ARMN: Blog Getting to Know Beth Kiser

By Alison Sheahan

I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more terrific way to spend a wintry afternoon than my (pre-pandemic) tea (& goodies!) at Silver Diner with Beth Kiser early this year. I knew of Beth from her efforts to organize the Park Stewards program (Adopt-a-Park leaders who oversee volunteer stewardship work in Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church parks and engage with neighboring park communities). But I was pleased to find we had many other overlapping priorities and friendships. I enjoyed getting to know Beth and I’m sure you will too. We began by talking about the more distant past….

Photo of volunteer Kellie Kaye
Hiking at Seneca Rocks WV 2010. Photo courtesy of Kellie Kaye.

Tell us something about your life experience that has shaped your perspective on nature.

I grew up in western North Carolina and spent a ton of time outdoors. My toy Fisher Price people had campfires and root cellars and cooked roasts over a spit. I remember the thrill of uncovering toads and snakes, eating chinquapins, and finding “touch-me-nots” (Impatiens capensis) with my granddad, with the seeds exploding in all directions. I remember hiking with my dad in hemlock forests and drinking icy cold spring water and breathing in the earthy smell of the woods. 

Conservation and restoration always felt to me like a totally normal and practical thing to do. I learned how non-native invasive plants can take over when I first saw kudzu swallowing the hillsides of the Blue Ridge Parkway. When I lived in Wisconsin in the 1990s, I was able to volunteer with a prairie burn. A lightbulb moment was reading Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, about native plants, the insects that co-evolved to eat them, and the birds that eat only insects. I now feel like anytime I plant anything in our yard, it’s a fun opportunity to build our local ecosystem while getting to watch it up close. (And I love to grow and share native plants!)

Tell us something more about your background.

I work as an economist learning how risks can move through the financial system. I think my experiences in nature and through ARMN have brought me insights in economics, and vice versa. Economics and ecology are both about complex, interconnected systems. 

What are your favorite ARMN volunteer projects? 

Oh gosh, there are so many. I’ve had the opportunity to sample several over time. I love the annual “City Nature Challenge,” the bioblitz event where people in cities around the world collect and upload nature data that can be used for scientific research. It’s a great way to discover and record the cool critters and plants in our area. I’ve also enjoyed stream monitoring, especially getting in the water and turning over rocks to see what’s there. Through the Roving Naturalist program, I was able to take a live snake to the Arlington County Fair to share with the public. It’s so nice to meet people in our wonderfully diverse area and find out what they find exciting (or even scary!) about nature. 

Photo of volunteer Beth Kiser showing a corn snake
Sharing a corn snake at Arlington County Fair in 2016. Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.

My favorite ARMN project today is the Park Stewards Program. Phil Klingelhofer and I started setting it up in 2017 and it’s really grown, thanks to all the volunteer leaders who’ve shared their amazing skills, knowledge, and hard work, and the natural resources and park managers in our area jurisdictions who’ve offered training and coordination. This work feels really important because it’s something we can actually do locally. Protecting the natural areas in our parks helps take carbon out of the air, prevents stormwater damage, and cools the “urban heat island.” It lets us see migrating birds in the spring and fall and fireflies in the summer. And it helps people connect with nature. 

What has surprised you most about ARMN?

I’m always struck by the incredible range of expertise and leadership skills of people in this community, and the perseverance and hope that ARMN folks bring to their volunteer work.

What do you like most about ARMN? 

I love the opportunity to be outside in nature while working with such kind and thoughtful volunteers. It took me awhile to connect with people after the initial ARMN basic training classes, but once I got into some regular projects, I was all in. 

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

Hmm…Target shooting?  In my early teens I participated with my dad in target shooting competitions using reproduction muzzle-loading rifles. 

Thank you, Beth, for your passion, humor, humility, and wonderful outreach for our precious planet.

Photo of Beth Kiser sitting on a rock in water
Birding in Dyke Marsh in 2018. Photo courtesy of Paul Smith.

Birds of A Feather: The Making of a Video on How to Identify Local Birds

by Joan Haffey (ARMN), with input from Charlie Haffey (helpful brother)

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the programming coordinator for a senior services center near me asked if I would do some “Bird Zooms” for isolated seniors. Their clients are often locked down in their apartments or worse, in their room, with few, if any, external contacts. The coordinator knew that I was a master naturalist and interested in birds, and we thought watching birds through a window and trying to identify them might be an entertaining activity that one could do alone, especially with a good app like the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin Bird ID.

The senior center had done an excellent job of orienting their clients to online conferencing and providing both tech and security support before and during various Zoom programs they offer. It also had a number of security features in place, such as only allowing the host to share materials on the screen. While using Zoom to walk through the most basic steps of the app was useful, there were still some challenges.

How could I make sure everyone could clearly see, via video conferencing, the basic steps in action on a smartphone app? And how could I simplify the demonstration so the host did not have to manage the meeting while cueing up relevant portions of excellent resources on Cornell’s website?

Enter my brother, Charlie, a retired science teacher who has made many an educational video in his day. I provided a script, and he made a “Quick Look” video:

It proved to be both easy to use and the highlight of the talk! We have both been surprised at the steady pace of people who view the video. We also decided to make it available to anyone who would like to use it for educational purposes. So, here are some suggestions for anyone who wants to pair this video with a talk about how best to use the app:

Where Are Some Places This Video Could Be Used?

  • Senior centers
  • Civic associations
  • Home or online school programs
  • Church groups
  • NextDoor groups
  • Video conferencing with isolated individuals

Evaluations of this Bird Zoom for seniors show that one of the favorite parts of the talk was the cooperation with my brother. In that spirit, I asked him for a few ideas for successful video-conferenced presentations.

What are the best preparations for a presentation like this on an online conferencing platform?

  • It helps to have one person manage the conferencing needs while the other presents. It can be difficult to do both at once, especially monitoring for questions and security breaches.
  • Only have open on the computer the files to be shared during the presentation. This minimizes confusion or the potential for shares of information not meant for the audience.
  • An alternative to having files open on your desktop is to prepare a slideshow that includes all the information you need. Then you only have to open one file.

Do you have any guidance on clearly presenting information via video conferencing platforms?

  • Follow an outline with minimal points
  • Stick to these points
  • Keep the presentation short
  • Minimize visual and verbal information
  • Personalize the presentation as appropriate to connect the audience better with the presenter

We hope this video helps widen the worlds of people who really appreciate birds, both now and in the future!

When Nature Takes Charge and We Get Teachable Moments

By Steve Young

Sparrow Pond is an artificial wetland and stormwater remediation complex along the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail between Route 50 and Columbia Pike in Arlington. Built circa 2000-2001, the pond has been very successful in capturing sediment that otherwise would have flowed into Four Mile Run, then the Potomac River, and eventually Chesapeake Bay and the ocean. But this success has meant the pond has been filling up with sediment and self-destructing. By Summer 2019 the pond was almost dried up. While restoration of the pond is planned for 2021–2022, in the meantime, the pond looked to be pretty dysfunctional.  Then the beavers appeared.

A beaver swims in water.
Beaver swimming in Sparrow Pond. Photo courtesy of David Howell.

We can only guess how the beavers arrived in the pond: Maybe from downstream via the Potomac River or Four Mile Run; maybe from somewhere upstream, perhaps riding the wave of the great flood of July 8, 2019. In any event, they went to work doing what beavers do: building a dam and a lodge for living quarters. In the process, they gnawed down vegetation, both for food and for their engineering projects. Their work was clearly visible from the trail and the viewing platform on the north side of the pond.

Since late this past summer, the beavers’ impressive dam has raised the water level by perhaps 4 to 5 feet, so that Sparrow Pond is indeed a pond again! Especially over the winter holiday weeks, my wife and I took several walks to the viewing platform, looking over the scene and marveling how it has changed.

A beaver dam on the side of a pond.
Beaver dam at Sparrow Pond. Photo courtesy of Steve Young.

While it was not a conscious plan to draw other onlookers, we were amazed by how many people came by, saw that we were looking at something, and took an interest in what was going on. Some folks were aware that beavers were at work; more had no clue. As a master naturalist, I found myself with a number of “teachable moments” as I explained the presence of the beavers and their ecosystem engineering. No one ran away with eyes glazed over!

A beaver lodge next to a frozen pond.
Beaver lodge at Sparrow Pond. Photo courtesy of Steve Young.

It brought home to me how we, as master naturalists, have various opportunities to do some low-key teaching about the nature that surrounds us when people show an interest. I encourage you to visit Sparrow Pond and hang out for a bit, and maybe have your own teachable moment. And you may have opportunities closer to home in parks, on trails, or even in your own backyard to engage in similar low-key interactions.

Addendum 5-6-20:

A reader expressed concern that Arlington County may euthanize the beavers because they are in a pond where they do not belong.

We raised this issue with Alonso Abugattas, the National Resources Manager for Arlington County Parks. He replied that the county hopes the beavers will move on from the pond when work on the planned restoration project for the pond begins. A beaver dam would cause damage to the restoration work as well as the trail there, and all things under it. So, beaver baffles will be installed to keep them from returning in the future. Mr. Abugattas added that it is illegal to trap or move the beavers because they would then become someone else’s problem.

ARMN: Getting to Know Paul Gibson

by Alison Sheahan

Paul Gibson has been a stalwart volunteer ever since joining the ARMN program in Spring 2013, especially in the areas of citizen science. I was able to interview him online and then finally got to meet him at the ARMN Annual Chapter meeting in December 2019. Here are some fascinating things I learned about Paul.

Paul Gibson. Photo by Alison Sheahan.

What are your favorite ARMN volunteer projects?

I really enjoy a variety of projects. I have been doing stream water quality monitoring since shortly after I became a Master Naturalist. I recently became a Master Identifier so I’m looking forward to taking my turn at identifying the critters that we find in the streams next year.

I find it fascinating to see the variety of macroinvertebrates that are in our streams, their variation by stream, and what that says about water quality in different parts of Arlington county. It’s also rewarding to talk with members of the public who pass by when we are out monitoring. Everyone is so curious about what we are doing and when they find out, they want to know more about water quality. I think that the public education that we do is a very important part of our role as master naturalists. 

Photo of two volunteers surveying macroinvertebrates with a D-net in a creek
Paul and fellow water quality monitor Ben Simon working at an Arlington stream. Photo by Jen McDonnell.

I also monitor bluebird nest boxes at Taylor Elementary School. This project provides a clear view of the perils and successes experienced by our feathered friends. It’s been heartwarming to see bluebirds, chickadees, and tree swallows go from nest-building to egg laying to hatching to raising chicks to fledging but there have also been stark examples of nest predation on eggs or chicks. For better or worse, it’s a front-row seat to the circle of life.

Another citizen science project in which I have participated for a number of years is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Grasses for the Masses program. Members of the public propagate native underwater grass seeds in a grow-out system in their homes, schools, or businesses over the winter and then gather to plant the grasses in area rivers to bolster grass populations and help restore the Bay.

Photo of Paul squatting next to a tub of aquatic grasses on a beach
Paul preparing to install native grasses in Belmont Bay at Mason Neck Park. Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Blair Blanchette Facebook page.

What has surprised you most about ARMN?

The speed at which the organization is growing. It is gratifying to see the numbers of new ARMN members who graduate out of the Basic Training program every year.

What do you like most about ARMN?

There is such a wide range of volunteer activities available that there’s really no reason not to participate. With my schedule, it’s hard to get to a lot of organized events but I can also participate at times of my choosing, depending on the project. Monitoring the bluebird boxes, for example, doesn’t need a rigid schedule, so I can fit in two or three visits a week during nesting season in a way that works for me. But there are also a lot of scheduled events to build in, which is great because it’s also nice to participate in projects with other ARMN members.

Tell us something about your life experience that has shaped your perspective on nature.

I grew up in Wisconsin, two blocks from Lake Michigan, and visited Lake Superior every summer when I was young. So, I was exposed to the variety of fish and birds in those areas at an early age. In northern Wisconsin, I remember marveling at the wild shorelines but also learning about the hazards of taconite discharges into Lake Superior from the iron mining range in Minnesota. These experiences taught me that nature and biodiversity were all around us but so were the threats to it introduced by humans. 

 What is your background?

Growing up in the upper Midwest, I was aware of and, in a way, just took for granted, that we lived among the remnants of age-old geologic forces. It wasn’t until I moved east for graduate school that I realized how unique that area is. (I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in Political Science and I have a Master’s in Information Management from Syracuse University.)  As I settled into the DC area, those experiences gave me the background to appreciate the rich biodiversity and geology of the Potomac River Valley and the Chesapeake Bay. Besides the ARMN programs, I have learned so much from courses in the Natural History Field Studies certificate program of the Audubon Naturalist Society.

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

I train our dogs in the canine sport of “nosework.” It’s analogous to what law enforcement detection dogs do except it’s a sport for pets. Instead of looking for illegal substances, we look for target odors in organized competitions. But the skills of the dog and handler are the same. Along those lines, there are growing numbers of detector dogs that search for invasive species. So, one of my goals is to train our dogs to find invasive plants or insects, which is increasingly being done. It would be a natural intersection of two of my interests and hopefully be beneficial to conservation.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I have two wildlife cameras in our back yard. I am always amazed at the visitors we have. I’ve captured pictures of foxes, raccoons, deer, flying squirrels, and even a hummingbird that tried to pollinate the lens. But I’m still waiting for Wile E. Coyote to show up!

ARMN Celebrates 10 Years Serving Community and Launches Facebook Page

by Kasha Helget

The Arlington Regional Master Naturalists have reached a major milestone and expands its public outreach to the community in new ways.

Ten Years of Service, Growth, and Outreach

The Arlington Regional Master Naturalists group just finished its 10th year as a Virginia Master Naturalist chapter, and over 70 members celebrated the milestone at the Annual Meeting in December.

Photo of a meeting. Groups of people are sitting around round tables watching a presentation.
ARMN 10th Anniversary celebration, December 2018. Photo courtesy of Alonso Abugattas.

President Marion Jordan welcomed all the members and supporters at the gathering. She also gave a special nod to the first class of 2008, with over half the graduates still as active members. Jordan then thanked the ten+ partners who have worked with ARMN over the years.

She highlighted ARMN’s past achievements, present efforts, and plans for future activities. This included an acknowledgment of the various projects on which members have donated thousands of hours during the decade.

Six ARMN volunteers plant vegetation under a tree.
2017 Barcroft Park Restoration Planting. Photo courtesy of Karen Thomas.


Among these are stewardship activities (such as invasive plant removals from regional parks and public lands, stream cleanups, and native plant nursery work);

2015 Champion Tree Bicycle Ride. Photo courtesy of Lori Bowes.

Also, education and outreach programs (including public events and instructional programs, nature center support, work with children inside and outside of the classroom, and school gardens);

2014 Marie Butler Leven Preserve e-Mammal Survey. Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.

Added to this are citizen science (such as stream water monitoring, bird counts, tree, plant, and insect surveys, and more recently, bioblitzes and other surveys that use internet-based iNaturalist, eBird, and GPS tools to track plant, animals, and restoration efforts).

For the future, Jordan stressed the priority of expanding ARMN’s outreach to include more members of the community with events such as “pop-up parks” (to provide nature mini-presentations to passers-by both in parks and elsewhere), as well as more structured outreach to a variety of organizations and citizens.

The ARMN members also submitted their own reflections on their past and present involvements in the organization, and how they looked forward to continued participation during the next decade.

Active membership in ARMN has grown to over 175 individuals whose contributions have multiplied throughout the years. Just in 2018, members reported over 15,000 hours of work in support of the natural environment locally and throughout Virginia!

The ARMN organization has also been honored during its ten years by awards from the National Park Service and Arlington County, and individual members have been honored for their efforts in supporting Arlington’s natural environment.

ARMN Adds Facebook to its Outreach

ARMN has recently launched the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists Facebook page to engage members of the general public about local natural events, photos, discussion topics, or other items of interest in our natural world. Anyone can join by applying for inclusion in the group. We hope to see YOU participate there, too!

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.

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!

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.

ARMN Helps DC Area Place 5th Worldwide in City Nature Challenge

By Rosemary Jann

During the weekend of 27-30 April 2018, 180 ARMN members and other area residents answered the call to participate in the third annual City Nature Challenge. The Nature Challenge seeks to encourage interest in urban nature by having groups compete to record and identify the nature around them. It began in 2016 as a friendly competition between Los Angeles and San Francisco to see which area could document the most species and involve the most participants. It went national in 2017 and international in 2018, this year including 68 urban areas worldwide, including greater Washington, DC.

 ARMN members took part in 27 different CNC events held in more than 15 parks in Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and Fairfax County during the weekend. As leaders

Photo of John and Josie Buchanan examining a salmander on a hike in Barcroft Park

Photo courtesy of Marion Jordan.

and assistants on various nature walks, ARMN members helped raise interest and educate other community members in nature observation, like John and Josie Buchanan, seen here examining a salamander they found on their ARMN-led hike in Barcroft Park.

 

Other events included a “birding by bike” tour on April 28 in which Lori Bowes and Phil

Photo of water snake swallowing a fish at Four Mile Run

Photo courtesy of Carol Mullen.

Klingelhofer led more than 10 people on a 22-mile route through Long Branch, Barcroft, Fort F. C. Smith, and other Arlington parks along the Potomac. Cyclist Carol Mullen snapped the accompanying photo of a water snake swallowing a fish at Four Mile Run.

 

ARMN Basic Training class members also contributed observations from their “herps

Photo 3

Copyright David Howell 2018.

and chirps” fieldtrip at Huntley Meadows on April 30th, including photos of a Hooded Merganser with ducklings.

All City Nature Challenge participants documented their observations on iNaturalist, a free app and website that allows individuals to easily upload, share, and identify species.

The results were impressive: we helped the DC Metro area come in 5th place world-wide for overall number of observations (22,866), 4th overall in number of observers (886), and 8th overall in number of species (1,850). 537 people helped make 38,968 species identifications for our area. This year Boston had thrown down a specific challenge to DC: we bested them in observations and species and came in one place behind them in total number of observers. Our area’s most frequently observed species were the Common Blue Violet for plants, the American Robin for birds, and the White-tailed Deer for mammals.

The City Nature Challenge celebrates and supports two vital functions of citizen science: it brings members of the community together to enhance their appreciation of nature, and it provides scientists with valuable data on biodiversity that can help guide the understanding and preservation of our natural resources. Thanks to all members of ARMN and the greater community who participated. Save the date for our next big citizen science project: the Arlington Bioblitz to be held on Saturday, September 15, 2018!

If September seems too far off to collect more environmental data, then look for our next blog piece on how iNaturalist can be used to map a whole variety of observations that can help us better understand our environment.

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.