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!

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Getting to Know Ann Ulmschneider

From time-to-time, ARMN’s Membership Committee posts profiles of our members including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they have an impact on the environment around them. Here is the latest biography of ARMN member, Ann Ulmschneider, who graduated in the Spring 2010 training class. Alison Sheahan conducted the interview.

Photo of ARMN member Ann Ulmschneider

Ann Ulmschneider.

What brought you to ARMN in the first place?

I always had a really strong interest in nature and science. A friend at church, Mary Pike, told me about ARMN and it sounded like a really good thing to do. I immediately became interested in the service projects with children because of my background.

Which is…?

I have a master’s degree in Child Development. When I first earned my degree I became the director of a child care facility in Fairfax and eventually taught parent education classes for Fairfax County Public Schools. This led to my 30-year career with FCPS Family and School Partnerships, an organization that helps schools engage parents, especially families of English Language Learners and other underserved families. I continued to teach children in various volunteer capacities and enjoyed raising our three daughters but once they were no longer young, I missed children and began to look for other opportunities to be with them.

At ARMN, which child-centered activities do you enjoy?

I lead birthday parties at both Long Branch and Gulf Branch Nature Centers. I usually do them with a partner, Mary Ellen Snyder. We work well together as a team and enjoy each other’s company.

I also work at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale, leading groups of school children during the week on planned field trips that align with Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL). I do the station on frogs and toads for “Metamorphosis and More,” focused on life cycles. For “Fantastic Flora and Fauna” I lead a walk in the woods looking for examples.

Photo of ARMN memeber Ann Ulmschneider

Ann teaching first graders about trees at Green Spring Gardens.

I like that both of these activities involve regular hours and have kept me in contact with groups who need leaders on a regular basis. It’s not hard to make my 40 service hours (needed for annual master naturalist certification)! Also, it helps me to keep learning. Any time I have to lead a group like this, I need to learn ahead of the kids. Understanding the information on a basic level (for instance through the books at the children’s section of a library) has been really helpful to me and less intimidating than learning lots of detail. It’s also pushed me to step out of my comfort zone, so that I recently offered a family program on squirrels for Arlington County’s “SNAG” program. I tried other activities with ARMN over the years like Stream Monitoring and the Bug Lab but I have discovered that I’m not that kind of scientist or naturalist. I’m more of a teacher and I like connecting with the families and children at the nature centers.

What was it about your childhood or other early background that you think fed these interests?

When I was a girl, my best friend and I loved to go roaming in an extensive wooded lot in our neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. In middle grades, I remember going almost every day. We just walked around and went to our “hiding place” (which was probably covered with invasive vines!). I don’t remember particular observations of animals or plants, I just remember loving to be there, surrounded by the trees. To this day, the smell of the woods is imprinted on me, very positively. Then when my husband and I first met we did lots of hiking together and in 1980-82, we began taking classes at the National Arboretum on trees, wildflowers, and ferns. In 2000, I joined the Northern Virginia Bird Club and began to gain knowledge of local birds. I am still a member there along with many other ARMN members.

In summary, what do you like most about ARMN?

It allows me to combine my love of nature and working with kids and families of many cultures, and it lets me keep learning. To me, it’s satisfying just to know information about what we are seeing all around us. In Arlington, we’ve been able to preserve our little swaths of green, and we have this unique mix of people from all over the world who can enjoy it. That’s a great combination and I feel lucky to be a part of it.

ARMN: Getting To Know Sarah Archer

From time-to-time, ARMN’s Membership Committee posts profiles of our members including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they have an impact on the environment around them. Here is the latest biography of Arlington staff employee, Sarah Archer, who graduated in the Fall 2013 ARMN training class. Sarah currently manages Arlington’s Invasive Plant Program and is involved with starting the County’s native plant nursery. She is a valuable collaborator for ARMN on a wide variety of projects.

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

I have been able to participate in many ARMN projects over the years, but my favorite has to be the restoration of the Barcroft Magnolia Bog. The success of this project was due to all of the great work done by ARMN members.  Marion Jordan, Jim Hurley, Marty Nielson, and others were instrumental in building momentum around the restoration work through community outreach to nearby homeowners and Claremont Elementary School. We received an award from the Virginia Association of Counties for this project because of the collaboration between county staff and groups like ARMN.

I am also really excited about Arlington’s new Native Plant Nursery . We usually have workdays at the nursery every Thursday from 3 – 5 pm.  I am also involved with the RiP/ARMN supported invasive plant removal events at Tuckahoe, Ft. Bennett, Madison Manor, Long Branch, Gulf Branch, and Haley/Oakridge/Gunston (“HOG”) parks. These events are led by our ARMN volunteer site leaders and are great opportunities for community volunteers to learn about invasive plant identification and removal techniques. I am always amazed at how much drive and passion the site leaders have to act as stewards for their neighborhood parks!

Photo 1 (1)

Earth Day 2014, at an Arlington park. Sarah is second from the right.

What brought you to ARMN?/How did you learn about ARMN?

The first time I heard about the Master Naturalist program was from my mom when she took the training in Illinois. I was lucky to get the opportunity to take the ARMN course when they needed an Arlington staff member to open and close building during the training sessions.

What do you like most about ARMN?

I really appreciate the strong relationships that ARMN builds with their partner groups and how informed and motivated the volunteers are!  Arlington County wouldn’t be able to do many of our natural resource conservation and restoration projects without the support of community groups, particularly ARMN.  ARMN volunteers do so much for Arlington’s Parks and Natural Resources Division including not just invasive plant removal, but education and outreach, project planning, surveying, planting, nursery work, etc.  It’s a pretty long list of all of the different types of volunteer projects ARMN participates in. The ARMN membership is so diverse in expertise and interests that they can support almost any project that we have!

Tell us something about your childhood/adulthood experiences that shaped your perspective on nature.

I was a Girl Scout in elementary school and really enjoyed all of the outdoor activities like camping and hiking.  I actually pulled my first invasive plant, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), when I was in Girl Scouts! I didn’t really get interested in pursuing a nature-related career until I joined the Student Conservation Association (SCA) in 2007 after I graduated from Illinois State University (ISU), and did several internships with SCA related to environmental restoration.

What is your background?

During college, I worked with a native plant landscaping company and was a gardener for a few private residents during my summers off. In 2007, I received undergraduate degrees in dance and anthropology from ISU.  After college, I went to California to work for the Bureau of Land Management as an SCA intern and then worked on a trail crew on the Pacific Crest Trail. In 2008, I moved to Maryland with another SCA internship with the Nature Conservancy, and managed invasive plants in the Potomac Gorge.

I began working with the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation in 2009 and received a master’s degree in Natural Resources from Virginia Tech in 2012.

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

I enjoy many types of social dance, including square, salsa, blues, and kizomba. In college, I performed as a “koken” in a Kabuki production of Othello under the direction of Shozo Sato, an internationally renowned Japanese theater director.

Photo 2

Sarah doing a fan dance (not Kabuki, but close).

I also love international travel and have a trip planned to Peru, Argentina, and Uruguay over the Christmas holidays!

2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Opportunities

mlk-photo

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.

Day

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

 

1–3pm Matt Bright

RSVP/confirm

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

RSVP/confirm

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

1–3pm

Mary Farrah

RSVP/confirm

Thank you!

Chestnut Planting Update

In December 2013, Arlington County Forester Vincent Verweij supervised the planting of 20 American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) saplings in a number of locations in the county. The saplings, which had been grown at the Earth Sangha nursery in Springfield, were planted in small groups at Benjamin Banneker Park, Bluemont Park, Fort C.F. Smith, Fort Scott, Glencarlyn Park, Gulf Branch and Long Branch Nature Centers, and an experimental site along Route 50. They represented a tangible hope that the iconic American tree might be restored to areas in which it once thrived. (See the February 5, 2014, ARMN in Action post for the original story.)

As the second anniversary of the chestnut planting approached, Verweij checked on all the planting sites to evaluate how they had fared in the past two years. Here are his notes (and photos) from his visits:

Benjamin Banneker: One survivor, doing great!

American Chestnut

Bluemont: One survivor. Got chomped by deer, but still alive.

Bluemont

Fort C.F. Smith: Could not find surviving trees, but it was not an ideal spot for chestnuts. Did find one twig that appeared to be American Chestnut, without life on it.

Fort Scott: Could not find any either.  Also hard to investigate.

Glencarlyn: Found one survivor. Doing well, but heavily foraged. Gives me some hope that some of the insects that coevolved with chestnuts are still around. More heavily foraged than anything around it.

Glencarlyn Forage

Gulf Branch: At least one survivor, doing well.

Gulf Branch

Long Branch: Could not find any surviving trees. Hard to investigate the site.

Route 50: Mowed over, despite putting in stakes. Figured this would happen, but it was worth a shot.

Verweij pointed out that the the discovery of 4 surviving trees out of 20 planted was “about as good/bad as I expected, to be honest.” His findings seem to validate the dispersed-planting strategy that was used back in 2013. Dispersal, apparently, did create a variety of growing conditions that allowed some of the pioneering saplings to be successful.

Fingers (leaves?) crossed for the survivors!

Got CabIn Fever? Try the Invasives-Pull Cure!

Barcroft workgroup posed with ARMN banner

Photo by Jim Hurley

Does this grinding winter weather have you feeling cooped up and claustrophobic? Get out and get moving at one of March’s scheduled invasive pulls. Take out your frustrations on plants that don’t belong in our area’s lovely parks. Dress for the weather, wear rugged shoes or boots, and bring your own gloves and drinking water.

The public is welcome to join the efforts of ARMN members and others at any of these events. Those with a * occur regularly. If the weather is iffy, contact the listed organizer for event status.

*First Saturday HOG (Haley Park, Oakridge, Gunston) Pull, March 7

2400 S. Meade St., Arlington, 9 to 11 am                                                                             Contact Marti Klein: cummingslc@aol.com

Monticello Park Invasives Pull, March 7 & 8

320 Beverly Drive, Alexandria, 1 to 3 pm Saturday & 2 to 4 pm Sunday                             Contact Phil Klingelhofer:  phil.klingelhofer@gmail.com

*Second Sunday Gulf Branch Park Invasives Pull, March 8

3608 Military Rd., Arlington, 2 to 4:30 pm                                                                             Contact Jen Soles: jsoles@arlingtonva.us

*Third Saturday Tuckahoe Invasives Pull, March 21

6550 26th St. N., Arlington, 10 am to 12 pm                                                                       Meet at school parking lot.                                                                                                   Contact Mary McLean: marydmclean@verizon.net

*Third Saturday Madison Manor Park Invasives Pull, March 21

6625 12th Rd. N., Arlington, 2 to 4 pm                                                                                 Contact  Jo Allen: jo.allen.f2014@gmail.com

*Third Sunday Long Branch Park Invasives Pull, March 15

625 S. Carlin Springs Rd., Arlington, 2 to 5 pm                                                                     Contact Steve Young: frazmo@gmail.com

*Fourth Sunday Fort Bennett Park Invasives Pull, March 22

2200 N. Scott St., Arlington, 10 am to 12 pm                                                                       Contact Mary McCutcheon: mmccutcheon@gmu.edu

*Fourth Saturday Benjamin Banneker Park Invasives Pull, March 28

6620 18th St. N., Arlington, 10 am to 12 pm                                                                       Contact Eric Sword: ericsword@gmail.com

Powhatan Springs Park Invasives Pull, March 28

6020 Wilson Boulevard, 10 am to 12 pm                                                                          Contact Bill Browning: browningwh@gmail.com

MLK Day Service Opportunities

The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is now nationally recognized as a day of service. On January 19, join ARMN volunteers and other like-minded community members at these earth-friendly projects at the times and locations listed. You can also take advantage of upcoming weekend service opportunities listed here in the spirit of Dr. King. We hope to see you at one or more of these events, which are open to the public.

  • ARMN and APAH Join to Save Trees from English Ivy

ARMN will partner with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing to train and lead volunteers in saving trees from the choking hazard of English Ivy at the APAH Columbia Grove property and nearby Bailey’s Branch Park.

Time: Volunteers are needed for both morning and afternoon shifts

Location: Columbia Grove is at 1010 S. Frederick St., Arlington

Contact: Please register with Emily Button (ebutton@apah.org) if you plan to come.

  • Invasive Plant Removal at Gulf Branch Nature Center

Gulf Branch naturalist Jen Soles will lead an invasive plant pull at the park.

Time: 1 – 4 pm

Location: Gulf Branch Nature Center, 3608 Military Rd., Arlington

Contact: Jen Soles (jsoles@arlingtonva.us)

  • Fraser Preserve Japanese Barberry Removal

ARMN volunteer Margaret Chatham will lead removal of Japanese Barberry from Fraser Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property in Great Falls.

Time: 12 – 4 pm

Location: Meet at corner of Springvale Rd. and Allenwood Lane, Great Falls (street parking)

What to wear/bring: Wear layers, sturdy, waterproof boots, and heavy leather gloves. Bring own water (There are no “facilities,” though.); garden forks and strong hand clippers are optional.

Contact: E-mail Margaret Chatham (margaret.chatham@verizon.net) if you plan to come. Call 703.785.8175 after 11 am on MLK Day to check on conditions or if you arrive after the group has gone into the woods. (This number not answered at other times.)

Note: Workday cancelled for frozen ground or heavy precipitation.

Can’t volunteer on MLK Day itself? Consider these two service opportunities on the holiday weekend:

  • Winter Tree ID and RiP Invasive Plant Pull at Tuckahoe Park, January 17

ARMN member Mary McLean will conduct a winter tree identification and follow it with removal of invasive plants at Tuckahoe Park.

Time: 9 – 9:45 am (tree ID); 10 am – 12 pm (invasives pull)

Location: Tuckahoe Park, 2400 North Sycamore St., Arlington

Contact: Mary McLean (marydmclean@verizon.net)

  • Third-Sunday RiP Invasive Pull at Long Branch Park, January 18

ARMN volunteer Steve Young will lead the monthly invasive plant pull at Long Branch Park.

Time: 2 – 4 pm

Location: Long Branch Nature Center Park, 625 S. Carlin Springs Rd., Arlington (Meet in parking lot)

Contact: Steve Young (frazmo@gmail.com)

Going Batty at Gulf Branch

 

We’ve all heard of Christmas in July, but how about Halloween in August? The annual Gulf Branch Nature Center Bat Fest on Saturday, August 16, definitely had the feel of a Halloween preview with its celebration of all things bat. The planet’s only true flying mammals got their moment in the sun…er, dusk…with a wide variety of activities that acknowledged their important roles in insect control, pollination, and ecosystem health–– and especially their enormous contribution to international agriculture.

DSCN4768

Why Bats Matter: A display from The Save Lucy Campaign (Photo courtesy of David Howell)

There were games of skill, crafts, bat walks, and lectures and live-bat demonstrations, as well as several opportunities to “be” a bat. ARMN volunteer Samantha Gallagher made another one of her whimsical animal boards that allowed bat aficionados of all ages to be photographed as a bat on the wing. To make the experience more authentic, the bat wannabe could chose from a variety of bat nose types to wear in the photograph. (Samantha’s glow-in-the-dark firefly board has been the hit of the past two Firefly Festivals at Fort C.F. Smith.)

DSCN4776

A vampire bat and a leaf-nosed bat hit the skies. (Photo courtesy of David Howell)

Continue reading

Bat Festival at Gulf Branch Nature Center

By Carolyn Semedo-Strauss

I grew up in a big, old house in a very small town. With a cranberry bog on one side, a forest on the other, a swamp to the rear and a cemetery across the street, we had all of the makings of spooky stories, creatively crafted by an abundance of older siblings (nine to be exact), many of whom were eager to scare.

Yes, I grew up afraid of things. Bats were no exception.

In addition to all of the creepy falsehoods that I had learned about bats from movies and books, there were the tales woven by my older siblings: how bats attack at dark and drain one’s blood before retreating to the cemetery across the street and how they love hair … just about the scariest thing you could say to a little girl with hair the likes of Diana Ross on the head of a small seven or eight year old. My hair in an untamed, unbraided state was perfect terrain for a bat on the run.

So, when word spread that a bat was in our house and was flapping about in an upstairs rear bedroom, I was petrified. With the long, thick, and wiry head of hair that grew upon my head, I was the perfect target if what my siblings said about bats loving hair was true. I don’t quite recall how the whole thing unwound … there were sheets and towels being cast about the house in an attempted to capture the bat and send it back into the wild. However it played out, it didn’t warm me up to bats at all. Continue reading

Ms. Owl Poses for ARMN at Gulf Branch Nature Center

 

It isn’t all service and no fun:  A small group of ARMN has met a few times informally to practice sketching.  The charismatic Ms. Owl at Gulf Branch Nature Center makes a perfect and natural model.

One of the artists, Cathy Broad, says, “The barred owl posed very nicely, after some curiosity at human attention.”  Below are Cathy’s lovely sketches of Ms. Owl.

Please join the ARMN Sketching Group for informal sketching sessions starting later this summer.  Email Kelly Brown KellyB2dogs@gmail.com if you’d like to be added to an email list to help plan or to be alerted about upcoming sessions.

Read Catherine Howell’s March 23 post Gulf Branch Welcomes Mr., errr…Ms. Owl  to discover the story behind the barred owl’s mistaken identity.