Getting Involved in the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists Program: Why Mentoring Benefits Both Mentor and Student

By Susan Berry

If you have ever thought you might want to get involved in the conservation and stewardship of our local natural resources, then the Arlington Regional Master Naturalist (ARMN) program is for you! ARMN conducts a 3 ½ month basic training course for new volunteers in ecology, botany, herpetology, ornithology, forest and aquatic ecosystems and more—and the next session is coming up soon!

To support new volunteers in the program as they become certified Virginia Master Naturalists, ARMN recently started a mentorship program by asking current members to help out. Susan Berry, one of ARMN’s first mentors, shares her experience:

Photo of ARMN member Susan Berry wearing a blue bandanna standing in front of the woods

Susan Berry. Photo courtesy Pablo Nuesch.

Current ARMN members were recently asked if they’d like to serve as mentors for new ARMN trainees and graduates. From my perspective, this is an activity that has primarily benefitted me, and not just my mentees, though I certainly hope they liked the idea too. I was in the Spring 2012 ARMN class, which has the distinction of always having the lowest turnout at any ARMN holiday party or chapter meeting. We had lots of folks in the class who were already planning to move out of the area at the time of graduation. Others seemed to follow shortly thereafter. So, the opportunity to make a connection with someone from another class really intrigued me, and I signed up to be a mentor. Then, I was fortunate to be matched up first with Colt Gregory, and later with Todd Minners.

Photo of ARMN Member Colt Gregory wearing a ball cap standing in front of a flowering tree with pink flowers

Colt is (among other things) an expert on birds, while I know little about them. Therefore, I was thrilled to use mentoring time to have Colt train me. He was kind enough to take me to Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria for a personal lesson on how to use binoculars and how to look and listen for those delicate creatures that I have always found elusive. His knowledge and ability to communicate were evident on our outing. I also really enjoyed attending his graduation at the end of the ARMN basic training program, and later hearing his first ARMN presentation to the public on “Beginning Birding by Ear” at the Arlington Central Library.

Selfie photo of ARMN member Todd Minners wearing a ball cap standing next to a flowering plant

Coincidentally, my second mentee, Todd, and I signed up for the same volunteer event the week we were matched up as mentor and mentee. Once again, I knew I was the beneficiary. We had the good fortune to help Bobbi Farley, a naturalist at the Long Branch Nature Center, during the “Arlington Palooza” event where we spent several hours with kids of all ages petting the Long Branch animal pelts and marveling over the skulls of some of our local animals. Todd has lived around the world and was great at connecting with the diverse crowd, even in multiple languages. I usually consider myself to be outgoing, but Todd outdid me.

Recently, it occurred to me that Todd and Colt would have some ideas for engaging children at ARMN’s outreach events. Sometimes when ARMN has an information table at events attended by children, we find that if we can engage the children, we can usually also involve the adults, too. Todd and Colt are more comfortable than I am at engaging kids in activities. The three of us met at Long Branch and brainstormed on what would attract children to the ARMN display tables. We came up with several good ideas and I think that some of them will get us moving ahead in the future; a few might even make their way to this year’s Arlington County Fair!

Our new ARMN students have a great deal to share with us, and I was fortunate to learn a lot from Colt and Todd. So, here are two of my recommendations to current ARMN members who may be considering mentoring:

First, do it;

Second, let your mentee’s skills lead the way!

And for those of you desiring to make  a difference in your community, check out the ARMN website and apply for the next basic training course.  Applications for the next basic training session are due Aug. 1 with classes beginning on September 4.  You will find committed master naturalists and your very own mentor in the program!

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Summer Chapter Meeting Kicks off ARMN’s 10 Year Celebration

ARMN members met on the evening of June 21st to celebrate the first day of summer and the official start to our 10-year anniversary festivities. While ARMN members are known for their industrious volunteer work, we also know how to have a good time!

ARMN’s Summer Chapter meeting was preceded by a tree identification walk led by member Jack Person in Dora Kelley Nature Park in Alexandria. Members appreciated Jack’s unique take on the relationship of trees to each other and to other plants in the ecosystem, and agreed that a walk in the park is a great way to begin a meeting.

Photo of ARMN members standing on a trail in the forest

Photo courtesy of Carol Mullen.

Members then strolled back to the home of Kasha Helget where they enjoyed an extensive potluck meal and socialized in a relaxed outdoor atmosphere.

Photo of ARMN members standing around tables at a potluck

Photo courtesy of Carol Mullen.

Photo of ARMN members sitting on chairs on a deck listening to a speech

Photo courtesy of Carol Mullen.

Folks also walked around Kasha’s yard that features a variety of native plant.

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Photo 5Photo 6

After the conclusion of the business part of the meeting, Vice President Phil Klingelhofer conducted a quiz of ARMN history highlights and winners were rewarded with native plants from Kasha’s garden. The celebration lasted till well after dark, when the fireflies put on their own show.

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ARMN: Getting to Know Yolanda Villacampa

Photos courtesy of Yolanda Villacampa unless otherwise noted.

ARMN’s Membership Committee occasionally posts profiles of our members, including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they affect their environment. This latest biography features ARMN Member Yolanda Villacampa, who graduated from our training class in Spring 2011. She’s made quite a contribution to science as a naturalist. Read the blog through to the “something unusual about yourself” section to see for yourself.

 If you know someone in ARMN with an interesting story to tell and think others might be interested, please contact Bill Browning (browningwh@gmail.com) or Alison Sheahan (ab.sheahan@verizon.net).

Photo of ARMN member Yolanda Villacampa next to the George Washington Survey Marker Monument.

Yolanda at Glencarlyn Park next to the George Washington Survey Marker Monument. Photo courtesy of Silvia Villacampa (2014).

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

During my ARMN training class (Spring 2011), we had the opportunity to think about the type of volunteer projects we could choose from. Volunteering in Arlington County streams was a natural choice for me. Four Mile Run is practically right behind the house where I grew up in Arlington, VA. As a child, I had always enjoyed being near this stream, which is accessible via the backyard. I took walks with my mother and sister along the banks and biked along it with my father. I enjoyed looking inside the water to see the fish, snails, and rocks. So, I became a macroinvertebrate stream monitor under a program coordinated by the County’s Office of Sustainability and Environmental Management. As a macroinvertebrate volunteer, I can continue to check out what’s in the water and know that I’m looking at a black fly larva, isopod, left-handed lunged snail, or planarian.

Photo of a crayfish in a bowl at Barcroft Park

Crayfish at Barcroft Park in Four Mile Run during macroinvertebrate sampling in 2015.

I also have enjoyed documenting local wildlife by participating in wildlife mapping and citizen science projects. More recently, I have started using a newer way of observing wildlife with the iNaturalist app and have taken part in local bioblitzes. I can check out wildlife, photograph it, identify or find out what it is—whether it’s a dragonfly nymph or a great blue heron!

Photo of a Female Northern Mallard by water

Female Northern Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) documented during a bioblitz at the National Park Service, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in 2017.

Other fun activities I’ve participated in include the cricket crawl in the summer, the frog/salamander patrol, bird outings, and outreach events.

How did you learn about ARMN?

I’m an Arlington County park naturalist on a part-time basis and heard about it at work. A fellow park naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center, Matt Neff, also an ARMN volunteer and animal keeper at the Smithsonian National Zoo, recommended ARMN. It sounded like a great way to keep learning about local nature!

What do you like most about ARMN?

The variety of volunteer opportunities for a wide area of interests in nature with terrific people taking part in it. It’s great to be outdoors and share information too!

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

I grew up with woods and Four Mile Run stream behind my childhood home. I was fascinated by the wildlife passing through my backyard—a variety of birds, box turtles, opossums, caterpillars, walking sticks, praying mantids, and even the colorful box elder bugs.

Walks with my mom and sister near the stream towards Barcroft Park were a common ritual. Not too long after teaching us how to ride bikes, my dad would take my sister and me on biking excursions on the Four Mile Run and W&OD trails. A lot of my local vacations involved my father taking the family to state parks. We stayed in a cabin or went camping. I always remember the kind park ranger who that talked to me at Douthat State Park after a nature program.

At Claremont Elementary, we had a rabbit in school that roamed the classroom which I thought was the neatest thing. Pet rabbits were my favorite pets growing up.

When I was at Wakefield High School, I took an animal science class at the Career Center where I learned about and took care of classroom animals including snakes, a rabbit, ducks, and a chinchilla. I even had a summer job there taking care of the animals.

As a kid I have fond memories of my parents taking my sister and me to the National Zoo and the bus ride with my mom to Washington, DC to visit the Natural History Museum.

What is your background? 

During high school and college, I had seasonal jobs such as being a veterinary assistant and an outdoor job working as an Arlington County Park Ranger on bike. I have a bachelor’s degree in Biology from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. After getting my degree, I started working a few hours at the Arlington County Nature Centers…and still do!

Photo of Four Mile Run Stream at Barcroft Park

Upstream view of the macroinvertebrate sampling section of Four Mile Run at Barcroft Park in 2016. Macroinvertebrate volunteers submit photographs of the sampling site, a required protocol for stream monitoring.

Currently in my full-time job as a Museum Specialist in Zoology, I work on invertebrates, such as mollusks, in the District of Columbia at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History—back to one of my childhood excursion locations!

Heritage-wise, my father was born in Spain and my mother in Ecuador, so I grew up speaking both Spanish and English. Thanks to my father, I’ve traveled to both countries and have enjoyed the adventures of traveling to various places. I’ve been able to put my Spanish-speaking and writing skills to use, whether helping Spanish-speaking visiting scientists and translating text at the Museum or conducting bilingual nature programs in Arlington.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I’m a District of Columbia/Arlington area native. At least it seems unusual to others when I mention it. As my mom likes to say, I was 18 months old when my family moved to Arlington from DC, where I was born.

A snail is named after me. In my first Museum Technician job after college, I helped with a research project to describe western US spring snails. Pyrgulopsis villacampae in Little Warm Springs, Nye County, Nevada is named after me.

The Importance of Citizen Scientists: Using iNaturalist to Create an Inventory of Natural Resources

By Louis Harrell

The recent City Nature Challenge, held 27-30 April 2018, exemplifies the important role that the general public plays by providing professional scientists with valuable data on biodiversity. Anyone can become a “citizen scientist” by going out and collecting data related to the natural world – made even easier today with the iNaturalist app. All you need to get started is a computer or a mobile smart phone and a desire to enjoy the great outdoors!

How does it work? The free iNaturalist app maps observations by different levels of geography, taxonomy, and type of observation. It can record and show all of the observations collected around the world, in the Washington DC area, or only those observations in a specific neighborhood. The 2018 City Nature Challenge provides an interesting and current source of data that can be used to demonstrate the power of the mapping capability of iNaturalist. Over 10,000 research-grade observations were collected providing insight into the distribution of natural resources in the D.C. metropolitan area. Research-grade observations are defined as identifications that have been confirmed by a second reviewer. Thanks to the capability of the app and the crowd-sourced second level review, citizen scientists can have fun collecting data and making material contributions toward understanding our environment.

Why would citizen scientists want to collect observations of various living things and map them? Collections of observations or inventories are a widely recognized technique used to identify long-term trends in biodiversity, the incidence of invasive plants, and the locations of other ecologically important species. For example, the data collected through iNaturalist allows a citizen scientist to document exactly when that garlic mustard appeared in the corner of a yard and if observations are collected over time, one can then observe the progression of the plant’s life. Since all data is collected with a standard method via iNaturalist, research-grade observations can automatically be integrated into larger files.

Inventories can be improved through well-known survey methodologies. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has published information that shows how sampling, careful data collection protocols, and appropriate collection technology can influence the quality of information and its utility for research, affect distribution of resources used to manage lands, and improve public understanding of natural resources. While the FWS document focuses on invasive species, its guidelines for research can be used for documenting any species in an area. For those interested in learning more, the FWS training can be found at: https://www.fws.gov/invasives/staffTrainingModule/assessing/inventory.html.

Citizen scientists of all ages can implement another inventory technique, the “Biocube,” which facilitates study of a very small space. The Smithsonian Institution developed Biocubes, which are hollow one foot cubic frames, that can be placed almost anywhere to show differences among living communities from different continents, different habitats, and wild versus domesticated land. The Smithsonian has published procedures to measure species diversity in a cubic foot. The method has been successfully used in marine and land environments and uses iNaturalist for reporting results. The strength of the approach comes from its use of a standard cubic foot sample size allowing comparison of results. The Smithsonian has published an introduction to Biocubes and a video that shows the history and significance of the technique at: http://ocean.si.edu/ocean-news/biocubes-life-one-cubic-foot.

How would a citizen scientist create a neighborhood data map?  The iNaturalist app is simple to use on a computer or a mobile phone. First, select the “Observations” option on the home page of the iNaturalist app, and then click “Explore.” This will display a map of the world. Next, click the filter button located in the upper right corner. Enter the desired options and the app will produce the specified neighborhood map. The example below shows how easy it is to display all research-grade observations from the City Nature Challenge:

Photo 1

These research-grade observations were collected in the Arlington and Alexandria areas during the Challenge:

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In addition, iNaturalist has a “zoom in” feature that displays detail for individual sites.  Check out the results from Dora Kelley Park in Alexandria!

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Download iNaturalist and get involved collecting observations individually or mark your calendar for the next big collaborative citizen science project: the Arlington Bioblitz to be held on Saturday 15 September 2018!

ARMN Member Joanne Hutton Receives Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Award

(Based on article in Arlington County’s Environment webpage.) Photos courtesy of Bill Browning.

 On April 24, 2018, ARMN member, Joanne Hutton, was honored with a Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Award for her volunteer work in Arlington last year. 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.

Joanne Hutton is one of ARMN’s super stars, and Arlington County has recognized her value to the natural world with this very special annual award. Joanne is also a member of the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia and became an ARMN member upon retiring from Arlington County’s Parks Division, where for five years she, trained VCE Master Gardeners and oversaw the county’s Community Garden program.

Phot of ARMN member Joanne Hutton holding the 2017 Bill THomas Award

Joanne with her 2017 Bill Thomas Award.

Among her ARMN projects, Joanne worked with the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia to establish a native plant demonstration garden at Potomac Overlook Regional Park, and she continues to lead the ongoing maintenance of that garden. She helped form the Audubon at Home (AAH) Ambassadors program for Arlington and Alexandria. AAH volunteers visit individual homeowners to offer guidance on best environmental management practices and increased use of native plants to improve habitat in their yards. Joanne has also worked on the Steering Committee for the Plant NOVA Natives Campaign, helping edit its published guide, Native Plants for Northern Virginia, encouraging property owners to buy and plant locally native plants.

She trained in Arlington’s first Tree Steward class and in 2010, assisted in surveying trees on Arlington’s 256-acre Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to help better manage its tree population. She also has been a community gardener at Arlington’s Barton Park Community Gardens since 1999, and served as Chief Gardener for three years, continuing on its steering committee. Her focus as a Master Gardener remains public and continuing education.

Joanne actively participates in citizen science projects, including Christmas bird counts, monitoring bluebird nest boxes at Fort C. F. Smith Park, and assisting the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas to determine distribution and status of breeding bird populations. She participated in Arlington’s first BioBlitz in 2017, a 24-hour citizen science inventory of plants and wildlife.

Photo of ARMN Member Joanne Hutton with all the 2017 Bill Thomas award winners

All 2017 Bill Thomas Award winners with the Arlington County Board.

In her time with ARMN, she has brainstormed ways to attract new members and make them feel welcome, served as a mentor to new members, and created an overall sense of inclusion within the group. As Joanne’s neighbor and fellow ARMN member Bill Browning puts it, “Joanne is a literal force of nature by her knowledge of the natural world, her willingness to share this knowledge, and her desire to make members in the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists feel welcome and have a sense of camaraderie.”

Joanne serves a multigenerational cohort to ensure that Arlington residents have the skills and information they need to be good stewards to the environment. Her service has inspired and encouraged others to join the local community of active volunteers. The natural world in Arlington has a true ally in Joanne; the benefits of her volunteer work can be seen throughout the County.

ARMN: Getting to Know Emily Ferguson

ARMN’s Membership Committee posts occasional profiles of our members, including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they affect their environment. This latest biography features ARMN Member Emily Ferguson, who graduated from our training class in Spring 2010. Many of our members already know her because she currently teaches tree identification as part of the Basic Training class. If you know someone else in ARMN with an interesting story and think others might be interested, please contact Bill Browning (browningwh@gmail.com) or Alison Sheahan (ab.sheahan@verizon.net).

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

Besides teaching the basic tree ID section for the ARMN training class, I’m involved with stream monitoring at Lubber Run and Barcroft parks as well as the salamander patrols at Gulf Branch and Long Branch nature centers. I have a lot of fun with the patrols as I think vernal pools are really cool. I also have helped with tree inventories at Fort Meyer and at Columbia Gardens Cemetery on Route 50 (http://www.columbiagardenscemetery.org/).

This year teaching the incoming ARMN class, I was surprised and honored to teach the Tree ID and Botany sections.  I learn something from the students in the class every time I teach, which makes the experience even more rewarding.

Photo of ARMN Member Emily Ferguson teaching tree ID

Emily explaining features of tree bark during March 19, 2018 Basic Training field trip. Photo courtesy of Oliver Torres.

What brought you to ARMN?

When I moved to Northern Virginia, I was starting a job with the EPA to work on the “superfund” program and I knew I would be stepping away from nature. I knew I needed another connection to nature. So, I went looking for something like ARMN and I was glad to find it. Walking around Arlington, the trees looked so different to me. They were all street trees or had been planted out of their natural environment. Rod Simmons, the Alexandria City Natural Resource Manager and Plant Ecologist, taught the tree ID section when I took the Basic Training and confirmed that the trees weren’t different or new. I needed to re-calibrate my eyes because the trees weren’t in the mountain habitats I knew.

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

I like the number of activities you can get involved in. There are bird walks, seed cleanings, plant sales, and invasive pulls. I think what I like most is that people are very open to sharing their knowledge. ARMN is so broad. You can find a walk or lecture to learn or explore about almost any aspect of nature that you’re interested in.

 

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Emily leading tree ID field trip in Riverbend Park in January 2017. Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.

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

When I was 15 and attending high school in Bermuda, I dropped biology. Soon after that, my mother took a class to become a tour guide at the local botanical gardens. She taught me about pencil trees (Euphorbia tirucalli) and I challenged myself to identify them when we were driving around. Much to my parents’ horror, these trees were scattered around the island and I pointed them out on every drive we took around the island, which was probably really annoying. I even got my brother to play along.

Since I graduated from the Bermuda High School at the age of sixteen, my parents decided to send me to boarding school in New Jersey for two years. There, I enrolled in ”baby bio” followed by Advanced Placement biology so that I could load up on biology before heading to college because I loved this tree stuff. For the first time, biology made sense and I helped classmates prep for tests.

What is your background?

I attended Rhodes College (http://www.rhodes.edu/) in Memphis, TN where I earned a BS in biology. I also earned my master’s degree in biology (botany and trees) from the University of South Florida in Tampa (http://www.usf.edu/). My mentor and advisor for my thesis wrote the Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida (http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/) and I used to pester him with my irritation at the way he characterized some of the plants.

My parents were not outdoorsy. They sent me to a summer camp in Vermont each year for a month where I first saw the “white dark” (or fog) and hiked in a deciduous forest. I was captivated, but it was not all smooth. One summer my parents sent me to an expedition camp in Pennsylvania, we set out on a weeklong hiking and camping trip. I wanted to dump the 45-pound pack, ditch the other campers, and hitchhike to my uncle’s house in New Jersey where I knew he lived. I didn’t. I stuck it out and ended up having a great time.

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

My husband is an ultrarunner. When I started running with him, I learned if you can’t see the top of the hill you can walk up to prevent yourself from overdoing it and focus running the downhill and flat portions of the runs. This approach works great for me. The one thing I like more than running is looking at plants. So, when I run with him, I run downhill and look at plants on the uphill. I’m always walking off the sides of the trail to check out the plants or break off a piece to look at later, much to his surprise.

I’m also my brother’s favorite snorkeling or diving partner. He wants to see the rays and sharks, while I like to drift along just looking at variety of color and beauty under the ocean. Recently, we swam with a manta ray, some white tipped reef sharks, a school of mobula rays, and a school of hammerhead sharks while on a trip through the Galapagos Islands.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I always carry a hand lens. Recently, I set up my boom microscope and immediately had to run outside to grab some twigs. I brought them inside to check out under my scope and got lost looking at the delicate beauty of the bud scales and flowers.

ARMN: Getting to Know Susan Berry

By Alison Sheahan and Susan Berry. Photos courtesy of Pablo Nuesch

ARMN’s Membership Committee posts occasional profiles of our members, including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they affect their environment. This latest biography features ARMN Member Susan Berry, who graduated from our training class in Spring 2012. She is active in outreach and recently helped out as a mentor for the Fall 2017 class. If you know someone in ARMN with an interesting story and think others might be interested as well, please contact Alison Sheahan (ab.sheahan@verizon.net).

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

My favorite projects involve interacting with the public. I love to talk with people and so I take my very limited knowledge of the natural world (almost exclusively learned from ARMN activities) and use it to participate in education and outreach at the Arlington County Fair, library events, native plant sales, community center presentations, MOM’s Organic Market store displays, and wherever else ARMN might have a table set up.

I also adore the annual Firefly Festival at Fort C.F. Smith Park. Mostly, that is a night when I talk with people about how to glue wings on their firefly necklaces and such, but it still involves interacting with people and occasionally discussing actual fireflies.

What brought you to ARMN?  How did you learn about ARMN?

A few years before I heard about ARMN, my husband and I bought some land in south Albemarle County. For those old enough to remember The Waltons TV show, our property is at “Walton’s Mountain” (actually Schuyler, Virginia).

Photo of ARMN Member Susan Berry's cabin

Susan’s cabin in Schuyler, VA.

After we bought the land, we started going to land-owner workshops sponsored by Virginia Tech. At one of them, the organizer asked that everyone who was a Master Naturalist raise their hands. All these hands went up. That was the first time I heard about the program. Then, we had a forester come out and walk our land with us, and I was overwhelmed by his knowledge and I really wanted to know more about the trees and other plants on our land. Later on, when I was looking for a volunteer activity to replace the pet therapy work I had been doing, I ran across a posting for the next ARMN class and I thought, maybe I could do that.

What has surprised you about ARMN?

I never thought that it would lead to my holding a snake at the County Fair while children petted it.

What do you like most about ARMN?

There are so many things I could choose, but one thing I love is the wonderful emails that show up in my box every day. I will never forget getting that first email asking for people to show up for Salamander Patrol. I thought, “Where else can you find a group of people who send emails like this?”  They know so much and are engaged in so many activities. Even though I cannot volunteer a lot of hours due to my work and other obligations, I feel connected with ARMN every day.

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

I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia. My mother was a guide for Colonial Williamsburg, and I worked there in the summers and on school holidays. My mother loved gardens and was trained to give special garden tours in Williamsburg. When I was in elementary school, I had to do a report for science class, and my mother suggested that it be on the various hollies found in Virginia. We drove all over and collected specimens together, and later I proudly presented my report, which included a detailed description of Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon holly). I know very few plants by their botanical names, but I’ll never forget that one.

What is your background?

I studied theatre as an undergrad at the University of Virginia and later got an M.A. in theatre from the University of South Carolina. I worked at various small professional theatres and community theatres and eventually figured out that I needed another line of work if I wanted to eat and pay the rent. After deciding that law was the closest thing I could get to theatre, I went to law school and have now been working in immigration law for about 20 years.  I met my husband in law school. He is the one who took most of the pictures that were featured in a backyard habitat display that we used for many years at different ARMN events.

Photo of an ARMN backyard habitat display

Susan’s backyard habitat display.

What would people find interesting about the non-ARMN part of your life.

I have been figuring out how to take what ARMN has taught me into other parts of my life. I am a ruling elder at Fairlington Presbyterian Church and have been helping the church make decisions about its property. That is particularly important now because we just sold a portion of our parking lot for an affordable housing project and there will be new landscaping going on throughout our property as we shift things around, so I would like to promote the use of native plants, wherever possible. I am also in the process of helping the church become an official Earth Care Congregation within the Presbytery. I have learned that one of the things most young people care about when they are looking for a church home is how the church acts in relationship with the earth.   So, I am working to focus some of the energy of our small congregation toward being more sustainable.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I don’t use a cell phone.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

It was because of all I have learned with ARMN that I was motivated to convert the front slope of the home my husband and I bought in Alexandria four years ago from a bank of English Ivy to a mostly native plant garden. I got my husband on board and we both hacked away at the ivy while simultaneously collecting plants from native plant sales to install. I also got a lot of golden ragwort from a weeding party at ARMN’s demonstration garden at Potomac Overlook Regional Park. Shortly after we finished the “conversion,” we got a letter from the City of Alexandria saying we were going to be given a beautification award. We thought it was a scam until we found out that there really is an Alexandria Beautification Commission and they really do drive around the city and select properties for awards. So, we ended up receiving our award from the mayor in a very nice ceremony in the fall of 2016. If it were not for ARMN, we certainly would not have been able to achieve this.

Photo of ARMN Member Susan Berry's front yard with native plants

Susan’s yard after removal of ivy and installation of mostly native plants.

Photo of ARMN Member Susan Berry with her Alexandria Beautification award.

Susan with her Alexandria Beautification award.

ARMN Winter Book Share: Good food for the body, mind, and spirit!

by Carol Mullen, with photos by Rodney Olsen

A few times a year, folks who enjoy nature literature meet at a local restaurant for a Book Share event. Participants enjoy good food as they provide a brief overview of a book or other material that they found inspiring and useful. The most recent get-together was at Café Sazon, a Latin bakery and café in South Arlington and an enthusiastic group contributed to the discussion of several reads.

The ARMN Winter Book Share and Dinner at Cafe Sazon on Feb. 6, 2018, was a fun and informative evening. Ten ARMN members shared their favorite recently read books, magazines, authors and websites, with the primary aim of enhancing our knowledge of Virginia’s natural resources. It was a delightful hour of “A01 Continuing Education” with lively discussions on a number of topics and an opportunity to learn from each other. Cafe Sazon was an enjoyable location on a cold February night, and both the food and staff were great.

Photo of 2018 ARMN Winter book share

Book Share group enjoying the camaraderie.

Here is a list of the literature recommended by the participants at the Winter Book Share evening:

The Wonder of Birds: What They Tell Us About Ourselves, the World, and a Better Future, by Jim Robbins, 2017

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan, 2006

Scientific American: The Science Behind the Debates, Special Collector’s Edition, Volume 26, Issue 5s, Winter 2017-2018

The Living Forest, by Joan Maloof, 2017

Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old-Growth Forests, by Joan Maloof, 2011

Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, by George Monbiot, 2017

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed, John Vaillant, 2006

The Control of Nature, John McPhee, 1990

The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors, by David George Haskell, 2017

The Forest Unseen, by David George Haskell, 2013

1491, by Charles Mann, 2006

Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest, by Joan Maloof, 2007

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – and Us, by Richard O. Prum, 2017

The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet, by Anthony J. Martin, 2017

The Modern Scholar: The Biology of Birds, by Professor John Kricher, 2012

The Tarantula in My Purse: and 172 Other Wild Pets, by Jean Craighead George, 1997

A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees of the Northeast, by Mark Mikolas, 2017

American Forest Magazine

The “Plant One Million Trees” Project, http://www.plantonemillion.org/.

Photo of 2018 ARMN Winter book share

Participants engaged in good discussions of the materials presented.

Does a book share event sound good to you? Then look for future gatherings that will be highlighted on the www.armn.org homepage under “Upcoming Events.” Anyone with an interest in nature may attend and you do not need a book to share—or even be an ARMN member—if you just want to hear more about the current reads. If you do have literature to share, reviews and summaries are fitting, but consider sharing a fact, insight, or observation from the material that is applicable to ARMN’s span of work. 

Here are a few other considerations:

  • This is not a book discussion group where we all read and discuss the same material.
  • Magazines or journals (or specific articles) are fine too, as are apps, websites, or any resource that enhances your knowledge of Virginia’s natural resources.
  • This is not a book swap. Feel free to bring books or magazines to give away or share if you wish, but that is optional.
  • Please consider what you can share about the book in less than 5 minutes. If there is adequate time, you can expound beyond that.
  • The book sharing portion counts as CE for ARMN members.
  • No sign-up required this time.

We hope to see you at a future Book Share event!

Flying Squirrels: Adorable Little Gliders in our Trees

by Kasha Helget

On a recent evening, adults and families gathered for a flying squirrel program at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. Naturalist Rachael Tolman shared some interesting facts about these little charmers and then led us outside to witness them in action.

There was a palpable sense of excitement when a group of children and “big kids” arrived at Long Branch on a recent Saturday evening for the local southern flying squirrels program. Naturalist Rachel Tolman stirred even more interest when she said that this was her favorite program, and it quickly became apparent why: they’re adorable! She began by sharing some interesting facts:

  • There are two types of flying squirrels in this country—our local southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans), which are 8-10 inches long (including their tales) and weigh on average a couple of ounces, and their sister northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus), which live further . . . north, are a total of 10-12 inches and weigh an average of 3 ½ ounces. All flying squirrels are nocturnal which is why we rarely see them. However, Rachael stated that they are as common as our larger diurnal (daytime) gray squirrels!
  • Flying squirrels do not actually “fly” but rather glide using skin flaps that connect their arms and bodies, called a patagium. They can glide 100 yards, although they usually only “fly” from tree to tree. As gliders, they always glide downward, and generally, for every two feet high they are, they can get about one foot of gliding distance. Once they land on a tree, they usually rapidly scurry to the opposite side to avoid becoming lunch for a pursuing predator, such as an owl.
  • A way to determine if flying squirrels are in the area is if nut shells left behind have a single circular cut to remove the nutmeats. However, their diet is varied—insects in the warmer months, and other small animals, eggs, fruits, seeds, and nuts at other times of the year. They are readily attracted to bird feeders and other feeding stations during winter.
  • Flying squirrels prefer tree cavities for nesting, and are more solitary in the summer. But in the winter, they often nest together for warmth.

After showing us flying squirrel puppets, Rachael brought out the real thing: a live southern flying squirrel that was too cute for words. It has very large eyes to better see in the dark, and was surprisingly docile.

We all got to pet it as it sat patiently on Rachael’s hand.

Photo of Naturalist Rachel Tolman presenting the southern flying squirrels program at Long Branch

Rachael Tolman holding southern flying squirrel. (Photo courtesy of Meg Jonas)

 

Photo of Naturalist Rachel Tolman presenting the southern flying squirrels program at Long Branch

Petting the very patient flying squirrel (Photo courtesy of Meg Jonas)

At that point, Rachael took us outside to visit the center’s own flying squirrel feeding station and winter nest box in front of the nature center. She recommends that, if people feed flying squirrels (which can be very comfortable with people close by), they should set out food about a 1/2 hour after dusk on a spot at least 10 feet above the ground. The early nighttime is when they become most active. If they’re fed regularly, they will be steady visitors. Rachael then slathered some peanut butter right on the bark of an oak tree, and placed some nuts on the roof of a nest box nearby. It took about 30 seconds for the first flying squirrels to pop onto the tree and begin licking the peanut butter and working on the nuts. Others followed shortly thereafter. It wasn’t long before we saw one in full flight between trees, which was really magical! They also scurried in and out of a hole in the nest box, likely to eat in private.

There is a high mortality rate among young squirrels, which are born in late winter and then again in the summer. Some of it is because of predators (owls, snakes, foxes, raccoons, and outdoor cats), but flying squirrels may also eat another’s young. Young squirrels also need to get the hang of gliding and can often crash in the learning phase. Those that make it to adulthood can live 3-6 years in the wild, or over double that time in captivity.

Rachael provided a handout on to build a flying squirrel nest box, and there are many online sites with instructions, too. She recommends a circular opening between 1 ¼ and 1 ½ inches in diameter and surrounded by metal to keep gray squirrels from chewing the hole larger. In addition, she suggested adding a second (escape) hole in case a snake or other predator gets into the box.

A highly recommended blog is Alonso Abugattas’s Capital Naturalist. His piece about southern flying squirrels is a delightful and informative read.

Kids and adults are welcome to sign up for flying squirrel programs, which are repeated a few times each winter. There is one more at Long Branch on Feb. 18. More information is in The Snag, the Guide to Arlington County’s Nature and History Programs.

Finally, I was SO captivated by Rachael’s presentation and Long Branch’s feeding station and nest box, that I wanted one of my own. My handy husband, Michael, put one together in a couple of days with a rooftop feeding station, a pair of entrance/exit holes, and an easy open side door for cleanups after the winter roosting is completed. We just set it up and are waiting for our first furry visitors.

Photo of southern flying squirrel nest box in ARMN Member Kasha Helget's yard

Nest box in our backyard (Photo by Kasha Helget)

 

Salt Management Strategy (SaMS) to Address Impacts of Road Salt in Our Region

by Kasha Helget

Many people have noticed the increased use of road salt and deicing materials in our area in recent years. These products don’t just land on roadways, parking lots, and sidewalks; they also affect the landscape, and seep into the soil, groundwater, storm drains, and surface waters with adverse impacts to aquatic life, vegetation, and wildlife as well as human health from the increased levels of salt on surfaces and in drinking water.

Salt on Lester Ct. in Fairfax County.JPG

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has tracked these changes and impacts and is working on plans to do something about it. On January 17, 2018, the DEQ and its contractors, the Interstate Commission for the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) hosted a public meeting on the development of a Salt Management Strategy (SaMS) for the Northern Virginia region. The region includes: Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties, and the cities of Alexandria, Manassas, Manassas Park, Falls Church, and Fairfax.

Representatives of DEQ and ICPRB described some of the impacts and challenges of snow and ice management, answered questions from the audience, and provided information on how people can get involved in the process of developing a SaMS for the region.

Origin of the SaMS Strategy

The SaMS was initiated as a result of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study that DEQ completed for the Accotink Creek watershed in July 2017. The study identified chloride (salt) from snow and deicing activities that contributed to water quality impairment in the creek. The TMDL was developed with a focus on implementing best management practices such as training and certification programs and improved salt application equipment and practices. Given that existing snow and ice management practices are not limited to the Accotink Creek watershed, the SaMS is being developed with the entire Northern Virginia region in mind.

Goals and Desired Outcomes of SaMS

The two broad goals of SaMS are to: (1) provide a strategy to achieve the target chloride loads identified in the Accotink Creek TMDL and the broader surrounding region, and (2) foster collaboration among all stakeholder groups involved in winter deicing/anti-icing activities to improve practices that protect public safety and lessen the effects on the environment, infrastructure, and public health.

Procedures Going Forward

Following the January 17 public meeting to introduce SaMS, there is a comment period on the proposals till February 16, and there will be working group and stakeholder advisory committee meetings throughout the development process. There will also be another public meeting and comment period at the end of the process. The SaMS process should be completed by December, 2019.

How to Provide Public Comment by February 16

Anyone who is concerned about salt’s impacts on vegetation, wildlife, aquatic life, as well as human health and infrastructure effects may provide comments by February 16 on plans for development of the SaMS, and the Report on the Impacts of Salts on the Environment, Infrastructure; and may volunteer to participate on the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC), which will address the SaMS issues. To comment or volunteer for the SAC, click: HERE,

Resources

See Salt Management Strategy Summary for a brief report of the project. Complete information on SaMS is located on DEQ’s website at: Salt Management Strategy Development.

For additional information on impacts of and strategies to address road salts and deicing methods, see:

New Hampshire’s Environmental, Health and Economic Impacts of Road Salt; Smithsonian.com’s Future of Conservation: The Hidden Dangers of Road Salt;
Virginia Tech’s Study finds road salt contamination in groundwater; and
Greater Greater Washington’s, Salt with care to protect your drinking water.