Virginia State Symbol: The Northern Cardinal

Text and Photos by Ames Bowman

With its distinct red feathers, or plumage, its deep orange beak, and a crest that resembles a well-groomed mohawk, the presence of the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in Northern Virginia is unmistakable. The Northern Cardinal is Virginia’s state bird. I tagged along with part-time Arlington County Park Naturalist Yolanda Villacampa on Sunday, March 24, 2019 at Long Branch Nature Center to learn more about this bird as a part of her Virginia State Symbols program series.

Photo of an adult male norther cardinal in a tree
Adult Male Northern Cardinal, Outside Long Branch Nature Center.

At the beginning of the program, Yolanda shared some interesting facts about the Northern Cardinal:

  • While the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Virginia, it is also the state bird of six other states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia.
  • When you see a bright-red cardinal with a black patch at the base of the beak (or bill), you’re looking at an adult male Northern Cardinal.
  • Adult female Northern Cardinals are tan but share characteristics of the male: the pronounced crest, the short but big orange bill, and some red feathers.
  • Juvenile Northern Cardinals (both male and female) look like the females but with a grey beak.
  • The bird’s diet is primarily seeds and berries, but it is also known to snack on insects.
  • The bird has several calls, they are easy to identify when the male and female call back in forth in the same song.

Before heading out on the trail from Long Branch Nature Center to Glencarlyn Park, we listened intently to a recording of the bird’s several calls so that we could identify the cardinal by ear on the trail. Click here to listen to calls and responses of male and female Northern Cardinals. (Credit: Larry Arbanas/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (ML466840).)

We also learned how to use a field guide to identify other birds that we were likely to encounter on the trail and received a quick tutorial on how to focus our binoculars and, quietly, alert others in the group to the location of a bird.

During our walk, we heard several Northern Cardinal duets and observed one male Northern Cardinal. We also saw and identified three White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) and two Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens). One White-breasted Nuthatch was defending its territory on a tree from a nearby squirrel by extending its wings and swaying back and forth.

Photo of a stream
Glencarlyn Park, Convergence of Four Mile Run Stream and Long Branch Creek.

Virginia Symbols Programs

Join Yolanda on her next Virginia Symbols program!

  • Program Name: Virginia Wildlife Symbols: The Eastern Oyster
  • Date, Time, and Location: Sunday, June 23, 2019, 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM. Meet at Gulf Branch Nature Center
  • Website and Additional Information: During this program, we will learn about the Virginia coastal two-shelled mollusk resident. The program will include a shell activity. The program is geared towards families ages 7 and up—children must be registered separately and must be accompanied by a registered adult. Stay tuned to the Arlington County Parks and Recreation – Nature & History Program webpage to register for this program. The cost of registration will be $5/participant.

Learn more about the Virginia Symbols program leader, Yolanda Villacampa, a part-time Arlington County Park Naturalist and ARMN member in the 2018 blog post, ARMN: Getting to Know Yolanda Villacampa.

Be a Birder!

You, too, can watch the Northern Cardinal and other birds! While early March till early May are ideal times to observe courtship rituals and migratory species that pass through the region before the onset of summer, Northern Virginia is home to many native birds that you can see year-round! Learn about the courtship ritual of the male American Woodcock in a companion ARMN blog piece, “Sky Dancer: The American Woodcock.”

Whether you’re a beginner birder with a basic interest or a pro, consider joining either of the weekly bird walks at the nearby parks or with groups listed below. Make sure to check ahead before you venture out for information on where to meet, updates, weather-related cancellations, and other birding events. Happy birding!

Location Date & Time Website
Huntley Meadows Park Every Monday, beginning
at 7:00 AM
Friends of
Huntley Meadows Park
Dyke Marsh
Wildlife Preserve
Every Sunday, beginning
at 8:00 AM
Friends of Dyke Marsh
Audubon Society of
Northern Virginia
Various dates and times,
parks throughout
Northern Virginia
Audubon Society of
Northern Virginia –
Bird Walks and Field Trips

Sky Dancer: The American Woodcock

Sky Dancer: The American Woodcock

Text and photo by Ames Bowman

Chances are you have heard the familiar “peent” call of the male American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) if you have ever ventured near a meadow at the edge of the forest on a spring or summer evening. From early March until early May, Huntley Meadows Park in Northern Virginia offers Evening Woodcock Walks for adults and families eager to witness and hear the male woodcock in action during its mating ritual. On Saturday, March 9, 2019, I attended such an event and here is what I learned about this fascinating bird.

Courtship Ritual Observation in Huntley Meadows Park

The American Woodcock is a regular visitor to Huntley Meadows Park and favors a habitat of both forested and heavily thicketed areas—making the diverse habitats there a prime spot for this migrant species. American Woodcocks are also known to be regular inhabitants of the area, depending on seasonal weather patterns and yearly migration behaviors of the species.

During the woodcock event, leader and naturalist, P.J. Dunn, explained that woodcocks are difficult to spot by day due to their impressive camouflaging feathers. However, they are easily recognizable by night with the distinct calls of the males in the breeding season that begins in early spring and lasts through the early summer months.

After our group became familiar with the peent call and courtship flight ruffling of the male American Woodcock during a quick educational presentation, we set out on the Evening Woodcock Walk during which we were treated to a chorus of calls at dusk. Our group made a short trek to a small and brushy clearing at the edge of a dense forest to observe the carefully coordinated courtship display. In great anticipation, we waited for the peent call. Not ten minutes passed when we began hearing this call from various points in the clearing, apparently by several male woodcocks. A very loud peent came from the brush not five yards from us; however, we were unable to spot the bird because it was so well camouflaged—a terrific technique to elude predators and eager bird enthusiasts, alike!

Male woodcocks use the peent call to attract a female for mating prior to and just after the main event of its courtship display: the sky dance. The male woodcock repeats this call for several minutes in the same location on the ground. Then, it launches 200 feet or higher into the sky to begin its dance, featuring the musical talents of specialized feathers and chirps. As it circles in the sky, the woodcock then makes twittering noises solely from the vibrations of its specialized feathers. When it begins its descent until about 70 feet off the ground, the woodcock vocalizes through kiss-like chirps to accompany its feather twitters in an elaborate display, still circling its initial point of departure on the ground. As it descends below 70 feet, the woodcock silences and returns to the ground—often in the exact location from which it departed—to begin the elaborate ruse once again. A single woodcock may repeat this ritual up to twenty times in a single evening!

While we were fortunate to hear all three sounds of the male American Woodcocks: the distinctive peent, the twitter of its feathers, and the vocalized chirps as they performed their aerial dance, we were not able to witness the sky dance in its entirety due to overcast skies. Then, the courtship displays came to an apparent abrupt halt when two Barred Owls (Strix varia) began engaging in their own mating ritual and calling back and forth to each other like caterwauling from the far edge of the clearing. As it turns out, it takes only two species to make a crowd!

Watch and listen to the sky dance of the American Woodcock Here. (Video credit: YouTube user MassLPWS.)

Fun Anatomy Facts about the American Woodcock

While on our excursion, we learned some interesting facts about the anatomy of the American Woodcock:

Its feathers, or plumage, allow for it to camouflage against dense thicket, brush, and forested areas. This makes it possible for the bird to nest and scavenge on or near the ground without detection by predators of ground and sky.

They have super long beaks, similar to sandpipers, to plunge into the ground and find insects. The tips of these beaks open slightly (like tweezers) to catch their snack. Earthworms are a staple item in the diet of the American Woodcock.

The bird has eyes far back and near the top of its skull. This is so it can keep its eyes above ground while its beak is prodding for food, reducing its vulnerability to predators.

Be a Birder!

You, too, can watch the American Woodcock and other birds! While early March till early May are ideal times to observe courtship rituals and migratory species that pass through the region before the onset of summer, Northern Virginia is home to many native birds that you can see year-round! Learn more about the state bird of Virginia that can be seen (and heard) in all seasons in a companion ARMN blog piece, “Virginia State Symbol: The Northern Cardinal.”

Whether you’re a beginner birder with a basic interest in nature or a pro, consider joining one or more bird walks at the nearby parks or with groups listed below. Make sure to check ahead before you venture out for information on where to meet, updates, weather-related cancellations, and other birding events. Happy birding!

Location Date & Time Website
Huntley
Meadows
Park
Every Monday, beginning at
7:00 AM
Huntley Meadows Park
Dyke
Marsh
Wildlife
Preserve
Every Sunday, beginning at
8:00 AM
Friends of Dyke Marsh
Audubon
Society of Northern
Virginia
Various dates and times,
parks throughout
Northern Virginia
Audubon Society of
Northern Virginia –
Bird Walks and Field Trips


It’s Springtime . . . Plant Natives!

Text and photos by Kasha Helget

With longer daylight hours, warming soils, and the return of bird, bees, and butterflies, get ready to roll up your sleeves and install some native plants. Our local animals depend on them, AND they provide beautiful enhancements to our landscapes. So, please consider a few—or several native plants to brighten your yard, patio or deck. The native wildlife will appreciate it!

Photo of orange flowers
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Why Choose Native Plants?

Because they’re “from here,” natives are adapted to our climate and soil conditions. They are often the only or most healthful source of nectar, pollen, seeds, and leaves for local butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. Other benefits of native plants are that they:

  • do not require fertilizers and few if any pesticides,
  • need less water than lawns, and help prevent erosion,
  • help reduce air pollution,
  • provide shelter and food for wildlife,
  • promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage, and
  • are beautiful and increase landscape values!

How to Choose the Right Natives for Your Yard or Pots?

It’s important to install the right plants for your conditions (wet, dry, shade, sun, slope, bog, soil type, etc.). How do you know what’s right for you? One of the best sources is the Plant Nova Natives website: http://www.plantnovanatives.org/, with easy-to-follow tips, lots of photos, and additional links to learn what will work for your situation.

Where Can You Buy Natives?

Most commercial nurseries do not carry many native plants. If you have a favorite place that has a weak selection, tell them to please stock more. But there is a wonderful solution in the coming weeks: visit the increasing number of native plant sales in the area (many of which provide food, entertainment, and fun for kids, too). Below is information on several in Northern Virginia. Happy shopping and planting!

Close up photo of a plant with four leaves and clusters of purple berries
American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana
Close up photo of a button bush flower that is white and spherical which is being pollinated by a bee
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

2019 Spring Native Plant Sales

NOVA Soil & Water Conservation District, Native Seedling Sale

  • Order online till 04/2/19 or till supply runs out.
  • Pick up plants either Friday, April 5th, 9am to 4pm, or Saturday, April 6th, 9am to noon at Sleepy Hollow Bath & Racquet Club, 3516 Sleepy Hollow Rd, Falls Church, VA 22044.
  • Visit the Sale Site.

Friends of the National Arboretum, Lahr Symposium and Native Plant Sale

  • 03/30/2019
  • 8:30am to 4pm
  • U.S. National Arboretum: 3501 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC
  • Sale located in R Street parking lot at Arboretum.
  • Visit the Sale Site

Potowmack Chapter Weekly Plant Sale

  • From April 3rd through October is a low-key WEEKLY plant sale on the first Wednesday of each month at the propagation beds behind the main building at Green Springs Garden.
  • 10am to 1pm
  • 4603 Green Spring Rd, Alexandria, VA 22312
  • Park Website: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Native Plant Sale

  • 04/06/2019
  • 9am to 3pm
  • Right BEFORE main parking lot at Morven Park: 17263 Southern Planter Ln, Leesburg, VA
  • Spring and fall sales
  • Visit the Sale Site

American Horticulture Society, Spring Garden Market

  • 4/12-13/2019
  • 10am to 4pm
  • River Farm: 7931 E. Boulevard Dr., Alexandria, VA
  • Includes some native plant vendors.
  • Visit the Sale Site.

Long Branch Nature Center

  • Pre-order through 04/24/2017. Order online for pick up 05/03/2019 from 3-6pm, or 05/04/2019 from 10am-3pm.
  • Sale 05/04/2019 (Rain date 05/05/2019)
  • 1 to 4pm
  • Long Branch Nature Center
  • 625 S. Carlin Springs Road
  • Arlington, VA 22204
  • Visit the Sale Site.

Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale

  • 04/29/2019
  • 9am to 2pm
  • The Church of St. Clement: 1701 N. Quaker Ln, Alexandria, VA
  • Spring and fall sales.
  • Visit the Sale Site.

Rappahannock Plant Sale at Waterpenny Farm

  • 04/27/2019
  • 8am to 2pm
  • 53 Waterpenny Lane,
  • Sperryville, VA 22740

Friends of Riverbend Park Native Plant Sale

  • 05/04/2019
  • 8 to 11am
  • Riverbend Park Outdoor Classroom/Picnic Shelter on Potomac Hills Street between Jeffery Road and the Visitors’ Center.
  • Pre-order through March 16. Pick up pre-ordered plants Friday, May 3 at the Riverbend Park Educational Pavilion on Potomac Hills Street in Great Falls. If plants do not emerge and look healthy by this date, we will refund your payment or replace with a similarly-priced item.
  • Visit the Sale Site.

Reston Association, Spring Festival

  • 05/04/2019
  • 1 to 5pm
  • Walker Nature Center: 11450 Glade Drive, Reston, VA
  • Includes a native plant sale.

2019 Girl Scout Troop 676 Native Plant Sale (Falls Church)

  • 05/05/2019
  • 11am to 1 pm (for pick up only)
  • Cherry Hill Park, 312 Park Ave, Falls Church, VA (behind the community center near the basketball court)
  • This sale is pre-order only. All orders must be received by May 2nd with payment by either mail or drop-off at this address: 802 Ridge Place, Falls Church, VA 22046.
  • Click here for details. Click here for the plant list.

Earth Sangha Plant Sale

Prince William Wildflower Society Annual Wildflower and Native Plant Sale

  • 05/11/2019
  • 9am to 12pm
  • Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church picnic area, 8712 Plantation Lane, Manassas, VA
  • Visit the Sale Site.

Friends of Runnymede Park

Green Springs Garden Day Plant Sale

  • Potowmack Chapter native plants and other native vendors
  • 05/18/2019
  • 9am to 3pm
  • Green Spring Gardens: 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA
  • Visit the Sale Site.

2018 Arlington BioBlitz is September 15th!

Arlington will be conducting its second Bioblitz, and this year it will take place at only one site: Glencarlyn Park. This is a wonderful opportunity for individuals to participate in a valuable citizen science inventory of plants, wildlife, and other living organisms in the community.

What is a BioBlitz?

It is a (usually) 24-hour survey to find and identify as many species as possible in a specific area. The information collected will help the County to update its Natural Resources Management Plan. Last year’s BioBlitz was a wonderful success. (See event summary at: 2017 armn.org blog.) This year the team decided to conduct surveys in only one park instead of several throughout the county.

Why would you want to participate in the BioBlitz?

Because it is a great way to find and learn about the wildlife, plants and other living things in Arlington. Participants will be teamed with experts to help find, identify, and catalog what they find, using a free application called iNaturalist. While you do not need any experience to partake in the event, individuals with expertise in plants, wildlife, or other living organisms are encouraged to participate.

Photo of a Carolina Chickadee bird on a tree trunk. THe bird has a black topped head followed by a white strip and a grey body. The tree trunk is light brown streaked with dark brown and has a flaky bark.

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) at Glencarlyn Park. Photo courtesy of Steve Young.

Photo of the plant Virginia Sweetspire. The sweetspire has obovate shaped, alternate green leaves with long stalks of small white flowers.

Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) at Tuckahoe Park. Photo courtesy of Christine Campe-Price.

When, Where, and Who

The inventories will begin as early at 7:30 am and run as late as 8:30 pm in a variety of focus teams: birds, botany, herps (amphibians and reptiles), fish, fungi, insects, trees, butterflies and dragonflies, streams, insects and nocturnals, and groups that will look at various taxa. Here are the relevant details:

Date: September 15, 2018

Time: Varied. Click on Sign-up Genius to pick your event and time

Meeting location: Glencarlyn Park Picnic Pavilion #1, 401 S Harrison St., Arlington, VA 22204

Who can participate: Anyone 13 years and older

Cost: FREE

For questions, please contact: Alonso Abugattas at 703-228-7742 or email NaturalResources@arlingtonva.us.

Add Native Plants to Your Fall Garden and enjoy them again next Spring and Summer!

Text and photos by Kasha Helget

Fall is the BEST time to install native plants. The cooler air temperatures are less stressful to stems and foliage, and the still-warm soil gives roots a great head start to become established before winter. So, consider choosing a few—or several native plants to brighten your yard, patio, or deck!

Photo of a green plant with small white flowers surrounding a tree trunk

White wood aster (Eurybia divaricata), is a spreading perennial that bloom in early-mid fall, thrive in light to heavy shade, can handle dry conditions, and attract butterflies.

Why Choose Native Plants?

Natives are local species and are adapted to our climate and soil conditions. They also are often the only or most healthful source of nectar, pollen, seeds, and leaves for local butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. These plants:

  • do not require fertilizers and few if any pesticides,
  • need less water than lawns, and help prevent erosion,
  • help reduce air pollution,
  • provide shelter and food for wildlife,
  • promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage, and
  • are beautiful and increase scenic values!

How to Choose the Right Natives for Your Yard or Pots?

It’s important to install the right plants for your conditions (wet, dry, shade, sun, slope, bog, soil type, etc.). How do you know what’s right for you? One of the best sources is the Plant Nova Natives website: http://www.plantnovanatives.org/, with easy-to-follow tips, lots of photos, and additional links to learn what will work for your situation.

Close up photo of a plant with yellowish green leaves and deep purple berries clustered around the stem.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a shrub that can grow 3-5 ft. tall and wide. It prefers sun to light shade and moist conditions, produces purple berries in mid-fall, and attracts birds and butterflies.

Where Can You Buy Natives?

Most commercial nurseries do not carry a lot of native plants. If you have a favorite place that has a weak selection, tell them that you’d love if they could stock more. But there are many nurseries that bring plants to us—at local native plant sales. Below is a list of fall native plant sales nearby, with many providing food and entertainment. Happy shopping and planting!

Photo of light purple flowers with small petals and bright yellow centers

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is a spreading perennial that can grow 3- 6 ft, and bloom in early-late fall. It prefers part shade and moist conditions and attracts bees and butterflies.

Fall 2018 Native Plant Sales

Potowmack Chapter Weekly Plant Sale
Weekly plant sale on the first Wednesday of each month through October at the propagation beds behind the main building at Green Springs Garden.
10:00 am–12:00 pm
4603 Green Spring Rd, Alexandria, VA 22312
https://vnps.org/potowmack/events/plant-sale-propagation-party/

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Fall Native Plant Sale
September 8, 2018
9:00 am–3:00 pm
Morven Park
17263 Southern Planter Ln, Leesburg, VA
https://loudounwildlife.org/event/fall-native-plant-sale-2/

Friends of Runnymede Park
September 15, 2018
9:00 am–2:00 pm
Runnymede Park
195 Herndon Pkwy, Herndon, VA
http://www.frpweb.org/10.html

Glencarlyn Garden Autumnfest
September 16, 2018
10:00 am–3:00 pm
Glencarlyn Library Garden
300 S. Kensington St, Arlington, VA
https://mgnv.org/2018/08/22/autumnfest-at-glencarlyn-library-garden/

Long Branch Native Plant Sale
September 22, 2018
1:00–4:00 pm
Pre-order deadline: September 12, 2018 at 4:00 pm
Long Branch Nature Center
625 S. Carlin Springs Rd, Arlington, VA
https://parks.arlingtonva.us/native-plant-sale/

Town of Vienna Native Plant Sale
September 22, 2018
8:00 am–1:00 pm
Vienna Community Center
120 Cherry Street SE, Vienna, VA
https://www.viennava.gov/documentcenter/view/3663

Green Spring Garden and VA Native Plant Society Fall Garden Day
September 22, 2018
9:00 am–3:00 pm
Green Spring Garden Park
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria VA
http://www.friendsofgreenspring.org/programs-a-events/fall-garden-day-2018

Earth Sangha Fall Wild Plant Nursery Sale
EXTENDED to September 30, 2018
9 am–Noon
Franconia Park
6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield, VA
http://www.earthsangha.org/wpn

Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale
September 29, 2018
9:00 am–2:00 pm
Church of St. Clement
1701 N. Quaker Ln, Alexandria VA 22302
http://northernalexandrianativeplantsale.org/

City of Alexandria Fall Native Plant Sale
Online through October 31, 2018
Pickup on November 3, 2018, 9:00 am–3:00 pm
Buddie Ford Nature Center
5750 Sanger Ave., Alexandria, VA 22311
Order information HERE, and click “Shop” button located at the top of the page and select Fall 2018 Plant Sale.
https://www.alexandriava.gov/recreation/info/default.aspx?id=94340

 

Firefly Fest – Fun for all Ages!

Text and photos by Jo Allen

On June 24, 2018, the 10th annual Firefly Festival was held at Fort C.F. Smith Park. This very popular event was scheduled to run from 7:00–9:30 p.m. but was cut short by a cloudburst around 9:10. Still, it was really a great time, especially for the little ones!

This was my first year volunteering at the Firefly Festival at Fort C.F. Smith Park. I got the “bug” last summer at Bat Fest at Gulf Branch Nature Center, where I helped dozens of kids stamp scarves and bags with bat images. It was so much fun, especially seeing the creativity the youngsters expressed. I had always wanted to attend the Firefly Festival (organized by Rachael Tolman, Park Naturalist at Long Branch) but just had never signed up. This was the year.

I was assigned to the table next to Ken Rosenthal, a park naturalist at Gulf Branch Nature Center, whose “Deep Dive” presentations into everything from migratory birds to white tail deer to eels have held audiences rapt each time he gives them. Ken was loaning out bug nets and clear jars to kids for 10 minutes at a time so they could see what they could catch. Grandparents were the best at showing kids how to do this effectively (probably because they did the same activity in their youth). Remarkably, kids of all ages returned the gear in time, no arguments. And some came back with bugs of all kinds, which Ken quickly identified and, with luck, photographed. One team returned a jar with six fireflies. Many others brought earlier-evening insects. But there were so many fireflies that it was possible to catch one carefully by hand as it helicoptered up, blinking its mix of luciferin and luciferase bioluminescence in search of a mate.

My table illustrated how other nocturnal creatures—moths and bats—find their “perfect partner.” Or in the case of bats, their perfect prey: moths.

Headbands, sissors, pictures of bats, insect nets, and jars sit on folding tables in a field

Photo of the moth/bat craft stand.

Kids were told that male moths detect pheromones of females with their fluffy antenna (think feather boa) and that female moths have plain antenna (mere pipe cleaners or chenille sticks) by comparison.

Only girls wanted feathery antenna. And given a choice, most kids went for bat ears, which were more complicated to make, but really fun to wear!

ARMN volunteer wears "firefly antennae" made from bright yellow pipe cleaners

Jo Allen with “firefly antennae.”

I made nearly all of the antenna and ears headbands myself even though this was supposed to be a kid craft project. I realized I needed to do a lot of the assembly when I handed a pair of kid scissors to a little girl who was handling them awkwardly.

“I don’t think she’s ever used scissors,” her dad said. “She’s only three.”

“I use them in preschool,” she promptly corrected.

But she was struggling, so I cut the flap on her paper bat ears, glue-dotted them to the chenille stick I had cut in half and twisted onto a plastic headband and placed it on her head.

“Can you hear better now?” I asked.

Echoing every youngster, and one adult, after donning their bat ears, she replied, “Yes!”

Summer Chapter Meeting Kicks off ARMN’s 10 Year Celebration

ARMN members met on the evening of June 21st to celebrate the first day of summer and the official start to our 10-year anniversary festivities. While ARMN members are known for their industrious volunteer work, we also know how to have a good time!

ARMN’s Summer Chapter meeting was preceded by a tree identification walk led by member Jack Person in Dora Kelley Nature Park in Alexandria. Members appreciated Jack’s unique take on the relationship of trees to each other and to other plants in the ecosystem, and agreed that a walk in the park is a great way to begin a meeting.

Photo of ARMN members standing on a trail in the forest

Photo courtesy of Carol Mullen.

Members then strolled back to the home of Kasha Helget where they enjoyed an extensive potluck meal and socialized in a relaxed outdoor atmosphere.

Photo of ARMN members standing around tables at a potluck

Photo courtesy of Carol Mullen.

Photo of ARMN members sitting on chairs on a deck listening to a speech

Photo courtesy of Carol Mullen.

Folks also walked around Kasha’s yard that features a variety of native plant.

Photo 4

Photo 5Photo 6

After the conclusion of the business part of the meeting, Vice President Phil Klingelhofer conducted a quiz of ARMN history highlights and winners were rewarded with native plants from Kasha’s garden. The celebration lasted till well after dark, when the fireflies put on their own show.

Photo 7

The Importance of Citizen Scientists: Using iNaturalist to Create an Inventory of Natural Resources

By Louis Harrell

The recent City Nature Challenge, held 27-30 April 2018, exemplifies the important role that the general public plays by providing professional scientists with valuable data on biodiversity. Anyone can become a “citizen scientist” by going out and collecting data related to the natural world – made even easier today with the iNaturalist app. All you need to get started is a computer or a mobile smart phone and a desire to enjoy the great outdoors!

How does it work? The free iNaturalist app maps observations by different levels of geography, taxonomy, and type of observation. It can record and show all of the observations collected around the world, in the Washington DC area, or only those observations in a specific neighborhood. The 2018 City Nature Challenge provides an interesting and current source of data that can be used to demonstrate the power of the mapping capability of iNaturalist. Over 10,000 research-grade observations were collected providing insight into the distribution of natural resources in the D.C. metropolitan area. Research-grade observations are defined as identifications that have been confirmed by a second reviewer. Thanks to the capability of the app and the crowd-sourced second level review, citizen scientists can have fun collecting data and making material contributions toward understanding our environment.

Why would citizen scientists want to collect observations of various living things and map them? Collections of observations or inventories are a widely recognized technique used to identify long-term trends in biodiversity, the incidence of invasive plants, and the locations of other ecologically important species. For example, the data collected through iNaturalist allows a citizen scientist to document exactly when that garlic mustard appeared in the corner of a yard and if observations are collected over time, one can then observe the progression of the plant’s life. Since all data is collected with a standard method via iNaturalist, research-grade observations can automatically be integrated into larger files.

Inventories can be improved through well-known survey methodologies. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has published information that shows how sampling, careful data collection protocols, and appropriate collection technology can influence the quality of information and its utility for research, affect distribution of resources used to manage lands, and improve public understanding of natural resources. While the FWS document focuses on invasive species, its guidelines for research can be used for documenting any species in an area. For those interested in learning more, the FWS training can be found at: https://www.fws.gov/invasives/staffTrainingModule/assessing/inventory.html.

Citizen scientists of all ages can implement another inventory technique, the “Biocube,” which facilitates study of a very small space. The Smithsonian Institution developed Biocubes, which are hollow one foot cubic frames, that can be placed almost anywhere to show differences among living communities from different continents, different habitats, and wild versus domesticated land. The Smithsonian has published procedures to measure species diversity in a cubic foot. The method has been successfully used in marine and land environments and uses iNaturalist for reporting results. The strength of the approach comes from its use of a standard cubic foot sample size allowing comparison of results. The Smithsonian has published an introduction to Biocubes and a video that shows the history and significance of the technique at: http://ocean.si.edu/ocean-news/biocubes-life-one-cubic-foot.

How would a citizen scientist create a neighborhood data map?  The iNaturalist app is simple to use on a computer or a mobile phone. First, select the “Observations” option on the home page of the iNaturalist app, and then click “Explore.” This will display a map of the world. Next, click the filter button located in the upper right corner. Enter the desired options and the app will produce the specified neighborhood map. The example below shows how easy it is to display all research-grade observations from the City Nature Challenge:

Photo 1

These research-grade observations were collected in the Arlington and Alexandria areas during the Challenge:

Photo 2

In addition, iNaturalist has a “zoom in” feature that displays detail for individual sites.  Check out the results from Dora Kelley Park in Alexandria!

Photo 3

Download iNaturalist and get involved collecting observations individually or mark your calendar for the next big collaborative citizen science project: the Arlington Bioblitz to be held on Saturday 15 September 2018!

ARMN Helps DC Area Place 5th Worldwide in City Nature Challenge

By Rosemary Jann

During the weekend of 27-30 April 2018, 180 ARMN members and other area residents answered the call to participate in the third annual City Nature Challenge. The Nature Challenge seeks to encourage interest in urban nature by having groups compete to record and identify the nature around them. It began in 2016 as a friendly competition between Los Angeles and San Francisco to see which area could document the most species and involve the most participants. It went national in 2017 and international in 2018, this year including 68 urban areas worldwide, including greater Washington, DC.

 ARMN members took part in 27 different CNC events held in more than 15 parks in Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and Fairfax County during the weekend. As leaders

Photo of John and Josie Buchanan examining a salmander on a hike in Barcroft Park

Photo courtesy of Marion Jordan.

and assistants on various nature walks, ARMN members helped raise interest and educate other community members in nature observation, like John and Josie Buchanan, seen here examining a salamander they found on their ARMN-led hike in Barcroft Park.

 

Other events included a “birding by bike” tour on April 28 in which Lori Bowes and Phil

Photo of water snake swallowing a fish at Four Mile Run

Photo courtesy of Carol Mullen.

Klingelhofer led more than 10 people on a 22-mile route through Long Branch, Barcroft, Fort F. C. Smith, and other Arlington parks along the Potomac. Cyclist Carol Mullen snapped the accompanying photo of a water snake swallowing a fish at Four Mile Run.

 

ARMN Basic Training class members also contributed observations from their “herps

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Copyright David Howell 2018.

and chirps” fieldtrip at Huntley Meadows on April 30th, including photos of a Hooded Merganser with ducklings.

All City Nature Challenge participants documented their observations on iNaturalist, a free app and website that allows individuals to easily upload, share, and identify species.

The results were impressive: we helped the DC Metro area come in 5th place world-wide for overall number of observations (22,866), 4th overall in number of observers (886), and 8th overall in number of species (1,850). 537 people helped make 38,968 species identifications for our area. This year Boston had thrown down a specific challenge to DC: we bested them in observations and species and came in one place behind them in total number of observers. Our area’s most frequently observed species were the Common Blue Violet for plants, the American Robin for birds, and the White-tailed Deer for mammals.

The City Nature Challenge celebrates and supports two vital functions of citizen science: it brings members of the community together to enhance their appreciation of nature, and it provides scientists with valuable data on biodiversity that can help guide the understanding and preservation of our natural resources. Thanks to all members of ARMN and the greater community who participated. Save the date for our next big citizen science project: the Arlington Bioblitz to be held on Saturday, September 15, 2018!

If September seems too far off to collect more environmental data, then look for our next blog piece on how iNaturalist can be used to map a whole variety of observations that can help us better understand our environment.

Join the City Nature Challenge: April 27 to 30!

Join the City Nature Challenge Now!

Select from many local events on April 27–30 and sign up. For the list of local events and sign-up information, click: HERE

Banner image for City Nature Challenge 2018

By Louis Harrell, Caroline Haynes, and Phil Klingelhofer

What is the City Nature Challenge?

Mark your calendars for April 27-30 to participate in the City Nature Challenge. What started out as a friendly competition between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2016 to document urban nature using iNaturalist, expanded to 15 cities in 2017, and is going global in 2018 with over 65 cities participating on five continents. ARMN is helping to organize participation in the City Nature Challenge DC, encompassing the entire DC metro area, including 14 counties in Virginia, 5 counties in Maryland, and Jefferson County in West Virginia.

ARMN members and others participated in the challenge last year and the DC area came in 7th behind Raleigh, N.C.  This year, Boston has challenged DC, and we’re hoping to improve our record.

Who can participate and where?

You, your friends, their friends, and families are all invited to become citizen scientists and participate in an observation event; all ages and levels of expertise are welcome!

Folks may participate anywhere in the metropolitan area.  Each group will have experienced leaders to show you what to do. The more eyes on the ground and up in the sky the better! Join the fun, and contribute to the collection of data, to see which metropolitan area (hopefully, OURS!) can engage the most participants, make the most observations and identify the most species.

How to learn more and sign up.

There are a lot of ways to get more information and join the challenge:

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History will be hosting an event on Monday, April 30 at 6:30 pm with taxonomic experts to help ID the findings. For details and registration, click: http://go.si.edu/site/Calendar?id=102202&view=Detail&s_src=nmnh_er&s_subsrc=midmo_1803_text.

Images of the logos of sponsors of the City Nature Challege 2018