It’s Time to Sign Up for The International Coastal Cleanup!

Join Clean Virginia Waterways for the 27th year of keeping Virginia’s waterways litter-free! This annual cleanup of trash and litter in our rivers and on our beaches is part of the International Coastal Cleanup and is the largest event held by CVW. Thousands of volunteers gather along the shorelines of Virginia’s rivers, lakes, bays, and beaches (and inland too!) to clean up litter and debris, and recycle found items. They also complete Data Cards or use the CleanSwell app, to collect valuable information about the amounts and types of litter and debris they are finding. Click here to see how your important data are used.

Please participate in this statewide and international effort dedicated to cleaning the world’s waterways. This year, cleanups will run from late August to early November.

Want to Be a Leader?
Cleanup events require leaders! Gather your friends, family, co-workers, organization, or other groups and lead your clean up as a Site Captain! Learn more about being a Site Captain here. If you would like to be a LEADER of a cleanup, please signup to be a Site Captain or call Clean Virginia Waterways at (434) 395-2602, or send an email to cleanva@longwood.edu. You do not need to know a specific date or time for your cleanup to sign up, so sign up TODAY!

Want to Volunteer?
Stay tuned, as cleanup dates for August-November will be updated throughout the summer. Click here to check dates of cleanup events in a community near you. Need help finding one? Contact us by calling Clean Virginia Waterways at (434) 395-2602 or send an email to cleanva@longwood.edu.

Clifton Institute Seeks Education Associate

The Clifton Institute seeks a full-time Education Associate to provide environmental education programs to children and adults. The Clifton Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located two miles north of Warrenton, in the northern Piedmont of Virginia. Their 900-acre field station, which includes forests, grasslands, shrub fields, and wetlands, is permanently protected under a conservation easement. Their education programs include field trips for local school groups, summer day camps, nature hikes for children and their families, and walks and workshops for adults. Please visit www.cliftoninstitute.org/events to learn about their upcoming events and www.cliftoninstitute.org/events-old to learn about their past events. The Clifton Institute is a small but dynamic organization and the successful applicant will play an important role in the organization.

Start on August 2, 2021 or as early as your schedule allows. The full job description is here.

This Little Light …

Photo: Jerry Nissley

Cicadas have come and gone. The only visible remnant being dead-headed branches that result from flagging (laying eggs), in preparation for their legacy, the next generation of brood X. Invisible to us are the nutrients provided by countless insects as they drop and cycle into the earth. That was, of course, a tiny singular cycle within Nature’s big cycle.

Lightning Bug Chart – from Pinterest

The concept of singular cycles within the ‘big one’ struck me the other night as dusk creeped in on an evening silenced by a lack of humming cicadas. When what did appear? The next singular cycle; there always seems to be a next singularity. Perhaps more noticeable because the audial chaos of cicadas was now replaced with the visual peacefulness of – lightning bugs.

As shown in the lightning bug chart there are several significant species in our yards. The most common is Photinus pyralis with its familiar ‘J’ stroke flash. These fanciful little creatures light up an evening with joy – they bring a smile to my face when I notice the first blink of each evening. I love to hear the glee of my grandchildren chase down a few for further inspection. They never fail to please.

So it goes. Cycle after cycle. Cycle within cycle. Here for a season. Here for a reason. Appearing with determination to make a complex difference for a season and more importantly to prepare a legacy. Perhaps appearing for simple reasons, to bring joy into our world as a respite from the chaos.

A tiny lightning bug appeared to me in the dim of my rec-room the other evening. I thought, now there is one beautiful, exemplary individual – here for its season and for all the right reasons. I smiled, for Marilyn.

In memoriam: Marilyn Kupetz June 14, 1956 – June 12, 2021

Using Virginia’s Natural Community Research to Guide Stewardship Activities

Article by FMN Joe Gorney, photo by J. Quinn

As Master Naturalists, we sometimes help reclaim vegetated areas from the clutches of non-native invasives. At the end of this process, we’re often confronted with a degraded and/or blank slate in need of enhancement. But deciding what to plant can be a challenge. Optimally, we’d use a mixture of upper-story trees, mid-story trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants to create a well-balanced plant community. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation maintains a publication entitled “The Natural Communities of Virginia: Classification of Ecological Groups and Community Types,” which includes information regarding the more than 300 natural communities that cover Virginia: https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/natural-communities/. While the publication is an amazing resource, navigating all of that on-line information to find the appropriate community and then deciphering said information to decide what to plant can be a challenge, so much so that people might be tempted to either: a) give up; and/or b) default to the “TLAR” method of plant selection (That Looks About Right).

Faced with that scenario and motivated by some long-term restoration work in Arlington County, Glenn Tobin, an Arlington Master Naturalist since 2016, worked with ecologists and biologists from Arlington County, DCR’s Division of Natural Heritage, and several other groups.  He led a year-long effort to translate DCR’s publication into readily-accessible and practical guidance for people engaged in ecological restoration efforts. The original publication was pared down to the nine plant communities endemic to Northern Virginia. The resulting guidance has been published in a website entitled “The Natural Ecological Communities of Northern Virginia.”  
(see: https://www.novanaturalcommunity.com/). 

The website contains a list of the nine forest communities we might encounter, key concepts to identify those communities, a dichotomous key for community identification, downloadable summary descriptions of each community, Excel spreadsheets with more detailed information, and a list of some natural community misfits. Species are included within each community and categorized by abundance (sparse, rare, restricted, common, dominant).

The website is intended as a guide, and not a “cookbook,” a guide that can help us formulate planting recommendations to enhance the ecological health of an area. The plant communities were selected to establish a desired end state for restoration. The information does not address edges or meadows, although the Clifton Institute in Warrenton is developing some information regarding meadows (https://cliftoninstitute.org/). If you’d like to see a presentation regarding the new website, log onto the VMN Continuing Education Webinar Series webpage and click the link from May 7, 2021. (Continuing Education Webinar Series – Virginia Master Naturalists)

For further information about integrating plant communities into your landscape, I also recommend the following books:

  • Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West.
  • The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, by Rick Darke & Doug Tallamy.
  • Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change, by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher.

Other valuable resources include:

Summer would be the perfect time to explore this information, so that you’ll know what to plant come Fall. Happy reading and good luck creating healthy landscapes throughout our communities and within our backyards., photo by

Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) Herpetology Internship Announced

Virginia Outdoors Foundation is thrilled to announce that they are now accepting applications for their 2021 Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) Natural Science Fellowship (Herpetology) position. This fellowship will be focused on the pursuit of scientific discovery and increasing knowledge related to the resident snake populations at VOF’s Preserve at Bull Run Mountains – which is a living laboratory and open-air museum based right here in the backyard of our nation’s capital (bullrunmountains.org).

The Preserve’s 2020 Annual Report can be found here for all of those interested in reviewing more information about them and their programs: https://www.vof.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/VOF-BRMNAP-2020-Annual-Report.pdf

Job listing/application portal can be found here:  https://recruiting.paylocity.com/recruiting/jobs/Details/600454/Virginia-Outdoors-Foundation/Natural-Science-Fellow-Herpetology

Celebrate National Moth Week! Workshop and Survey with Judy Gallagher

Io moth by Judy Gallagher

Thursday, July 29, 7:00 – 8:00 PM (Online via Zoom)
Field Trip: Saturday, July 31, 8:30 PM –10:30 PM Lorton, VA
Fee: FREE, but registration is required

You all know something about butterflies but you probably don’t know much about their cousins, the moths. Did you know many adult moths eat nectar but others don’t eat at all as adults? Join Judy to learn about the mysterious world of moths, and gain some information about identifying them.

On the outing, they’ll set up a black light to attract moths and use field guides and iNaturalist to try to identify them.  They’ll set up an iNaturalist project to keep track of the moths they see.

Brought to you by Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.

Planting for the Picky Eaters

Photo courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives

Many insects are picky eaters, only able to eat the plants with which they evolved, meaning the plants that are native to their region. Butterflies are a good example, since although the adults can sip nectar from non-native flowers, their caterpillars depend on specific native plants.The majority of bees are more flexible than that, able to eat the pollen and nectar from a variety of species. They are known as generalist species, although even in their case they have their own favorites. The European Honeybee, for instance, is a generalist but chooses certain flowers in preference to others.

Of the approximately 400 native bee species in Virginia, about a fifth are plant specialists. Examples include the Spring Beauty Bee and the Blueberry Bee, which (unsurprisingly) depend on the flowers of Spring Beauties and Blueberries. These bees are short lived as adults, emerging when the plants they depend upon are in bloom, and quickly gathering the pollen they need to store in their nests for their larvae, thus pollinating the plants while they are at it.

Our local ecosystem requires the full spectrum of plant/animal interactions to flourish. It is easily knocked out of balance when too many native plants are displaced by introduced species, something that has happened in many of our yards. We can restore that balance by planting a lot of native plants. One strategy could be to start with flowers that feed various specialist bees from early spring to late fall, because they will also supply food for the generalist bees. Since many of these flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds as well, they make a winning combination. A list of popular native garden plants that feed specialist bees can be found on the Plant NOVA Natives website. It feels good to help the bees, whose numbers are in decline.

One of the many charms of native bee species is that they are highly unlikely to sting you, assuming you don’t try to grab one or otherwise threaten it. While they are foraging on a flower, you can get your face (and your camera) right up to them, and they will almost certainly ignore you. Gazing at bees brings surprises, as they come in many sizes and colors, including metallic blues and greens. It is particularly mesmerizing to watch bees on plants such as White Turtlehead, where they pry open the flowers and crawl inside, then back themselves out again, butt first. You can get a peek at those and other cute native bees on this two minute video, filmed in Fairfax County.

Plant NOVA Trees Event Volunteers Needed

Plant NOVA Natives was launched in 2014 to promote and increase the use of locally native plants in Northern Virginia. One of nine campaigns within the state-wide Plant Virginia Natives marketing partnership, it is a grand coalition of governmental, nonprofit and for-profit organizations that have pooled their resources to work toward this common goal. The campaign’s success rests on the action of the millions of individuals who make up our Northern Virginia community.

Plant NOVA Trees is a new and focused drive by the Plant NOVA Natives campaign to significantly increase and preserve the native tree canopy in Northern Virginia. The drive will launch in September 2021 and continue through the fall of 2026.

They are looking for people who can organize some kind of tree-related public event sometime this fall. To launch the native tree campaign, they will be sponsoring a region-wide Celebration of Trees, September through November. They are hoping that numerous people in every county will help them create buzz.

Some ideas for events include:

Tree walks (For the general public, you would want to make it short, snappy and fun.)
Tree plantings (be sure to report them on My Tree Counts)
Removing invasives that threaten trees
Webinars
Labelling trees with their names or placing signs in front of trees describing their particular benefits to wildlife and humans
Creating a GPS map of your community’s trees
Collecting seeds from your trees to be sent to the state nursery that grows seedlings
Forest bathing, scavenger hunts
Tie yellow ribbons around old oak trees (and red ones around red maples, etc)
Geocaching
Fairy houses in the woods
Photo contests
Anything creative you can come up with!

They have a sign to mail to organizers as well as brochures, and where selling their Native Plants for Northern Virginia guides is an option, they can provide those. If you do put on an event, they would love to add it to their Celebration of Trees event calendar, so please let Margaret Fisher know at plantnovanatives@gmail.com.

The Fairfax Chapter recognizes the valuable work to be done by Plant NOVA Trees and recently donated $2,500 to the campaign. Funds will be used for promoting awareness of the program and for community tree identification projects. You may make your own donation here.

ACTION ALERT: Help Prevent the Possible Spread of Avian Disease 

Reprinted with permission of Audubon Society of Northern Virginia; photo by Leslie Frattaroli, NPS

Clean and take down your feeders and bird baths until further notice!

As hard as it is for bird watchers to take their feeders down, there is now a critical reason to do so. Recent unexplained bird deaths in our region prompted organizations such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources to recommend that citizens remove their feeders and bird baths until the cause of the mortality is determined.

If you do find a sick or dead bird, please report it to the VA Department of Wildlife Resources here.

For more specific information about avian deaths and how to possibly prevent them, read below.

From U.S. Geological Survey
Release Date: JUNE 9, 2021

In late May, wildlife managers in Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs. No definitive cause of death is identified at this time.

This bird (pictured above) was found in the Washington, D.C. metro region with swollen eyes and crusty discharge, a sign observed on most birds affected by a May/June 2021 mortality event in the area.

The District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources and National Park Service are continuing to work with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the cause of mortality. Those laboratories include the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Georgia Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study and the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program.

Birds congregating at feeders and baths can transmit disease to one another. Therefore, the state and District agencies recommend that the public in the outbreak area:

Cease feeding birds until this wildlife mortality event has concluded;
Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution;
Avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary; and
Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.
If you encounter sick or dead birds, please contact your state or District wildlife conservation agency. If you must remove dead birds, place them in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. Additional information will be shared as diagnostic results are received.

Read previous information from VA Department of Wildlife Resources here.

Visitor Desk and Vernal Pools opportunities at Huntley Meadows Park!

Photos courtesy of Halley Johnson

Huntley Meadows Park with its beautiful wetlands and boardwalk is a great place to volunteer!

Opportunities include the visitor information desk and vernal pools surveys.  Huntley Meadows relies on volunteers and these activities are critical needs.

  1. Volunteer-On-Duty (VOD) at the visitor information desk

    Welcome visitors to Huntley Meadows!  Assist them in enjoying the park and understanding it’s resources.  Communicate and interact with people of all ages.  Seeking a commitment of two 4-hour shifts per month for one year.

Detailed project description attached here.

Contact Halley Johnson, Volunteer Coordinator, alexandra.johnson@fairfaxcounty.gov.
FMNS, record hours as E111: FCPA Nature Center Visitor Information Desk

  1. Vernal Pool Surveyor

    “Adopt” a vernal pool and monitor flora and fauna, every 2-3 weeks year-round.  Surveys are conducted on weekdays during park operating hours, usually between 9am-3pm.  One year training program provided, shadowing experienced vernal pool surveyor. 

Detailed project description attached here.

Contact Halley Johnson, Volunteer Coordinator, alexandra.johnson@fairfaxcounty.gov.
FMNs, record hours as C106: FCPA Citizen Science Programs