Family Fun at the International Coastal Clean-up

Text by Kristin Bartschi and photos by George Sutherland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text and photos by Kasha Helget

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

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

Why Choose Native Plants?

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

  • require little or no fertilizers and few if any pesticides,
  • need less water than lawns, and help prevent erosion,
  • help reduce air pollution,provide shelter and food for wildlife,
  • promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage,
  • and are beautiful and increase landscape values!

How to Choose the Right Natives for Your Yard or Pots

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

List of Fall Plant Sales Where Can You Buy Natives

Most commercial nurseries do not carry many native plants. If your favorite place has a weak selection of natives, ask them to stock more! In the coming weeks, however, plan to visit the increasing number of native plant sales in the area (many of which provide food, entertainment, and fun for kids, too). Below is information on several in Northern Virginia. Happy shopping and planting!

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

Getting Dirty and Keeping Our Rivers Clean

Text by Kristin Bartschi and photos by George Sutherland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outstanding Participation in the 2019 City Nature Challenge! What Are the Next Steps?

by Louis Harrell

Citizen science activities are an important way for individuals to contribute to scientific knowledge and for members of the public to increase their knowledge of local natural resources. Currently, the largest citizen science project that ARMN supports is the City Nature Challenge. Read about the results of this year’s challenge and the role that ARMN played in the success of our local area.

Cities around the world compete in the City Nature Challenge to see who can make the most observations of plants and animals using the iNaturalist app to record photos and information, find the most species, and engage the most people. The 2019 City Nature Challenge was held from April 26–29, 2019, and included 159 cities. Like last year, ARMN-sponsored events contributed significantly to the success of the event. In total, ARMN lead 25 events that were attended by 173 people. In the Greater Washington, DC area (which includes close-in Virginia and Maryland communities), 1,268 people made 29,996 observations and identified 2,258 species. Worldwide, Cape Town, South Africa had the most observations and species. Washington, DC was in fifth place worldwide with the number of observers, and 10th overall. See Capital Naturalist by Alonso Abugattas for more details about this year’s CNC, with the focus on activities in Arlington.

If you couldn’t participate in this year’s Challenge, there are still many opportunities to contribute!  To move an observation from a “casual” observation to “research grade” in iNaturalist, the observation needs to be validated by at least one other knowledgeable person. You can find these observations on iNaturalist and validate them yourself. For a few hints about how to identify observations efficiently, see https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/24425-keep-cranking-with-those-id-s and https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/24578-one-last-push-results-will-be-tallied-9am-monday.

The most observed species in our area were:  Mayapple, Virginia Creeper, Poison Ivy, Tulip Tree, Garlic Mustard, and Virginia Spring Beauty. Below are photos of these species taken by City Nature Challenge participants in our area. 

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) (279 observations) https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/37640276
Photo 37640276, (c) Beth Kiser, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) (258 observations) https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/36699786
Photo 36699786, (c) ecomoser, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)
Poison Ivy (237 observations) https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/37748617
Photo 37748617, (c) Beth Kiser, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)
Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) (222 observations) https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/37504678
Photo 37504678, (c) Ken Rosenthal, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolate) (210 observations) https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/37510565
Photo 37510565, (c) Ken Rosenthal, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)
Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)(200 observations) https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/37639606
Photo 37639606, (c) Beth Kiser, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)

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.”

Virginia State Symbol: The Northern Cardinal

Text and Photos by Ames Bowman

With its distinct red feathers, or plumage, its deep orange beak, and a crest that resembles a well-groomed mohawk, the presence of the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in Northern Virginia is unmistakable. The Northern Cardinal is Virginia’s state bird. I tagged along with part-time Arlington County Park Naturalist Yolanda Villacampa on Sunday, March 24, 2019 at Long Branch Nature Center to learn more about this bird as a part of her Virginia State Symbols program series.

Photo of an adult male norther cardinal in a tree
Adult Male Northern Cardinal, Outside Long Branch Nature Center.

At the beginning of the program, Yolanda shared some interesting facts about the Northern Cardinal:

  • While the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Virginia, it is also the state bird of six other states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia.
  • When you see a bright-red cardinal with a black patch at the base of the beak (or bill), you’re looking at an adult male Northern Cardinal.
  • Adult female Northern Cardinals are tan but share characteristics of the male: the pronounced crest, the short but big orange bill, and some red feathers.
  • Juvenile Northern Cardinals (both male and female) look like the females but with a grey beak.
  • The bird’s diet is primarily seeds and berries, but it is also known to snack on insects.
  • The bird has several calls, they are easy to identify when the male and female call back in forth in the same song.

Before heading out on the trail from Long Branch Nature Center to Glencarlyn Park, we listened intently to a recording of the bird’s several calls so that we could identify the cardinal by ear on the trail. Click here to listen to calls and responses of male and female Northern Cardinals. (Credit: Larry Arbanas/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (ML466840).)

We also learned how to use a field guide to identify other birds that we were likely to encounter on the trail and received a quick tutorial on how to focus our binoculars and, quietly, alert others in the group to the location of a bird.

During our walk, we heard several Northern Cardinal duets and observed one male Northern Cardinal. We also saw and identified three White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) and two Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens). One White-breasted Nuthatch was defending its territory on a tree from a nearby squirrel by extending its wings and swaying back and forth.

Photo of a stream
Glencarlyn Park, Convergence of Four Mile Run Stream and Long Branch Creek.

Virginia Symbols Programs

Join Yolanda on her next Virginia Symbols program!

  • Program Name: Virginia Wildlife Symbols: The Eastern Oyster
  • Date, Time, and Location: Sunday, June 23, 2019, 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM. Meet at Gulf Branch Nature Center
  • Website and Additional Information: During this program, we will learn about the Virginia coastal two-shelled mollusk resident. The program will include a shell activity. The program is geared towards families ages 7 and up—children must be registered separately and must be accompanied by a registered adult. Stay tuned to the Arlington County Parks and Recreation – Nature & History Program webpage to register for this program. The cost of registration will be $5/participant.

Learn more about the Virginia Symbols program leader, Yolanda Villacampa, a part-time Arlington County Park Naturalist and ARMN member in the 2018 blog post, ARMN: Getting to Know Yolanda Villacampa.

Be a Birder!

You, too, can watch the Northern Cardinal and other birds! While early March till early May are ideal times to observe courtship rituals and migratory species that pass through the region before the onset of summer, Northern Virginia is home to many native birds that you can see year-round! Learn about the courtship ritual of the male American Woodcock in a companion ARMN blog piece, “Sky Dancer: The American Woodcock.”

Whether you’re a beginner birder with a basic interest or a pro, consider joining either of the weekly bird walks at the nearby parks or with groups listed below. Make sure to check ahead before you venture out for information on where to meet, updates, weather-related cancellations, and other birding events. Happy birding!

Location Date & Time Website
Huntley Meadows Park Every Monday, beginning
at 7:00 AM
Friends of
Huntley Meadows Park
Dyke Marsh
Wildlife Preserve
Every Sunday, beginning
at 8:00 AM
Friends of Dyke Marsh
Audubon Society of
Northern Virginia
Various dates and times,
parks throughout
Northern Virginia
Audubon Society of
Northern Virginia –
Bird Walks and Field Trips

Sky Dancer: The American Woodcock

Sky Dancer: The American Woodcock

Text and photo by Ames Bowman

Chances are you have heard the familiar “peent” call of the male American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) if you have ever ventured near a meadow at the edge of the forest on a spring or summer evening. From early March until early May, Huntley Meadows Park in Northern Virginia offers Evening Woodcock Walks for adults and families eager to witness and hear the male woodcock in action during its mating ritual. On Saturday, March 9, 2019, I attended such an event and here is what I learned about this fascinating bird.

Courtship Ritual Observation in Huntley Meadows Park

The American Woodcock is a regular visitor to Huntley Meadows Park and favors a habitat of both forested and heavily thicketed areas—making the diverse habitats there a prime spot for this migrant species. American Woodcocks are also known to be regular inhabitants of the area, depending on seasonal weather patterns and yearly migration behaviors of the species.

During the woodcock event, leader and naturalist, P.J. Dunn, explained that woodcocks are difficult to spot by day due to their impressive camouflaging feathers. However, they are easily recognizable by night with the distinct calls of the males in the breeding season that begins in early spring and lasts through the early summer months.

After our group became familiar with the peent call and courtship flight ruffling of the male American Woodcock during a quick educational presentation, we set out on the Evening Woodcock Walk during which we were treated to a chorus of calls at dusk. Our group made a short trek to a small and brushy clearing at the edge of a dense forest to observe the carefully coordinated courtship display. In great anticipation, we waited for the peent call. Not ten minutes passed when we began hearing this call from various points in the clearing, apparently by several male woodcocks. A very loud peent came from the brush not five yards from us; however, we were unable to spot the bird because it was so well camouflaged—a terrific technique to elude predators and eager bird enthusiasts, alike!

Male woodcocks use the peent call to attract a female for mating prior to and just after the main event of its courtship display: the sky dance. The male woodcock repeats this call for several minutes in the same location on the ground. Then, it launches 200 feet or higher into the sky to begin its dance, featuring the musical talents of specialized feathers and chirps. As it circles in the sky, the woodcock then makes twittering noises solely from the vibrations of its specialized feathers. When it begins its descent until about 70 feet off the ground, the woodcock vocalizes through kiss-like chirps to accompany its feather twitters in an elaborate display, still circling its initial point of departure on the ground. As it descends below 70 feet, the woodcock silences and returns to the ground—often in the exact location from which it departed—to begin the elaborate ruse once again. A single woodcock may repeat this ritual up to twenty times in a single evening!

While we were fortunate to hear all three sounds of the male American Woodcocks: the distinctive peent, the twitter of its feathers, and the vocalized chirps as they performed their aerial dance, we were not able to witness the sky dance in its entirety due to overcast skies. Then, the courtship displays came to an apparent abrupt halt when two Barred Owls (Strix varia) began engaging in their own mating ritual and calling back and forth to each other like caterwauling from the far edge of the clearing. As it turns out, it takes only two species to make a crowd!

Watch and listen to the sky dance of the American Woodcock Here. (Video credit: YouTube user MassLPWS.)

Fun Anatomy Facts about the American Woodcock

While on our excursion, we learned some interesting facts about the anatomy of the American Woodcock:

Its feathers, or plumage, allow for it to camouflage against dense thicket, brush, and forested areas. This makes it possible for the bird to nest and scavenge on or near the ground without detection by predators of ground and sky.

They have super long beaks, similar to sandpipers, to plunge into the ground and find insects. The tips of these beaks open slightly (like tweezers) to catch their snack. Earthworms are a staple item in the diet of the American Woodcock.

The bird has eyes far back and near the top of its skull. This is so it can keep its eyes above ground while its beak is prodding for food, reducing its vulnerability to predators.

Be a Birder!

You, too, can watch the American Woodcock and other birds! While early March till early May are ideal times to observe courtship rituals and migratory species that pass through the region before the onset of summer, Northern Virginia is home to many native birds that you can see year-round! Learn more about the state bird of Virginia that can be seen (and heard) in all seasons in a companion ARMN blog piece, “Virginia State Symbol: The Northern Cardinal.”

Whether you’re a beginner birder with a basic interest in nature or a pro, consider joining one or more bird walks at the nearby parks or with groups listed below. Make sure to check ahead before you venture out for information on where to meet, updates, weather-related cancellations, and other birding events. Happy birding!

Location Date & Time Website
Huntley
Meadows
Park
Every Monday, beginning at
7:00 AM
Huntley Meadows Park
Dyke
Marsh
Wildlife
Preserve
Every Sunday, beginning at
8:00 AM
Friends of Dyke Marsh
Audubon
Society of Northern
Virginia
Various dates and times,
parks throughout
Northern Virginia
Audubon Society of
Northern Virginia –
Bird Walks and Field Trips


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!

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!