Drawing Winter Weeds, Nature Journaling, Feb.6th

Hidden Oaks Nature Center
7701 Royce St., Annandale VA
Thursday, 6 February 2020
7-9 pm
Cost: $15

Some flowers, ferns and grasses persist in winter as dried stalks and provide food for wildlife. Learn about local winter weeds and try drawing some from our collection. Ink pens work especially well with this subject. See a brief demonstration, then try it yourself using our collection of dried plants. A suggested list of supplies will be sent upon registration.
Code F3B.F818

To sign up use this address: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/hidden-oaks/classes or google Hidden Oaks Nature Center and click on the programs section, or call 703-222-4664.

102nd NVSWCD Green Breakfast, Jan. 11th

Brion’s Grille
10621 Braddock Rd, Fairfax, VA 22032
Saturday, 11 January 2020
Breakfast begins at 8:30 am, $10 at the door, cash preferred
No prior registration required

Getting Winter Ready – An Update on the Northern Virginia Salt Management Strategy
Sarah Sivers, Water Quality Planning Team Lead with the Virginia DEQ-Northern Regional Office

It’s been two years since the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality began the stakeholder process to develop a salt management strategy and address the elevated chloride levels in Fairfax County streams. Since then, DEQ along with a stakeholder group have prepared a draft list of recommendations. Join the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District for a warm breakfast and hear from Water Quality Planning Team Lead, Sarah Sivers, who will provide background on how all of this began, the status of the program, and draft strategies and recommendations.

Breakfast includes an all-you-can eat hot buffet with fresh fruit and coffee, tea, orange juice or water. No prior registration required. If you have any questions, please contact the Northern Virginia Soil and Water at conservationdistrict@fairfaxcounty.gov.

EQAC Public Hearing Jan. 8th, provide your input

Fairfax County Government Center
Conference Room 2 & 3
12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax VA
Wednesday, 8 January 2020
7:30 pm

The Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Council (EQAC) is appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to advise on environmental matters. The public is encouraged to attend EQAC’s public hearing to share views on the state of the environment and to identify environmental issues of concern applicable to Fairfax County. While the timing of the public hearing tends to coincide with the publication of EQAC’s Annual Report on the Environment, the public hearing is not intended to focus on the Annual Report. Instead, the purpose of the hearing is to solicit your views and concerns regarding environmental issues. EQAC welcomes written and/or verbal testimony. Please limit verbal testimony to three minutes per speaker. Get more details here.

The Incredible Journey Game: Understanding the Water Cycle One Drop at a Time

Kristina Watts

There’s nothing on this earth more essential to life than water. Seventy-one % of the globe is covered in water, so it seems like we have an endless supply. However, about 97% of our water is in the salty oceans, and about 2% is currently stored in ice caps and glaciers. That leaves 1% of our water available as the freshwater all of us land-dwelling animals and plants require. Water scarcity is a real problem in many parts of the world, and as our global climate changes, conflicts are likely. Current U.S. leaders don’t seem to take the need for water conservation seriously. Is a lack of understanding of the water cycle at least partially to blame for this? 

Enter environmental education for our future generations. The water cycle is one of my favorite topics to teach to children, but the typical cyclical diagram may be misleading in its over simplification. Plus, children tend to learn best by doing. That’s why I really like the Incredible Journey water cycle game by Project WET (Water Education for Teachers). It teaches the participants that there isn’t just one path that a water molecule might take, and there are certain places where water is more likely to stay for a long time than others. If you’re looking for fun environmental lesson activities to do with a group of children, this game is for you.

The premise of the activity is simple: you are a water droplet, about to travel on your journey around the Earth. The activity area (I like to use a large lawn space or big empty room) is set up with stations: ocean, lake, river, clouds, glacier, plants, animals, soil, and ground water. Each station has a cube (a die), marked with various stations. Each participant starts in one location, then rolls the die to determine where on their journey they’ll go next. The dice are not entirely random – they are weighted to approximate the likelihood of reaching anther spot (for example, the oceans cube is likely to keep you “trapped” in the ocean for a while rather than sending you on to the clouds.)

The method of tracking where each water droplet goes can be adjusted for the age of your group. Older students can track their journey on a worksheet, and then after a certain number of turns, the students can graph and statistically analyze the group’s results. But for younger kids – which is the audience I usually work with – the activity turns into a fun game when each child is given a piece of string to start with and collects a bead at each station (each station has a designated color bead). The children create a colorful necklace tracking their journey. At the end, no two participants’ necklaces are the same, but when we look at all the necklaces together, we can see that certain colors are more prevalent – telling us, for example, that a water droplet spends more time swimming around in the ocean or frozen in a glacier than in a stream or inside of an animal.  You can focus your introductory and concluding discussions however you like – the energy that powers each transition, the effect of the water in each location, potential pollution sources at each stage, etc.

I’ve led this game with Girl Scout troops, for a church Earth Day celebration, and at nature center summer camps, and each time I’m actually surprised at how much fun the kids have, running from station to station and growing their collection of necklace beads. (Make sure you have enough beads!  I’ve had to end the game not because the kids are ready to stop but because the supply runs out.)  It’s education in motion.

This activity is available for purchase at https://www.projectwet.org/resources/materials/discover-incredible-journey-water-through-water-cycle (assembly required). Or you can borrow it from the Fairfax County Soil and Water Conservation District; see https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/soil-water-conservation/enviroscape-watershed-model-classroom-presentation-lesson-kits for details.

Have fun!

Become a Citizen Scientist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Are you ready for a chance to visit some of the most gorgeous wild places in Northern Virginia–places you’d never find on your own?

Would you like an opportunity to apply your naturalist skills to ground-breaking scientific research (and get credit for service hours)?

Does cost-free training in survey and preparation protocols for specific guilds (birds, plants, pollinators) appeal to you? And admission to citizen science workshops that are interesting, informative, and fun?

Are you looking for opportunities to network and make friends with others who have similar interests?

Consider working with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). Every spring, Virginia Working Landscapes (VWL), an SCBI partner, recruits citizen scientists to assist with plant, bird, mammal, and pollinator surveys across the Piedmont of northern Virginia.  These surveys are part of an ongoing study of working grasslands that examines species diversity under various management regimes and at different stages of warm season grass establishment.  Fairfax Master Naturalists receive service credit (C200).

Joe Guthrie, VWL Survey Coordinator, prepping specimens at 2019 pollinator workshop at Blandy Farm

You do not need to be an expert to participate in the surveys (although both the plant and bird surveys demand a working knowledge of local flora and birds). All you need is an interest in learning and sufficient time to dedicate to the project.  Each survey features a mandatory introductory meeting to cover important information such as survey protocols, identification skills, and site assignments.

Yup, there are a few low-stress requirements, given that SCBI is part of the federal government. All VWL volunteers are required to register as a volunteer with Friends of the National Zoo.  FONZ manages one of the largest single-unit volunteer forces in the Smithsonian Institution, which supports nearly every function of daily life at the Zoo and beyond.  FONZ requires participants to be be a minimum of 18 years old, submit a Registration Application on the FONZ website, and (when selected) pass a Smithsonian background check. 

If you are interested in volunteering as a citizen scientist for VWL surveys, please contact: SCBIVWL@si.edu. 

POLLINATOR SURVEYS

Washing bee specimens at 2019 VWL workshop at Blandy Farm

Training includes information on pollinator life history, survey collection protocols in the field, identification of the most common bees and butterflies and specimen preparation for taxonomic identification. Citizen scientists are expected to process and store specimens properly, fill in survey sheets, and deliver or coordinate delivery of samples to the pollinator survey coordinator. The final identification of specimens will be completed by para-taxonomists.

  • You’ll perform surveys in late May-June and August.
  • Each survey takes about 4 hours per site, plus the additional time it takes to sort and identify the bees.
  • Survey dates can be at your convenience within the specified sampling periods (Spring = June, Summer = August).
  • Must be able to commit to 30-40 hrs.
  • Survey training, supplies and equipment provided.

 BIRD SURVEYS

Introductory training includes a brief overview of project goals, survey protocols, data collection and site assignments. A practice survey session for new volunteers is then held one month later and focuses on counting techniques. Knowledge of local bird species is essential.

  • Survey season runs May 15-June 30.
  • Counts are carried out within 3 hours of sunrise and take approximately 45-60 minutes per site (three 10-minute counts).
  • Time commitment is a minimum of 6 survey sessions plus training (estimated 15 hrs not including travel).
  • You will need personal binoculars and a field guide; all other survey supplies provided

PLANT SURVEYS

Training includes protocols, identification skills, and specimen preparation. There is no need to be an expert in Virginia’s native flora, but VWL does ask that you have familiarity with Virginia flora, and the ability to key out unknown specimens with a dichotomous key and the VWL reference collection. It is possible to pair with a more experienced person.

  • Surveys are performed in June and again from the last week of July through August.
  • Each site takes approximately 6-8 hours to survey.
  • Must be able to commit at least 5 days (an estimated 30-40 hrs plus travel), but the scheduling of the survey days is flexible.
  • Supplies and equipment provided.

MAMMAL SURVEYS

This survey uses camera-traps and our custom eMammal software to determine the occurrence of a wide range of mammals. Volunteers will use a GPS device to navigate to predetermined locations and setup cameras. Cameras will be left to survey for 3 weeks at a time without scent or food lure. Every 3 weeks they will retrieve the camera, replace memory card and batteries, and place camera in new location (estimated 1 hour per camera). Volunteers will then upload photographs and metadata using eMammal software (approximately 1 hour per survey period), where it will be reviewed by project staff.

  • Surveys are performed May through November.
  • Each site takes approximately 2 hours per survey period.
  • Participants will need a personal GPS device, all other survey supplies provided.

WHAT VWL and SCBI WILL NEED FROM YOU

  • Fill out the form (click here) to join the volunteer applicant email list.
  • Participate in introductory training sessions and sampling days.
  • Join the FONZ network, and undergo fingerprinting and background check.
  • Complete assigned field surveys within the allotted time period.
  • Reply to emails concerning logistics and data management.

If you are interested in volunteering as a citizen scientist for VWL surveys, please contact: SCBIVWL@si.edu. 

Register for Behavior-Centered Design for the Environment, April 1-2, 2020

Marilyn Kupetz

During a two-day workshop at Rare’s Center for Behavior & Environment this past October, one of the participants, a professor of restorative ecology, described an initiative that he’s launching at Longwood University: getting students, faculty, and staff to reduce the number of single-use plastics that they deposit into the waste stream in Farmville, Virginia. 

He was credible and inspiring, and when I went home that day, I examined every bit of plastic that I inject, virtuously, into my recycling bin: sushi trays, shampoo containers, pill bottles, salad boxes, plastic utensils, yogurt packaging, dog treat wrappers, water bottles—I could go on for a while, but I’m sure you get it. I was surprised at the variety and appalled by the numbers.

I was also surprised to learn that manufacturers are not buying plastic right now because it costs more to wash and prepare recycled waste than to make new plastic. So the fact that we recycle doesn’t actually reduce the effects of the plastic we toss. It still ends up in landfills or the ocean. The path forward seems to require some combination of avoiding plastic all together—very hard; repurposing as much of what we do have to buy as possible; and thinking creatively about options that haven’t occurred to us yet, but could if we summon the collective will.

Because Rare teaches Behavior-Centered Design for the Environment twice a year and leads projects that practice it—all over the world, all the time—our facilitators asked us to workshop in real time how we ourselves might encourage just one organization to reduce the number of plastic products they consume and throw away during lunch each day. 

Collectively, our ideas touched all of the levers of behavior-centered design:

  • We suggested a material incentive: giving staff branded, reusable containers for lunch or takeout. Because they would cost the organization very little, and could be made of recycled plastic, the incentive might be valuable on several levels.
  • We’d engage in positive storytelling, by, for example, posting signs reminding staff that although waste adds up, change is in their hands, literally.
  • We’d leverage social influence, perhaps with a trash art installation inside the front door to remind ourselves of what waste really looks like, without any personal public shaming.
  • We’d push information via fun infographic reminders to forego plastic and adopt reusable utensils and containers.
  • We’d enable choice architecture by hosting a cache of reusable containers right near the cafeteria so that staff could borrow, wash, and return them if they forgot their own.

Doable, right? A question of will, not wherewithall. 

I’m working out how to use what I learned—from the gifted teachers and the fabulous participants—in my own life and activities. I encourage those of you who want your efforts to preserve the natural world to have meaningful outcomes to participate in the next workshop, to be held April 1-2, 2020.

Free Resources

Behavior Change for Nature: A Behavioral Science Toolkit for Practitioners is a useful, short booklet for getting started, and perfect for those of you who learn best from the printed word.

Behavior Beat is Rare’s monthly newsletter full of stories and links to resources. Great resource for news and easily digestible stories of what works.

Lots of webinars and inspiring stories on the site itself.

And, of course, come talk with me, too, any time.

If you are a Fairfax Master Naturalist, the workshop easily fulfills your education requirement for the year. I’ve already added it to the calendar.

Herbivory: Why It Is Important that Plants Get Eaten, Jan. 9th

Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria VA
Thursday, 9 January 2020
7:30 pm

Please join the Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society for a talk by Charles Smith, to kick off their lecture series this year. Charles will discuss native plants and their role as the foundation of ecosystems, coevolution with other organisms and importance for maintaining biodiversity.

Charles is a native of Arlington, VA, a naturalist and ecologist with 27 years of experience in natural resource inventory, planning, management and monitoring. He is currently branch chief of Fairfax County Stormwater Planning Division, focusing on stream and natural area restoration. He worked for 17 years for the Fairfax County Park Authority, mostly in natural resource management, and five years for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Charles is a US Army veteran, a board member of the Virginia Native Plant Society, a certified Ecological Resotration Practitioner and is an instructor for three chapters of the Virginia Master Naturalists.

VNPS programs are free and open to the public.
No reservations are necessary for lectures.

Unpaid Internship Opportunity with Plant NOVA Natives

Plant NOVA Natives seeks a communications intern for Spring 2020. Application deadline Friday, January 24, 2020.

The job will be to gather material, help write the scripts and produce a new podcast series on the theme of “unity gardens” in Northern Virginia. A unity garden is one that contributes to a connected landscape where people and nature can thrive together. Together we are restoring balance to our communities, one property at a time, to provide wildlife with sanctuary corridors and to provide people with beautiful places to play and relax,
enjoy nature, and grow healthy food . We do so by reducing lawn, incorporating native plants,removing invasive plants, growing the soil, conserving water, reducing run-off, and avoiding chemical applications and insecticides.

The final product of this internship will be at least ten finished podcasts of 30 minute duration, designed to provide practical how-to detail as well as inspiration, specifically for a Northern Virginia audience.

Complete details here.

Aldo Leopold Read-a-thon, Jan. 19th

Busboys and Poets
4521 Campbell Ave., Arlington VA
Sunday, 19 January 2020
5-7 pm

Northern Virginia Conservation Trust will honor legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold and celebrate what would have been his 133rd birthday. Listen to thought-provoking and inspiring passages from his published works led by invited guest speakers with some open slots for volunteer readers from the crowd! More information.

City Nature Challenge introductory conference call Jan. 7th, for potential organizers

Article by: Carrie Seltzer
Stella Tarnay
Deborah Barber
DC area CNC co-organizers

The City Nature Challenge is a friendly, annual, global competition to record biodiversity. From April 24-27, 2020, participants will document wild plants, animals, and fungi using the iNaturalist mobile app and website. The Washington DC area is participating! Following the observation period, everyone will pitch in, with the help of experts, to identify what they’ve seen in our region– and compete globally for most species observed. Winning cities will be announced on May 4. It’s like a virtual bioblitz where you can participate from anywhere in the region.
 
Do you know an organization in the broader DC metro area that cares about biodiversity? Please join an introductory phone call on Tuesday, January 7, 10-11 am to learn more about the City Nature Challenge. 

The Washington Metropolitan Area has participated annually since 2017. Dozens of environmental organizations, parks, libraries, nature centers, and other local groups help spread the word and incorporate iNaturalist into events. There are many ways to be involved and many ways to collaborate with other organizations.
 
We have outreach materials in Spanish, encourage bilingual events, and welcome other ideas for broadening participation. 
 
Think you’re too far from DC to be included? Check! Beyond Washington, DC, the following counties in VA, MD, and WV are in range:
 
Virginia-Alexandria, Arlington County, Clarke County, Culpeper County, Fairfax County, Fairfax, Falls Church, Fauquier County, Fredericksburg, Loudoun County, Manassas, Manassas Park, Prince William County, Rappahannock County, Spotsylvania County, Stafford County, and Warren County.

Maryland-Calvert County, Charles County, Frederick County, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County. Baltimore and surrounding counties organize separately-contact Maura Duffy at MDuffy@aqua.org.

West Virginia-Jefferson County

Bold counties indicate places where there hasn’t been very much participation yet so we are especially interested to have groups from those areas, but organizations from any area are welcome to join.

You can see on iNaturalist what has been recorded each year in the City Nature Challenge and how participation has grown.
2017 >900 species and 200 people
2018 >1700 species and 900 people
2019 >2100 species and 1300 people

We hope you’ll Join this exciting event in 2020 and we look forward to connecting with new groups across the region!