A Bright Outlook for Citizen Science in Arlington

by Louis Harrell

“The joy of looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.” – Albert Einstein

Citizen Science is defined as “the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.” Why is it important? It offers many benefits both to residents of a community and local natural resource programs. While there are many citizen science opportunities in the region at large, this piece focuses on how citizens may participate in research projects in Arlington County, improve their knowledge of the local environment, and identify species resident in the County. The County gets to use the expertise of citizens to accomplish needed projects that might otherwise be delayed due to resource constraints.

What can we look forward to in the near future?  A bright outlook for citizen science!

Arlington’s First Bioblitz

 Arlington Bioblitz logo

On May 20, ARMN will be supporting the first Arlington’s Bioblitz as a key focus project for 2017. This 24-hour survey is the first of a series of annual surveys designed to document the plants and animals present in a number of parks in the county. Data collected will be used as part of the Arlington Natural Resource Management plan. Experts will provide support and advice to volunteers who will document local species.

The mammal survey component of the bioblitz will look for proof of locally rare species. Game cameras will be used to monitor species and volunteers will be needed to review photos. An entomologist will support volunteers who will collect, preserve, and send bee samples to other entomologists for additional study. Other insects will also be surveyed. Ornithologists and expert birders will conduct bird walks. Any unusual nesting activity may be included in the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas.

Surveys of bats, fish, salamanders, and other amphibians and reptiles are also planned.  Among the locations where you can sign up to participate in the bioblitz are: Barcroft Park, Gulf Branch Park and Nature Center, Long Branch Nature Center at Glencarlyn Park, and Potomac Overlook Regional Park.  The full list of projects and more information is provided here.  Alonso Abugattas has also published an article about the BioBlitz on his Capital Naturalist blog: http://capitalnaturalist.blogspot.com/2017/04/arlington-bioblitz.html.

There are many other projects that are longer-term and often part of a national scope. All offer participants the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the environment and do significant field work. Below are some projects that focus on deer, birds, insects, and plants.

Deer Browse Surveys

Deer browse surveys are underway within Glencarlyn Park and Barcroft Park. Additional studies are being planned that will use existing trees and fences to create temporary deer exclosures. The exclosures will allow collection of data using different methodologies than currently used.

Game camera surveys can also be conducted over a long period to capture photos of locally rare species and monitor trends in more common mammals.

Ornithology Projects Including the Annual Christmas Bird Count

Photo of Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronate)

Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronate)

There are many wonderful citizen science bird programs, too. These include the very popular Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society in which volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the annual census of birds during the winter. Another opportunity is the eBird Project, co-sponsored by the Cornell Ornithology Lab and Audubon. It is an online database of bird observations in which anyone can enter bird lists to monitor bird species in their area or map overall abundance of a species in an area over time. There is also the Breeding Bird Atlas of Virginia program.  The second Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (VABBA2) is a follow-up survey to the first Atlas that was published over 25 years ago and surveys all bird species breeding in the state. Data collected will help map the distribution and status of Virginia’s breeding bird community in order to provide better information for natural resource and conservation decisions.

Insect Citizen Science Projects

Photo of Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

The North American Butterfly Association conducts a butterfly count in July.  The Pollinator Partnership sponsors National Pollinator Week in June to collect data on pollinators including bees and monarch butterflies and generally to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what can be done to protect them. National Moth Week takes place in the last week in July and celebrates the beauty, life cycles, and habitats of moths. People of all ages and abilities are encouraged to learn about, observe, and document moths in their backyards, parks, and neighborhoods. There are between 60 and 70 moth species in Arlington already recorded but even more species could be identified!

Plant Citizen Science Opportunities

Photo of Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Bee balm (Monarda didyma)


Botanists and plant lovers of all levels will also have opportunities. Arlington County is developing some exciting projects:  The Arlington Herbarium needs to be digitized in order to improve the usefulness of the collection for analysis and voucher specimens need to be collected for the State Atlas.

Whatever your interest in nature, there is probably a local or national citizen science project in which you can participate.  Go outside, look, learn, and share!

ARMN: Getting To Know You

From time-to-time, ARMN’s Membership Committee posts profiles of our members including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they work to impact the environment around them. Here is the latest biography of ARMN volunteer Honora Dent who graduated in the Spring 2014 ARMN training class. ARMN would also like to highlight her involvement with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service’s 4-H Youth Development Program and the upcoming 4-H Outdoor Explorer volunteer training on February 15th.

Tell us about the ARMN projects on which you spend the most time.

For the past two years I have been an active member of the Arlington County stream monitoring team. I enjoy monitoring the health of county streams by counting and identifying the various macroinvertebrates present in the water. I would have never predicted at this stage of my life I would be wading in streams, scrubbing rocks, and collecting samples of aquatic organisms, or be able to distinguish between a Damsel fly and a Mayfly larva, but I really enjoy it, and appreciate that the County uses the information to monitor long-term trends of our streams.


Releasing macroinvertebrates into nets, Arlington Outdoor Lab, Broad Run, VA.


Collecting stream samples, Arlington Outdoor Lab, Broad Run, VA.

Volunteering at Earth Sangha has become an important part of my week. I especially enjoy working at the native plant nursery doing whatever task is assigned, such as planting, weeding, and filling pots. I also enjoy going out in the field to collect native plant seeds and later “cleaning” the seeds for future planting. These tasks offer me a reflective, meditative environment as well as an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation with other volunteers.

I enjoy the physical activity involved with invasive plant removal. This past year I joined the National Park Service Weed Warrior program to remove invasives along the George Washington Parkway and on Theodore Roosevelt Island. My most memorable experience was working with 30 students from the International Academy at Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School. Verbal communication within the group was difficult due to language differences, but the smiles on the students’ faces as they enthusiastically removed English ivy and honeysuckle vine from the trees indicated the pleasure and fulfillment they felt working together to make these areas better places.

My most recent ARMN adventure is participating in 4-H Outdoor Explorers at Randolph Elementary School in Arlington. This after school program takes place at a few elementary schools in Arlington and offers students an opportunity to learn more about the environment with a focus on fun and exploration. Partnering with Arlington County’s Extended Day Program, 4-H Outdoor Explorers volunteers promote youth environmental literacy, encourage outdoor play, and serve as positive adult role models. I have had very little experience working with youth, and while working with the students has been challenging, it is also very rewarding.


Photo courtesy of National 4-H Council.

How did you learn about ARMN?

I first heard about ARMN from friend and fellow ARMN member, Pat Findikoglu. We were at the Columbia Pike Farmers Market catching up on our lives and she mentioned ARMN. The more Pat talked about the ARMN training course and the variety of volunteer and educational opportunities, the more I knew that I wanted to sign up. I had always enjoyed spending time in nature but had little formal training and ARMN seemed like a good fit. I submitted my application, graduated from the Spring 2014 class, and have no regrets. Without a doubt joining ARMN was one of the best investments I have made in my life.


Honora at an Earth Sangha plant sale (Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.)

What do you like most about ARMN?

Without a doubt the best thing about ARMN is its volunteers. I have never met a more welcoming, knowledgeable, and fun-loving group. ARMN offers me a vast variety of ways to occupy my time with meaningful work, a community of likeminded people to learn from and share experiences, and educational classes to enhance my knowledge of the natural world. Thanks to ARMN I have learned so much and have become a better steward of the environment.

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

Spending time outside enjoying and observing nature has been part of my entire life. I had the good fortune to grow up within walking distance of the Severn River in Maryland and spent much of my free time exploring the river and nearby woods. I learned about birds, crabs, fish, turtles, snakes, and many other creatures from an elderly neighbor who had lived on the river her whole life. I also learned about local plants and critters from a science teacher who lived across the street. One of my earliest memories is watching a turtle laying her eggs in our sandbox.

My family spent every summer at Higgins Lake in Northern Michigan. Time at Higgins Lake was especially exciting as we had no electricity or indoor plumbing. The family cabin sat along a large freshwater inland lake surrounded by an oak and white birch forest. We spent our days fishing, boating, swimming, and walking in the woods. My favorite after dinner activity was riding my bike along the dirt “2-track” roads looking for deer and other wildlife.

What is your background?

Before retiring I worked for 46 years at a local hospital as a Registered Nurse and IT Analyst. During my nursing career I participated in direct patient care, nursing management, and administration. My information technology positions focused on building and managing the clinical documentation database as well as training clinical staff and physicians.

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

I am a very competitive person who loves to participate in of all types of sports including tennis, cycling, softball, and basketball. Since retiring I have learned to play pickleball, which I play 2–3 times per week with other Arlington seniors at the Walter Reed Senior Center.

2014 Dora Kelley Nature Park Frog Watchers Brave Roller Coaster Season

by Kasha Helget

A dedicated team of neighbors who live near the Dora Kelley Nature Park in Alexandria withstood the erratic weather for more than three weeks, from February 27 to March 23, to track the movement of frogs to the park’s marsh area where they breed in the late winter. This was the second year for the patrol in which individuals note the movements of frogs (primarily Northern Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) and Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus). These frogs winter in the adjacent woods and make the annual trek to the marsh where they likely were born. We then share the information with Mark Kelly and Jane Yeingst at Buddie Ford Nature Center for their frog database.

The neighbors partnered every other evening on an average for about an hour to count the frogs that crossed a path to and from the marsh and note the conditions –– temperature, wind, noise level, and other area observations.

Northern spring peeper on path photographed 3-24-14. Image courtesy: Linda Shapiro.

Northern Spring Peeper on path photographed 3-24-14.


Wood frog in marsh photographed 3-19-14. Image courtesy: Linda Shapiro.

Wood Frog in marsh photographed 3-19-14.

Continue reading

114th Annual Christmas Bird Count Season Begins 14 December

The Christmas Bird Count season is here once again. There will be opportunities for ARMN members to participate in this great citizen science effort with a 114-year history this season.

The first counts begin this Saturday, 14 December 2013 and the last counts take place Sunday, 5 January 2014. Popular for ARMN volunteers are the DC Count on 12/14/13 and the Fort Belvoir count on 1/5/14.

This great Virginia Society of Ornithology page lists the known counts and points of contact in Virginia and links to a Maryland site:  http://www.virginiabirds.net/cbc.html

Jim Olivetti, a graduate of the first ARMN training class in the fall of 2008, sent this photo of a snowy owl taken near his home in Massachusetts.

Snowy owl seen on 8 December 2013 at the Massachusetts Bay beach causeway leading to the town of Nahant, 12 miles north of Boston.

Snowy owl seen on 8 December 2013 on the Massachusetts Bay beach causeway leading to the town of Nahant, 12 miles north of Boston.

A friend of Jim’s took this photo on December 8 on the Massachusetts Bay beach causeway leading to the town of Nahant, 12 miles north of Boston. Jim follows ARMN activities from afar and sends this photo with holiday greetings to all.

There are also reported sightings of Snowy Owls at Manassas Battlefield and at Dulles Airport. Volunteers participating in this weekend’s Christmas Bird Count may be in for a treat!

There is still time to sign up for the 114th annual Christmas Bird Count: http://birds.audubon.org/get-involved-christmas-bird-count-find-count-near-you.

Participation counts for volunteer hours and may count for advanced training.

Steve Young and Jim Olivetti contributed to this post.

ARMN Members Recognized in Banisteria

By Christine Campe-Price

banisteria vnhs-logo-trans
The USDA and US National Park Service (NPS) – George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP) recently published an article in Banisteria, Number 41, 2013, a journal devoted to the natural history of Virginia. The article documents the results of a study of leaf beetles found in Great Falls Park, Turkey Run Park, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Refuge, and Little Hunting Creek. 107 species were found, of which 3 were documented for the first time in Virginia.  This study increases the number of known Chrysomelidae leaf beetles in the Potomac River Gorge to 187 species.

7 ARMN members were acknowledged for their contributions to the study. Under the guidance of Erik Oberg, NPS Biologist and ARMN Instructor, they “diligently” sorted specimens from malaise trap samples. ARMN members continue to support this service project, collecting, sorting, and mounting insects. The current focus is on microwasps.

Volunteers were previously recognized for their contributions in another paper (Banisteria, Number 39, 2012) and were awarded in October 2012 the George and Helen Hartzog Award for an Outstanding Volunteer Group by the Eastern Capital Region of the National Park Service.

The volunteers’ meticulous work, totaling over 1100 hours in the last two and a half years, enables scientists to focus their time and knowledge on difficult and highly specialized species identification.

This on-going service is a fine example of the value of Citizen Science and the positive impact volunteers can have in furthering science. Congrats to all the ARMN members who support this meaningful service project!

ARMN Members Help Rebuild Grass Enclosure in Belmont Bay

By Kasha Helget

In response to a request from the staff of Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), ARMN members Melissa Perez and Kasha Helget got their feet (legs, and knees) wet on Friday, May 10th to assist in the reconstruction of a celery grass enclosure on the Potomac River’s Belmont Bay at Mason Neck Park in Lorton.

Perez is a grass grower and Helget is a regional coordinator in CBF’s “Grasses for the Masses” program. In this program, Virginia residents grow underwater celery grass (Vallisneria americana) in their homes or schools during winter, and then plant the grasses during spring in Belmont Bay at Mason Neck Park or in James River. The aquatic grasses filter nutrients and provide important habitat for fish and other aquatic creatures, and help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

The grass plantings take place on several days between mid-May and early June; however, CBF staff was notified that the enclosure at Belmont Bay was destroyed by some errant driftwood and needed to be rebuilt before the grass installations could be done there.

Bare enclosure for celery grass prior to installation of new screening to protect the new plantings.  (No, the driftwood in the foreground is not a shark. :-)

Bare enclosure for celery grass prior to installation of new screening to protect the new plantings. (No, the driftwood in the foreground is not a shark.) 🙂

So, a group of seven CBF staffers and volunteers jumped (waded) in to replace screening around the enclosure and anchor it to the sand for better support, and to prevent turtles and other large interlopers from entering the enclosure and destroying the grasses.

Master Naturalist Melissa Perez holds up a support post while awaiting additional cable ties for the screen.

Master Naturalist Melissa Perez holds up a support post while awaiting additional cable ties for the screen.


Continue reading

“Grasses for the Masses” workshops

By Kasha Helget

ARMN volunteers conducted two “Grasses for the Masses” workshops at the Fairlington Community Center in February, 2013 in a program sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for Virginia residents all over the state. During the workshops, a total of 35 individuals, families, and teachers received simple kits and instructions to grow underwater celery grass (Vallisneria americana) in their homes or schools for 10-12 weeks during the winter/early spring months. At the end of the grow period (late April to early May), the growers will gather to plant their grasses in the Potomac River at Mason Neck Park. These aquatic grasses filter nutrients and provide important habitat for fish and other aquatic creatures, and help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

For more information on the program, see: http://www.cbf.org/grasses

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All photos courtesy of Master Naturalist Leigh Pickering.

ARMN volunteers enjoy helping Smithsonian eMammal camera trapping project

By Jeanette Murry and Alan Tidwell

We  graduated from the spring 2012 ARMN Basic Training Course. During the summer and fall, we volunteered on a camera trapping project called eMammal organized by the Smithsonian. We focused on Keyser Run Fire Trail in the Shenandoah National Park for our trapping.

When we saw the eMammal Project advertised through the ARMN listserv, it sounded interesting and challenging, so in August we went along to a half-day training at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute at Front Royal, VA.

Tavis Forrester, eMammal Project Coordinator and a wildlife biologist, describes the project: “eMammal is a large-scale NSF-funded citizen science project using volunteers and remote cameras. eMammal is a further development of SI Wild, an existing project that has pooled camera-trapping images from all over the world and will be expanded to allow volunteers to upload data, and then expanded again to allow visitors to analyze and visualize data.”

Our role, under the excellent guidance of Megan Baker from the Smithsonian, was to deploy 3 cameras – one on the trail at a specified location, the second and third cameras at 50 and 200 meters respectively away from the trail. After 3 weeks, we would collect the cameras, change batteries and SD cards, and then redeploy the cameras to the next locations. We did a total of 4 deployments, finishing on November 10. Continue reading

Interning at USGS Native Bee Lab

By Brooke Alexander

While I was taking the ARMN Basic Training Course in Fall 2011, I started working at Sam Droege’s U.S. Geological Survey Bee Inventory and Monitory Lab as an intern. I was amazed to learn that there are 4,000 native bee species in the U.S.!

Habropoda laboriosa, female. Blueberrry specialist.  Maryland Kent County Spring 20012.      . USGS BIML.

One of the projects I’m working on involves processing native bee specimens from national parks for 1) setting population baselines, and 2) tracking climate change.  Another project involves new stacking macrophotography of native bees.  These incredible photos are available on FLICKR at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml/ Currently, there are 200 photos, but as this is an ongoing project, check back often for new photos added weekly.

Bombus terricola, male, back. First Maryland record, July 2012. USCG BIML.

The USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program designs and develops large and small scale surveys for native bees. As part of that project we also develop identification tools and keys for native bee species. One aspect of creating those tools is creating accurate and detailed pictures of native bees and the plants and insects they interact with. The USGS BIML website is designed to provide easy access to our photographs so that they may be freely used.

Paranthidium jugatorium, male. Allegany County, Maryland.
First State record, July 2012. USCG BIML.

Please contact Sam Droege for further information at sdroege@usgs.gov or 301-497-5840 or visit our website at www.pwrc.usgs.gov/nativebees/ .

Citizen Science: Stream Monitoring in Arlington County

By John Bernard

John Bernard volunteers to monitor stream health at Lubber Run. Photo by J. Bernard.

I began my career as a citizen scientist with the Spring 2010 ARMN training class.  Among the volunteer activities approved for service hours, I enjoy participation in one of several Arlington County sponsored stream monitoring volunteer teams.  After I completed a class given by the County, I joined the team volunteers at Lubber Run.

Stephanie Martin, Lubber Run Stream Monitoring Team Leader. Photo by J. Bernard.

There under the direction of Team Leader Stephanie Martin, we monitor the Macroinvertebrates in Lubber Run.  We collect and count these “stream bugs” 4 times yearly in the winter, spring, summer, and fall.  It is safe, fun, and gives an opportunity to make a difference. Continue reading