2018 Bill Thomas Volunteer Award Highlights Bill Browning’s Role in Leading Important Changes in Powhatan Springs Park

By Bill Browning

On April 25, 2019, ARMN member, Bill Browning, was honored with the 2018 Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Award for his volunteer work for the parks in Arlington. This award was established to pay tribute to lifelong parks volunteer Bill Thomas and to honor and encourage residents with passionate dedication and support for the county’s dynamic programs, natural resources, and public open spaces. Details regarding the award are on Arlington County’s Environment webpage. Below, Bill recounts his and others’ efforts to change a neglected park into a haven for birds, plants, and people. He realizes that he could not have won this award alone.

Nearly six years ago, I was inspired to bring Powhatan Springs Park back from abandonment.  Powhatan Springs is a small park next to a heavily-used Arlington County skate park and county soccer field. The natural area contains a small stream and several native trees and plant communities that had been neglected for decades and had become overrun with invasive plants and trash.

Near the end of my graduation from the ARMN Basic Training course in the Fall of 2013, Jim Hurley (a Spring 2009 ARMN graduate) took me and my fellow class member, Matt Parker, to see the site. Jim thought that a little bit of effort by us could make a huge difference for the wildlife in the park. Simply killing the ivy and euonymus that was choking the trees could open up the site to many bird species, Jim thought. So, Matt and I began removing the invasive plants from the park during the early part of 2014.

Photo of a tree covered with vines.
Matt Parker in the early days of cutting vines in the park. Photo courtesy of Bill Browning.

We used Earth Day 2014 to recruit community members to help. From 2014–2017, there were three or four invasive and trash removal events each year, and as we saw progress, the momentum started to build.

Photo of four people standing in front of bags filled with pulled invasive vegetation
L-R: Stephen Browning, Mary Martha Churchman, Bill Browning, and Elizabeth Gearin displaying the spoils of latest invasive pull at Powhatan Park. Photo courtesy of Kit Britton.

Our ARMN classmates from Fall 2013 also joined in.  Alison Sheahan dove into the thickets of multiflora rose and tackled getting them under control. More recently, Mary Martha Churchman and Marian Flynn have made their own contributions in fighting invasives on a regular basis. As Matt had to deal with other commitments, I was fortunate enough to recruit other Master Naturalists to help. Among them were Mary Frase (from the neighboring Fairfax Master Naturalist chapter), who has become a de facto co-leader in the park. Mary has been instrumental in helping volunteers distinguish invasives from native plants. When she’s not been around, Beth Kiser (Spring 2010) and Joanne Hutton (Fall 2009) weigh in by examining photos of plants that I send to them.

The park has also benefitted from other ARMN members regarding the citizen science aspect of ARMN’s mission. Glenn Tobin (Fall 2016) used Powhatan Springs to start building GIS databases of the parks where ARMN members work. He, Emily Ferguson (Fall 2010), and I completed a tree inventory for the park, which will help with monitoring and planning for ongoing rehabilitation efforts. Colt Gregory (Fall 2017) has started conducting bird surveys in the park. Just this spring, he has identified 28 different bird species in the park; and David Howell (Spring 2018) recently captured a pretty cool photo of one of them.

Photo of a woodpecker coming out a hole in a tree
Hairy woodpecker (Dryobates villosus). Photo courtesy of David Howell.

Louis Harrell (Spring 2015) and Phil Klingelhofer (Fall 2014) have helped put Powhatan Springs on the City Nature Challenge map. There have been more than a dozen ARMN members who have participated in CNC in Powhatan Springs over the last couple years.

Arlington County officials have also supported ARMN’s efforts. Natural Resource Technician Scott Graham (Fall 2014) and Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas have provided native plants from Arlington’s nursery. Scott also applied herbicide to bring the Japanese stilt grass under control, and he has helped install cages to protect them from deer browse.

Photo of three volunteers standing behind a deer fence
Scott Graham, Mary Frase, and Glenn Tobin with deer fence. Photo courtesy of Bill Browning.

Natural Resources Specialist Sarah Archer (Fall 2013) helped with the first Earth Day clean-up and has arranged for commercial support for invasives control. Park Manager Lyndell Core (Spring 2014) and his team have been instrumental in hauling away our trash and supporting a major planting that will happen this fall. A neighbor, Sandra Spear, is donating about 200 native plants for installation in the park, which she will purchase from Earth Sangha from a list provided by Matt Bright (Fall 2015).

There are a few lessons that I have taken from the work in Powhatan Springs:

First, I have realized the power of my persistence and calm demeanor:

I began working in the Powhatan Springs park in January 2014. We started slow and have built up steam over the last couple years. As of now, people can reliably assume we’ll be having about one activity per month there.

 Also, I’m a reasonably nice guy to work with. [Editor’s note: “He is!”]

Most of the 70+ volunteers I’ve come in contact with feel good (I believe) about what they accomplished and what I asked them to do.

I make it a point to read the volunteers’ faces, recognize the difficulty of some of the work, and steer them towards something that appears doable and that will give the volunteers a sense of accomplishment. I take pride in having a wide range of groups (Boulevard Manor neighborhood residents (thanks to Josh Handler), skateboarders from the skatepark, 4H groups (thanks to Liz Allan (Fall 2016) and Elizabeth Gearin (Fall 2009)), and scout troops (thanks to Fran O’Reilly and Jack Person (Spring 2017), all contributing to the park’s renewal.

Photo of woodland phlox. The plant has purple flowers.
Woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata) which appeared last spring. Photo courtesy of Bill Browning.

Finally, on a personal note, I’d like to say that I started this project with modest objectives to open Powhatan Springs up for the birds. I do not live near the park and I did not think it would be a long-term venture. But I wanted a project to sink my teeth into after I graduated from ARMN. It has become much more than that for me. I now realize the power of creating habitat, no matter how small it might be. Thanks to a diverse group of volunteers, this park is now becoming a real natural area. It has been very gratifying to watch this park improve in habitat value. Last fall we saw a Barred Owl hunting in the park which is just another reassuring sign that the park is recovering its value as a natural habitat. Also, during the award presentation ceremony, I appreciated when ARMN President Marion Jordan congratulatd me and all the other volunteers for our work at Powhatan Park: “We are so fortunate to have these parks in our urban areas and the restoration work at Powhatan shows that even a small area can be restored as an important part of our natural resources.  Congratulations to Bill and to all who contributed to this important work at Powhatan Springs.”

Bringing Back Wild Bees, Wild Flowers, and Wildlife to Local Backyards

Text and photos by Gigi Charters, unless otherwise noted

Photo of a "bee hotel," which shaped like a bird house but filled with cut bamboo
Example of a pre-made bee house structure, set up at the event.

Last month, I had the opportunity to listen to USGS Wildlife Researcher, Sam Droege, and Arlington County Parks and Recreation Natural Resource Manager, Alonso Abugattas, in the exciting event, “Morph Your Yard into a Bee Grocery Store—Not a Bee Fast Food Joint! Building Homes and Habitat for Native Bees and Pollinators,” sponsored by ARMN and the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.

Sam and Alonso discussed the significance of wild bee populations and two important ways that we can help our local bees thrive: provide pollen sources and nesting structures.

To begin, Sam briefed the audience about the apparent over-reliance on honey bee populations, and how we may be driving out another critical lifeline in the event of ecosystem collapse––the overlooked, super pollinating, native bees.

Photo of a native sweat bee
Native sweat bee, Augochloropsis sumptuosa. Photo courtesy of Sam Droege.

“Wild bees are not like honey bees,” Sam emphasized. In fact, I learned that there are around 4,000 species of native bees in North America alone, and they have been playing a critical role in sustaining ecosystems and natural resources for millions of years. The majority are solitary, can be as small as a grain of rice, and do not sting people (stingers cannot break through our skin). 

Moreover, unlike the honey bee, which was actually imported by colonists, native bees provide us with the essential pollinating services we need for native plants, in addition to commercial crops. Sam explained that the big issue is that land-use changes and habitat loss are diminishing wild plant populations, which conversely diminish wild bee populations, which means: no bees, no plants, no species who depend on those plants, and eventually, ecosystem collapse.

So how can we fix this?

Step 1: Provide pollen by planting a garden of native wildflowers!

Photo of Sam Droge standing in front of a projection which has a picture of a bee and says "Can gardens save the bee universe? Its worth a shot"
Sam Droege explains how gardening with native plants can help bees.

Sam says “re-wild” your land by moving away from lawn/corporate kinds of landscapes and start bringing back naturalized types of landscapes. The big picture is about saving plant and bee diversity, so it’s important to plant a variety of native species. This is especially important since some native bees are specialists, meaning they are dependent on one—and only one—type of flower. Some bees can only reproduce if they have specific pollen from the native plants they evolved with.

Step 2: Provide Nesting Structures!

Photo of pre-made wooden bee hotels
Various pre-made bee house structures at the event.

Alonso continued the discussion by stressing the importance of another crucial native bee resource in need of recovery––bee nesting structures.

About 70% of all bee species live in burrows in the ground, so it’s important to create ideal ground space, such as loose soils that are free of vegetation and exposed to the sun.

The remaining bee species live above ground, in pre-existing cavities like old beetle holes, or hollow empty stems of reeds or grasses. Alonso added that “this is one more reason to leave garden plants standing through the winter, as many are housing insects in various parts of their life cycle, including pupating or adult overwintering bees.”

He noted that in addition to buying select bee houses, people can also make their own structures at home. While many species will make use of them, Mason bees (Osmia sp. peaceful, dark, solitary bees) in particular, are likely their most common tenants, and “luckily what usually works for them, generally works for other species,” said Alonso.

Photo of Alonso Abugattas gesturing to a bee hotel in discussion with Kit Britton
Alonso discusses various mason bee houses with Kit Britton.

He gave the example: “One simple way is to cut some bamboo, Phragmites (a good use for both these invasives), elderberry, and/or sumac at their nodes, hollow them out all the way to the node so one side is still sealed, and bundle them together (with the open ends facing one direction) for the bees to discover. Place them where they will get some sun in the morning and some shelter from the rain.”

Photo of Alonso Abugattas standing in front of a projection of an image of a bee hotel
Alonso with an example of a bee “hotel.”

To learn more about native bees, how to create your garden of bee-friendly plants, and how to build your bee homes, check out Alonso’s blog piece, which includes information about nesting structures, best ways to encourage and protect bees, and a list of the best plants for specialist bees. Following these guides will help restore local biodiversity!

Also, to see more incredible photos of these bees, visit Sam’s webpage with photos from the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab, and follow the Instagram/Tumblr accounts @USGBIML.

So, let’s kick off spring with an abundance of native flowers and bee homes! Remember, every resource area, whether it’s a patch in the ground, or an epic garden, can have huge impacts on sustaining bee populations during these urgent times. We just need your help to provide them with the assets to make that comeback!

It’s Springtime . . . Plant Natives!

Text and photos by Kasha Helget

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

Photo of orange flowers
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Why Choose Native Plants?

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

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

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

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

Where Can You Buy Natives?

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

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

2019 Spring Native Plant Sales

NOVA Soil & Water Conservation District, Native Seedling Sale

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

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

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

Potowmack Chapter Weekly Plant Sale

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

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Native Plant Sale

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

American Horticulture Society, Spring Garden Market

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

Long Branch Nature Center

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

Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale

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

Rappahannock Plant Sale at Waterpenny Farm

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

Friends of Riverbend Park Native Plant Sale

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

Reston Association, Spring Festival

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

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

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

Earth Sangha Plant Sale

Prince William Wildflower Society Annual Wildflower and Native Plant Sale

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

Friends of Runnymede Park

Green Springs Garden Day Plant Sale

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

ARMN: Getting to Know Peter Hansen

By Bill Browning and Peter Hansen

Peter Hansen is a recent graduate of the ARMN training class (Fall 2017). He became a Certified Master Naturalist the first year he was eligible and will receive this certificate at our upcoming March chapter meeting. I was able to sit down with Peter for conversation over a cup of tea in late January. I was looking forward to this conversation because Peter is part of the next generation for ARMN, and I’m anxious to see where he and his compatriots are able to lead us in the future. I was not disappointed. Here’s the essence of our conversation:

ARMN volunteer Peter sitting at a table holding a black snake while other volunteers stand behind him.
Peter volunteering at an Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing event. (Photo courtesy of Nina Janopaul.)

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

Last year, I mostly volunteered at various nature center-run events in Arlington County. I helped out with World Migratory Bird Day at Lacy Woods Park, Firefly Festival at Fort C.F. Smith Park, and the Bat Fest and the Fall Heritage Festival at Gulf Branch Nature Center and Park. I think Arlington’s nature centers do a wonderful job creating arts and crafts projects that draw kids’ attention to nature. I love engaging the next generation of environmental stewards. I particularly enjoyed quizzing Bat Fest attendees about the animal sounds that color our evenings in Arlington. Though no one—not even my fellow Master Naturalist volunteers—could identify all the mystery sounds I played, many young attendees blew me away with their already expansive knowledge.

One especially meaningful aspect of partnering with Arlington’s nature centers was the opportunity to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community in Arlington. I assisted at the Long Branch table at the Latino Community Festival, and with the World Migratory Bird Day event, which was bilingual. Promoting inclusion is near and dear to my heart, and I support ARMN’s efforts to reach and represent the full diversity of people in our area. In a prior job at the Federal Reserve Board, I worked to increase diversity and inclusion in the fields of Economics and Finance. I look forward to transferring these skills to my volunteer work in the local community.

This year, I joined the ARMN Board of Directors as Secretary. I look forward to involvement in critical strategic decisions that shape the future of our organization. I also hope that my relative youth and experience reaching out to underrepresented groups might bring some useful perspectives. So far, it has been a sincere pleasure to collaborate with the experienced and highly competent members of the Board.

What has surprised you about ARMN?

Two things: First, the volunteer basic training covered more areas than I could have imagined. If a subject was at all related to anything in nature, we addressed it in class. Second, I have been pleasantly surprised that ARMN has a broader distribution of people from young to old and a better mix of men and women than I anticipated.

What do you like most about ARMN?

I like the credibility that the ARMN basic training class has given me. Because of my Master Naturalist certification, I am trusted, particularly by the staff at the nature centers, and am able to volunteer there in ways I otherwise could not have. For example, I can handle turtles and snakes to show kids and parents at events like the Latino Community Festival. It is so rewarding to introduce kids to animals that might seem a little scary at first and show that they are really excellent fellow neighbors.

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

I led hiking, canoe, and climbing trips at The College of William and Mary when I was a student there. Canoe trips were my favorite because we all experienced the river exactly the same, plus we didn’t have to carry everything on our persons like backpackers do (though I find backpacking to be super fun, too). While I love climbing, leading those trips was stressful because I had to focus on safety and spent most of the time setting anchors and belaying participants (i.e., making sure all climbers are safely suspended by a rope in case of a fall).

Leading trips is one of the main reasons I am a Master Naturalist today. Early on, a fellow trip leader named Adam Rotche inspired me with his knowledge of the natural world. The way he identified plants and animals and explained the world around us elevated the experience of being outdoors to a whole new level. Becoming a Master Naturalist allows me to build my own knowledge of the natural world and share that extra layer of color with the others outdoors.

What is your background?

I grew up in Arlington. I attended Glebe Elementary, Swanson Middle School, and Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County, and as noted above, I graduated from William and Mary, where I studied Economics.

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

I coach youth basketball with a close friend. Currently, we’re working with a sixth-grade boys’ team. Coaching packs a world of challenges: different personalities, learning styles, skillsets, outside stressors, and more. But it’s so rewarding to watch the kids learn new skills, overcome adversity, and gel as a team. And though they may only be 11, they’re fun and smart and always entertaining.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I’ve been volunteering with ASPAN (the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network) for most of my life. When I was five years old, my parents first took me to make and deliver food to people who are experiencing homelessness. I remember that in my first year or two, I was trusted with little more than dipping the bananas in lemon juice to prevent browning. They give me a little more responsibility these days.

Volunteering for such a long time on a single project is an experience that I would highly recommend. I’ve watched as the population we served swelled to a peak during the Great Recession, then decreased significantly with the improving economy and the opening of a new ASPAN shelter. I’ve also gotten to know some of the homeless people in our community. I think most people would be surprised to find out how smart, well-informed, and friendly most of our clients are. The forces that push an individual into homelessness are far more complex than many realize. Even after 20 years of serving this community, I have barely begun to understand it.

ARMN Celebrates 10 Years Serving Community and Launches Facebook Page

by Kasha Helget

The Arlington Regional Master Naturalists have reached a major milestone and expands its public outreach to the community in new ways.

Ten Years of Service, Growth, and Outreach

The Arlington Regional Master Naturalists group just finished its 10th year as a Virginia Master Naturalist chapter, and over 70 members celebrated the milestone at the Annual Meeting in December.

Photo of a meeting. Groups of people are sitting around round tables watching a presentation.
ARMN 10th Anniversary celebration, December 2018. Photo courtesy of Alonso Abugattas.

President Marion Jordan welcomed all the members and supporters at the gathering. She also gave a special nod to the first class of 2008, with over half the graduates still as active members. Jordan then thanked the ten+ partners who have worked with ARMN over the years.

She highlighted ARMN’s past achievements, present efforts, and plans for future activities. This included an acknowledgment of the various projects on which members have donated thousands of hours during the decade.

Six ARMN volunteers plant vegetation under a tree.
2017 Barcroft Park Restoration Planting. Photo courtesy of Karen Thomas.


Among these are stewardship activities (such as invasive plant removals from regional parks and public lands, stream cleanups, and native plant nursery work);

2015 Champion Tree Bicycle Ride. Photo courtesy of Lori Bowes.

Also, education and outreach programs (including public events and instructional programs, nature center support, work with children inside and outside of the classroom, and school gardens);

2014 Marie Butler Leven Preserve e-Mammal Survey. Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.

Added to this are citizen science (such as stream water monitoring, bird counts, tree, plant, and insect surveys, and more recently, bioblitzes and other surveys that use internet-based iNaturalist, eBird, and GPS tools to track plant, animals, and restoration efforts).

For the future, Jordan stressed the priority of expanding ARMN’s outreach to include more members of the community with events such as “pop-up parks” (to provide nature mini-presentations to passers-by both in parks and elsewhere), as well as more structured outreach to a variety of organizations and citizens.

The ARMN members also submitted their own reflections on their past and present involvements in the organization, and how they looked forward to continued participation during the next decade.

Active membership in ARMN has grown to over 175 individuals whose contributions have multiplied throughout the years. Just in 2018, members reported over 15,000 hours of work in support of the natural environment locally and throughout Virginia!

The ARMN organization has also been honored during its ten years by awards from the National Park Service and Arlington County, and individual members have been honored for their efforts in supporting Arlington’s natural environment.

ARMN Adds Facebook to its Outreach

ARMN has recently launched the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists Facebook page to engage members of the general public about local natural events, photos, discussion topics, or other items of interest in our natural world. Anyone can join by applying for inclusion in the group. We hope to see YOU participate there, too!

How to make your winter more interesting, help birds, and give a second purpose to your holiday tree!

Many people have mixed feelings about taking down the Christmas tree each year: Glad to have it out of the house when it starts to drop needles, relieved that the county or city tree pick-up program makes for easy disposal, but sorry that the short-lived but valued purpose is gone.

You may want to wait before tossing it to the curb.

One way to prolong the useful life of an already cut Christmas tree is to repurpose it as a natural bird feeding station in your garden, or perhaps a bird-friendly neighbor’s garden if you don’t have one of your own. And if you do not have your own holiday tree, you can give and receive the same benefits by “borrowing” a neighbor’s tree after it has been put on the curb for the tree collection truck.

A winter-feeding station makes very good use of your tree, and can be done easily by placing a small or medium sized feeder in the top branches of your tree. Spillage trickles down and gets trapped in the branches, with some reaching the ground below the tree. This distributes the seeds for different sizes of birds, with different browsing styles, including typical ground feeders. And, it also provides shelter, or at least sheltered feeding, with snow, sleet, and cold winter winds.

Winter temperatures will keep your tree green and it will perform its function for your backyard bird population through the season. Generally, it has done its job by mid-March and you can decide when to put it out for green-cycle pickup as spring approaches.

ARMN: Getting to Know Phil Klingelhofer

By Bill Browning and Phil Klingelhofer

Phil Klingelhofer is the Vice President, Service Committee Chair, and an active member for ARMN. I was lucky enough to interview Phil for this series over a cup of coffee at Northside Social on Wilson Boulevard. I learned that he does a lot more with ARMN than his job on the Board. He has already logged in 1000 volunteer hours since he graduated from the training class in Fall 2014. And he does a lot of Master Naturalist-like activities outside our region.

I first grew to know Phil when our kids were in school together and we were both on the Washington-Lee PTA leadership team. Phil was a great collaborator and leader there and he has become a key leader for ARMN, too. Here’s the essence of our conversation

Photo 1

Phil and other volunteers during a stream monitoring event at Bluemont Park on September 28, 2018.

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

I lead the Service Committee for the ARMN Board. I have four talented and dedicated volunteers—Juliet Purll, Joy Tobin, Beth Kiser, and Louis Harrell—who help with a variety of related tasks and issues. We are working to provide ARMN members with a wide variety of service projects that will make a real difference in our community and citizen science opportunities to engage the curiosity we all have in nature. We’re a great team, and we have fun at our meetings. Care to join us?

A major priority for the Service Committee is to develop ARMN’s Park Steward program. The aim of this program is to provide ARMN and Tree Steward volunteers with the training, resources, and a collaborative network to take leadership roles and leverage their expertise and knowledge for the protection and enhancement of natural habitat and wild spaces in our local parks. In October, we held our first training session for the program. As part of this stewardship effort, we will also reach out to organizations such as private companies and churches who have groups of volunteers to help with some of our stewardship work. We hope that a number of our volunteer events will be led by an ARMN expert with10-20 participants learning about our natural environment and contributing to our mission. These volunteers should be force multipliers in our invasive work in the parks. We’re also moving the ARMN Service Committee into an area where we can increase the options for citizen science and do a better job of measuring the impact of our work.

My own personal pet project is a habitat restoration effort at Bluemont Park. After I started this effort, Lyndell Core, a fellow ARMN member and county employee, recommended that I apply for Neighborhood Conservation funds from Arlington County for assistance with the invasive removals. Based on the application I wrote and support of my neighborhood, our habitat restoration project was approved two years ago. It includes a five-year invasive plant treatment program by a professional firm, along with other park enhancements. This has already made a huge difference in our restoration effort.

I also frequently work at a variety of habitat restoration sites, indulging my passion for removing non-native invasives, making good use of a shovel to install native plants, and leading a regular stream monitoring team for a number of years. I also love serving on the ARMN Board, where I can help plan ARMN’s path forward with other dedicated Board members. In addition, I serve on the Arlington Urban Forestry Commission and Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee, where I try to give a voice to nature in our community.

Personally, and outside ARMN, I just returned from a week of birding on the North Carolina Outer Banks at the Wings Over Water Birding Festival. It’s the third year that I have attended this event, and I participated with small teams on two “Big Days.” My teams set records of 122 bird species, then 125 species, on consecutive days. O.K., I am a bit of a bird nerd…. The highlights of the trip included watching Northern Harriers sweep the fields for dinner, while black bears ate below and the snow geese and white pelicans swooped in for landing on the water impoundments.

Photo 2

Phil at the Bodie Island Lighthouse, Nags Head, North Carolina on October 17, 2018.

What brought you to ARMN?

I heard about ARMN from my sister-in-law who lives in Rockbridge County and is a Master Naturalist there. I was intrigued with the program because I’ve always loved nature and science. So, I started paying attention to ARMN from afar while I was still working, and as soon as I retired, I seized the opportunity to take the training.

What do you like most about ARMN and what has surprised you most?

I like hanging out with people who like nature and put their backs behind their mouths. People in ARMN like talking about nature and being out in it. But more than talk, they are willing to work and make a difference in terms of improving our natural environment through physical labor and sharing their love of nature with others.

I have been surprised by how many ARMN members are serious experts about a wildly diverse set of scientific issues.

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

I fell in love with birding when I was about five years old. My older brother built a bird blind in our backyard with a drip buck over a small pond. I would lie on my back for hours watching the birds take advantage of the habitat my brother had created and use my Field Guide to the Birds, (Peterson, 1947, 2nd edition) to identify them.

What is your background?

I started out as a physics major in college because I wanted to be an astronomer. When the math became more intense than I anticipated, I switched to become a psychology major. I worked in the banking industry and then ran the operations for a national trade association in the energy field, but I’ve always loved science and nature.

What are some other interesting or unusual things about yourself fellow ARMN members and others might want to know?

I was once fluent in German and French. As an elementary student, I attended the German School (run by the German Embassy in Washington) for nearly four years, taking classes and exams 100% in German. My father was born in Germany and came to the US just before World War II. Later, to confuse things, I studied French for six years in high school and college. And while my German and French are still pretty good, I’m no longer fluent. I like to think I only need to take a few trips to Europe to bring it all back.

NoVA PRISM- A New Partnership with ARMN

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by Alex Sanders

In 2017, Arlington County sought and was awarded a matching grant to create a new multi-jurisdictional partnership. Known as the NoVA PRISM (Northern Virginia Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management), this effort is bringing together government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), volunteer groups, for-profit organizations, and individuals to coordinate their work on invasive species through outreach, education, and field projects in Northern Virginia. Here’s more about the effort and how you can join in.

One doesn’t need to travel far in our region to see invasive species—in yards, on the sides of streets, and worst of all, in our parks and natural areas. Because these species are free from the natural controls they had in their native lands, these organisms cause ecological, economic, or human harm in the new lands they’ve been introduced into. They can reproduce very quickly and outcompete native flora and fauna. The National Wildlife Federation estimates that 42% of threatened and endangered species are at risk due to invasives. 

 As understanding of the problem of invasive species has grown, many, including ARMN volunteers, have taken on the challenge of managing these organisms. But as the species have spread across the landscape, we’ve come to realize that the threat must be addressed through collaborative action beyond jurisdictional boundaries. So, this why Arlington County created NoVA PRISM.

Over the last year, the PRISM has been organizing, conducting outreach in the region, and working on a series of pilot projects along the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail. We’ve collaborated with NGOs in Loudoun County on a forum on sustainable landscaping for homeowner associations, are sending out educational mailers to thousands of residences, and have set up a website. The PRISM also conducted a plant survey along the W&OD Trail, has led several volunteer removals, and is in the midst of two restoration projects: in Falls Church and in Arlington. ARMN has been a key partner, and we are looking forward to further coordination and more involvement by neighbors in the community.

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The challenges of invasive species in our region are substantial, but there’s plenty we can do as individuals and communities. First and foremost, try to remove as many invasives from your property as possible, and install native plants both for their beauty and to support our local wildlife that depend on them to survive. Your ARMN neighbors are doing just that and can provide expert advice. Other great resources are Plant NOVA Natives (for photos and descriptions of local native plants, where to buy them, landscaping tips, and additional resources), and Audubon at Home (for on-site consultation, and other recommendations to help you establish and nurture sustainable natural habitat in your backyard, neighborhood, school, church, park or business). You can also tell your favorite nursery to offer native plants. The more people who do can make a difference in what’s offered. And you can volunteer with groups such as ARMN to help restore our natural areas and educate others. Finally, visit the new NoVA PRISM website  or contact us at novaprism1@gmail.com. Look for upcoming habitat restoration events coming to a neighborhood near you and sign up to pitch in!

ARMN: Getting to Know Mary McLean

By Alison Sheahan

Mary McLean’s name is well known among ARMN members and many others interested in our local natural areas. She has been a force for environmental education generally, and for stewardship of Tuckahoe Park particularly, for many years!  It was a pleasure to get to know her further for this interview.  

Photo of ARMN memmber Mary McLean

Mary in Tuckahoe Park. Photo courtesy of Alison Sheahan.

Tell us about your background and what early experiences shaped your perspective of nature.

I grew up in a rural area just northeast of Birmingham, AL. Our 1910 house was on 9 acres of open land with a pond near a natural spring and my mother’s beautiful formal gardens. As the “caboose” in our family of 3 children, I remember being free to roam a lot on my own and I was always drawn to exploring and learning about the outdoors.

One of my earliest memories of my father was identifying a brown thrasher for me. I also connected to the natural world as a spiritual place, fitting with my Dominican and Jesuit parochial school teachings. In high school I was able to do several science internships with the University of Alabama and went off to the University of Virginia (’78) for college, thinking I might major in one of the sciences. The premed competition insured that was not to be—though I did meet my future “spice” there at my first stream study! Instead, I discovered a deep affinity for history and teaching. I later received a masters’ degree from George Washington University for History of Science. I worked for several years in administration and research at various institutions, including the Library of Congress, but I came back to my love of natural sciences and education through my three children.

What brought you to ARMN?

 As I began teaching at the Rock Spring Cooperative Preschool in Arlington and then volunteering at my children’s school, Tuckahoe Elementary, I found myself drawn to those involved in environmental education in Arlington. I was on a committee that planned Tuckahoe’s wildlife habitat and school gardens from 1990-2003 and helped to develop Tuckahoe’s “Expeditions” Exemplary program for outdoor learning. During that time, I took the Master Gardener training, and got into even more nature programs at the Tuckahoe Elementary. In addition, I worked with others to develop a nature trail at Tuckahoe Park and learned about stream restoration. Then, after receiving an English as a Second Language master’s degree, I worked at various local schools and communities as well as the National Audubon Society in Maryland. All the time I always kept in touch with my naturalist and schoolyard friends, including two particularly influential ones: Alonso Abugattas (currently, the Natural Resources Manager for Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation) and Cliff Fairweather (currently, a park naturalist with Arlington’s Long Branch Nature Center). Alonso encouraged me to take the ARMN training with the very first class in 2008. The rest is lots of fun volunteering and learning.

What do you like most/surprised you most about ARMN?

 I absolutely love the people of ARMN and the camaraderie that develops as we care for our environment. Where else can you find so many slightly geeky, humble, knowledgeable, and knowledge-hungry folks?  And the number of overlapping human connections is amazing and constantly surprises me!  I also love and was surprised by the deep learning in the training class and have been pleasantly surprised by how that training continues with the wonderful annual conferences and statewide meetings. There’s nothing like sharing a long car ride to SW Virginia to get to know each other, either!

Tell us about your ARMN projects.

 Well, I still do spend a lot of time in Tuckahoe Park! It’s such a precious little oasis in a busy urban area at the intersection of Lee Highway and North Sycamore Street. We have been very active trying to remove invasive species here in both the woodland and wetland areas and continue to hold monthly invasive plant pulls in which the public is invited to help. I also helped to develop the information along the park’s interpretive trail. I had the honor of receiving the Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Award along with Don Walsh for our work in 2014. I love to help with so many of the projects at Arlington’s nature centers like the Firefly and Bat Festivals, as well as citizen science projects like the Cricket Crawl and Bioblitz events.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

 I think that I kind of fell into becoming a naturalist/environmental educator “seven ways to Sunday.”  There was so much in my childhood learning and church upbringing and love of outdoors that brought me to where I am. I believe that the best way of learning about what is most important for children—or adults—is out in nature where we evolved.  When you learn outside you learn with real stuff that you can use anywhere. ARMN folks, like park rangers and professional naturalists, represent the best teachers because they connect people to nature and to valuing natural resources by experiencing them.

2018 Arlington BioBlitz is September 15th!

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

What is a BioBlitz?

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

Why would you want to participate in the BioBlitz?

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

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

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

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

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

When, Where, and Who

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

Date: September 15, 2018

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

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

Who can participate: Anyone 13 years and older

Cost: FREE

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