Active Shooter Awareness Training for Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners

Arlington County police officers recently provided active shooter training for ARMN and Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia to help volunteers plan and react to an emergency.

by Bill Browning and Kasha Helget

It is an unfortunate sign of the times that we have to be alert to possible active shooters and other threatening situations in our world. With this sobering reality, ARMN recently hosted active shooter awareness training for its Master Naturalists and the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia to help volunteers plan and react to an emergency. Four Arlington County police officers—Captain David Giroux, Sargent Chris Feltman, Corporal Beth Lennon, and Officer Mike Keen—presented information as part of their outreach to various businesses and organizations throughout Arlington County.

They emphasized the “RUN–HIDE-FIGHT” response method developed by the Department of Homeland Security, and the importance of planning ahead of time what to do if faced with an active shooter situation.

This method includes being prepared to: (1) run if you can and have an escape route in mind wherever you go—at work, schools, public venues, and even when volunteering at schools or in woods; (2) hide as a second alternative outside of the shooter’s view, block entry to your hiding space if possible, and stay quiet; and (3) fight as a last resort, but with everything you can muster.

The officers answered numerous questions about what to do if a shooter appears in your midst, ready to do serious harm. As group leaders, people in the group would look to us for what to do. So, it’s important to think about escape routes (or paths) ahead of time and act definitively.

For more information about active shooter awareness and to arrange training for your own organization, see:, but note that the contact, Lt. Robert (Bob) Medairos, has retired and is replaced by Sargent Chris Feltman.


ARMN Board Members Join Other Master Naturalist Boards for Leadership Day

by Kasha Helget

ARMN Board Members enjoy a day of leadership training hosted by the State’s Master Naturalist Program staff.

Members of the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists board attended an annual Leadership Day training in Gainesville on November 3rd. The event, which was hosted by the State’s Master Naturalist program staff, included representatives from the northern chapters of Banshee Reeks (Loudoun County), Central Rappahannock (Fredericksburg and Stafford, King George, and Spotsylvania counties), Fairfax (Fairfax County), Merrimac Farm (Prince William County), and Old Rag (Greene, Madison, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Orange, and Fauquier counties), and took place at the office of Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc.

Photo of ARMN Leadership at

Presentations and discussions at Leadership Day meeting. (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Conrad.)

Among the topics addressed during the day-long event were best practices for approving and organizing projects, strategies for retaining volunteers, working effectively as a board, and the review of new and updated administrative procedures for Virginia master naturalist organizations. Board members also got to confer with individuals in similar roles in other chapters to share experiences, advice, and effective strategies.

Participants also enjoyed spending time at and exploring the WSSI office. Its building is Virginia’s first gold LEED facility and incorporates a number of innovative design and sustainability features within the building and on the grounds. These including a walkable green roof and open concept work areas. Employees’ dogs are also allowed in the workspace. (Participants were warned to hide their snacks!)


It was a wonderfully collaborative and productive day, and the ARMN board members brought home lots of ideas and recommendations to improve oversight of the ARMN program and improve volunteer service to the community.

Restoring the Native Habitat at Arlington’s Fort C.F. Smith Park

by Lisa Stern

(Photos by Kasha Helget unless otherwise noted.)

This October, volunteers gathered to help restore native plants to Fort C.F. Smith Park in Arlington County.  Read on to learn more about the planting and about the preparation work that goes into a native plant restoration project.

The fall is a great time to get out into the garden to plant before the chill of winter sets in! Last month, volunteers from Arlington Regional Master Naturalists, Fairfax Master Naturalists, and Tree Stewards spent the afternoon at Fort C.F. Smith Park helping to restore native plants back to areas where they belong and are most needed in the park.

Led by Scott Graham, the Natural Resource Technician for Arlington’s Natural Resources Management Unit, this important restoration project built upon work previously completed during a departmental volunteer day during which over 800 plants (12 different native species) were planted in one of the park’s meadows. The October work day completed the goal of planting 200 more, with all plants grown from seed in Arlington’s native plant nursery over the past year.

Photo of native plant meadow planted at C.F. Smith park

Newly planted meadow area. Photo courtesy of Glenn Tobin.

Photo of native plant meadow at C.F. Smith park in Arlington

Photo of existing meadow.

Volunteers planted Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca),

Photo of milkweed planted at C.F. Smith park

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

Narrowleaf Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Goldenrod (Solidago), Virginia Wildrye (Elymus virginicus),

Photo of Virginia Wildrye planted at C.F. Smith Park

Virginia Wildrye (Elymus virginicus). Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.

Bee Balm (Monarda), and Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), to name a few of the natives that citizens can also plant in their backyard habitats!

Photo of Little Bluestem planted at C.F. Smith Park

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).

Prior to reaching this milestone of actually planting these natives at Fort C.F. Smith was an intensive labor undertaken by numerous volunteers who spent countless hours first collecting and propagating seed as well as divvying up grasses during the spring and summer months at Arlington’s native plant nursery. Led by Sarah Archer, a Natural Resources Specialist for Arlington County, part of this project involved Common Milkweed seed cleaning, which resulted in a couple of pounds of seed made ready for planting. Once all of the plants were ready to go, volunteers dug and placed them in the meadow.

Native restoration projects are a great way to get involved in Arlington’s parks and at the plant nursery. Volunteers just need to enjoy digging in the dirt, as everything else is supplied for willing hands—gloves, shovels, and trowels; and they can enjoy an opportunity to learn more about the environment! Nursery work is on Thursdays from 3–5 p.m. For more information about Arlington’s native plant nursery and volunteer opportunities, click here or contact Scott at:

ARMN: Getting To Know Bill Browning (graduated Fall 2013)

ARMN’s Membership Committee posts occasional profiles of our members, including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they affect their environment. The latest biography features ARMN Membership Chair Bill Browning, who started this series. Bill will be stepping away from the profiles to focus on additional responsibilities, but we wanted to thank him for introducing so many members to the ARMN community.

 Do you know someone in ARMN with an interesting story? Or do you have achievement you’d like to share?  Contact Stacey Evers (, who has taken the reins.

Photo of ARMN Board of Directors Member Bill Browning

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

I grew up in Portsmouth, NH, where my roots are five or six generations deep. It wasn’t a rural town, but I did spend a fair amount of time playing near the swamp in our neighborhood that doubled as a skating rink in the winter. We used to play kickball in a friend’s yard that was next to the swamp and I had a rule that I had to come home when the street lights came on. My mother didn’t have any trouble enforcing that rule as the mosquitos and diving bats drove us inside at about the same time.

My parents didn’t do that much to expose me to the natural environment in terms of hiking or camping or nature walks, but they did teach me about recycling and conserving natural resources. They also had the good sense to enroll me in Boy Scouts. At Boy Scout summer camp one summer, I remember participating in a scavenger hunt and volunteering to find a white birch tree leaf. It seemed a lot easier than some of the other things on the list. I thought, “How hard could this be?” There were birch trees all over the campground and I had learned in primary school that the state tree for NH was the white birch, which I now know as Betula papyrifera. Anyway, I returned to the counselor with many birch tree leaves, and he rejected every one of them. It turns out that almost all of the birch trees in this particular camp were yellow birch, Betula alleghaniensis, another important species in the northeast. It was one of my earliest humbling experiences as a naturalist.

Since graduating from the University of New Hampshire, I’ve lived in several states (Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin) and one foreign country (Taiwan) before settling in Arlington to raise my family. No matter where I’ve lived, the most memorable things I’ve done on my own or with friends and family have involved outdoor activities: a hike, a bike ride, a camping trip, a cross country ski experience, or whatever.

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

My wife and I heard about ARMN from a friend at church. I was looking for a volunteer activity that would branch me out from school politics, and she encouraged me to check it out. She believed (rightly so) that I would like hanging out with other adults who cared about the outdoors. I took the training in the fall of 2013, and the rest is history.

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

Photo of ARMN Board Member Bill BrowningI serve on the ARMN Board as our organization’s Membership Chair. I help keep track of our group’s volunteer and continuing education hours. As such, I work with individual members to help ensure their hours are recorded accurately. And I help our chapter president prepare our annual report for the state-wide Virginia Master Naturalist organization.

I’ve also been one of the organizers to help rehabilitate a 3-4 acre park behind Powhatan Springs Park, downhill from Upton Hill park and up the creek from Ashlawn Elementary. One of the most rewarding parts of this experience for me has been to watch the neighborhood members and the skate park users get enthused about this effort and participate in the work.

What is your background?

I studied theoretical mathematics in college and international economics in graduate school and, as a result, my professional life for the last 30+ years has involved working in abstract concepts. The ARMN training took me out of my comfort zone and I struggled to retain the material. To compensate, since that time I have regularly been taking classes through the Audubon Naturalist Society in its Natural History Field Studies Program. I figure if I keep showing up at these classes, some of the material might actually sink in and stay with me.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

My kids didn’t stand a chance in the nerd gene category. I met my wife grading calculus tests in college. And the car games we invented to pass the time during our trips to New England usually involved mathematical computations vice pop culture or literature.

Arlington Bioblitz: Nature is Alive and Well in the ‘Burbs!

by Phil Klingelhofer and Lisa Stern

Arlington’s first bioblitz began early in the morning on Saturday, May 20 with a team of bird lovers in the parking area of the Long Branch Nature Center. While waiting for the rest of the teams to arrive, volunteers spotted and identified several birds and the bioblitz was officially underway!

Photo taken during the 2017 Arlington BioBllitz

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

Conducting a bioblitz in Arlington was the brainchild of Alonso Abugattas, Arlington’s creative and enthusiastic Natural Resource Manager. A bioblitz is a 24-hour survey to evaluate the biodiversity of a specific area’s flora and fauna (plants and animals).

Nineteen teams of volunteers, each led by an experienced leader, were set up to focus on a specific area of wildlife, including birds, mammals, fish, insects, plants, bees, ferns/fungi, and more. Because this was the first time Arlington had ever engaged in such an enormous and widespread effort, and because so many volunteers were needed, it was not clear how successful the bioblitz would turn out. But when the sun finally set on an exciting and busy day, 92 volunteers (many Arlington Regional Master Naturalists) had identified and reported 1239 observations representing over 460 individual species across eight regional parks!

Photo taken during the 2017 Arlington BioBlitz

Redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) at Glencarlyn Park. Photo courtesy of Steve Young.

Photo taken during 2017 Arlington BioBlitz

Periodical cicada (Magicicada) at Tuckahoe Park. Photo courtesy of Christine Campe-Price.

Photo taken during 2017 Arlington BioBlitz

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

Scientifically, the bioblitz was a big success. Volunteers (citizen scientists) used the new phone app, iNaturalist to document observations, which helps professional scientists gather data so they can map where wildlife is living and how changes occur over time. Cataloging the presence of wildlife (what might be missing or new to the environment) is critical in determining how well or poorly we are protecting species. The bioblitz information will be used, along with data from other observations over the course of the year, to update the Arlington Natural Resource Management plan.

But just as important as the raw data collected, the bioblitz was successful in engaging the public and raising awareness of Arlington’s extraordinary diversity of plants and animals, which is remarkable for an urban community with limited natural park land. Several bystanders happened upon the organized bioblitz teams and clamored to join in, including a pair of cyclists. Having just learned about the event from one of the teams, they returned breathlessly to report seeing a Common watersnake eating an American eel just around the bend.

Photo taken during 2017 Arlington BioBlitz

Common Watersnake ((Nerodia sipedon) eating an American eel (Anguilla rostrata) at Glencarlyn Park. Photo courtesy of Alonso Abugattas.

Other highlights of the exciting day included Mr. Abugattas engaging in a patient, careful dance with an oddly-behaving raccoon (ensuring that it did not harm anyone), volunteers (under staff supervision) rolling over large logs to uncover buried beetles, and eager team members anticipating new findings as a wooden plank was lifted to reveal snakes curled beneath. And, imagine the expression of wonder when a child volunteer learned how his team expert could tell that the small dried remains on the ground were indications that a raccoon had passed by recently. Not to be outdone by the other teams, the fish team experts, in gear reminiscent of Ghost Busters, waded into Four Mile Run to gently shock and identify the fish. Then, at the very end of the day, Penny and Robin Firth in Rachael Tolman’s team discovered a huge 40 centimeter puffball! There were smiles across faces of all of the teams participating!

Photo taken during 2017 Arlington BioBlitz

Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) discovered by Penny and Robin Firth. Photo courtesy of Alonso Abugattas.

Though this one day of excitement and discovery is now history, there will be another chance to participate in the next bioblitz in the fall of 2018. Keep your eyes open for the announcement.

In addition, the raw data from this year’s bioblitz needs to be categorized in taxonomic order, along with existing inventories of plants and animals in the county. If you are interested in working on this project or need additional information, please contact Alonso Abugattas at

Finally, if you are interested in cataloging your own observations in nature, go to to download the app.

And be sure to view the wonderful video of the 2017 Arlington Bioblitz at:

Calling All Citizen Scientists Who Like Insects and Data!

by Louis Harrell

Read on for information on two volunteer opportunities.

There are two interesting projects for which ARMN is asking the assistance of both experienced and amateur citizen scientists.

The first should be of interest to the old “bug lab” alumni and anyone else who is interested in learning more about insects. The other project is to analyze raw data from the recently completed Arlington bioblitz as well as other information collected about plants and animals in the county. The schedule for both of these projects is flexible and training is available for the microscope used in insect identification.

Identifying Insects for Arlington County

Arlington County needs assistance with processing and identifying insects caught in various traps around the county. If you are familiar with a particular taxonomic category or group of insect or would like to learn about identifying insect groups, please consider helping with this effort.

Photo of volunteer using microscope

We plan to use the Arlington Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Leica EZ-4D microscope to capture good photos of the insects and make identifications easier. If you have never used this equipment or are a returning user, Kirsten Conrad, Arlington’s Cooperative Extension Agent, will provide training at the VCE office located at 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington, VA 22206. You can sign up for this training at:

Cataloging Bioblitz Species . . . and More

The recent bioblitz event recorded 460 species of plants and animals.

Photo of a hummingbird

This raw data needs to be categorized in taxonomic order, along with existing inventories of plants and animals in the county. The goal is to create a database of Arlington’s fauna and flora with updated scientific names to which new information could be added in the future.

If you are interested in working on this project or need additional information for either of these projects, please contact Alonso Abugattas at .

To Be or Not to Be: A Mason Bee Monitoring Project Observes Virginia’s Native Bees

by Louis Harrell

Earlier this year, Virginia Master Naturalists were offered an opportunity to participate in a citizen science project to gather much-needed field data about the status of native blue orchard bees in Virginia and to determine possible competition with non-native bees. Louis Harrell participated in the project and shares information about the bees, the project, and results to come.

I learned about a volunteer project to monitor native mason bees from the Virginia Master Naturalist program. Mason bees are part of the genus Osmia, which include both natives and non-native invasive bees. These bees are solitary and nest in hollow cavities. The native mason bee species known as the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria), is one of the few native bees used for agriculture pollination. However, environmental scientists are concerned that this bee may be declining in numbers and may be adversely impacted by invasive species including Osmia cornifrons and Osmia taurus, both of which look similar to the blue orchard.

Photo of the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria)

Osmia lignaria. Image from USDA Forest Service.

Photo of invasive mason bee species Osmia cornifrons

Osmia cornifrons. Image from BugGuide.Net.

Photo of invasive mason bee species Osmia taurus

Osmia taurus. Image from BugGuide.Net.

To analyze the impact of the invasives on the blue orchard bee, University of Virginia graduate student Kathryn (Kate) LeCroy and her faculty mentor, T’ai Roulston designed a project to test for the presence of the bees and also determine whether mason bees would inhabit “bee hotels” so they could be monitored, and if so, which type of hotel they would prefer.

The primary goals of the project are to track the native blue orchard bee as well as the invasive bee species that are spreading in the mid-Atlantic and to determine which of these species are more likely to use the bee hotels. The program included 100 sites located across Virginia in rural and urban areas. A subset of the rural part of the sample used bee bowls to sample the range of bees in their areas. My two bee hotels (one tubular and one box design) were delivered in February of this year and I installed them in my backyard in Manassas.

Mason bees have an ability to detect very slight changes in position and the test needed to have the hotels mounted about 4 feet above the ground. The hotels were attached with zip ties and tape to two trees.

Photo of bee hotels used in UVA study of native mason bees

Mason tubular (left) and box-shaped (right) bee hotels. Photo courtesy of Louis Harrell.

The bees seemed to prefer the tubular hotel design while ants really liked the box shaped design. It took two months for bees to start nesting in the tubular design and for the ants to move into the box shaped design.  Once the ants moved into the box shaped hotel, no other insects were observed.  The bees had not yet emerged from the tubular hotel by the time my role ended, so I cannot say anything about the species of bee using the hotel.  Each week, I sent a report to Kate LeCroy on the status of the bees. The reports included a photo of the bee hotels and some text if anything interesting happened.  Reports were dull until the end of April, when the bees started to fill in the tubular hotel.  Five bees moved in to the tubular hotel and filled the entrances with mud.  LeCroy picked up both hotels in June and she and Roulston are beginning the arduous work of identifying and counting the collected bees. By the end of this year, they should know more about the numbers and distribution of mason bees in Virginia. So, more information is yet to come.

You can read more about the project here: Projects such as the mason bee research give ARMN members and Master Naturalists from other chapters the opportunity to participate in significant research and learn something about insects and important conservation issues.

ARMN: Getting to Know Caroline Haynes

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. The latest biography is for ARMN’s founding member, Caroline Haynes, who established and graduated from our first training class in 2008. Alison Sheahan conducted the interview.

Photo of ARMN past president Caroline Haynes

Caroline Haynes

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time with.

I currently serve on the ARMN Board as a past-president, now with a purely advisory role. There is tremendous talent and enthusiasm on the ARMN Board. They are a terrific group of people—so smart and committed and fun to be with. I actually look forward to these meetings!  I enjoy the people that are drawn to ARMN, as they are so talented, and come from so many diverse backgrounds.

I’ve always enjoyed being able to sample a variety of volunteer activities: Earth Sangha (note: Caroline arrived at the interview lunch fresh from sorting seeds with Earth Sangha), Plant NOVA Natives, Audubon at Home, outreach and education events like the Arlington County Fair, presentations to community and school groups, biotic surveys like those with the National Park Service along the George Washington Parkway, invasive pulls, and restoration plantings. I also still review the applications for each new class of Master Naturalist trainees. I ran the first six ARMN training classes, so I appreciate the huge volunteer effort involved with the basic training classes and am still glad to contribute.

What brought you to ARMN in the first place?

Well, there was no ARMN until I talked to Alonso Abugattas, then the naturalist my kids and I knew at Arlington’s Long Branch Nature Center (LBNC)! Frustrated that Arlington County residents would not be allowed into a neighboring Master Naturalist program, we explored starting a chapter in Arlington. I chaired the coordinating committee back in 2007, and had lots of support from Alonso (now, the Arlington County Natural Resources Manager), Rachael Tolman, a naturalist at LBNC, other naturalists in Arlington, as well as Rod Simmons, Alexandria’s Natural Resource Manager and Plant Ecologist. It took us a year to get ARMN up and running, especially demonstrating that there would be enough demand for another program in such close proximity to the Fairfax Master Naturalist chapter. Alonso agreed to be one of our first instructors and I was actually part of the first training class in the fall of 2008, along with 24 others including current ARMN president Marion Jordan. I became president of the chapter then, and served in that role until December 2013.

My “local” journey toward finding and founding ARMN probably had most to do with our purchase of some property in West Virginia. The more time I spend in the woods, the more my curiosity is sparked by what I observe. I began taking classes in the Natural History Field Studies program at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Maryland. That is where I first heard about the Master Naturalist program forming in Virginia.

Tell us something about your childhood/adulthood experiences that shape your perspectives on nature and your work for ARMN.

Well, I grew up in Colorado! So hiking, camping, and being outside in beautiful places were always part of the deal. After earning a degree in International Finance/International Relations, I came to Washington to work in the Senate and then later as Deputy Assistant Secretary with the Treasury Department. I feel like it is my experience on the Hill that led me to see how important it is for people to “have a seat at the table” to get anything done.

I also met my husband on the Hill and we settled in Arlington, soon joined by our two daughters.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? It seems like you are always trying to get groups of people to put the naturalist perspective “on the table.”

Yes, I strongly encourage others to get engaged in their local advisory groups. ARMN doesn’t generally count this service for hours, unless it has a direct natural resources connection, but it is important to add that natural resources perspective. I currently serve as the Chair of the Arlington County Park and Recreation Commission, as a member of the Arlington Urban Forestry Commission, and as chair the Natural Resources Joint Advisory Group, which is charged with monitoring the implementation of the county’s Natural Resources Management Plan. I also serve on the Chesapeake Bay Ordinance Review Committee. We review plans by homeowners and developers when building in the resource protection area to ensure that mitigation measures comply with the Chesapeake Bay Ordinances. In addition, I am co-chair of the Plan for Our Places and Spaces advisory group, where we are working on an update of the public spaces element of the county’s Comprehensive Plan. I am also serving as co-vice chair of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group.

Citizen action is important, now more than ever. Paying attention to plans before they gather the full weight of policy is critical if we are to develop a more environmentally-sensitive direction.

Joan Gottlieb and Toni Genberg nominated for 2017 Fairfax County Volunteer Service Awards

Fairfax County annually recognizes individuals, groups, and organizations in a community-wide celebration of volunteerism. Among the 2017 nominees for awards were ARMN members Joan Gottlieb and Toni Genberg for their outstanding service at Earth Sangha’s Wild Plant Nursery. While they were not chosen for awards in their categories, ARMN is pleased to recognize their work here and share details about their nominations from Katherine Isaacson at Earth Sangha.

Two of ARMN’s most steadfast volunteers were nominated for this year’s Fairfax County Volunteer Service Awards. They were each recognized for extensive work at Earth Sangha, which is the region’s largest local ecotype, native plant nursery.

Joan Gottlieb: Inspires Other Volunteers

Photo of ARMN member Joan Gottlieb

Joan Gottlieb

Joan is acknowledged as someone who “does it all” at Earth Sangha’s Wild Plant Nursery. She collects and cleans seeds, plants and transplants native species, weeds, waters, and removes invasive species. She is also a leader who teaches other volunteers, and uses her knowledge of local ecology in both Earth Sangha’s fieldwork as well as her own backyard and neighborhood parks. Read more details about Joan in Earth Sangha’s nomination for her over 250 hours of work.

Toni Genberg: An Advocate for Native Species

Photo of ARMN member Toni Genberg

Toni Genberg

Toni is a long-time volunteer at the Wild Plant Nursery who contributes to everyday tasks while helping other volunteers learn the routine. She also participates in invasive plant removals and native species plantings. As an experienced native plant gardener and naturalist, she teaches others the importance of native plants and the local ecology. And as a professional video editor and videographer, Toni has created an informative video about Earth Sangha’s work. See Earth Sangha’s nomination for Toni as a rising star among Fairfax County volunteers.

ARMN appreciates Joan and Toni’s efforts at Earth Sangha and all their work in the community. They truly represent the best of volunteerism in support of the natural world.

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:

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!