911 for Wildlife and How You Can Help!

Text and photos by Lisa Stern

Do you wonder what you should do when you find injured wildlife?  Read on to discover more about wildlife rehabilitation.

Ever wonder what you should do when you find an injured squirrel? Or a baby bird that has fallen from the nest? Or a turtle with a cracked shell? Or, how about a snake caught in garden webbing?

Virginia has two terrific resources that fill this vital need: the Wildlife Rescue League (WRL) and Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators (WRs). They are on call practically 24/7 to help. It may look like an easy job; just scoop up that baby bird, or untangle the poor snake, but there are many species-specific laws and regulations governing the handling of wildlife, some training to become a volunteer with the League, and a lot of training and mentoring to become a Wildlife Rehabilitator (WR). Here is more information about each and how you can assist with wildlife rehab.

Wildlife Rescue League

The Wildlife Rescue League (WRL) is a nonprofit, all volunteer organization whose primary purposes are to operate a wildlife assistance hotline (providing the public with advice, resources, referrals to licensed rehabilitators), transport wildlife from shelters and vets to licensed rehabilitators, and educate the public on wildlife laws and how to exist with our wild neighbors, thereby preventing situations that lead to the need for wildlife rehabilitation.

The WRL volunteers field approximately 5,000 calls a year! That helpless baby bird found in the grass really may not need a human to scoop it up—it’s possibly learning to fly and the mom is nearby. Hotline volunteers help the caller determine that, in this case, intervention is not required. What about the snake?

Well, that’s a different story. If he’s cut in several places, lost scales, and is not well, he will need an intervention and transport to a licensed WR. In this case, the hotline volunteer will find a WR and arrange transport.

Photo of injured black rat snake by Lisa Stern

Black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) with injuries from being caught in garden webbing.

 

Once an injured, orphaned, or abandoned animal is transported to a WR, it will be treated until it can be safely released.

Carolyn Wilder, Vice President of WRL, has a wealth of knowledge and experience on wildlife rescue. She got involved in the organization while transitioning out of a legal career with a trade association. She started as a transporter because of her love of animals and eventually became a hotline volunteer which she has been doing for 3 years. Because of her work in both areas, and creating relationships with WRs, Carolyn became involved on the board. She now spends her time coordinating and training transporters, offering group training for hotline volunteers, doing presentations for schools and groups, and working to make WRL function more efficiently.

Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators

WRs are licensed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator requires a big commitment of time and energy, need for appropriate space, and a true love of wildlife. First, anyone interested in the program must take 6 hours of approved continuing education before even filling out the application to become an apprentice. Apprentices must have a sponsoring licensed WR who cares for the species they wish to rehabilitate, spend two years working under the supervision and guidance of their sponsor, and are generally limited to caring for uninjured, orphaned wildlife. In addition, since most rehabbers work out of their homes, apprentices must have a home inspection completed by the VGDIF to ensure that there is an adequate, quiet designated area for the care of wildlife. They also complete 6 hours of continuing education annually, may be required to have a rabies vaccine, and must maintain a full record of wildlife received.

Most WRs “specialize”—choosing a species and age range that fits their lifestyle and space. For example, pinky squirrels (newborns) need more feedings per day than juveniles. Baby bunnies need to be fed only twice a day. And, how much room do you have? Enough for baby ducklings needing bins of water to swim in and heat lamps?

After two years of wildlife care experience, the apprentice can begin to care for wildlife without a sponsor’s supervision, complete 6 hours of continuing education annually, work with a licensed veterinarian, have inspections of the holding facility, and get any required immunizations based on the wildlife cared for. Additional permits are required for WRs who desire to work with most birds, eagles, and threatened or endangered species.

Rachael Tolman, the Park Naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington, has been a rehabber for many years and has been through the certification process several times since each state and country has different regulations and covered species. While a rehabber in Australia, Rachael worked with baby kangaroos! Here in Virginia, her focus is on turtles and snakes.

Photo of Rachel Tolman (Long Branch Park Naturalist) holding turtle, by Lisa Stern

Rachael Tolman holding Woodland box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) with a cracked shell.

 

Photo of injured woodland box turtle by Lisa Stern

Close-up of Woodland box turtle.

However, you won’t see any of the injured critters on display at Long Branch, since they are tucked away in quiet spaces to get the rest they need for recovery and eventual release.

Though time consuming to become a licensed WR and to nurse injured animals back to health, rehabbers like Rachael find a deep satisfaction in eventually being able to return wildlife to their natural habitat.

Would You Like to Volunteer to Help Wildlife?

If so, contact the Wildlife Rescue League for more information on answering the hotline (training provided), transporting wildlife, or assisting with other activities.

If you’re ready for a greater commitment to becoming an apprentice or licensed WR, there is additional information on WRL’s website on how to begin training for the program.

In either case, you’ll sure to be rewarded by helping our furry, scaled, and feathered friends return to their homes in the wild.

Falls Church Farmers Market, ARMN, and the Environment Team: Good for the Body and the Environment!

A dedicated group of members from ARMN and the Falls Church Environment Team have braved all types of weather over the past several years with their informational display at the Falls Church Farmer’s Market. ARMN members Kent Taylor and Toni Genberg have led the weekly effort on Saturday mornings, and change their messages throughout the course of the year.

Photos courtesy of Kent Taylor unless otherwise noted.

The Falls Church Farmers Market has been a go-to location for everything from Artisan cheeses to Zinnias since 1984. In addition to the edible goodies, plants, and specialty items, there are a number of information booths worth a visit, too. From October through April, ARMN manages its own booth and from May through September, it shares a booth with the Falls Church Environment Team. This booth includes representatives from the Fairfax Master Naturalists, Fairfax Master Gardeners, Falls Church Habitat Restoration, and Green Spring Master Gardeners, and also provides local green information from the Falls Church Environment Web.

photo-1

Falls Church Environment Team Booth and visitors.

There are so many topics we covered with visitors to our booths over the years—more than I could possibly recall. But, off the top of my head, we’ve been asked about:
acquiring native plants,
invasive control,
mosquito control,
trees,
mulch,
pruning,
composting,
bees,
monarch butterflies,
cat predation,
rain barrels,
wildlife habitat certification,
and volunteering.

And yes, we have answers, literature, and other resources to address all of these!

photo-21.jpg

Some of the many topics addressed at the Falls Church Environment Team Booth.

We’ve been asked to identify plants, parasites, insects, etc. (Can do!)

We’ve given away seeds, and trees.

We’ve helped with Eagle Scout projects, and solar campaigns.

We’ve also helped the City of Falls Church gain recognition as a Certified Community Wildlife Habitat community by the National Wildlife Federation.

ARMN has an ongoing Choking Hazards campaign that educates people about the strangling dangers of English Ivy on trees. Falls Church Environment Team member, Toni Genberg, simplified the Choking Hazard message with a simple question for market goers:  “Did you know? English Ivy will choke & kill any tree it climbs.”  The message surprised lots of visitors and started a conversation.

The Saturday before this past Halloween, Toni collected some English ivy and printed Halloween-ish signs, which were a good draw to visitors to the market. There were lots of questions on mulch and pruning. It was a good day!

I really have to give a lot of credit to Toni who is still fighting for the plants and animals around us, even on chilly days in the middle of winter. Two women were so inspired by our information that they said they were going to enroll in the next ARMN Basic Training. Someone else said they would stop using pesticides. And another person asked where they could pull invasives. These are baby steps, but baby steps can add up!

The Falls Church Farmers Market operates year around. The hours from January through March are 9 am–noon, and hours from April through December are 8 am–noon. Come to the Market and visit the ARMN booth in the colder months and the Environment Team in the summer. You’ll be sure to be inspired, too!

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.

photo-1

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

photo-2

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-3

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.

photo-4

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.

When Absence of Evidence is Evidence of Presence

by Steve Young (text and photos)

ARMN member Steve Young shares a winter bird-watching tip.

There are many times that birds will help us find predators, especially birds of prey like hawks and owls. Smaller birds will start making a fuss with vocalizations and sometimes will mob the predator and surround it, and even dive at it or chase it when it flies. Many of us have experienced this phenomenon in our yards or on nature walks, and may or may not have been aware of what was going on.

But there are other times when the very absence of activity is a sign that a predator may be nearby. Songbirds have reason to fear the bird-eating accipiters that we usually call hawks. One of the most common accipiters we see in our area is the Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii). While this bird is a year-around resident of our area, at this time of year we get an influx of Cooper’s Hawks that migrate from further north for the winter. They are easier to spot when the trees are leafless. They also seem to specialize in staking out bird feeders where they can try to pick off some fast food on the wing.

If you know a spot where there are usually a lot of birds, whether your back yard or a favorite place further out in nature, be alert for times when the birds seem to have disappeared and it’s unusually quiet. Perhaps you will hear an occasional high-pitched, momentary alarm call. This may be a sign that a Cooper’s Hawk is in the area and its potential prey birds are hiding. This hawk likes to perch and wait for an opportunity, and you may have to look carefully for them because they can be hard to spot.

photo-1

Forest view . . . can you see the hawk?

 

photo-2

The same photo with a zoom lens.

 

Several days ago in mid-December I noticed the almost complete lack of any bird movement around my house. The day before, the birds had been very busy, active to both my eyes and ears. But on this day, for hours I had seen and heard nothing. I assumed there was an accipiter in the area, most likely a Cooper’s Hawk. I stepped out on my front porch and heard the mewing sound of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). I looked and looked, but could not find it. But then, about 100 feet away, I finally saw it—a Cooper’s Hawk perched in the neighbor’s maple tree, blending in, like a ghost. The bird stayed there for many minutes, motionless except for the movement of its head scanning for prey, and an occasional bit of preening. I cautiously came closer to it and was able to get several photos.

photo-3

Close-up of Cooper’s Hawk.

 

After watching the hawk for about 15 minutes, I had to turn my attention elsewhere, and it eventually left. I don’t know whether it caught the Sapsucker or something else. However, I did notice that the other birds returned to my back yard.

This is a great time of the year to watch birds on the bare trees and listen for calls, especially anything unusual. It may be a warning of a Cooper’s Hawk really close by.

Teaching the Next Generation About the Environment

by Lisa Stern

ARMN member Lisa Stern describes the dedicated work of another ARMN volunteer, Jennifer Frum, to engage Gunston Middle School sixth graders by providing hands-on experience in pulling invasive plants.

(Photos by Lisa Stern, unless otherwise indicated)

The best lessons in life are the ones in which we have the opportunity to participate. And, if we are lucky, these experiences are guided by teachers and mentors who want to encourage the learning process by letting us get our hands into the project.

Several times a year for the past six years, Gunston Middle School sixth-grade science teacher Luz Chamorro has been heading a special project with lead ARMN volunteer and mentor, Jennifer Frum. The project started as trash cleanup around the school. However, as the cleanup progressed, Chamorro noticed invasive plants taking over spaces around the school. What started as trash cleanup became a lesson in helping the environment by pulling invasive plants.

Gunston sixth-grade science teacher Liz Chamorro

Gunston sixth-grade science teacher Luz Chamorro

Jennifer Frum wrestles with English Ivy.

ARMN volunteer Jennifer Frum wrestles with English Ivy.

 

Over the years, the project has been supported by a number of other ARMN volunteers— including Mary Van Dyke, Judy Hadley, and Bill Browning—and Arlington County. Six Americorps volunteers also assisted one year. But steadfastly, Jennifer Frum has been the lead ARMN volunteer for the project, organizing the effort year after year and ensuring that Chamorro and the classes had extra help and guidance on identifying and pulling the invasive plants. Imagine six classes of 25 excited sixth graders out in the field!

Gunston sixth graders tackle invasives.

Gunston sixth graders tackle invasives. (Photo courtesy of Luz Chamorro)

On a recent Thursday in October, Frum explained to one of the classes that in order to restore habitat for wildlife, invasive plants needed to be pulled so that native plants could survive. Standing in front of the classroom with strands of English Ivy as an example of an invasive, she explained that nonnative invasive plants don’t supply good nutrition to birds, bees, and other wildlife and that native animals need native plants for proper nutrition to survive. “If you ate ice cream every day for a week and it was your only source of food, it wouldn’t be good for you, would it?” Jennifer noted—and the class agreed. After a quick in-class lesson, the eager students headed out the door. Throughout the remainder of the day, six different classes (along with Chamorro, Frum, and parent volunteers) took turns pulling invasive plants and competing to make the largest pile.

Which class made the biggest pile of invasives?

Which class made the biggest pile of invasives?

Frum and Chamorro plan to repeat the project several times this year. The students are always excited to work outside and get a sense of helping the environment. They loved their experience so much that Jennifer Frum was touched to receive a heartfelt, handmade thank you note signed by Luz Chamorro’s students!

Thanks, Ms. Frum!

Thanks, Ms. Frum! (Photo courtesy of Luz Chamorro)

Arlington 4-H’s Environmental Programs Help Kids Explore Nature

by Caitlin Verdu

Here, 4-H Agent Caitlin Verdu provides a glimpse into the 4-H Outdoor Explorers program, which pairs volunteers with Extended Day staff to get children outside to enjoy nature. Interested in learning more? Attend a free information session on Tuesday, August 23 from 7–9 pm at Walter Reed Community Center or contact Caitlin directly (cverdu@vt.edu or 703-228-6404).

On a chilly April morning, the Arlington County Public Schools’ (APS) Extended Day staff huddled in a silent circle around an oak tree. For sixty seconds, the group scrutinized the branches. After the quiet minute, each participant shared something they had observed:

  • I think I see a bird’s nest.
  • The tree is so tall; I bet it is very old.
  • There is a little plant growing at the base of the trunk.
  • Many of the branches are broken, so it’s probably been in some strong storms.

I explained that this was our Meeting Tree. If we had multiple sessions, we would return to this tree to find differences throughout the seasons. We would search for wildlife, plant seeds, mimic animal adaptations, play in the dirt, and gaze at the clouds—all in the name of exploration. We would become 4-H Outdoor Explorers and, most importantly, we would have FUN!

The 4-H Outdoor Explorers program operates through the APS Extended Day program. School staff are trained in the curriculum and carefully plan out a schedule of activities. Then, with volunteer support, they lead elementary-aged youth in simple nature lessons. In the fall, this program will run at Randolph, Drew, Ashlawn, and Hoffman Boston Elementary Schools.

Photo 1

The 4-H Outdoor Explorers program is one of two exciting 4-H opportunities for volunteers to reach budding naturalists. The other is the 4-H Nature Knights, a club for youth ages 9–13. These curious conservationists meet monthly to investigate a nature topic. Volunteers join the fun by leading one-time nature activities or field trips. Activities are only limited by imagination, and recent offerings have included a tree identification walk, stream surveying, and a lesson on hummingbird migration.

By exposing youth to the wonders of the natural world at an early age, 4-H is developing the next generation of conservation leaders. In order to continue this important mission, we need your help.

Photo 2

We’re looking for volunteers who are interested in sharing their passion for nature with youth. Do you enjoy playing in the dirt? Do you like exploring the outdoors? Do you want to help develop the next generation of naturalists? Then come out to the 4-H training on Tuesday, August 23 from 7–9 pm at Walter Reed Community Center to learn how to put your talents and enthusiasm to use. We will cover program opportunities, share tips and tricks for successful environmental education programs, and experience the 4-H model of “learning by doing” through educational games.

Questions? Contact Caitlin Verdu at cverdu@vt.edu, 703-228-6404, or just stop by her office at the Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington, VA.

Amazing Grasses . . . Right Under Our Feet!

by Caroline Haynes (photos courtesy of Toni Genberg, unless otherwise indicated)

A hardy group of ARMN and Virginia Native Plant Society members braved the late-July heat at Fort C. F. Smith Park for an early morning native grasses ID walk. Leading the trek was ARMN member and plant expert Margaret Chatham. As is typical for continuing education events, there was a range of expertise in the group, but it is safe to say that everyone seemed to learn something new!

Schizachyrium scoparium

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) (photo by Kasha Helget)

From the “barber pole” coloration of the stem or culm of Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) to the number and scales on the spikelets of the Nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus), Margaret shared clues that help identify the plants we saw.

Cyperus_esculentus_IMG_2289

Nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus)

Having scouted the site before the walk, Margaret provided a list of the species we were likely see. This helped immensely in trying to capture the distinguishing characteristics of the variety of grasses (and a few rushes and sedges) that we found in the park.

Many thanks to Margaret for sharing her considerable expertise and to Toni Genberg who took most of the photos seen here.

Cyperus_echinatus_IMG_2287

Globe Flatsedge (Cyperus echinatus)

 

Dichanthelium_clandestinum_IMG_2301

Deer Tongue (Dichanthelium clandestinum)

Elymus_virginicus_IMG_2308

Virginia Wildeye (Elymus virginicus)

 

Tridens_flavus_IMG_2310

Purpletop Tridens (Tridens flavus)

Spring Wonders in Potomac Overlook Regional Park

ARMN volunteer and Master Gardener Joanne Hutton reports on spring’s largesse in the native plant garden at Potomac Overlook Regional Park (with photos by the author unless otherwise indicated).

by Joanne Hutton

Spring rains yielded floral abundance this year, and the unfolding of spring at Potomac Overlook Regional Park’s Shady Native Plant Demo Garden was glorious—if you got there in between the showers. This is a space that ARMN maintains for public enjoyment and edification.

The PORP garden was the brainchild of, among others, Long Branch Nature Center naturalist Cliff Fairweather, and has enjoyed support and donations from the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, Virginia Native Plant Society, Earth Sangha, Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, and the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists. It is coming into its own in its fifth year, even as it is a work in progress. We’ve learned a lot about what the deer like to eat in a setting to which they were already habituated, especially geraniums, goldenrods, viburnums, ninebark, and some asters.

We have watched the lovely Woodland Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) establish under a dogwood and twine with the Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens). The latter is a very quiet little groundcover, and I’ve discovered that, while it’s happier with the drainage a small slope offers, this year it bloomed happily the first week of June, despite the rainy conditions.

The Sweet Wake Robin (Trillium erectum var. vaseyi), also called the Stinking Benjamin, was also in bloom, although I confess I didn’t inhale it deeply. This plant is hardly “erectum,” which is why it’s treated as a separate species in some references, and is likely more common farther south. It has various medicinal (and also toxic) properties, and the freshly unfolding spring bracts are edible. To my mind they are too beautiful to consider harvesting.

Sweet Wake Robin (Trillium erectum var. vaseyi)

Sweet Wake Robin (Trillium erectum var. vaseyi)

(Trillium erectum)

Sweet Wake Robin, a.k.a. Stinking Benjamin

Deer do NOT browse on the Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) that has spread to several beds and throws a golden haze over them in March and April. Similarly, deer avoid the native Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) that’s created a rich green border under the Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus). Another delightful groundcover, Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), has eluded predation. Like the Partridge Berry, it prefers decent drainage, especially during winter months. It’s a merry little plant that bloomed this year for nearly two months and is still going strong. Try it in your garden, if you haven’t already. Better yet, come to a work party (look for upcoming events on the ARMN Volunteer page) and we’ll dig you a piece!

Green and Gold (Chrysogonum  virginianum)

Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)

Ferns are only occasionally sampled by deer, and you can see at least eight different species in the demo garden. Some are delicate and others like the Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) are statuesque.

Photo 4 Cinnamon fern fertile spikes (Joanne Hutton)

Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) spikes

There are always things to see in the park. Some of them require a careful eye—to discover a recently emerged toad, uncover a baby box turtle not two inches long while weeding, or spot the source of warbler songs in the high canopy above.

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus)

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus)

Photo 6 Baby box turtle (Elizabeth Gearin)

Baby Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Gearin)

We are grateful for the support of the new park manager, Doranne Pittz. If you come to visit PORP, please introduce yourself to Doranne, who is new to Arlington. She has promised to install a sign to explain the garden’s purpose. And we are working on garden markers to highlight the valuable species that flourish in the shade and offer something for everyone—even the White-tailed Deer.

How to Control Mosquitoes Without Killing Pollinators and Other Important Wildlife

by Susan Gitlin, ARMN member

Aedes aegypti from Wikipedia

Warm weather and mosquitoes will be here before you know it, leading many of us to look for ways to enjoy the outdoors without being pestered by those annoying little—and sometimes disease-bearing—biters.

There is a lot of information being disseminated by health organizations about health risks to humans from mosquito bites (see CDC links, below). But besides protecting ourselves from being targets, we need to work at eliminating mosquito habitat and controlling their numbers. There are a number of ways we can do this safely and effectively.

Because mosquitoes have no trouble flying from yard to yard, the best way to combat them is to work with our neighbors to collectively identify and implement opportunities to reduce mosquito populations. Below is a set of approaches that are suggested by entomologists, public health organizations, and agricultural extension programs.

1. Eliminate potential mosquito-breeding grounds. Mosquitoes can breed in any water that stagnates for just 2 or 3 days. Actions to remove potential mosquito habitat include:  

  • Unclogging gutters
  • Covering, turning over, or moving indoors any equipment, containers, or toys that might collect water
  • Straightening sagging tarps or other covers
  • Filling in areas under outdoor faucets or air conditioning drains
  • Repairing damaged screens on rain barrels
  • Removing English Ivy (The dense nature of ivy allows it to hold in pooled water where mosquitoes can breed, provides a humid area that mosquitoes like, and protects mosquitoes from pesticide sprays.)

2. For areas of uncovered water, like ponds or bird baths, consider these approaches: 

  • Changing the water regularly
  • Using Mosquito Dunks ® (deadly to mosquito, blackfly, and fungus gnat larvae, but harmless to other living things), or
  • Keeping the water moving (e.g., with a fountain)

3. Treat mosquitoes like foes, but treat bees and other beneficial insects like the friends they are! The pesticides used to kill mosquitoes also kill other invertebrates, including pollinators and other insects—insects on which birds feed and insects that eat mosquitoes. Mosquito-spraying companies typically use pesticides of a group of chemicals called pyrethroids, many of which are highly toxic to honeybees, fish, and small aquatic organisms.

4. If you spray pesticides or hire a company that provides such services, please consider taking the following precautions and/or asking the pesticide spraying company to do the same:  

  • Spray only in the early morning or early evening. Most pollinators are not out and about during these time periods.
  • Do not spray flowering plants. (One company that provides pesticide spraying services says that before spraying flowers they “shoo” away bees with bursts of air. It is doubtful that this truly protects bees, as the majority of native bees are less than ¼” long and therefore difficult to spot. Moreover, bees will return immediately to those flowers, either into the path of the spray or to the flowers, where there may be pesticide residue.)
  • Make sure that no spray enters your neighbors’ yards, and notify your neighbors before you spray so that they can take any desired or necessary precautions to protect any bees or other insects that they have in their yards.
  • Consider using nontoxic repellants in lieu of the toxic pesticides. Some mosquito-spraying companies offer such alternatives.

5. If you use sprays, do so only when needed, and not on a preemptive basis. (Spraying on a predetermined schedule can waste pesticide product, and therefore money, and may also contribute to the development of pesticide-resistant mosquitoes.)

By taking these steps, we can work together as a community to fight this annoying pest while protecting our other precious environmental resources.

Some useful websites:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/prevention/ and http://www.cdc.gov/features/stopmosquitoes/

Environmental Protection Agency—Mosquito Control: http://www.epa.gov/mosquitocontrol

Virginia Cooperative Extension Service: http://offices.ext.vt.edu/chesterfield/programs/anr/Wildlife/Fight_the_Bite.pdf

Maryland Department of Agriculture: http://mda.maryland.gov/plants-pests/Pages/avoid_asian_tiger_mosquitoes.aspx

Backyard Mosquito Management—Beyond Pesticides: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/mosquito/documents/backyard_mosquito_management.pdf

Honeybee Love: Keeping Honeybees Safe While Using Pesticides:

http://northcoastgardening.com/2010/05/honeybee-safe-pesticides/

Mosquito Dunks ® Fact Sheet: http://www.planetnatural.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/mosquito-dunks-faq.pdf

Fall is a Great Time to Plant Trees and Perennials: Especially Natives!

by Kasha Helget

An avid native-plant gardener, ARMN communications chair Kasha Helget points you toward native plants and plant sales for your fall gardening needs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

New England Aster in November

Autumn is one of the best times to install plants. You may ask, “Why? We may be able to enjoy them only for a couple of months, and they may not even bloom before winter.”

The reason is that conditions may be perfect to give a plant its best start so you can enjoy them for years to come. The soil is still warm, so the roots become established before the plant goes dormant. Cooler air temperatures do not stress the parts above the soil, so there is much less plant shock when you install them in your landscape. There are also many plants that bloom in the fall and have great winter interest. Best of all, you and your garden will have a jump on the spring season as the new plants emerge, ready to delight you all year.

Why are natives particularly attractive?

Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. They do not require the fertilizers and pesticides that lawns and many nonnative perennials do, and when installed in the right spot, will need less water and help prevent erosion. And they’re not just pretty; they do double duty as nectar, pollen, and seed sources for native butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. Most nonnatives cannot make that claim.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Goldenrod in September

How can you know the right spot in your yard for plants?

While there always is some trial and error with any gardening, the Plant NoVA Natives website (http://www.plantnovanatives.org/) has made the process so much easier for everyone. Whether you’re an expert gardener or a beginner, the Plant NoVA Natives site provides detailed information and photos about plants local to Northern Virginia so you can choose native species that are suited to your property. The website includes a colorful guide to local natives, a list of local businesses that supply them, and links to organizations that will come to your property and offer customized landscaping recommendations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Obedient Plants in September

So, where can you get these great natives?

There a number of fall native plant sales around the area. Here are the dates and locations of those that provide reliable stock, and where you can receive guidance from sellers who know their plants well. Happy planting!

Wednesday, September 2, October 7, and November 4, 2015, 10 am to 1 pm, Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS) Potowmack Chapter First Wednesday Sales, Green Spring Gardens Park, propagation beds behind the Horticulture Center, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA.

Saturday, September 12, 2015, 9 am to 3 pm, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Fall Native Plant Sale, Morven Park, 17263 Southern Planter Lane, Leesburg, VA (http://www.loudounwildlife.org/Event_Native_Plant_Sale_Fall.html).

Saturday, September 19, 2015, 9 am to 3 pm, Green Spring Fall Garden Day, VNPS-Potowmack propagation beds behind the Horticulture Center, and some native-plant vendors mixed in with the nonnative vendors, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312 (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/events.htm).

Saturday, September 19, 2015, 1pm to 4pm, Long Branch Nature Center Native Plant Sale, 625 Carlin Springs Road, Arlington, VA (http://parks.arlingtonva.us/events/fall-native-plant-sale-2/).

Saturday, September 26, 2015, 9am to 2pm, Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale (formerly Parkfairfax Plant Sale), Church of St. Clement, 1701 N. Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA (http://home.earthlink.net/~sknudsen/).

Sunday, September 27, 2015, 10 am to 2 pm, Earth Sangha Open House and Plant Sale, Cloud Drive entrance to Franconia Park, Springfield, VA 22150. See http://www.earthsangha.org/wpn/wpn.html for plants and directions.

Preorder Plants for Pickup at the City of Alexandria Fall 2015 Tree & Shrub Sale. Place orders by September 27th for various native trees and shrubs for pickup on October 3 between 10am and 2pm at the Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center, 5750 Sanger Ave, Alexandria, VA 22311. All plants are $20 each. See Fall2015AlexandriaTreeSale_Final for plant descriptions, ordering information, and contacts.