Bluebird Monitor Coordinator Sought

Photo:  J. Quinn

The Virginia Bluebird Society is looking for one or two volunteers to join a small team that works together to fulfill the duties as the Fairfax County Coordinator. The job entails being the County Coordinator contact for some of the trails in the county, sending out reminder emails to trail leaders in the spring, collecting data from trail leaders in the fall, answering questions and providing advice about bluebird trails and monitoring, and helping to connect people who want to monitor with trail leaders. If you enjoy providing training/educational programs, that’s possible as well. Most of the work is computer based, but it can sometimes involve going out to a site. The time involved varies over the course of the year and occasionally/rarely exceeds one hour/week.

Please contact Carmen Bishop with any questions. – cjbish1@gmail.com

DIY Insectary Garden

Feature photo:  Last summer the monarda bloomed beautifully! At the top you can see the beginnings of the asclepias incarnata (the mauve colored flower cluster).

Article and photos by FMN Kate Luisa

This story begins at the very end of the summer of 2019. I have a fairly small back yard with a patio and around the patio is a garden area that I was using for growing tomatoes.  Well, frankly,

Spring 2020. This is the garden the following year after the initial plantings which went in at the very end of summer 2019. There is also a sedum (far left) that was already there. This plant is over 100 years old. Literally. It came from my great-grandmother’s garden.

that was just wishful thinking.  The plants got tall and beautiful but every tomato but about five got either eaten by something or split and turned to mush with the rains we had that summer.  It was very disheartening.  I knew I would have to scrap the tomato dream.  So I decided to cut my losses around the middle of August and took them out.  That left an “L” shaped area around two thirds of the patio with nothing.  The area is about 3 to 4 feet wide (from the patio) and the length is about 8 feet on one side and about 6 feet on the other.
I thought much about what I could put there.  I already have lots of coneflowers, culver’s root, agastache, zinnias and rudbeckia.  I just wanted something different….

Then I remembered reading about an insectary garden and found that idea very intriguing.  This would be the perfect area for it!  It is in full sun and just about the right size.  The next big

decision was what to put in it. That spring, along my back fence, I had already put in a long row of mountain mint, a combination of pycnanthemum muticum, p. virginianum and p. tenuifolium that smells heavenly and attracts an incredible variety of insects.  So I didn’t need more of that.  Rather than do copious amounts of research I went directly to the best source of all: the FMN group.  I knew there had to already be native plants that others could recommend for such an enterprise.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed.

I received a wonderful variety of suggestions and studied information on each one.  I decided that since the area was not very large, it would be best to stick with just a few selections and to plant them en masse.  I looked at the seasonal blooming times and tried to get plants that would bloom most of the Summer and into Fall.  My overall idea was to have some brightly colored plants that would bloom throughout the season for pollinators and other wildlife. My colors are mauve, yellow and scarlet. I chose Asclepias incarnata, Asclepias  purpurascens, zizia aurea and monarda didyma.  Unfortunately, it was already very late in the season so I could only put in a few plantings before the cooler weather started coming in. I put in the milkweed and a few monarda, figuring I would put the rest in the following spring.

This is now the second full summer of my garden. The asclepias incarnata went gangbusters last year! The purpurescens has not done well but is coming up this year

Various ladybug species on the milkweed (and aphids in lower right).

and looks a bit more robust. Somehow, lobelia got into the garden (I had some lobelia cardinalis in another place and I think the birds must have distributed the seeds) so these also made a wonderful surprise appearance. They are coming up again this year and I planted more seeds for them as well.

Last year I noted many different kinds of bees and other flying insects, ladybugs (as well as aphids which I left for the ladybugs), lacewing eggs and monarch caterpillars on the milkweed. Hummingbirds loved the cardinal flowers and the bee balm as well. I harvested the milkweed pods in the Fall and gave to people to create their own insectary gardens.

Lacewing eggs on underside of milkweed leaf (upper right).

The garden is now coming alive again as the spring unfolds. The milkweed is almost a foot tall and the bee balm is spreading. The golden alexanders are in bloom, and I watch tiny bees climb all over the bright yellow flowers. I am so glad I have planted this garden!

 

Clean the Bay Day, June 4th

Saturday, June 4, 2022
9 am – Noon
See a full list of sites to find one near you.
(Mason Neck State Park and Huntley Meadows are options)
Register here.

Clean the Bay Day has been a staple for Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay community since its inception more than three decades ago. On June 4, thousands of Virginians will simultaneously work together to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay by removing litter and debris from its rivers and streams at hundreds of sites all across the Commonwealth.

Can’t make it to the June 4 event? No worries! The week of May 30 to June 3 is Clean the Bay Your Way DIY Week, where you can conduct your own cleanup in your neighborhood, place of work, or anywhere else you have permission, and where you can take care of the disposal safely and properly yourself.

Audubon Afternoon: “A Year in the Life of an Owl,” June 5th

Photo:  Eastern Screech Owl, Randy Streufert

Sunday, June 5th
3 pm
National Wildlife Federation Building cafeteria
11100 Wildlife Center Dr., Reston

Join Audubon Society of Northern Virginia for their first in-person Audubon Afternoon in more than two years! Four live owls will be the stars of the show. They’ll gather informally starting at 2:30 pm. At 3 pm they’ll have a brief Annual Meeting where they will elect officers and directors. Their main program will begin at 3:15 pm, when Secret Garden Birds and Bees will present “A Year in the Life of an Owl,” featuring four live owls for you to see and photograph: a Barn Owl, a Screech Owl, a Great Horned Owl, and a Barred Owl. This is an event the whole family will enjoy!

They welcome any food and drink you would like to share with everyone during the informal portion of the program.

FMN CE Hike: Hold a Wild Bird, Stunning!

Article by FMNs Barbara Saffir and Janet Quinn; all photos by Barbara Saffir

Lions, and tigers, and bears?  Heck, no — but holding wild birds, snakes galore, and close  encounters with yellow birds that glow like the sun were some highlights during a recent

Banders at work

Fairfax Master Naturalists’ continuing education hike.  Hike leaders Barbara Saffir and Janet Quinn led eight FMNs on the “Hold A Wild Bird” hike and visited a bird banding at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge on April 24.  Since Covid rules for the banding forced the 10 hardy hikers to break into two smaller groups, Barbara’s group watched two Gray Catbirds, two Northern Waterthrushes, a Hermit Thrush, a House Wren,

FMN Dee Pistochini releasing banded bird

and a Swamp Sparrow being banded.  Janet’s group had a different experience.  The banders netted three birds during their visit and all three had previously been banded.  One was the Northern Waterthrush Barbara’s group had seen banded as well as a Song Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow.  The White-throated Sparrow was a “significant event” because it had been banded in 2017. Any bird captured which is older than five years is such an event.  The banders, all volunteers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,  measured, sexed, weighed, and banded the birds.  The group members then took turns learning how to safely hold the birds to release them.  (Photos and a slo-mo video of one release are attached.)  FMN 2022 trainee Deirdre “Dee” Pistochini, said it best: ” It was such a thrill to hold a wild creature so close that you can feel their heartbeat.  A once in a lifetime experience.”

Both groups also visited a great horned owls’ nest near Painted Turtle Pond. The big, fluffy, ivory-colored “babies” were napping when one group visited but the two owlets were standing tall and checking out their human admirers when the second group came to call.

Snake visit

After that, the naturalists took a two-mile spin around the refuge.  First they encountered four frisky northern black racers, then another racer poking its head out, and four northern watersnakes in two separate hideaways. Ospreys were parading around everywhere — and two were even caught in a Valentine’s Day act.  The group also eyeballed at least three eagles, a horned grebe in breeding colors, hundreds of blue jays flying over in small flocks toward their summer homes, and more.  But the bird of the day outside the banding was a prothonotary warbler, a tiny sunflower-yellow bird with a big personality — and seemingly a fondness for humans.  Four of the darlings came close to say hello.  Barbara could have sworn they also asked the hikers if they would return in a few weeks so they could show off their babies.

 

 

Want to see more?  Download these videos of the day taken by FMN Dee Pistochino:

Controlled chaos:  Banders work quickly.

Actual banding.

Blowing and tail measuring.

And even more!  The handout created for the hikers.

Prothonotary Warbler

Great Horned Owlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snakes Alive Program, June 2nd

Photo: Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Thursday, June 2, 2022
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Where: Cascades Library
21030 Whitfield Place
Potomac Falls, VA 20165
Cost: Free

Snakes play an important role in maintaining the balance and diversity of native species. They keep rodent and insect populations in check and in turn are preyed upon by larger species. While they spend the cold months in hibernation, much of their summer is spent under cover or basking in the sun. Join naturalist Jenny Erickson to learn and explore the fascinating aspects about the various species native to our area. This talk is co-sponsored by Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Loudoun County Public Library.

Please click here for additional information.

Common Plant Family Identification Workshop, June 16th

Image: The Clifton Institute

Thursday, June 16, 2022
6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Where: The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
Cost: Free
Registration is required!

If you’re learning to identify plants, learning the common families can really help narrow down your options when you’re faced with an unfamiliar specimen. If you already know a few plants, learning their families can provide a useful framework to help organize all the species rattling around in your brain. Whatever level you’re at, learning to identify the plant families around you is a really fun way to get to know the natural world. In this program, Managing Director Eleanor Harris will give a brief talk on the ways to identify the most common plant families in Virginia. Then she will lead a short walk in the fields to practice your plant family identification skills.

Click here for registration and additional information.

Bird Walks at The Clifton Institute, Various Dates

Image: The Clifton Institute

Second Wednesdays and Fourth Saturdays
7:00 am – 9:00 am
Where: The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
Cost: Free
Registration is required!

Novice and experienced birders will enjoy this guided 1-2 mile hike to look for the many species of birds that can be found on the field station. Attendees will explore successional fields, meadows, lake edges, and forest. Don’t forget to bring binoculars!

Please click preferred date below for more information and registration.

Wednesday, May 11, 7 – 9 am

Saturday, May 28, 7 – 9 am

Wednesday, June 8, 7 – 9 am

Saturday, June 25, 7 – 9 am

Wednesday, July 13, 7 – 9 am

Protecting the Chesapeake from aquatic invaders

By Kathryn Reshetiloff.

This article and the accompanying photos are reproduced with permission from the Chesapeake Bay Journal.

Red-eared slider

The red-eared slider, a popular aquarium species native to the southern and southwestern U.S., is spreading to northern states, helped along by people who release them when they grow too big. (Robert J. Sharp/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Across the nation, invasive, nonnative plants and animals are becoming a larger threat to our waterways. And the Chesapeake Bay watershed is not immune.

These unwelcomed species didn’t just show up on their own. Most were introduced, either intentionally or accidently, by people. The possibility of these species multiplying in our waters — and eating, displacing or infecting native aquatic life — is a real concern to natural resources managers and citizens.

All living things have evolved to thrive in specific places on Earth. Local climate, geology, soil, available water, nutrients and food all determine which plants and animals can live in a particular ecosystem.

Species that have evolved in a particular place are considered native; those that arrive from elsewhere are considered nonnative — but are not necessarily invasive. That distinction belongs to plants and animals that threaten native species, often by crowding them out or establishing themselves more quickly in disturbed land, in the case of plants, or outcompeting them for food, in the case of animals.

Northern snakehead

The northern snakehead, a native of Asia, was first discovered in the Bay watershed two decades ago and now seems to be firmly established. (Brian Gratwicke/CC BY 2.0)

 

Invasives may also have an advantage over natives because of a lack of natural controls, such as predators or disease. Conversely, invasive herbivores and carnivores may eat native species, and invasive plants could introduce a disease deadly to natives.

Invasive species damage natural systems by disrupting the intricate web of life for native plants, animals and microorganisms, including those that are rare or close to extinction. Once invasives have consumed all of the food sources or destroyed the habitat for other wildlife, they move on to the next suitable site.

They are often spread — unknowingly — by people while boating, fishing or taking part in other recreational activities. Invasive “hitchhikers” attach to boat bottoms, motors and other items, then are transported to new waterways.

Dumping unwanted aquarium fish and plants and releasing unused live bait are another way they are introduced.

Other invaders arrive in the discharged ballast water of ships arriving from all over the world.

Invasives, like the zebra mussel, reproduce and spread quickly, wreaking havoc on native wildlife, ruining boat engines and large water-intake systems, and making lakes and rivers unusable for boaters and swimmers.

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife, a wetland plant brought to North America in the 1800s as an ornamental, is aggressively displacing native marsh species. (St. Arnualer Wiesen/CC 0)

Another infamous invader is the nutria, a voracious, almost beaver size, rodent native to South America. An aggressive trapping and hunting program has all but eradicated them from the Eastern Shore, where they had chewed their way through marshes, accelerating the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands.

The list goes on. The northern snakehead fish, a native of Asia introduced in 2000, is essentially out of control. Blue and flathead catfish, natives of the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio river watersheds compete with Bay species for food and habitat. The spotted lanternfly, spreading like wildfire through the region, is killing trees and devastating orchards and vineyards. Purple loosestrife, an invasive wetland plant, was introduced as an ornamental plant in the 1800s and now dominates marshes. Even the seemingly innocent red-eared slider, a semi-aquatic turtle native to the southern and southwestern U.S. — a very popular pet — is invading northerly states because many owners set it free when it outgrows its aquarium.

Once an invasive species has a foothold, the cost — in terms of degraded natural areas, loss of native wildlife or control efforts — can be incalculably high. In addition, other economic resources and lifestyle choices are lost. Recreational activities, such as swimming, fishing, boating, or wildlife-watching are affected, as are the sources of income associated with these activities: the seafood industry, sales of outdoor equipment and clothing, hunting and fishing licenses, guide services, travel and tourism, and service stations for boats and automobiles.

Lanternfly

The Asian spotted lanternfly first showed up in Pennsylvania in 2014, but it has since spread southward into Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, ruining vineyards and orchards. (Rhododendrites/CC BY-SA 4.0)

What can you do to prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species? The overarching rule of thumb is this: Never release a plant or animal in an environment if you are not certain where it came from. Bait can come from anywhere, and it is believed that rusty crayfish, a very troublesome invader from the Ohio River watershed, has established itself in the Bay region mostly as discarded bait.

Some organisms are so small you may not even realize they are hitching a ride with you. So it’s important to follow this checklist every time you leave any body of water. Examine your boat, trailers, clothing, shoes and gear, then:

  • Remove any plants, fish or animals.
  • Remove all mud, dirt and plant fragments. The larvae of an animal, perhaps too tiny to see, can live in mud, dirt, sand and plant fragments.
  • Eliminate water from equipment before moving it.
  • Clean and dry anything that was in contact with water (boats, trailers, equipment, clothing) before using it in another waterway.

The Chesapeake Bay Program estimates that approximately 200 invasive species have established themselves in the watershed. To learn about invaders in your area, contact your state’s natural resources or environmental protection agency. One of the most comprehensive and user-friendly online resources for invasive species is the USDA’s National Invasive Species Information Center, at invasivespeciesinfo.gov.

Kathryn Reshetiloff, a Bay Journal columnist, is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis.

Second Annual Dragonfly Count, June 26th

Photos: Clifton Institute

Sunday, June 26, 2022
10:00am – 5:00pm
Where: The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
Cost: Free
Register here.

Join the Clifton Institute for the second annual Dragonfly Count! The goals are to learn which species of dragonflies and damselflies are found in the area, to monitor changes in their populations, and to encourage everyone to learn more about Odonates!

For more details about the survey habitat and count process please click here.