NoVA PRISM- A New Partnership with ARMN

Photo 1

by Alex Sanders

In 2017, Arlington County sought and was awarded a matching grant to create a new multi-jurisdictional partnership. Known as the NoVA PRISM (Northern Virginia Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management), this effort is bringing together government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), volunteer groups, for-profit organizations, and individuals to coordinate their work on invasive species through outreach, education, and field projects in Northern Virginia. Here’s more about the effort and how you can join in.

One doesn’t need to travel far in our region to see invasive species—in yards, on the sides of streets, and worst of all, in our parks and natural areas. Because these species are free from the natural controls they had in their native lands, these organisms cause ecological, economic, or human harm in the new lands they’ve been introduced into. They can reproduce very quickly and outcompete native flora and fauna. The National Wildlife Federation estimates that 42% of threatened and endangered species are at risk due to invasives. 

 As understanding of the problem of invasive species has grown, many, including ARMN volunteers, have taken on the challenge of managing these organisms. But as the species have spread across the landscape, we’ve come to realize that the threat must be addressed through collaborative action beyond jurisdictional boundaries. So, this why Arlington County created NoVA PRISM.

Over the last year, the PRISM has been organizing, conducting outreach in the region, and working on a series of pilot projects along the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail. We’ve collaborated with NGOs in Loudoun County on a forum on sustainable landscaping for homeowner associations, are sending out educational mailers to thousands of residences, and have set up a website. The PRISM also conducted a plant survey along the W&OD Trail, has led several volunteer removals, and is in the midst of two restoration projects: in Falls Church and in Arlington. ARMN has been a key partner, and we are looking forward to further coordination and more involvement by neighbors in the community.

Photo 2

The challenges of invasive species in our region are substantial, but there’s plenty we can do as individuals and communities. First and foremost, try to remove as many invasives from your property as possible, and install native plants both for their beauty and to support our local wildlife that depend on them to survive. Your ARMN neighbors are doing just that and can provide expert advice. Other great resources are Plant NOVA Natives (for photos and descriptions of local native plants, where to buy them, landscaping tips, and additional resources), and Audubon at Home (for on-site consultation, and other recommendations to help you establish and nurture sustainable natural habitat in your backyard, neighborhood, school, church, park or business). You can also tell your favorite nursery to offer native plants. The more people who do can make a difference in what’s offered. And you can volunteer with groups such as ARMN to help restore our natural areas and educate others. Finally, visit the new NoVA PRISM website  or contact us at novaprism1@gmail.com. Look for upcoming habitat restoration events coming to a neighborhood near you and sign up to pitch in!

Advertisements

ARMN: Getting to Know Mary McLean

By Alison Sheahan

Mary McLean’s name is well known among ARMN members and many others interested in our local natural areas. She has been a force for environmental education generally, and for stewardship of Tuckahoe Park particularly, for many years!  It was a pleasure to get to know her further for this interview.  

Photo of ARMN memmber Mary McLean

Mary in Tuckahoe Park. Photo courtesy of Alison Sheahan.

Tell us about your background and what early experiences shaped your perspective of nature.

I grew up in a rural area just northeast of Birmingham, AL. Our 1910 house was on 9 acres of open land with a pond near a natural spring and my mother’s beautiful formal gardens. As the “caboose” in our family of 3 children, I remember being free to roam a lot on my own and I was always drawn to exploring and learning about the outdoors.

One of my earliest memories of my father was identifying a brown thrasher for me. I also connected to the natural world as a spiritual place, fitting with my Dominican and Jesuit parochial school teachings. In high school I was able to do several science internships with the University of Alabama and went off to the University of Virginia (’78) for college, thinking I might major in one of the sciences. The premed competition insured that was not to be—though I did meet my future “spice” there at my first stream study! Instead, I discovered a deep affinity for history and teaching. I later received a masters’ degree from George Washington University for History of Science. I worked for several years in administration and research at various institutions, including the Library of Congress, but I came back to my love of natural sciences and education through my three children.

What brought you to ARMN?

 As I began teaching at the Rock Spring Cooperative Preschool in Arlington and then volunteering at my children’s school, Tuckahoe Elementary, I found myself drawn to those involved in environmental education in Arlington. I was on a committee that planned Tuckahoe’s wildlife habitat and school gardens from 1990-2003 and helped to develop Tuckahoe’s “Expeditions” Exemplary program for outdoor learning. During that time, I took the Master Gardener training, and got into even more nature programs at the Tuckahoe Elementary. In addition, I worked with others to develop a nature trail at Tuckahoe Park and learned about stream restoration. Then, after receiving an English as a Second Language master’s degree, I worked at various local schools and communities as well as the National Audubon Society in Maryland. All the time I always kept in touch with my naturalist and schoolyard friends, including two particularly influential ones: Alonso Abugattas (currently, the Natural Resources Manager for Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation) and Cliff Fairweather (currently, a park naturalist with Arlington’s Long Branch Nature Center). Alonso encouraged me to take the ARMN training with the very first class in 2008. The rest is lots of fun volunteering and learning.

What do you like most/surprised you most about ARMN?

 I absolutely love the people of ARMN and the camaraderie that develops as we care for our environment. Where else can you find so many slightly geeky, humble, knowledgeable, and knowledge-hungry folks?  And the number of overlapping human connections is amazing and constantly surprises me!  I also love and was surprised by the deep learning in the training class and have been pleasantly surprised by how that training continues with the wonderful annual conferences and statewide meetings. There’s nothing like sharing a long car ride to SW Virginia to get to know each other, either!

Tell us about your ARMN projects.

 Well, I still do spend a lot of time in Tuckahoe Park! It’s such a precious little oasis in a busy urban area at the intersection of Lee Highway and North Sycamore Street. We have been very active trying to remove invasive species here in both the woodland and wetland areas and continue to hold monthly invasive plant pulls in which the public is invited to help. I also helped to develop the information along the park’s interpretive trail. I had the honor of receiving the Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Award along with Don Walsh for our work in 2014. I love to help with so many of the projects at Arlington’s nature centers like the Firefly and Bat Festivals, as well as citizen science projects like the Cricket Crawl and Bioblitz events.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

 I think that I kind of fell into becoming a naturalist/environmental educator “seven ways to Sunday.”  There was so much in my childhood learning and church upbringing and love of outdoors that brought me to where I am. I believe that the best way of learning about what is most important for children—or adults—is out in nature where we evolved.  When you learn outside you learn with real stuff that you can use anywhere. ARMN folks, like park rangers and professional naturalists, represent the best teachers because they connect people to nature and to valuing natural resources by experiencing them.

Add Native Plants to Your Fall Garden and enjoy them again next Spring and Summer!

Text and photos by Kasha Helget

Fall is the BEST time to install native plants. The cooler air temperatures are less stressful to stems and foliage, and the still-warm soil gives roots a great head start to become established before winter. So, consider choosing a few—or several native plants to brighten your yard, patio, or deck!

Photo of a green plant with small white flowers surrounding a tree trunk

White wood aster (Eurybia divaricata), is a spreading perennial that bloom in early-mid fall, thrive in light to heavy shade, can handle dry conditions, and attract butterflies.

Why Choose Native Plants?

Natives are local species and are adapted to our climate and soil conditions. They also are often the only or most healthful source of nectar, pollen, seeds, and leaves for local butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. These plants:

  • do not require fertilizers and few if any pesticides,
  • need less water than lawns, and help prevent erosion,
  • help reduce air pollution,
  • provide shelter and food for wildlife,
  • promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage, and
  • are beautiful and increase scenic values!

How to Choose the Right Natives for Your Yard or Pots?

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

Close up photo of a plant with yellowish green leaves and deep purple berries clustered around the stem.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a shrub that can grow 3-5 ft. tall and wide. It prefers sun to light shade and moist conditions, produces purple berries in mid-fall, and attracts birds and butterflies.

Where Can You Buy Natives?

Most commercial nurseries do not carry a lot of native plants. If you have a favorite place that has a weak selection, tell them that you’d love if they could stock more. But there are many nurseries that bring plants to us—at local native plant sales. Below is a list of fall native plant sales nearby, with many providing food and entertainment. Happy shopping and planting!

Photo of light purple flowers with small petals and bright yellow centers

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is a spreading perennial that can grow 3- 6 ft, and bloom in early-late fall. It prefers part shade and moist conditions and attracts bees and butterflies.

Fall 2018 Native Plant Sales

Potowmack Chapter Weekly Plant Sale
Weekly plant sale on the first Wednesday of each month through October at the propagation beds behind the main building at Green Springs Garden.
10:00 am–12:00 pm
4603 Green Spring Rd, Alexandria, VA 22312
https://vnps.org/potowmack/events/plant-sale-propagation-party/

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Fall Native Plant Sale
September 8, 2018
9:00 am–3:00 pm
Morven Park
17263 Southern Planter Ln, Leesburg, VA
https://loudounwildlife.org/event/fall-native-plant-sale-2/

Friends of Runnymede Park
September 15, 2018
9:00 am–2:00 pm
Runnymede Park
195 Herndon Pkwy, Herndon, VA
http://www.frpweb.org/10.html

Glencarlyn Garden Autumnfest
September 16, 2018
10:00 am–3:00 pm
Glencarlyn Library Garden
300 S. Kensington St, Arlington, VA
https://mgnv.org/2018/08/22/autumnfest-at-glencarlyn-library-garden/

Long Branch Native Plant Sale
September 22, 2018
1:00–4:00 pm
Pre-order deadline: September 12, 2018 at 4:00 pm
Long Branch Nature Center
625 S. Carlin Springs Rd, Arlington, VA
https://parks.arlingtonva.us/native-plant-sale/

Town of Vienna Native Plant Sale
September 22, 2018
8:00 am–1:00 pm
Vienna Community Center
120 Cherry Street SE, Vienna, VA
https://www.viennava.gov/documentcenter/view/3663

Green Spring Garden and VA Native Plant Society Fall Garden Day
September 22, 2018
9:00 am–3:00 pm
Green Spring Garden Park
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria VA
http://www.friendsofgreenspring.org/programs-a-events/fall-garden-day-2018

Earth Sangha Fall Wild Plant Nursery Sale
EXTENDED to September 30, 2018
9 am–Noon
Franconia Park
6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield, VA
http://www.earthsangha.org/wpn

Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale
September 29, 2018
9:00 am–2:00 pm
Church of St. Clement
1701 N. Quaker Ln, Alexandria VA 22302
http://northernalexandrianativeplantsale.org/

City of Alexandria Fall Native Plant Sale
Online through October 31, 2018
Pickup on November 3, 2018, 9:00 am–3:00 pm
Buddie Ford Nature Center
5750 Sanger Ave., Alexandria, VA 22311
Order information HERE, and click “Shop” button located at the top of the page and select Fall 2018 Plant Sale.
https://www.alexandriava.gov/recreation/info/default.aspx?id=94340

 

An Ode, Or Of Skunks in Arlington

By Steve Young and Lisa Stern

What happened to Arlington’s skunks?  A tale of elusive skunks in Arlington:

What happened to Arlington’s skunks?  A few years ago, when now-retired Arlington County Natural Resource Specialist Greg Zell conducted the first natural resources inventory of Arlington County, I recall that his nemesis mammal was the familiar striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). Although common in neighboring areas, Greg could not confirm any recent skunk sightings in Arlington. Apart from rumors, they just could not be found.

As described in NatureWorks, the striped skunk, about the size of a house cat, can easily be identified by the white stripes on black fur that run from head to tail, each skunk having a unique stripe pattern. Found only in North America, striped skunks tend to live in open areas with a mix of habitats like woods and grasslands or meadows, and usually are never further than two miles from water. Skunks mate from mid-February to mid-March and the babies (an average litter of five to six) are born about two months later. Baby skunks, blind and deaf when they are born, will nurse in the den for about a month and a half. And even after they leave the den, they may stay with their mother for up to a year (http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/stripedskunk.htm). So, where were Arlington’s skunks?

Photo of a skunk standing in dried grass. The skunk is arching its back and has its tail rasied.

Photo by Wallace Keck, National Park Service.

I have intermittently operated a game camera in my back yard for the last several years. Several days ago, I finally uploaded its last set of images to my computer and took a quick look. The batteries had died in late October 2017 and I had neglected it, finally bringing it indoors where it sat around for weeks. Scrolling through the thumbnails, I saw familiar images of miscellaneous squirrels, birds, raccoons, rabbits, foxes, opossums, roaming cats, and a funny-looking guy watering plants and mowing. But then, on October 24, 2017, shortly before the batteries died, there it was – one unmistakable picture of a skunk! Arlington does have skunks!  Since the skunk is primarily nocturnal, it is not surprising that I had not seen one during daylight hours. They sleep in burrows during the day and hunt at night. Interestingly, skunks usually don’t dig their own burrows, but tend to look for an abandoned burrow or find a natural hollow under a tree or building (NatureWorks). So, I had found my one skunk.

Black and white photo of a skunk. Skunk is at the bottom of the frame.

Photo by Steve Young (game cam photo).

But, apparently, there were more. Alonso Abugattas, the Natural Resource Manager for Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation, subsequently informed me that as of May 2018, he was aware of several other confirmed skunk sightings: one Ballston roadkill, two golf course videos, and an animal control officer who was sprayed by a skunk she was rescuing from a window well near the Fairlington neighborhood. (Some gratitude!) NatureWorks notes that, since it isn’t easy for a skunk to outrun a predator, the striped skunk has developed a unique defense system. When threatened, if it can’t run away, it tries to frighten the predator by arching its back, raising its tail and turning its back on the predator. If this doesn’t work, the skunk will spray its predator with a stinky fluid that also stings the eyes, giving the skunk time to escape. A skunk can spray fluid as far as twelve feet! So, one doesn’t necessarily want to have a close encounter.

In addition to Alonso’s information, Cliff Fairweather, Natural Resource Specialist at Long Branch Nature Center, mentioned that skunks (with their webbed toes and claws) dig for grubs and leave conical depressions in the ground.  NatureWorks adds that skunks are omnivores, and will eat insects, small mammals, fish, crustaceans, fruits, nuts, leaves, grasses and carrion. So, I had yet another clue that the skunk exists in Arlington—maybe that’s who dug up my back yard recently!

My game cam is now redeployed, and I am eager to see what other unexpected critters may turn up. Perhaps, at long last, the elusive Chupacabra….

Arlington Discovery: Intriguing Screech Owls at Home in Suburbia

By Mary McLean

Mary McLean recounts a series of fascinating encounters with a family of Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) in early May 2018 at Tuckahoe Park in North Arlington. Mary and fellow master naturalists, park experts, and even animal welfare professionals provided thoughts and assistance to protect the offspring, and everyone learned something new about these (usually) nocturnal creatures along the way.

Early on May 6th, fellow ARMN member, Melanie La Force, contacted me with a wonderful find: baby gray Screech Owls roosting in Tuckahoe Park very close to the park’s trail. I arrived in a hurry, and we found three owlets at various levels on trees and on the ground; some without cover.

Not long after finding the babies, we looked straight up overhead from the trail to see almost silhouetted the singularly tiny, adult Screech Owl.

Photo of adult eastern screech owl sitting on a tree limb in front of green leaves in the background.

Photo courtesy of Kevin McLean.

The adult kept a close eye on the scene. While we stayed with the baby owls, the adult’s eyes went from person to person the entire time.

Screech Owls are rare to spot but both adults and juveniles would be very special bird identifications anywhere, especially in an urban park! They are small—only 7 to 9 inches on average as adults, and while mostly nocturnal, they can appear in twilight and during the day, as we witnessed here. They are also surprisingly comfortable in urban and suburban situations.

We conferred with fellow master naturalist, David Howell, as well as Alonso Abugattas, Arlington’s Natural Resource Manager, who agreed that the little ones were likely fledglings. Fledgling owls, known as “branchlets” or “branched out owls,” move from branch to branch once out of their usually high nest and before they can fly. At night they follow a parent’s call to get food, practicing locating prey by sound. Down on the ground they can get familiar with where they’ll find their prey and also learn to walk. During the day, a parent will watch over them. On hearing about the two near the ground Alonso suggested that maybe they were still learning. David Farner, Chief Naturalist and Manager at Fort C.F. Smith Park and a well-known bird resource, added that if they accidentally fell to the ground they would eventually figure out how to jump up to a higher location. With practice, those we saw will climb their way back up to a perch safely above the ground, even as one had already done.

Melanie and I worried that since two of the juvenile owls were perched so low they could be at risk from dogs. We both had regularly seen dogs running around the park off leash. On Alonso’s recommendation, Melanie called the Animal Welfare League of Arlington where volunteers connect concerned individuals to Arlington County’s Animal Control for an animal emergency like a potentially injured owl or off-leash animal. They came in 10 minutes! Officer Karina Swetnam and Officer Cliff Ballena told us they’d gotten a call about the owls earlier in the day and had already checked on them and they looked fine. When we told them about our concern regarding off-leash dogs, Officer Katrina contacted a raptor rehabilitator who took the two owlets from lower branches to keep them safe for a while. Now, the parent would just have one to watch.

The other Animal Control Office, Cliff, went over to where a group of people was playing in the park. There were two dogs off leash. While your dog may come when you call it, you may not be able to control its response to an unfamiliar animal like a baby owl, not to mention the danger to your dog from an owl’s talons! The protection of wild animals is yet one more reason to obey the law and keep dogs on a leash at all times in a public park.

The next day, Melanie said she’d spotted an owlet up in the canopy, and I was both happy that it was safe and exasperated I’d missed it yet again during my dog walk. But I did see a white pickup parked on the trail, with part of the trail on either side of the truck roped off. There was a special crew to take down dead trees (snags) that could fall on pedestrians who were on sidewalks and trails. We had seen the juveniles earlier in a pine snag that was marked with a white X for removal because it could fall on the trail.

So, I called the park manager, Kevin Stalica, who knew of the pine snag. He contacted the contractors to delay cutting it down. Kevin also contacted Alonso Abugattas about the situation and reported that Alonso said, “Once juvenile owls leave the nest out they stay out.”  So, if the nest was in this or another snag, the juveniles would likely be safe. We also learned that they perch on branches during the day as they snooze and grow more flight feathers, stronger muscles, and practice their flight skills.

A couple days later, we learned that Animal Control returned the two owlets to the park to let the fledglings learn from their parents and nature. At that point, David Howell saw them and was able to take some amazing photos, including both owl parents and all three of the owlets, safely up in the tree canopy together. Naturalist David Farner noted that while hunting is mainly done at night, with three hungry mouths to feed, both parents might hunt both day and night!

Photo of two eastern screech owls sitting in a tree obscured by tree leaves

Photo courtesy of David Howell.

David Howell also showed me his photos from Gulf Branch’s Migratory Bird Day Festival that was run by naturalists Jen Soles and Ken Rosenthal at Lacey Woods Park on May 12th. David captured photos of Screech Owl parents and they were not the same colors! One is a grey morph. The other is called a rufous (red) morph.

Photo of a juvenile eastern screech owl sitting in a tree on the left, and an adult eastern screech owl sitting in the tree to the right

Photo courtesy of David Howell.

Photo of an adult eastern screech owl sitting in a tree above two juvenile eastern screech owls

Photo courtesy of David Howell.

At Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s wonderful online guide “All About Birds”, I learned that there is also a Brown Morph for the (Northern) Eastern Screech Owl. It’s amazing how adaptable the owls are to different habitats! Here is a link to Cornell’s video of two Screech Owls during the day.

About a month after our first encounter, my “spice” Kevin and I took our dog, Declan, for his walk in the Tuckahoe Park woods early in the afternoon. There was a ruckus on the side of the trail. It was a mobbing of birds—and not the more familiar murder of crows badgering a hawk while escorting it around cawing incessantly in warning of the predator. Instead, a Blue Jay led a mixed flock of Robins, Cardinals, and Chickadees in protest of a Screech Owl! While we weren’t sure whether it was an adult or juvenile, the owl perched on a branch looked cool during the mobbing. Naturalist David Farner later explained that Screech Owls are a real threat to smaller song-birds, even as large as mockingbirds and thrushes, but not so much to Blue Jays.

Interestingly, the Screech Owl stretched its wings out again and again as if to say, “I’m bigger than I look.” Or maybe it was considering making a break for it. Ken Rosenthal noted that Screech Owls normally weigh twice as much as a Robin or a Blue Jay—the biggest in the mob—so maybe it stretched its wings to make sure they’d work. We later we surmised it must have been one of the owlets still learning how to be a predator.

While we wondered what it was doing awake at 1:00 in the afternoon or how it threatened the flock, a female Cardinal suddenly rushed towards the owl. It looked as if the owl fell from the branch but did not fly away. Instead, it hung upside down from the branch!

Photo of adult eastern screech owl hanging upside down off a tree limb

Photo courtesy of Kevin McLean.

The owl hung long enough for us to notice an odd angle of one wing. Concerned that its wing was injured, I called Animal Control with the report of an injured animal, to which they are known to respond promptly. But as I waited for Animal Control personnel to arrive, the owl suddenly flew off with the birds in pursuit into the upper canopy and out of sight. Shortly afterward the forest quieted down. So, whatever it did, the owl was no longer seen as a threat to the smaller-sized birds.

I contacted Animal Control to explain that the owl was evidently o.k. and the Animal Control Officer said she’d never heard of such behavior. Neither had Alonso, David Farner, or Ken Rosenthal. Farner did allow that,

The inverted owl is odd, but you watch birds a while and you’ll end up seeing all sorts of odd behavior that isn’t described. My guess would be that the owl got itself into a position it had never been in before and it took a bit of processing to figure out how to extricate itself. When I used to do hawk banding we would sometimes lay a bird on the ground on its back when we released. It would then take awhile for the bird to realize it was free and roll on its side or flip up so that it could fly away.

We all have more to learn about our Arlington birds!

It was a wonderful educational adventure with Screech Owls, for which I thank Melanie La Force (who credits the assistance of her friend’s dog, on leash!), as well as the experts, Alonso Abugattas, David Farner, Ken Rosenthal, and David Howell (including his priceless photos!). Finally, Arlington’s very helpful Animal Control Officers Karina Swetnam and Officer Cliff Ballena, for whom Arlington animals and people are forever in your debt. Also, special thanks to my “spice” Kevin McLean, for his help, photographs, and eternal patience.

Firefly Fest – Fun for all Ages!

Text and photos by Jo Allen

On June 24, 2018, the 10th annual Firefly Festival was held at Fort C.F. Smith Park. This very popular event was scheduled to run from 7:00–9:30 p.m. but was cut short by a cloudburst around 9:10. Still, it was really a great time, especially for the little ones!

This was my first year volunteering at the Firefly Festival at Fort C.F. Smith Park. I got the “bug” last summer at Bat Fest at Gulf Branch Nature Center, where I helped dozens of kids stamp scarves and bags with bat images. It was so much fun, especially seeing the creativity the youngsters expressed. I had always wanted to attend the Firefly Festival (organized by Rachael Tolman, Park Naturalist at Long Branch) but just had never signed up. This was the year.

I was assigned to the table next to Ken Rosenthal, a park naturalist at Gulf Branch Nature Center, whose “Deep Dive” presentations into everything from migratory birds to white tail deer to eels have held audiences rapt each time he gives them. Ken was loaning out bug nets and clear jars to kids for 10 minutes at a time so they could see what they could catch. Grandparents were the best at showing kids how to do this effectively (probably because they did the same activity in their youth). Remarkably, kids of all ages returned the gear in time, no arguments. And some came back with bugs of all kinds, which Ken quickly identified and, with luck, photographed. One team returned a jar with six fireflies. Many others brought earlier-evening insects. But there were so many fireflies that it was possible to catch one carefully by hand as it helicoptered up, blinking its mix of luciferin and luciferase bioluminescence in search of a mate.

My table illustrated how other nocturnal creatures—moths and bats—find their “perfect partner.” Or in the case of bats, their perfect prey: moths.

Headbands, sissors, pictures of bats, insect nets, and jars sit on folding tables in a field

Photo of the moth/bat craft stand.

Kids were told that male moths detect pheromones of females with their fluffy antenna (think feather boa) and that female moths have plain antenna (mere pipe cleaners or chenille sticks) by comparison.

Only girls wanted feathery antenna. And given a choice, most kids went for bat ears, which were more complicated to make, but really fun to wear!

ARMN volunteer wears "firefly antennae" made from bright yellow pipe cleaners

Jo Allen with “firefly antennae.”

I made nearly all of the antenna and ears headbands myself even though this was supposed to be a kid craft project. I realized I needed to do a lot of the assembly when I handed a pair of kid scissors to a little girl who was handling them awkwardly.

“I don’t think she’s ever used scissors,” her dad said. “She’s only three.”

“I use them in preschool,” she promptly corrected.

But she was struggling, so I cut the flap on her paper bat ears, glue-dotted them to the chenille stick I had cut in half and twisted onto a plastic headband and placed it on her head.

“Can you hear better now?” I asked.

Echoing every youngster, and one adult, after donning their bat ears, she replied, “Yes!”

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!

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.

Photo 4

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.

Photo 7

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:

Photo 2

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

Photo 3

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!