Book Review: Wild Honey Bees: An Intimate Portrait Photography by Ingo Arnot and Text by Jürgen Tautz

Book review by FMN Marilyn Schroeder.

 Photography by Ingo Arnot and Text by Jürgen Tautz

Enjoy awesome closeups and riveting scientific findings about wild honey bees in their natural forest habitat.  Wait a minute!  Didn’t we learn in class that honey bees aren’t native?  Maybe not in Fairfax, but this book is about the life of wild honey bees in the forests of Central Europe.

Huge honey bee portraits and views inside their tree cavity hives grace this coffee-table book.  Any art-lover would be captivated by the amazing photography.  But naturalists will also be intrigued by the research into their behavior, social life and ecology.  The author draws a thought-provoking contrast between bee colonies in cavity hives in the forest versus bee keepers’ hives in farm fields.  A chapter describing the techniques and challenges of photographing bees in flight, in a nest cavity 66 feet off the ground and throughout the seasons of their life cycle attest to the photographer’s skill and commitment.  Can you tell I loved the book?  Wild Honey Bees is available in the Fairfax County Public Library.

Tool Under Development for Amateur Naturalists – Created by FMN Margaret E. Fisher

 Article and photo by FMN Margaret E. Fisher

Tool under development for amateur naturalists – created by FMN Margaret E. Fisher


For those of you who enjoy learning the names of the plants and animals that surround us, we are working on a spreadsheet to make it a little easier to identify Northern Virginia organisms. This tool is for people who have enough experience to take a reasonable guess at the identification of a plant, insect, or other organism but not enough to distinguish it from its lookalikes. Using iNaturalist can sometimes help, but only if you photograph the right part. The idea is to create a cheat sheet – one that can be referenced in the field – that highlights one or two features that can readily make the distinction.

 

For example, you might know enough about flowers to identify the two pictured here as Monkeyflower. One is Sharpwing Monkeyflower (Mimulus alatus) and the other is Allegheny Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens). At first glance, they look very much alike, but the distinction becomes easy once you know that the former has a short flower stem and long leaf stem, and the latter has a long flower stem and no leaf stem at all. Similarly, you may already know that the terms Painted Lady and American Lady refer to butterflies, but you could use a reminder that the former has a band of small eyespots as opposed to the latter which has two large eyespots on the underside of the hindwing.

 

We are only just getting started on collecting information to fill in the blanks as people submit the results of their research. The spreadsheet will never be complete, but it will be fun to watch it grow as our familiarity with our non-human neighbors increases. To contribute your tips (or corrections, which are welcome and needed), email [email protected].

You can view the Google spreadsheet here.

 

 

Ode on a Fish Fossil

Feature photo: Fish Fossil, Green River Formation, Western United States.

Article and photos by FMN Stephen Tzikas

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone

So goes the second stanza of John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” that I vividly remember from my High School days. These were the same words that flashed in my mind upon viewing a fish fossil my friend gave me a few months ago. Funny thing it is, how the poet sometimes seems to precede the scientist in me.

The famous English poet’s ode appreciates the timeless art on an urn, and so too, the fish fossil in my mind was a presentation of beauty and immortality, having patiently waited millennia to tell its story. And just as in the original poem, we have the conclusion of the poem which can equality apply to the fish fossil:

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

While these herring fish fossils have their origin in the limestone of the Green River Formation, residents of Fairfax County do not need to go that far, or even leave the county, to find fossils.

My exposure to fossils began as a child reading the How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs, which indicated that the first, near complete, skeleton of a dinosaur was discovered in Haddonfield, NJ. Since that was in my home state, I hoped to visit the town one day. Eventually I would indeed visit that town to see the Hadrosaurus statue commemorating the find in 1858 that started the field of dinosaur paleontology.

During the Triassic Period (201 – 252 Mya), dinosaurs left behind both bones and footprints in Virginia. Fish from local lakes were preserved during the Jurassic (145 – 201 Mya). In the 1920s, dinosaur tracks were discovered at nearby Oak Hill. The Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) offers many one-day one-credit geology excursions in our general area. I completed many of these courses and had the opportunity to see fossils during these excursions.

On June 24, 2017, I attended the geological field study trip for the

Oak Hill Dinosaur Skin Print, June 24, 2017, 1.5 by 2 Foot Scale

Triassic-Jurassic Rifting of North America in the Triassic Lowlands of Northern Virginia. One of the sites on that trip was the Oak Hill Estate (Home of President James Monroe). This site contains dinosaur tracks. The rock type here is the Lower Jurassic Turkey Run Formation (197 Mya). The fossils are of Eubrontes foot tracks and a rare skin print (see my photograph). Also fossilized was a lungfish burrow from the Jurassic, which had estivated to survive through the summer. Ripples, raindrops imprints, and bioturbation were evident in fossils we saw.

Photo:Holmes Run Gorge Fossils, Nov 18, 2017. Shown here are fossils (Skolithos Linearis) in well-cemented quartzite of the early Antietam Formation. These are Virginia’s oldest fossils and date to the Cambrian Period (485 – 539 Mya).

On November 18, 2017, I took another NVCC geology excursion for the Geologic History of Holmes Run Gorge at the Dora Kelley Nature Park in Alexandria. At the main gorge area we discussed the quartz rocks. Quartz is the last mineral in the Bowen reaction series of fractional crystallization.

I find the Bowen reaction series fascinating as it has some correlation to fractional distillation in my field of chemical engineering. I collected a sample of cloudy white milky quartz, which is extremely resistant to weathering. The cloudiness of milky quartz comes from microscopic inclusions of fluids that have been encased in the crystal from the time the crystal first grew. Our professor showed multiple examples of Quartzite with slashes (see my photograph). High-energy waters transported these cobblestone size rocks originating from the Harper’s Ferry Antietam Formation. The formation was largely quartz sandstone with some quartzite and quartz schist. This formation underwent metamorphic changes. This Quartzite is a hard, non-foliated metamorphic rock that was originally pure quartz sandstone. The sandstone was converted into quartzite through heating and pressure usually related to tectonic compression within orogenic belts. Most noteworthy were the tubeworm line burrows, about a half billion years old. Samples were numerous.

Book Review by FMN Debbie McDonald: Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park, by Marie Winn

Review by FMN Debbie McDonald

Among the wonders of spring, watching the soaring, graceful courtship of red-tail hawks high above the trees has no doubt, brought awe and joy to many of us. Observing love blossom between birds and animals along with the trees and flowers is a ritual and gift that never grows old. Red-Tails in Love by Marie Winn is a true story which follows these rituals in a unique and personal way. It is a beautiful and moving novel that weaves together the lives of Pale Male, a red-tail hawk, and a band of nature loving human friends who watch for him and over him, his mates, nests, and hatchlings through the years.

The author transports the reader to New York City and Central Park where the journeys of the hawks and their human guardians are shared as they pass through many seasons, relationships, and adventures. Activities that resonate with bird watchers and nature lovers, such as the Christmas Bird Count, the spring return of warblers, or spotting a species new to the park add warmth and realism throughout the tale. But Winn’s engaging storytelling is appealing for a wide range of readers and interests.

The story of the hawks, what can be learned about them, their loyalty to each other and their little families is quite compelling and rewarding. The band of bird watchers reminded me how lucky we are to have our Virginia Master Naturalist community. This is a book to read more than once and to pass along. Enjoy!

Red-Tails in Love by Marie Winn, 1999, Vintage Departures, 352 pages.

A Work Group Experience with Fairfax County Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) Program

Photo: By Sara Tangren, Participants of March 21st work trip for the Fairfax County Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) program

Article by FMN Susan Martel

Photo: Corydalis incisa by Gary Fleming, Virginia Department of Natural Resources(throughBugwood.org)

FMN members and other volunteers took part in a work trip on March 21 as part of the Fairfax County Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) program to search for emerging invasive plants.  This trip focused on finding incised fumewort (Corydalis incisa), a member of the poppy family.  Naturalized populations were first reported in New York in 2005 and have slowly made their way through the mid-Atlantic region.  Led by FCPA staff member Jas Darby, the team of 10 found the invader in Difficult Run Trail near Leigh Mill-Ramey Meadows Park and mapped it over an area of 10 acres.  Pink flags and ribbons were used to delineate the extent of the spread, and photos were uploaded to iNaturalist to document its presence.  Control measures will now be directed at the plants the group found.

 



Identifying incised fumewort is tricky when not in flower, because it can be mistaken for a native species, C. flavula, which has a similar appearance.  A careful look at the sub-leaflets is required to discern the invasive species from the native species.  The sub-leaflets of the native plant has about 5-7 teeth or lobe tips whereas the invasive plant has two or three times the number (see line drawing below).  When in bloom, the two are easily distinguished because the flowers of C. incisa are purple and those of C. flavula are yellow.  Incised fumewort reproduces by seed capsules, which open explosively to spray small black seeds up to 10 feet away.  The goal of the EDRR program is to eradicate this and other early detection species by taking rapid action to prevent their spread.  Additional work trips are planned for April 10, 11, 17, and 18 at locations to be determined.  Use this link to sign up:  https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/opp_details/179794.

 

 

 

 

Line drawing of the two types of leaves by Sara Tangren, National Capital PRISM, CC BY.

Five Myths about Trees

Article and photo (Sara Holtz) by Plant NOVA Natives

It’s no myth that trees hold a special place in our collective psyche. Trees play a prominent role in myths, often symbolizing life and rebirth. Unfortunately, some of the stories about them are just plain wrong.

1. Trees need big piles of mulch. Or perhaps we should call this The Myth of the Angry Volcano Gods, who are appeased by stuffing trees down their maws. It’s hard to know how this harmful practice got started, but we are seeing it everywhere. Trees should be planted with the top of their roots level to the ground, just as in nature. Mulch should never be allowed to touch the trunk, as it causes bark rot. Shredded mulch can form a barrier to water when it mats down, so arborist wood chips are preferred – assuming mulch is needed at all – and no more than 2-4 inches deep. The Fairfax County Tree Basics booklet, which you can download for free, shows proper tree planting and care practices and is available in multiple languages.

2. Tree wounds need dressing. Trees cannot heal the way we do after they are cut, which is one reason why topping a tree is such a bad idea. A broken limb should be trimmed back to just beyond the branch cuff then left alone to try to close over, which with luck it may accomplish before fungi set in. Painting tar on the surface just encourages rot.

3. All leaning trees are dangerous. It is normal for trees to grow toward the light. They reinforce their wood to make themselves stable. If you are worried that a tree may become hazardous, you can get an opinion from a consulting arborist who is certified by the International Society of Arborists (ISA) and who has no financial interest in cutting it down.

4. Trees litter. Well, trees do create leaf “litter”, but that’s an unfriendly word to use to describe feeding the soil and providing habitat for fireflies and wintering grounds for butterflies. The best thing you can do for a tree and the ecosystem is leave the leaves underneath where they fall. If you are afraid they will smother the grass, you can chop them up with a lawn mower so they at least add organic matter to the soil, a practice that is good for the trees and the grass (but hard on the critters).

5. One tree is as good as another. Not so! All trees can provide shade and capture stormwater, but only native trees support biodiversity. In fact, native trees are the very backbone of our local ecosystem, providing the majority of the leaves upon which our native caterpillars feed, which in turn provide the diet required by baby songbirds. In fact, not only do some non-native trees do nothing to feed the birds, they are actually invasive, taking over and destroying what is left of our remnant woods and starting to threaten our bigger forests as well. With few exceptions, there are native trees to serve any landscaping need. Find out all about them on the Plant NOVA Trees website.

Review of Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis

Article by FMN Marilyn Schroeder
Dan Schwartz, Soil Science and FMN Instructor extraordinaire, knew what he was talking about when he recommended Teaming with Microbes.  With a conversational style and lots of pictures, Teaming is the perfect naturalist guide to soil structure and the organisms living in it.  I couldn’t wait to read each succeeding chapter – Bacteria, Archaea, Fungi, Algae, Protozoa, Nematodes….  There’s so much I didn’t know about what’s happening under our feet – even after taking the wonderful Master Naturalist soils class and field trip.
But wait, there’s more!  The book’s subtitle is The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web.  The first half of the book lays the groundwork (ha,ha!) covering the science  – soil structure, chemistry, biology, microbiology…the whole ecosystem.  Then, for gardeners, the second half describes how to foster a healthy, active food web to nourish a bountiful garden.
Teaming with Microbes (Timber Press, 2010, 220 pages) is available in the Fairfax County Library.

Research and Monitoring of Macroinvertebrates

Feature photo: The Darrin Fresh Water Institute display. See https://dfwi.rpi.edu/ for more information.

Article and photos by FMN Stephen Tzikas

On October 7, 2022, I had the opportunity to attend the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Research Showcase in Troy, NY at the Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D. Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS). It was an opportunity for RPI alumni and guests to experience first-hand the research that shapes and leads innovation on a global scale. I was particularly attracted to the display for the Jefferson Project of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute. The Jefferson Project at Lake George, a collaboration between RPI, IBM Research, and The FUND for Lake George, studies fresh water ecological systems to understand impacts of human activities and how to mitigate those effects. Research being conducted can be found here: https://dfwi.rpi.edu/research/projects

My career has been in environmental engineering and the modeling of resources.

Macroinvertebrate types at the Darrin display being reviewed by the author.

I also volunteer for Fairfax County macroinvertebrate monitoring. Hence, the display was a fascinating convergence of the three topics. While there, an alumna started discussing macroinvertebrate modeling to water parameters. I had not realized the enormous amount of research that was being conducted over the years on macroinvertebrates as it related to their importance for environmental monitoring.

Lake George is a source of clean drinking water, food, and recreation. It has an eco-system of macroinvertebrates. Thus, I had a new context for macroinvertebrate monitoring in Fairfax County. Tiny macroinvertebrates are

Darrin Fresh Water Institute table close-up.

essential for the complex food chain in Lake George. Clams, mussels, snails and some insect larvae consume algae and control its overgrowth. Amphipods and isopods, through their shredding activity (called detritus processing), are essential for recycling nutrients in the lake, and are a source of food for fish. Macroinvertebrates are generally sensitive to pollution, warming of the lake due to climate change, and disturbances from shoreline development. Researchers want to understand what environmental factors determine the spatial distribution of macroinvertebrates, the population dynamics of important species, and how human activity is affecting this ecosystem. This is important given that these species are indicators of water quality.

Researchers use a variety of tools to collect the macroinvertebrates and understand the complex food chain at Lake George. Researchers survey the physics, chemistry, and biology of Lake George and also conduct experiments to investigate how some invasive species of Lake George interact, and how they may be affecting the water quality of the lake.

Those who might be interested in the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District’s Volunteer Stream Monitoring should review this link:

https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/soil-water-conservation/volunteer-stream-monitoring

Those interested in reading some recent macroinvertebrate research papers should review these references found on the Internet:

• Sci. Technol. 2019, 53, 10, 6025–6034, Modeling the Sensitivity of Aquatic Macroinvertebrates to Chemicals Using Traits, Van den Berg et al.

• Water, 16 September 2021, Sec. Water and Human Systems, Volume 3 – 2021, https://doi.org/10.3389/frwa.2021.662765 , Benthic Macroinvertebrates as Ecological Indicators: Their Sensitivity to the Water Quality and Human Disturbances in a Tropical River, Tampo et al.

• Journal of Freshwater Ecology, Volume 36, 2021, Development of a predictive model for benthic macroinvertebrates by using environmental variables for the biological assessment of Korean streams, Min and Kong.

Want birds and butterflies? Plant native shrubs!

Photo: Courtesy Plant NOVA Natives/Plant NOVA Trees (Shrubby St. John’s Wort)

This month’s newsletter article to share from Plant NOVA Natives/Plant NOVA Trees

Want birds and butterflies?

Want birds and butterflies? Plant native shrubs! When it comes to the curb appeal of our houses and other buildings, the difference between starkly naked and softly clothed is the shrubs. What is a shrub, anyway? According to famous bird expert David Allen Sibley, “If you can walk under it, it’s a tree; if you have to walk around it, it’s a shrub.” Other than being multi-stemmed and relatively short, a shrub is pretty much the same as a tree and therefore provides the same environmental benefits, albeit to a smaller degree. And the difference between a native shrub and a non-native one is that the former will not only beautify a property but will turn it into a living landscape that supports the butterflies and birds.

Many people are looking at their yards and at public land and realizing that a lot of the space is being wasted. Turf grass has its advantages for certain purposes, such as providing a place to walk or play sports, but as a non-native plant, it does nothing for the ecosystem and requires a lot of input to maintain. Chipping away at the lawn with native shrubs can quickly cover the ground at a very low cost. Beyond the initial watering to get them established, they will require little or no maintenance from then on.

For small spaces, there are some native shrubs that naturally stay short, such as Shrubby Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum prolificum) with its bright yellow flowers. There are also smaller cultivars of larger shrubs, such as Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) with its red berries that persist into January until they finally soften up and become a food source for hungry birds. If you use shrubs whose ultimate height fits the space you have in mind, the yearly shearing task will be eliminated. These and many other native shrubs are described on the Plant NOVA Natives website, which also points to places to buy them.

Some native shrubs grow tall enough to provide shade and can be an alternative to a small flowering tree. Common Witch-hazel is an example of that. The twigs have been used for divining rods, and the leaves get cute bumps in the shape of a witch’s hat. This native shrub is also magical for the flowers that are revealed in November after the leaves have fallen off. Those bumps, by the way, are caused by the reaction of the plant to a chemical injected by a tiny insect, the Witch-hazel Cone Gall Aphid. The cone-shaped bumps provide food and shelter to the female aphids as they lay their eggs.

Native shrubs can fill in the spaces between trees. From an environmental perspective, this arrangement is ideal, providing shelter and food at multiple heights, something we have lost in many of our woods to excessive browsing by deer. (In fact, although “Nature’s first green is gold,” if you look into the woods of Northern Virginia right now, there is a suspicious amount of green, much of which is due to invasive species such as Multiflora Rose and Asian Bush Honeysuckle. The leaves of invasive plants often emerge earlier and persist later than those of our native shrubs.) In our own yards, we can take steps to protect plants from deer and to swap out invasive shrubs for native ones and thus help support our local ecosystem.

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) is collecting data on how many trees are planted in Northern Virginia as it works toward the goal of 600,000 by 2025. For this purpose, shrubs count as trees, so VDOF is encouraging everyone to report plantings of both. A reporting form can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website.

Is Your Elevator Speech Ready? *

Photo by Russ Ward on Unsplash

How can it be ready if I don’t know what it is?  Imagine you’ve just stepped on an elevator with someone who doesn’t know you are a passionate Virginia Master Naturalist (or any volunteer service you work in).  The average attention span is just about 30 seconds before minds start wandering, so you may only have 30+ seconds to make a powerful first impression.  Think of this time as if you are going on an elevator ride from Floor 1 to Floor 5.  You have that sliver of time to open the door to educate.  It’s about being prepared to recruit new volunteers for our chapter or for your favorite service project. To recruit to our chapter, have the potential volunteer sign up for our newsletter on our website fairfaxmasternaturalists.org or write to [email protected].

Your pitch can include your passion about volunteering, statistics, storytelling, and an invitation to future opportunities.  Here’s a worksheet to walk you through the process.  Answer all 8 questions and you could have the basis for your elevator speech.  Put it all together – say it out loud just to yourself.  Practice it.  Practice saying it to others.  Time yourself.  Know it.  Have it in your “volunteer recruitment  toolbox.” Be ready to talk.  One volunteer who worked in Fairfax County’s Invasive Management Area program dressed as an oak tree draped with an invasive vine and died dramatically at a Halloween Party.   They created their own “elevator” opportunity!

If you are not able to answer a question today, this is a sign that you need to do some additional preparation when that next elevator speech opportunity pops up!  We suggest that you reflect on your experiences, impact and accomplishments.  Develop several possible answers so that you have the greatest chance for turning an opportunity into a new volunteer the next time those elevator doors open.

Here are some examples of members’ elevator speeches.  Add yours to the comment section at the bottom of this article.

1) My name is Marilyn.  I am a certified Virginia Master Naturalist, currently serving as Past President of the Fairfax chapter.  I manage a volunteer corps of more than 250 members on a mission to provide natural resource education, citizen science and stewardship to protect Fairfax’ natural resources.

If I need to elaborate, I say:  We recruit, develop and enable our members so they can support the natural resource projects of our sponsors and partners.  This includes projects like invasive plant management, litter cleanups, collecting data on pollinators or birds, leading nature walks or advising hometowns on landscaping for wildlife.

2) I’m Janet. I am a Virginia Master Naturalist. I’m a volunteer who’s been trained to educate the public about nature in our area, collect data for environmental research and take care of our area’s natural resources. What do I do? I’m a floater and have done a little of everything. I counted Burrowing Owls in still photos for the Global Owl Project, counted invertebrates in streams, read stories to children at a nature center and played Mrs. Claus there, removed invasive plants, grew wild celery sea grass and planted it, served on our board, and currently monitor a Bluebird Trail. I love the variety of service I can provide to care for our planet home!

*This article is adopted from Volunteer Fairfax’s Webinar: Teaching Your Volunteers the Elevator Speech, Presentation by Susan Sanow, Volunteer Fairfax[email protected]