A Bright Outlook for Citizen Science in Arlington

by Louis Harrell

“The joy of looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.” – Albert Einstein

Citizen Science is defined as “the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.” Why is it important? It offers many benefits both to residents of a community and local natural resource programs. While there are many citizen science opportunities in the region at large, this piece focuses on how citizens may participate in research projects in Arlington County, improve their knowledge of the local environment, and identify species resident in the County. The County gets to use the expertise of citizens to accomplish needed projects that might otherwise be delayed due to resource constraints.

What can we look forward to in the near future?  A bright outlook for citizen science!

Arlington’s First Bioblitz

 Arlington Bioblitz logo

On May 20, ARMN will be supporting the first Arlington’s Bioblitz as a key focus project for 2017. This 24-hour survey is the first of a series of annual surveys designed to document the plants and animals present in a number of parks in the county. Data collected will be used as part of the Arlington Natural Resource Management plan. Experts will provide support and advice to volunteers who will document local species.

The mammal survey component of the bioblitz will look for proof of locally rare species. Game cameras will be used to monitor species and volunteers will be needed to review photos. An entomologist will support volunteers who will collect, preserve, and send bee samples to other entomologists for additional study. Other insects will also be surveyed. Ornithologists and expert birders will conduct bird walks. Any unusual nesting activity may be included in the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas.

Surveys of bats, fish, salamanders, and other amphibians and reptiles are also planned.  Among the locations where you can sign up to participate in the bioblitz are: Barcroft Park, Gulf Branch Park and Nature Center, Long Branch Nature Center at Glencarlyn Park, and Potomac Overlook Regional Park.  The full list of projects and more information is provided here.  Alonso Abugattas has also published an article about the BioBlitz on his Capital Naturalist blog: http://capitalnaturalist.blogspot.com/2017/04/arlington-bioblitz.html.

There are many other projects that are longer-term and often part of a national scope. All offer participants the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the environment and do significant field work. Below are some projects that focus on deer, birds, insects, and plants.

Deer Browse Surveys

Deer browse surveys are underway within Glencarlyn Park and Barcroft Park. Additional studies are being planned that will use existing trees and fences to create temporary deer exclosures. The exclosures will allow collection of data using different methodologies than currently used.

Game camera surveys can also be conducted over a long period to capture photos of locally rare species and monitor trends in more common mammals.

Ornithology Projects Including the Annual Christmas Bird Count

Photo of Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronate)

Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronate)

There are many wonderful citizen science bird programs, too. These include the very popular Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society in which volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the annual census of birds during the winter. Another opportunity is the eBird Project, co-sponsored by the Cornell Ornithology Lab and Audubon. It is an online database of bird observations in which anyone can enter bird lists to monitor bird species in their area or map overall abundance of a species in an area over time. There is also the Breeding Bird Atlas of Virginia program.  The second Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (VABBA2) is a follow-up survey to the first Atlas that was published over 25 years ago and surveys all bird species breeding in the state. Data collected will help map the distribution and status of Virginia’s breeding bird community in order to provide better information for natural resource and conservation decisions.

Insect Citizen Science Projects

Photo of Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

The North American Butterfly Association conducts a butterfly count in July.  The Pollinator Partnership sponsors National Pollinator Week in June to collect data on pollinators including bees and monarch butterflies and generally to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what can be done to protect them. National Moth Week takes place in the last week in July and celebrates the beauty, life cycles, and habitats of moths. People of all ages and abilities are encouraged to learn about, observe, and document moths in their backyards, parks, and neighborhoods. There are between 60 and 70 moth species in Arlington already recorded but even more species could be identified!

Plant Citizen Science Opportunities

Photo of Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Bee balm (Monarda didyma)


Botanists and plant lovers of all levels will also have opportunities. Arlington County is developing some exciting projects:  The Arlington Herbarium needs to be digitized in order to improve the usefulness of the collection for analysis and voucher specimens need to be collected for the State Atlas.

Whatever your interest in nature, there is probably a local or national citizen science project in which you can participate.  Go outside, look, learn, and share!


New Life for Nauck Woods

by Sue Dingwell and Lori Bowes

A treasured historic woodland area in South Arlington has been restored to its native glory with the help of some dedicated volunteers. Here is the story of the Nauck Woods and the folks who helped revive it.

(Photos by Sue Dingwell unless otherwise noted.)

Nothing can stop an ARMN invasives crew! Despite cool temps and a sketchy forecast, dedicated ARMN members showed up on Saturday, January 13 to help with invasive plant and trash removal at the intriguing little corner in Arlington known as Nauck Woods. This little parcel, now totally clear of ivy on the tree trunks, is full of native plants, both apparent and also about-to-be apparent as they are carefully released from the choking bondage of invasives.


ARMN President Marion Jordan (left) and Continuing Education Chair Lori Bowes (right) demonstrate deft invasive removal skills.


A little background: Nauck Woods is the largest naturalized parcel in the Nauck community, the oldest African American neighborhood in Arlington. The community was settled in 1844 as former residents of Freedman’s Village began moving into the area after the Civil War. In 2013, Nauck Woods was considered as a site for the new headquarters of Phoenix Bikes, a youth bicycle repair and entrepreneurial development nonprofit. After neighborhood opposition, that plan was scrapped and ARMN and TreeStewards began to support efforts to preserve the trees and nature in Nauck Woods.

On Martin Luther King Day (January 16, 2017), a second wave of ARMN volunteers joined the effort and collected more trash and started to remove ivy from trees along Four Mile Run. Together we can! Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt came and worked the entire two hours. Thank you, John!


Tired but happy invasives crew and some fruits of their labors. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Haynes.)

Even in winter, the site was full of both beauty and promise. Deep green leaves of mature American holly trees (Ilex americana) were resplendent with silver droplets; a few as-yet uneaten berries decorated greenbrier vines (Smilax rotundifolia); a little stream coursed through the Woods, greatly enhancing wildlife value; and bird song gave evidence that this little haven is already providing refuge.


American holly (left) and greenbrier berries (right) provide color, food, and shelter for wildlife.


Freshwater stream through Nauck Woods.


ARMN Master Naturalists are now planning spring activities that encompass work in the Arlington native plant nursery, planting in parks and gardens, citizen science projects, and more. Stay tuned! We are making an extra effort this year to engage help from the public.

For details about the intriguing greenbrier plant, see Sue Dingwell’s post about it on the Virginia Native Plant Society blog.

2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Opportunities


The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is a nationally recognized day of service. ARMN welcomes members of the public to join master naturalists for various earth-friendly projects in the area to honor the spirit of Dr. King. Here is a list of habitat restoration and invasive removal activities both for the weekend prior to MLK Day as well as the official holiday, Monday January 16, 2017. We hope to see you at one or more of these events that will make a significant difference to the health of our local environment.

If there is any question about the weather, where to meet, what to bring, or any other concerns, please contact the leader ahead of time.


Date Location Time Contact
Friday Jan 13 Marie Butler Leven Preserve, Fairfax County


1–3pm Matt Bright


Saturday Jan 14 Nauck Woods, Arlington 10am–Noon Nora Palmatier RSVP/confirm
Saturday Jan 14 Fraser Preserve, Fairfax County Noon–3pm Margaret Chatham


Saturday Jan 14 Madison Manor Park, Arlington 1–4pm Jo Allen
Saturday Jan 14 Gulf Branch Park, Arlington 2–4:30pm Jennifer Soles
Sunday Jan 15 Long Branch Park, Arlington 2–4pm Steve Young
Monday Jan 16 Culpepper Gardens, Arlington 10am–3pm Linda Y. Kelleher RSVP/confirm


Monday Jan 16 Nauck Woods, Arlington 10am–Noon Nora Palmatier RSVP/confirm


Monday Jan 16 Dora Kelley Nature Park, Alexandria (N. Morgan St. entrance near N. Beauregard St.) 10:15am–12:15pm And/OR


Mary Farrah


Thank you!

Teaching the Next Generation About the Environment

by Lisa Stern

ARMN member Lisa Stern describes the dedicated work of another ARMN volunteer, Jennifer Frum, to engage Gunston Middle School sixth graders by providing hands-on experience in pulling invasive plants.

(Photos by Lisa Stern, unless otherwise indicated)

The best lessons in life are the ones in which we have the opportunity to participate. And, if we are lucky, these experiences are guided by teachers and mentors who want to encourage the learning process by letting us get our hands into the project.

Several times a year for the past six years, Gunston Middle School sixth-grade science teacher Luz Chamorro has been heading a special project with lead ARMN volunteer and mentor, Jennifer Frum. The project started as trash cleanup around the school. However, as the cleanup progressed, Chamorro noticed invasive plants taking over spaces around the school. What started as trash cleanup became a lesson in helping the environment by pulling invasive plants.

Gunston sixth-grade science teacher Liz Chamorro

Gunston sixth-grade science teacher Luz Chamorro

Jennifer Frum wrestles with English Ivy.

ARMN volunteer Jennifer Frum wrestles with English Ivy.


Over the years, the project has been supported by a number of other ARMN volunteers— including Mary Van Dyke, Judy Hadley, and Bill Browning—and Arlington County. Six Americorps volunteers also assisted one year. But steadfastly, Jennifer Frum has been the lead ARMN volunteer for the project, organizing the effort year after year and ensuring that Chamorro and the classes had extra help and guidance on identifying and pulling the invasive plants. Imagine six classes of 25 excited sixth graders out in the field!

Gunston sixth graders tackle invasives.

Gunston sixth graders tackle invasives. (Photo courtesy of Luz Chamorro)

On a recent Thursday in October, Frum explained to one of the classes that in order to restore habitat for wildlife, invasive plants needed to be pulled so that native plants could survive. Standing in front of the classroom with strands of English Ivy as an example of an invasive, she explained that nonnative invasive plants don’t supply good nutrition to birds, bees, and other wildlife and that native animals need native plants for proper nutrition to survive. “If you ate ice cream every day for a week and it was your only source of food, it wouldn’t be good for you, would it?” Jennifer noted—and the class agreed. After a quick in-class lesson, the eager students headed out the door. Throughout the remainder of the day, six different classes (along with Chamorro, Frum, and parent volunteers) took turns pulling invasive plants and competing to make the largest pile.

Which class made the biggest pile of invasives?

Which class made the biggest pile of invasives?

Frum and Chamorro plan to repeat the project several times this year. The students are always excited to work outside and get a sense of helping the environment. They loved their experience so much that Jennifer Frum was touched to receive a heartfelt, handmade thank you note signed by Luz Chamorro’s students!

Thanks, Ms. Frum!

Thanks, Ms. Frum! (Photo courtesy of Luz Chamorro)

Fall is the Perfect Time to Plant Native Trees and Perennials!

by Kasha Helget

ARMN communications chair Kasha Helget provides inspiration for fall planting and a list of upcoming sales that feature native plants.

Spigelia marilandica (Photo courtesy of Lark Wells)

Spigelia marilandica (Indian Pink) (Photo courtesy of Lark Wells)

Autumn is one of the best times to install plants. The reason is that conditions are usually ideal to give plants a great start. The soil is still warm, which allows roots to become established before the plant goes dormant, and cooler air temperatures allow for less plant shock for the parts above the soil. There are also many plants that bloom in the fall and provide wonderful winter interest. You and your garden will also have a jump on the spring season—when the new plants will emerge ready to delight you all year.

Native plants are a particularly attractive choice because they have adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. They do not require the fertilizers and pesticides that lawns and many nonnative perennials do, and when installed in the right location, will need less water and help prevent erosion. Moreover, they are beautiful and they provide nectar, pollen, and seed sources for native butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. Most nonnatives do far less.

As far as the right location for particular natives in your yard, there is a wonderful FREE guide to help: the Plant NoVA Natives website (http://www.plantnovanatives.org/) provides detailed information and photos about plants local to Northern Virginia so you can choose native species that are best suited to your property. Both beginners and expert gardeners can appreciate the site’s colorful guide to local natives, a list of local businesses that supply them, and links to organizations that will come to your property and offer customized landscaping recommendations.

Asarum canadense (Canada Wild Ginger) Photo courtesy of Kasha Helget

Asarum canadense (Canada Wild Ginger) (Photo courtesy of Kasha Helget)

Fall Native Plant Sales around Northern Virginia

There a number of fall native plant sales coming soon to the area. Following is a list of dates and locations of those that provide reliable stock and where you can receive guidance from sellers who know their plants well.

First Wednesday of the month from April to October, 10 am to noon, Virginia Native Plant Society–Potowmack Chapter  VNPS–Potowmack propagation beds behind the Green Spring Gardens Horticulture Center, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312. http://vnps.org/potowmack/

Saturday, September 10, 9 am to 3 pm, Green Spring Fall Garden Day, Green Spring Gardens. The VNPS–Potowmack propagation beds are behind the Green Spring Gardens Horticulture Center,. There are some vendors of native plants mixed in with the nonnatives vendors, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312 (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/events.htm).

Saturday, September 10, 9 am to 3 pm, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Fall Native Plant Sale, Morven Park, 17263 Southern Planter Lane, Leesburg, VA (http://www.loudounwildlife.org/Event_Native_Plant_Sale_Fall.html).

Saturday, September 17, 1 to 4 pm, Long Branch Nature Center, 625 Carlin Springs Road, Arlington, VA (https://parks.arlingtonva.us/events/fall-native-plant-sale-3/; plants may be ordered online by September 7: https://parks.arlingtonva.us/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2016/07/Fall-Order-Form-16.pdf

Saturday, September 24, 9 am to 2 pm, Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale (formerly Parkfairfax Plant Sale), Church of St. Clement, 1701 N. Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA (http://home.earthlink.net/~sknudsen/)

Sunday, October 2, 10 am to 2 pm, Earth Sangha Open House and Plant Sale, Cloud Drive entrance to Franconia Park, Springfield, VA 22150. See http://www.earthsangha.org/#!wpn/c1drm for plants and directions.

Arlington 4-H’s Environmental Programs Help Kids Explore Nature

by Caitlin Verdu

Here, 4-H Agent Caitlin Verdu provides a glimpse into the 4-H Outdoor Explorers program, which pairs volunteers with Extended Day staff to get children outside to enjoy nature. Interested in learning more? Attend a free information session on Tuesday, August 23 from 7–9 pm at Walter Reed Community Center or contact Caitlin directly (cverdu@vt.edu or 703-228-6404).

On a chilly April morning, the Arlington County Public Schools’ (APS) Extended Day staff huddled in a silent circle around an oak tree. For sixty seconds, the group scrutinized the branches. After the quiet minute, each participant shared something they had observed:

  • I think I see a bird’s nest.
  • The tree is so tall; I bet it is very old.
  • There is a little plant growing at the base of the trunk.
  • Many of the branches are broken, so it’s probably been in some strong storms.

I explained that this was our Meeting Tree. If we had multiple sessions, we would return to this tree to find differences throughout the seasons. We would search for wildlife, plant seeds, mimic animal adaptations, play in the dirt, and gaze at the clouds—all in the name of exploration. We would become 4-H Outdoor Explorers and, most importantly, we would have FUN!

The 4-H Outdoor Explorers program operates through the APS Extended Day program. School staff are trained in the curriculum and carefully plan out a schedule of activities. Then, with volunteer support, they lead elementary-aged youth in simple nature lessons. In the fall, this program will run at Randolph, Drew, Ashlawn, and Hoffman Boston Elementary Schools.

Photo 1

The 4-H Outdoor Explorers program is one of two exciting 4-H opportunities for volunteers to reach budding naturalists. The other is the 4-H Nature Knights, a club for youth ages 9–13. These curious conservationists meet monthly to investigate a nature topic. Volunteers join the fun by leading one-time nature activities or field trips. Activities are only limited by imagination, and recent offerings have included a tree identification walk, stream surveying, and a lesson on hummingbird migration.

By exposing youth to the wonders of the natural world at an early age, 4-H is developing the next generation of conservation leaders. In order to continue this important mission, we need your help.

Photo 2

We’re looking for volunteers who are interested in sharing their passion for nature with youth. Do you enjoy playing in the dirt? Do you like exploring the outdoors? Do you want to help develop the next generation of naturalists? Then come out to the 4-H training on Tuesday, August 23 from 7–9 pm at Walter Reed Community Center to learn how to put your talents and enthusiasm to use. We will cover program opportunities, share tips and tricks for successful environmental education programs, and experience the 4-H model of “learning by doing” through educational games.

Questions? Contact Caitlin Verdu at cverdu@vt.edu, 703-228-6404, or just stop by her office at the Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington, VA.

Amazing Grasses . . . Right Under Our Feet!

by Caroline Haynes (photos courtesy of Toni Genberg, unless otherwise indicated)

A hardy group of ARMN and Virginia Native Plant Society members braved the late-July heat at Fort C. F. Smith Park for an early morning native grasses ID walk. Leading the trek was ARMN member and plant expert Margaret Chatham. As is typical for continuing education events, there was a range of expertise in the group, but it is safe to say that everyone seemed to learn something new!

Schizachyrium scoparium

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) (photo by Kasha Helget)

From the “barber pole” coloration of the stem or culm of Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) to the number and scales on the spikelets of the Nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus), Margaret shared clues that help identify the plants we saw.


Nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus)

Having scouted the site before the walk, Margaret provided a list of the species we were likely see. This helped immensely in trying to capture the distinguishing characteristics of the variety of grasses (and a few rushes and sedges) that we found in the park.

Many thanks to Margaret for sharing her considerable expertise and to Toni Genberg who took most of the photos seen here.


Globe Flatsedge (Cyperus echinatus)



Deer Tongue (Dichanthelium clandestinum)


Virginia Wildeye (Elymus virginicus)



Purpletop Tridens (Tridens flavus)

ARMN Members Win Environmental Education Challenge

At last month’s ARMN chapter meeting, members Mary McLean and Melanie LaForce re-enacted the skit that won them the Golden Paddle at the February 2016 conference of the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education. Here, Mary reports on the the premiere of “The Secret Lives of Migrating Blue-hatted Boobies.” Marion Jordan provided the photos of the June re-enactment.

by Mary McLean

ARMN members Mary McLean and Melanie LaForce teamed up to win the Golden Paddle in the annual Challenge at the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) conference last February. MAEOE is a nonprofit organization that serves teachers, natural resource managers, nature center staff, and environmental program managers with dynamic training programs, workshops, conferences, awards programs, networking opportunities, and educational resources. The conference provides professional development opportunities that are relevant beyond Maryland’s borders, which is why Mary and Melanie attended.

Once there, they were intrigued by the Challenge, a fun highlight of the program. Past Challenges have included making a sculpture from recyclables, creating a song, or acting out a pantomime. This year’s Challenge was to to present a skit that interpreted MAEOE’s mission “to encourage, engage, and empower the community to understand, responsibly use, and promote the natural world.” Armed with with a bag full of detritus props, all of which had to be used, Mary and Melanie decided to go for it in a skit they entitled “The Secret Lives of Migrating Blue-hatted Boobies.”

photo courtesy of Marion Jordan

Mary McLean and Melanie LaForce as “Blue-hatted Boobies”

The skit began with empty-nester boobies Mary and Melanie playing “Go Fish” while waiting to migrate. The female spotted signs of fall (a handful of leaves thrown in the air). The male got ready by preening with a lint roller. They both fattened up with a handful of Tootsie Rolls and cotton balls thrown from the audience.

Then they debated, “How do we migrate?

How about a National Geographic video? ~Nah. Player broken.

A Chesapeake Bay book map? ~Nope, won’t go far enough.

What would “James” do? (a book about James Monroe.)

Then the male had an idea (a plastic light bulb over the head).

“Let’s use these! Then we can see to fly at night!” (a reading headlamp and a patriotic flashlight.)

As they flew over the ocean, the male spotted a (tiny, green plastic) sea turtle far below.“There goes a flying fish!” (a bubble-blowing form), he observed, as it “flew” out into the audience.

“We made it to Costa Rica!” the boobies shouted. The female sang and played her “maracas” (sponges) and the male yelled “Fore!” while swinging a toy golf club.

Another successful migration!

The End.

The skit was a clear favorite of the conference attendees and Mary and Melanie took home the Golden Paddle—a canoe paddle printed with each year’s winning team since 1997. The win also marked the first time that the paddle traveled from Maryland to the “other side of the (Potomac) river.” As Challenge winners, Mary and Melanie get to keep the paddle until next year’s conference when they will choose the format of the next MAEOE Challenge.

courtesy of Marion Jordan

Mary McLean and the Golden Paddle


Master Naturalists Visit the Shenandoah Valley’s SCBI

ARMN member Mary Martha Churchman reports on a rare and valuable opportunity to visit the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia.


The author (front, center) and fellow ARMN members on the SCBI tour (photo courtesy of Caroline Haynes)

by Mary Martha Churchman

On June 7, 17 Arlington Regional Master Naturalists traveled to Front Royal, where they were joined by 7 members of the Banshee Reeks Master Naturalists chapter to tour the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) [https://nationalzoo.si.edu/SCBI/]. The 3,200-acre facility is not open to the general public, but docent-led tours are provided by appointment to selected groups.

Following a brief orientation film in the auditorium, the naturalists filled two vans to tour the grounds. Knowledgeable docents drove and narrated as we viewed the pastures and pens where various species are studied and bred for reintroduction to natural areas and zoos, both domestically and internationally. These include Black-footed Ferrets, Scimitar- horned Oryx, Red-crowned and White-naped Cranes, Dama Gazelle, Tufted Deer, Eld’s Deer, Przewalski Horses, and—of course—the charismatic Cheetahs.

While Congressional appropriations fund the permanent staff and facilities, the institute’s research projects are subsidized by grants, some international. The Scimitar-horned Oryx, for example, are funded by the United Arab Emirates and will be released into the Sahel (sub-Saharan Africa) as game. Eld’s Deer will be reintroduced to Southeast Asia as prey to support the tiger population. The ancestors of the ferrets have successfully colonized in Colorado.

Many of the rolling-foothill meadows are planted in grasses that are mown to feed not only the animals at SCBI but all the hoofed stock at the National Zoo. In turn, manure from the zoo is brought back to Front Royal, composted, and reapplied to fertilize the fields.

In addition to the featured animals, we witnessed other projects of special interest to master naturalists. The docents spoke passionately about the fight against invasive plants at the sprawling facility. The staff work with volunteers to control Autumn Olive, Multi-flora Rose, and Oriental Bittersweet, among others. In addition, research is underway to exclude deer from selected plots and observe the changes. Virginia Working Landscapes [http://www.vaworkinglandscapes.org/] is trying to rehabilitate unused fields.

Local volunteers monitor bluebird houses, which produced 175 fledglings in one recent year. Several experimental garden plots highlight strategies for reintroducing native plants. SCBI hosts one of fifty sites of the Natural Environmental Observatory Network (NEON) [http://www.neonscience.org/about], which continuously observes 14 data points and is the site of an annual overflight to monitor environmental conditions. Apart from the ongoing research, the SCBI also has a cooperative academic program with George Mason University to train a new generation of conservation biologists.

At the end of the tour we were able to get out of the vans to stretch at the grassy racetrack, a legacy of the years from 1911 to 1948 when the property was a U.S. Army Cavalry Remount Station that was used for veterinary science. The use persisted through ownership by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Since 1975, the National Zoo has conducted conservation biology at the site, first through its Conservation and Research Center and from 2010 as the SCBI.

ARMN Joins Central Rappahannock on Visit to Crow’s Nest

Article and photographs by Suzanne Dingwell

ARMN member Suzanne Dingwell reports on a joint visit to the Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve with members of the Central Rappahannock Master Naturalist chapter.


Mike Lott (pointing) describes the preserve’s mixed-hardwood forest.

Glorious weather presided over the field trip to Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve (http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/natural-area-preserves/crowsnest) on April 16, when ARMN joined the Central Rappahannock Master Naturalist chapter for a guided walk. The Stafford County preserve encompasses almost 3,000 acres of mixed-hardwood forest, and both tidal and nontidal wetlands, all dressed in spring’s finest. We had the pleasure of being led by the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Mike Lott, the regional supervisor for Crow’s Nest. Mike’s extensive knowledge of the history and the ecology of the area were put to good use as a series of mini-talks at strategic locations along the trail; everyone learned something new and interesting!

Mike told us that the beautiful preserve was almost paved over at several points recently and it took a lot of perseverance and a little luck to enable DCR to finally save the area from bulldozers. Now the challenge for DCR is balancing the need to protect the preserve, while at the same time allowing public access. Public support is needed to make sure funds can be available to manage lands they already own and to fund future purchases. Master naturalists can play an important part in helping to educate the public in how they can be visitors who “do no harm” and why they should want to be.


Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) emerges along a stream.

Running through the preserve is a central ridge climbing to 160 feet and flanked by steep ravines falling to water’s edge, making for dramatic topography. We wandered up, down, and through, enjoying the emerging canopy with delicate greens backed by a brilliant blue sky. We listened to warblers––and spotted a few as well. Many of Virginia’s spring ephemeral plants were in abundance and the two chapters’ members engaged in serious cross-pollination of ID skills.


Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) along a trail

The afternoon was capped off with a joint luncheon, perfect for a relaxed exchange of ideas and experiences. (One of the Rappahannock members opened her house and lawn to us and that group surprised us with lunch!) All in all, it was a most satisfactory day. The trails at Crow’s Nest will be ready for public use in September, so add it to the list of places you want to see.