Paddling for Litter on Four Mile Run Stream

by Devin Reese

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists find ways to improve their local ecosystems not only on land, but also on the water. The Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation hosts regular stream clean-ups by kayak. All you need to bring is yourself, your enthusiasm for a cleaner stream, and a sense of humor about getting your feet wet. The program provides the boats, paddles, life jackets, gloves, and grabbers for fetching trash from the stream and tossing it into bins. 

Photo of volunteers on kayaks in four mile run creek
The June 5th flotilla of Four Mile Run cleanup volunteers included community members as well as three Arlington Regional Master Naturalists. Photo by Kurt Moser.

When you set out, it’s natural to wonder whether you’ll be able to find and retrieve trash. While it’s not a competition, something about the standardized bin strapped to each kayak ignites your ambition to fill it up fast. Some pickups are quick; your grabbers readily clasp a soda bottle perched on the grassy bank. Some of them take time; plastic bags seem to have a way of burrowing into the soil so that what you think is a quick fetch turns out to be a long tug of war. 

Litter encompasses everything from a multitude of water bottles and cans to larger items like gallon jugs and clothing. Elusive litter shows up in small scraps, such as gum wrappers or bottle labels. Occasionally, you’ll land a big, impressive piece of trash. Those mega-finds have their pros and cons. The Four Mile Run cleanup lore includes a story about the retrieval of a full-sized shopping cart, which had to be strapped on the front of a kayak.

Photo of a bin filled with trash from the creek
Litter bounty is strapped to the front of a kayak. Photo by Devin Reese.

When you’ve filled your bin or fetched an item worthy of showcasing, you paddle for the put-in, a gently sloping dirt ramp where the President of the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation, Kurt Moser, waits. He has big trash bags in hand to relieve you of your treasures and get you turned around and back onto the stream as efficiently as possible. Lest it sound like all work and no play however, Kurt also offers granola bars and drinks! 

Each time you launch, you have exciting choices to make—upstream or downstream, right bank or left. Whether you paddle up towards Shirlington or down towards the Potomac, you find plenty of opportunities to load the bin. And you may also find opportunities to chat with people, share what you’re doing, and learn more about how people enjoy Four Mile Run as a natural area. 

Photo of a volunteer holding a channel catfish
Liam proudly displaying the Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) he caught with his dad, Robert, by the Four Mile Run bridge.

While nestled in an urban area, Four Mile Run stream gets lots of day use by people fishing, jogging, watching birds, and even taking a dip.

After a couple of hours of paddling the stream, especially if it’s a hot day, you may drift into reflections about whether you’re really making a difference. Plucking the litter from the stream bottom or streamside vegetation can be tedious and slow-going. And, as ARMN volunteer Marilynn Lambinicio said, “You won’t necessarily see a change from one cleanup session to another, since litter continues to enter the stream from lots of upstream development.” 

Photo of a volunteer picking up litter while in a kayak
Arlington Regional Master Naturalist Marilynn Lambinicio dumps litter into a bin. Photo by Devin Reese.

Don’t lose sight of the purpose however, as the reward comes in the collective results. The session ends with the flotilla of kayaks pulling back into the put-in area, washing boats, snacking some more, stowing equipment, and amassing the litter loot. At the most recent June 5th kayak cleanup, in just a couple of hours, a group of just eight volunteers retrieved 171 pounds of litter from the Four Mile Run Stream!

Photo of bags of litter collected during the stream clean up

Don’t lose sight of the purpose however, as the reward comes in the collective results. The session ends with the flotilla of kayaks pulling back into the put-in area, washing boats, snacking some more, stowing equipment, and amassing the litter loot. At the most recent June 5th kayak cleanup, in just a couple of hours, a group of just eight volunteers retrieved 171 pounds of litter from the Four Mile Run Stream!

That’s approximately 20 pound each, a phenomenal haul that left the stream looking a lot more inviting for recreation and wildlife.

Would you like to participate in one of these kayak cleanups? If so, see Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation, or email: info@fourmilerun.org for more information.

Wildlife
Wildlife includes all forms of life that are wild, including plants, animals, and microorganisms according to the Natural Resources Service.

The Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is one of the most common fishes caught on Four Mile Run Stream. While native from Canada to Mexico through the central U.S., Channel Catfish were introduced to the eastern U.S. more than a century ago. First observed in Virginia water bodies in 1969, Channel Catfish became established and are now prized for aquaculture and recreational fisheries. Their success stems from opportunistic feeding habits (choosing whatever is available), prolific reproduction, disease resistance, and tolerance for a range of environmental conditions from fresh to brackish waters. While accepted as an important food fish in this region, Channel Catfish may be causing declines of native animals such as crayfishes through competition and predation.

Learn more about the Channel Catfish on the United States Geological Service website.

Periodical Cicadas! What You Should Know About Them and More

The periodical (17-year) cicadas are most definitely here. And there has been a lot of information floating around about them. If you’re confused about where to get the most accurate details, look no further than here!

Below are links to three items: a blog piece and two videos—all by renowned local nature experts.

If you only have time to do a quick read, check out the piece by Alonso Abugattas, Arlington’s Natural Resources Manager for the Department of Parks and Recreation. It includes need-to-know details to identify cicadas, and learn how they mate, where females lay eggs on tree branches, and who eats them (including people!). http://capitalnaturalist.blogspot.com/2021/02/periodical-cicadas.html.

A couple of hour-long videos provide a bit more detail: 

The first is by Kirsten Conrad, the Agriculture Natural Resources Extension Agent for Arlington County and the City of Alexandria. Along with Alonso Abugattas, Kirsten covers many of the same details as Alonso’s blog (history and distribution, species, lifecycle, tree damage, management, and resources), with visuals and closed captions. The video notes the exact time that each topic is discussed, for quick analysis. https://mgnv.org/brood-x-cicadas-video/.

The other video is by Ken Rosenthal, a Park Naturalist at Gulf Branch Nature Center in Arlington. Ken is known for his “Deep Dive” presentations on a variety of nature topics and recently gave one on cicadas. Ken details more differences between the periodical and annual cicadas. He also includes a lifecycle calendar of the “what” and “when” from emergence of full-grown nymphs to return of “baby” nymphs underground for the next 17 years. https://youtu.be/2C4w-oCeIcI. 

A few concerns have arisen about deformed cicadas, including those both alive and dead with body parts missing. The experts here note that these happen with every cicada cycle: some of the insects don’t survive the molting process from nymph to adult (it’s a tricky, time-sensitive progression), others are infected with a fungus that results in the loss of body parts while the cicadas are still alive, and—of course—most are eaten by predators. The cicadas’ only “strategy” to continue their brood to the next generation is to overwhelm cicada hunters with prodigious numbers.

So, while listening outdoors to the alien-sounding background of cicada mating calls, and a (hopefully covered) beverage, enjoy one or more of these excellent accounts of this most amazing phenomenon!

Clip art of a cicada
Cicada Clip Art. Public Domain.

2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Environmental Events

Please join your friends, neighbors, and fellow environmental stewards in participating in the following habitat restoration events during Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Enjoy the satisfaction of helping to restore these natural areas. Dress in layers for cold weather, bring work gloves, your own tools, filled reusable water bottle, and face mask. Please also follow COVID guidelines for each event.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=136494.
  • Date: Saturday, January 16, 2021
    Event: Habitat restoration and invasive plant removal
    Time: 10:00 am – Noon
    Location: Tuckahoe ParkContact: Mary McLean, 703-966-2047, marydmclean@verizon.netDetails: Please call ahead since we’re limited to 10 people in the group. Meet at Tuckahoe Elementary’s parking lot. After orientation, volunteers head into the park.
  • Date: Saturday, January 16, 2021
    Event: Restoration work
    Time: Noon – 3:00 pm 
    Location: Upton Hill Regional Park
    Contact:
    To register, email Jill Barker, crosswell2630@verizon.net.
    Details
    : Rototiller day! Volunteers will come behind it and remove five-leaved akebia to prepare pollinator plant beds. This event is for volunteers over age 9. Training on invasive removal will be provided. Participation is limited to ten persons per event, so registration is essential.
  • Date: Sunday, January 17, 2021
    Event: Habitat Restoration & Invasive Removal
    Time: 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
    Location: Long Branch Park
    Contact
    : Steve Young, 703-966-2966, frazmo@gmail.com
    Details
    : COVID restrictions/limits on volunteer numbers apply, so rsvp required. Dress for the weather, and consider wearing appropriate clothing, including sturdy footwear. Bring work gloves, clippers or a folding hand saw, trash bags, water bottle, sunscreen/hat.
  • Date: Monday, January 18, 2021
    Event: Invasive Removal
    Time: 10:00 am – Noon
    Location: Mary Carlin Woods at Bluemont Park (bounded by N. Carlin Springs Road, N. Kensington Street, N. 4th Street, the Bluemont Junction Trail and the Arlington Forest Club). Meet at the Mary Carlin Woods entrance along the Bluemont Junction trail just west from the rocks.
    Contact: Register by emailing: naturalresources@arlingtonva.us
    Details: COVID restrictions/limits on volunteer numbers apply, so rsvp required.
    Training on identifying invasive species and proper removal techniques will be provided by Master Naturalists and Tree Stewards. Participation is limited to ten persons per work site, so registration is requested. Bring your own gloves, tools, filled reusable water bottle, and face mask. Weather appropriate clothing is advised.
  • Date: Monday, January 18, 2021
    Event: Invasive removal or cleanup
    Time: 10:00 am – Noon
    Location: Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. Meet at the Belle Haven Park south parking lot registration table.
    Contact: Register here and indicate your choice of invasive removal or cleanup, as described below.
    Details: There are two types of service: (1) a shoreline trash cleanup, and (2) removing English ivy from trees. Volunteers can choose either activity. You do not need prior plant identification experience. Under Covid-19 protocols, registration is required and participants are limited to 15in each group. Work gloves, tools, trash bags and hand sanitizer will be provided. Wear a mask, sturdy shoes, long pants and sleeves, winter gloves and sun protection. Bring your own water.
  • Date: Monday, January 18, 2021
    Event: Invasive Removal on the Mount Vernon Trail
    Time: 10:00 am – Noon
    Location: 615 Slaters Lane, Alexandria, VA 22314. Group will meet in the courtyard behind the Salvation Army Headquarters and then walk to the work area.
    Contact: Register at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/133621847543
    Details:
    Volunteers will remove English Ivy from trees along the Mount Vernon Trail. No special skills are needed. Bring hand pruners (There will be several to borrow), work gloves (There will be several to borrow), filled water bottle, face covering.

Thank You!!

It’s Springtime . . . Shop for and Plant Natives!

Text and photos by Kasha Helget

Note: After this was posted, most plant sales were cancelled with the coronavirus. But some individual sellers continue to operate. For example,  Nature by Design and Earth Sangha are selling native plants with special distancing/handling precautions. So, don’t give up on planting natives! But please check the sales links or contact sellers before you go.

With longer daylight hours, warming soils, and the return of bird, bees, and butterflies, it’s ready to think about gardening, and in particular, installing native plants in your pots or yards. Our local animals depend on them, AND they provide beauty 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!

Why Choose Native Plants?

Because they are “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 both shelter and food for wildlife,
  • promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural spaces, 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, 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, dozens of photos, and additional links to learn what will work best 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 sales in Northern Virginia. Happy shopping and planting!

A plant with yellow flowers
Woodland sunflower (Helianthus strumosus)

2020 Spring Native Plant Sales

NOTE: Please check sale sites for information on any changes due to COVID-19.

Friends of the National Arboretum, Lahr Symposium and Native Plant Sale
03/28/2020 CANCELLED.
Visit the sale site.

Potowmack Chapter Weekly Plant Sale
From April 1st through October is a low-key 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
Visit the sale site.

Walker Nature Center
Pre-order through 5pm on 04/03/2020. Order online for pick up April 18, 2020 from 10am–1pm at the Nature Center.
Walker Nature Center: 11450 Glade Drive, Reston, VA 20191
Click here for: Online form

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Native Plant Sale
04/04/2020
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
04/17-18/2020
10am to 4pm
River Farm: 7931 E. Boulevard Dr., Alexandria, VA
Includes some native plant vendors.
Visit the sale site.

NOVA Soil & Water Conservation District, Native Seedling Sale
Online orders are sold out. However, there are often extra seedlings for sale on the pick-up days (April 17 and 18) and will sell for $2 a “stem” on a first-come, first-served basis. The pick-up begins at 9:00 am on Friday, April 17, and this time will give you the best selection. Sleepy Hollow Bath & Racquet Club, 3516 Sleepy Hollow Rd, Falls Church, VA 22044.
Visit the sale site.

Prince William Wildflower Society Annual Wildflower and Native Plant Sale
04/19/2020
9am–12pm
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church picnic area, 8712 Plantation Lane, Manassas, VA
Visit the sale site.

Long Branch Nature Center
Pre-order through 4pm on 04/15/2020. Order online for pick up Fri., April 24 from 3-6pm and Sat., April 25 from 10am–3pm
On site sale 04/25/2020
1 to 4pm
Long Branch Nature Center
625 S. Carlin Springs Road, Arlington, VA 22204
Spring and fall sales.
Click here for: Online form and sale site.

Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale
04/25/2020
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
04/25/2020
8am to 2pm
53 Waterpenny Lane
Sperryville, VA 22740
Visit the sale site.

Friends of Riverbend Park Native Plant Sale
04/25/2020
8 to 11am
Riverbend Park Outdoor Classroom/Picnic Shelter on Potomac Hills Street in Great Falls.
Pre-order through March 21. Pick up pre-ordered plants Friday, April 24 at the Riverbend Park Outdoor Classroom/Picnic Shelter.
Click here for: Online form and sale site.

Earth Sangha Plant Sale
05/03/2020
10am to 2pm
6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield, VA
Visit the sale site.

Friends of Runnymede Park
05/03/2020
10am to 3pm
195 Herndon Parkway, Herndon VA
Spring and fall sales.
Visit the sale site.

Green Springs Garden Day Plant Sale
Potowmack Chapter native plants and other native vendors
05/16/2020
9am to 3pm
Green Spring Gardens: 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA
Visit the sale site.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Teddy Roosevelt, A Great Match for a Day of Service!

By Caroline Haynes

Over 100 individuals gathered on Theodore Roosevelt Island to participate in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service on January 20th. Despite the chilly 24 degrees, it was an otherwise sunny day, and enthusiastic volunteers warmed to the task of cutting non-native invasive plants that have overrun many parts of the island.

ARMN volunteer Stephanie Martin cuts an English ivy vine that is growing on a tree.
Stephanie Martin chopping English ivy. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Haynes.)

The MLK Day of Service event was organized by ARMN member Jenny Wiedower, who partnered with the National Park Service (which oversees the park) and Friends of Teddy Roosevelt Island who help NPS preserve and protect this unique memorial. A team of ARMN volunteers helped the participants distinguish between native and exotic invasive plants and how to cut the invasives without harming the natives.

ARMN volunteer cuts a twisted honeysuckle vine using loppers.
Volunteer attacking honeysuckle vine. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Haynes.)

The volunteers represented various ages and backgrounds from across the region who honored Dr. King by helping to restore native habitat on the island.

During the two-hour service event, the individuals: 

  • collectively logged 224 hours from the 112 volunteers
  • cut English ivy from at least 97 mature trees
  • snipped 400 square feet of wine berry (roughly the size of a two-car garage)
  • chopped down 43 honeysuckle bushes
  • cut Japanese (vining) honeysuckle from 33 trees
ARMN volunteer Caroline Hayes holds a piece of English ivy vine that was sawed off a tree.
Caroline Haynes hacking English ivy. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Martin.)

Dr. King and Theodore Roosevelt would surely be proud!

Deep Dive Recap: Dabbling and Diving Ducks

Text by Kristin Bartschi. Photos by George Sutherland.

Ducks. They’re cute, they paddle around in parks. Some ducks are so commonplace that we don’t really think twice about them (i.e. the quintessential mallard). But, as with all animals, there is a lot to learn and every duck has a unique story. 

Recently, I decided to expand my rudimentary knowledge and attend a deep dive on ducks at Gulf Branch Nature Center in Arlington. Naturalist Ken Rosenthal hosts deep dive lectures about once a month at Gulf Branch. Each hour-long talk focuses on a different topic, such as pollinators or homes made out of sticks. 

Attending one of these has been on my list for a while and it did not disappoint. Ken’s enthusiasm and knowledge of animals is infectious, and the hour-long presentation flew by. 

A man presents a powerpoint in front of an audience
Ken preparing to dive into duck plumage.

Did you know there are 154 species of ducks worldwide? 50 of those species can be found in North America, with 48 different species in Virginia and 28 right here in Arlington. 

Now, we covered A LOT in this deep dive, so I’m just going to pull out a couple fun facts.  

How do ducks stay dry? 

Did you ever think about this? I actually hadn’t until this talk, but it’s fascinating. Ducks have oil glands at the base of their tails. They use the oil from these glands to preen their feathers, which waterproofs their feathers and allows them to dabble or dive without getting wet. Ducklings have fluffy plumage which traps air and helps them stay buoyant above the water.  

Total eclipse of the feathers

One of my favorite facts was about “eclipse plumage.” When male ducks molt after breeding season, they acquire a temporary plumage that closely resembles the camouflaged plumage of female ducks. This helps to protect them from predators during the molt. If you look at a male mallard during his eclipse plumage, he looks almost identical to a female mallard! Want to spot the difference? While plumage color changes during molting, duck bill colors never do. So, the mallard’s yellow bill (as opposed to the female’s brown and orange bill) will give him away.   

Want to learn more (and catch a glimpse of some of Arlington’s unique ducks)? 

Ken recommended quite a few books, including: 

A stack of bird guide books

Interested in attending a deep dive? 

If you’re interested in learning more about the animals that surround us, I’d certainly recommend signing up for one of Ken’s deep dives in the future. (If you’re an ARMN member, any deep dive will count towards your CE credits.) They occur once a month on Thursday evenings and are $5 to attend. To look for upcoming talks, visit the events page on the Arlington Parks and Recreation website. Ken’s next deep dive will be Animal Meteorologists on Thursday, February 13th from 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. at Gulf Branch Nature Center. Check it out! 

In the meantime, if you’d like to take a look at some of our local ducks, good viewing locations are at Gravelly Point or Roaches Run.

ARMN: Getting to Know Paul Gibson

by Alison Sheahan

Paul Gibson has been a stalwart volunteer ever since joining the ARMN program in Spring 2013, especially in the areas of citizen science. I was able to interview him online and then finally got to meet him at the ARMN Annual Chapter meeting in December 2019. Here are some fascinating things I learned about Paul.

Paul Gibson. Photo by Alison Sheahan.

What are your favorite ARMN volunteer projects?

I really enjoy a variety of projects. I have been doing stream water quality monitoring since shortly after I became a Master Naturalist. I recently became a Master Identifier so I’m looking forward to taking my turn at identifying the critters that we find in the streams next year.

I find it fascinating to see the variety of macroinvertebrates that are in our streams, their variation by stream, and what that says about water quality in different parts of Arlington county. It’s also rewarding to talk with members of the public who pass by when we are out monitoring. Everyone is so curious about what we are doing and when they find out, they want to know more about water quality. I think that the public education that we do is a very important part of our role as master naturalists. 

Photo of two volunteers surveying macroinvertebrates with a D-net in a creek
Paul and fellow water quality monitor Ben Simon working at an Arlington stream. Photo by Jen McDonnell.

I also monitor bluebird nest boxes at Taylor Elementary School. This project provides a clear view of the perils and successes experienced by our feathered friends. It’s been heartwarming to see bluebirds, chickadees, and tree swallows go from nest-building to egg laying to hatching to raising chicks to fledging but there have also been stark examples of nest predation on eggs or chicks. For better or worse, it’s a front-row seat to the circle of life.

Another citizen science project in which I have participated for a number of years is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Grasses for the Masses program. Members of the public propagate native underwater grass seeds in a grow-out system in their homes, schools, or businesses over the winter and then gather to plant the grasses in area rivers to bolster grass populations and help restore the Bay.

Photo of Paul squatting next to a tub of aquatic grasses on a beach
Paul preparing to install native grasses in Belmont Bay at Mason Neck Park. Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Blair Blanchette Facebook page.

What has surprised you most about ARMN?

The speed at which the organization is growing. It is gratifying to see the numbers of new ARMN members who graduate out of the Basic Training program every year.

What do you like most about ARMN?

There is such a wide range of volunteer activities available that there’s really no reason not to participate. With my schedule, it’s hard to get to a lot of organized events but I can also participate at times of my choosing, depending on the project. Monitoring the bluebird boxes, for example, doesn’t need a rigid schedule, so I can fit in two or three visits a week during nesting season in a way that works for me. But there are also a lot of scheduled events to build in, which is great because it’s also nice to participate in projects with other ARMN members.

Tell us something about your life experience that has shaped your perspective on nature.

I grew up in Wisconsin, two blocks from Lake Michigan, and visited Lake Superior every summer when I was young. So, I was exposed to the variety of fish and birds in those areas at an early age. In northern Wisconsin, I remember marveling at the wild shorelines but also learning about the hazards of taconite discharges into Lake Superior from the iron mining range in Minnesota. These experiences taught me that nature and biodiversity were all around us but so were the threats to it introduced by humans. 

 What is your background?

Growing up in the upper Midwest, I was aware of and, in a way, just took for granted, that we lived among the remnants of age-old geologic forces. It wasn’t until I moved east for graduate school that I realized how unique that area is. (I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in Political Science and I have a Master’s in Information Management from Syracuse University.)  As I settled into the DC area, those experiences gave me the background to appreciate the rich biodiversity and geology of the Potomac River Valley and the Chesapeake Bay. Besides the ARMN programs, I have learned so much from courses in the Natural History Field Studies certificate program of the Audubon Naturalist Society.

 What would people find interesting about the non-ARMN parts of your life?

I train our dogs in the canine sport of “nosework.” It’s analogous to what law enforcement detection dogs do except it’s a sport for pets. Instead of looking for illegal substances, we look for target odors in organized competitions. But the skills of the dog and handler are the same. Along those lines, there are growing numbers of detector dogs that search for invasive species. So, one of my goals is to train our dogs to find invasive plants or insects, which is increasingly being done. It would be a natural intersection of two of my interests and hopefully be beneficial to conservation.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I have two wildlife cameras in our back yard. I am always amazed at the visitors we have. I’ve captured pictures of foxes, raccoons, deer, flying squirrels, and even a hummingbird that tried to pollinate the lens. But I’m still waiting for Wile E. Coyote to show up!

Family Fun at the International Coastal Clean-up

Text by Kristin Bartschi and photos by George Sutherland

On a sunny Saturday morning on September 21st, EcoAction Arlington hosted a stream clean-up in Barcroft Park as part of the International Coastal Clean-up. The International Coastal Clean-up (ICC) is part of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program. Every September, over 100 countries take part in the ICC, making it one of the largest efforts to rid the ocean of trash. In 2018, 1 million people collected 23 million pounds of trash from rivers, streams, and beaches around the world.

Two men and a boy are picking up trash in a stream. The boy holds a white trash bag.
Families picking up trash together at the International Coastal Clean-up.

That morning, George and I joined EcoAction Arlington and our local community to help clean-up trash along Four Mile Run stream. Four Mile Run flows through Barcroft Park and into the Potomac River. The Potomac runs into the Chesapeake Bay and, ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean.

Volunteers of all ages attended the event, including families, couples, and a corporate group. We found lots of trash along the riverbanks and a few volunteers even ventured into the water—luckily, it was warm! In total, we collected 40 bags of trash and 12 bags of recyclables. Interesting finds included an umbrella, traffic cone, toilet seat, engine block, and various pieces of wiring, wood, and metal.

A woman kneels next to a stream putting trash into a trash bag.
Picking up some candy wrappers along the stream.

There is something for everyone at the ICC. For example, if picking up trash isn’t for you, ICC volunteers can document the trash found during a clean-up. This data delivers a snapshot of trash found at different sites around the world, which provides key insights for researchers and policy makers.

A girl holds a pencil and consults a checklist by the stream.
One of the volunteers documenting what was found at the clean-up.

Even if you missed this year’s International Coastal Clean-up, there are lots of ways you can help protect your local waterways. Research “clean-ups” hosted by local non-profits, community groups, and/or your city or county. You’ll be surprised about how many there are once you do some digging. If you have a special area near you that needs some attention, reach out to your local environmental government/community groups about hosting your own clean-up!

There are also several steps you can take every day to reduce the amount of trash that ends up in our oceans and waterways. Properly disposing of all trash and recycling helps to ensure that it doesn’t end up polluting our environment. Better yet, look for ways to reduce your trash altogether! There are tons of simple swaps you can make to reduce waste that ends up in landfills or in our natural world. For instance…

  • Swap plastic water bottles for a reusable one.
  • Use a reusable cup for your morning cup of coffee—most coffee shops will even give you a small discount for doing this.
  • Bring reusable bags to the grocery store instead of using paper or plastic bags.
  • And this is just the tip of the iceberg!

Trash clean-ups like the ICC always remind me of how collective impacts can change our world for the better. Picking up a piece of trash, or saying “no” to a plastic bag, may seem insignificant when done by one person. But, when millions of people come together to improve the world we live in, we can make a big impact.

Fall is a Great Time to Shop for and Plant Natives!

Text and photos by Kasha Helget

There is a not-so-secret maxim among gardeners that autumn can be the best time to install new plants! The soil is well warmed, but the air is cooler, which provides less stress for transplants. And the native plant sellers are ready to provide you with the best choices of the season. The plants should become established well enough before winter, and by next spring will be ready to do their provide benefits to the critters that depend on them AND add wonderful beauty to your garden to boot! So, please consider a few—or several—native plants to brighten your yard, patio or deck. The native wildlife will appreciate it.

Photo of yellow flowers with black center
Orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida) and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).

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. They also:

  • require little or no 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.). One of the best sources to answer these questions 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.

List of Fall Plant Sales Where Can You Buy Natives

Most commercial nurseries do not carry many native plants. If your favorite place has a weak selection of natives, ask them to stock more! In the coming weeks, however, plan to 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!

  • 9/07/2019
  • Master Gardeners of Prince William County Plant Sale
  • 9am to Noon
  • St. Benedict Monastery
  • 9535 Linton Hall Rd., Bristow VA
  • Contact:Mastergardener@mgc.gov.org
  • 9/14/2019
  • Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Fall Native Plant Sale
  • 9am to 3pm
  • Morven Park
  • 17263 Southern Planter Ln, Leesburg, VA
  • www.loudounwildlife.org   
  • 9/21/2019
  • Town of Vienna Fall Native Plant Sale
  • 9am to 1pm
  • 120 Cherry Street, SE, Vienna VA
Photo of Northern Sea Oats
Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Photo of Woodland Sunflower, a yellow flower
Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus)

Getting Dirty and Keeping Our Rivers Clean

Text by Kristin Bartschi and photos by George Sutherland

Recent ARMN Basic Training graduates Kristin Bartschi and George Sutherland joined in a very satisfying service activity on the Potomac River. Kristin’s observations demonstrate how they could get wet and dirty and provide a valuable service at the same time.

There’s nothing I love more than finding new and exciting ways to get outdoors. A few weeks ago, my husband, George, and I heard about a kayak cleanup run by EcoAction Arlington. Volunteers would kayak around the Potomac and fish trash out of the water. What an awesome way to get outside and clean our local river at the same time!

According to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, the Potomac provides about 486 million gallons of drinking water every day to people in the DC metro area. The health of the river has improved drastically in the last few years, but polluted runoff, deforestation, and attacks on water protections threaten to reverse that progress.

Our local storm drains carry rain and other drainage away from streets and into local waterways. This means that anything that washes down a storm drain enters our rivers and streams, and eventually is water we will end up drinking! Keeping our waterways clean helps us all—plants, animals, and people too.

The last Saturday in July, we arrived at the Washington Sailing Marina in Alexandria at 8:00 a.m. Over 40 volunteers were there. After a brief presentation by EcoAction Arlington and a safety demonstration from the Washington Sailing Marina staff, we were ready to get into our kayaks and clean up some trash! 

People launch kayaks from a wooden dock
Volunteers set off on their kayaks at the start of the cleanup.
Volunteers stand on mud flats on the river. There are kayaks in the water.
A group of volunteers collects trash off the mud flats.

It was a beautiful, sunny day to be paddling around the Potomac. George and I kayaked deep into the Four Mile Run tributary. The water glistened with a film of pollution as we collected plastic bottles, candy wrappers, and beer cans from the riverbank.

A woman in a kayak pulls trash from vegetation along the river bank
Pulling trash from the riverbank on Four Mile Run tributary.

We waved to a group of fisherman casting lines beneath an overpass and were cheered on by a friendly cyclist, urging us to, “Keep up the good work!”

A kayaker paddles beneath a bridge covered in graffiti
Paddling beneath the overpass along Four Mile Run.

When we paddled back towards the marina, we noticed a commotion along the mud flats. We pulled up to investigate and see if we could help. A group of volunteers had found an old mattress onshore and were busy cutting it into pieces with a box-cutter so that it could be divided onto the kayaks returning to the marina. We each took our share and headed back in with our bags of trash in tow.

With the help of the kind folks at the marina, we clambered onto the dock and hauled our trash onshore. We were sweaty, muddy, and tired, but together our group had pulled 85 bags of trash from the Potomac!

If you’d like to get dirty and help out your local waterways, look for a cleanup in your area! EcoAction Arlington will be hosting a clean-up at Barcroft Park and Four Mile Run on Saturday, September 21 from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. as part of the International Coastal Cleanup. Some other groups that sponsor periodic cleanups both on the water and onshore include: Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation, Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, and Potomac Conservancy. Contact them if you’d like to combine your river experience with valuable clean-up work!