,660 hours in invasive plant removal and other stewardship efforts, and 1,280 hours of data collection and management for citizen science projects. Haynes went on to acknowledge, “I know first-hand the hard work that the naturalists do on a daily basis and applaud their work and dedication” before extending her thanks to her “fellow Arlington Regional Master Naturalists.”

In accepting the award on behalf of the group, Jordan expressed her thanks for the award and also the opportunity for the partnership with Arlington County, adding “We look forward to continuing our service in the community in the years ahead.”

A reception was held for award recipients and their supporters immediately after the presentation. Winners of the individual awards were also on hand: Keith Fred, who was cited for his efforts on behalf of the Shirlington Community Canine Area and Peter Jones, who was recognized for his work to beautify and maintain the grounds of the Walter Reed Recreation Center.

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.

Porcelainberry
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!