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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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!
Text and photos by Gigi Charters,
unless otherwise noted
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
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.
“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,
So how can we fix this?
Step 1: Provide pollen
by planting a garden of native wildflowers!
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!
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
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.”
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!
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:
Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.
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.
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.
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?
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
What do you like most about ARMN?
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).
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Among these are stewardship activities (such as invasive plant removals from regional parks and public lands, stream cleanups, and native plant nursery work);
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);
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!
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.
Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). Photo courtesy of David Howell.
Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis). Photo courtesy of David Howell.
Northern cardinal (male) (Cardinalis cardinalis). Photo courtesy of David Howell.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for upcoming habitat restoration events coming to a neighborhood near you and sign up to pitch in!