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

 

 

 

 

 

 

FMN Earns 2022 Environmental Sustainability Award

Cover photo, Jerry Nissley

On Wednesday, April 20th, Volunteer Fairfax, together with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, celebrated the 149 nominees, 11 category winners, and 10 Community Champions during its 30th Anniversary Awards Program. The 2022 program consisted of a virtual awards program where the winners were announced to the public and an in-person reception at the Stacy C. Sherwood Center in Fairfax City where the winners received their awards.

Photo Janet Quinn

Fairfax County Volunteer Service Awards highlight the achievements of volunteers in several distinct award categories. The 2022 Environmental Sustainability Award was presented to the Fairfax Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists (FMN). This award honors volunteers who work to protect and beautify our environment and natural surroundings, advocate for the preservation of our planet and strive to instill these values for our community.

During the virtual portion of the program, previously recorded video dialogues were shown detailing mission, goals, and achievements that supported each service category award. FMN President Marilyn Parks and FMN Member Chair, Mike Garth, were the video presenters for our organization and they more than carried the day by offering both quantifiable metrics for FMN 2022 achievements and gracious praise and recognition for all the FMN volunteers that are at the heart of this award. FMN Communications Co-chair Janet Quinn and FMN Jerry Nissley accompanied Marilyn to the reception where Marilyn accepted the award on behalf of FMN.

In January 2022, the FMN annual report was shared with members in a newsletter.  Marilyn realized the crux of what our chapter had accomplished really didn’t shine through.  Our service deserved further recognition, so she wrote up and submitted a nomination to Volunteer Fairfax for consideration.

From left to right: Jerry Nissley, Marilyn Parks, Janet Quinn, and Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay – Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Photo by Edward Marion

In the nomination Marilyn highlighted some important 2021 FMN accomplishments. Most notable were – 197 FMN members volunteered 15,500 hours; a 25% increase in 2021 over 2020!  This increase was a surprise given 2020 over 2019 hours had resulted in a 15% reduction of hours (first year of COVID outbreaks). FMN delivered 25% more hours to our partners and sponsors in the midst of a 2nd year of COVID. Let that sink in. We were out there working and spending time on 106 projects, making a difference and helping to preserve and protect the natural environment within Fairfax county. We recruited, trained and graduated 40 students – without the benefit of meeting at the county Government Center (all via zoom).  

This is attestation to the fidelity of all FMN volunteers that carried on their substantial enthusiasm for service in support of our partner organizations, our communities, our local, regional and state parks, and our growing network of service allies.

Marilyn concludes by saying, “I hope members are pleased with their chapter, happy with their choice of volunteering to serve nature, and thrilled to be recognized and named the Volunteer Fairfax –  Environmental Sustainability Award winner for 2022”.

The Honorable Gerry Connolly (Congressman 11th District Virginia)

Photo Janet Quinn

was the keynote speaker and engaged the audience with anecdotes of volunteerism and serving in local government. He said, “Volunteers are a testament to the strong ethos of public service and volunteerism that exists in Fairfax County and is one of many reasons why this community is such a wonderful place to live.”

In commemoration, Congressman Connolly had this commendation along with additional comments and a list of all award winners entered into the Congressional Record of the 117th Congress recognizing the 2022 service award winners. FMN in the Congressional Record!

Now is the time to take your right arm, reach across your left shoulder and give yourself a pat on the back. Not that you would normally do this because as FMN members you unselfishly volunteer your time as a service to your communities, not expecting this level of gratitude or recognition. But Marilyn emphasized that this award would certainly not have been possible without the generous, benevolent efforts of each and every volunteer in this wonderful organization.

Community Time in Culmore

All photos – Jerry Nissley

Saturday, 23 April, was filled with Earth Day related activities all over Fairfax County. Four FMN, Susan Magnin, Kim Munshower, Benjamin Umansky, and Jerry Nissley assisted Hidden Oaks Park in their display area for Culmore Community Day at Woodrow Wilson library and grounds in Annandale.

Kim and Benjamin talking with visitors

It was another wonderful display of natural science and information by Hidden Oaks Nature Center but more importantly it brought a little bit of nature to a community that may not otherwise be exposed to it. The local elementary school, Bailey’s Elementary, brought their five classes of 2nd graders to Huntley Meadows Park last week and I was able to lead a class on an interpretive walk through the wetlands. I witnessed then the excitement on their faces and their enthusiasm to be outside, to learn by experiencing,

Jerry with the non-frog eating snake

to see a snapping turtle, to hear a frog, to watch a snake eat a frog (yes that happened). I even recognized a few of the same children come through the Hidden Oaks display today, so maybe they want more. Could have been the free hotdogs though.

Culmore is from the Irish: Cúil Mhór/an Chúil Mhór, meaning “the great corner”. Culmore nowadays is a ‘great community’ close to Lake Barcroft in Annandale and Culmore Community Day was quite the to-do. Live music, live science, free hotdogs, ice cream, face painting, and just about all Fairfax County services were represented from police and fire (lights flashing) to health agencies and social services. The event, sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Authority, is aimed at connecting

Ladybug display

the community with county and local resources that people might not know about, as well as providing fun activities for families. There were about 30 booths set up by county agencies, local nonprofits, and businesses with information about home ownership opportunities, healthcare, after-school programs, nutrition, and much more, while kids got a chance to explore a fire truck and ambulance.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center provided indoor and outdoor nature displays with all the touchy-feely things any child would like, and a few

Community Services

creepy-crawly things they did not (eeewww). A box turtle, a fox, a cornsnake (not eating a frog), an American toad, wood frog tadpoles (a Hidden Oaks specialty), and bugs, bugs, bugs galore. Caterpillars, mantids, bess bugs, millipedes, meal worms, and many more. The outside display had information on the benefits of ladybugs along with a live native species that the visitors were able to release into the environment. The Hidden Oaks Nature Center is BUGGED!

Cleanup at the Commons

All photos provided by Katy Johnson.

Spring is a good time to get involved with local stream cleanups to clear watersheds of trash and debris accumulated over the winter. Fairfax Master Naturalist Katy Johnson provided photos and a report on a cleanup in her community. A real family affair.

She reported that the Country Club Hills community hosted the Friends of Accotink Creek and were joined by special guest Delegate David Bulova – a true champion of the environment – for their annual ‘Creek Cleanup at The Commons’.

Prior to the event some of the older children read a book titled, “The Water Walker” by Joanne Robertson, to develop a greater appreciation of water as a resource. The book is about an Ojibwa Native American Nokomis’ (grandmother’s) determination to raise attention to her people’s special relationship with Nibi (water) and to protect it for future generations.

Another afternoon highlight for the kids and adults alike was catching and counting the various macro-invertebrates in the water. This is a good Stream Monitoring technique because benthic macro-invertebrates are affected by physical, chemical, and biological stream conditions. The macro-invertebrate evaluation scored this section of the stream as a 5 on a scale of 1-10 (Macro-invertebrate Community Index – MCI). A midrange MCI score alerts the team that work needs to be done to improve the stream’s health. Creating awareness is the first step towards recovery.

The cleanup crew was large and included families in the community and friends of the community. The crew collected lots of trash, learned about creek critters, and had an overall great time taking care of their precious Nibi.

Katy lauded her community by saying, “Country Club Hills is an amazing place”!

Improved Conditions Lead to a Significant Increase in Bluebird Population at Langley Fork Park

Article by FMN Stephen Tzikas

Reprinted from Virginia Bluebird Society The Bird Box, Spring 2022, with permission.

In 2021 I volunteered to be a bluebird monitor at Langley Fork Park in McLean, Virginia. It is one of many citizen science programs promoted by the Virginia Master Naturalists and managed by the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS). As a Chemical Engineer I have various interests in the physical sciences and engineering. As I get older, I am interested in getting more exercise, and one way to do that is to combine it with a life science that requires outdoor exposure. Since I am partial to birds because of a childhood pet parakeet, I decided to monitor bluebirds. Monitoring a bluebird trail and entering the data into Cornell University’s NestWatch was a rewarding new personal experience. At the end of the season, about August 2021, I finally reviewed the NestWatch data and correlated it to my experience of monitoring the trail. It was an extraordinary successful season. I decided to speculate as to why the season’s success was extraordinary.

The Site and the Monitoring Team

Langley Fork Park is 52 acres with a latitude of 38.9 degrees and a longitude of -77.2 degrees. The 10 bluebird nest boxes in the park are evenly distributed along the perimeter of the tree/field boundary. They all have stovepipe baffles and Noel guards. I monitored this trail with Naveen Abraham (trail leader) and Cindy Morrow. We shared our findings every week and had plenty of interactive time with the nests and birds. Our trail leader started monitoring the trail in 2016, the year that data collection for the trail began in NestWatch. However, the trail had been monitored for 10+ years prior to that.

The Results

Author checks box 9. Photo: Ako Tzikas, 5/30/21

In the 2021 season, we had 3 types of nesting birds. Apart for one late but successful nesting attempt by house wrens, the season was dominated by eastern bluebirds and tree swallows. Since 2016, the only other species making use of the nesting boxes was the Carolina wren. The count of 63 fledglings was quite a successful number compared to that of prior years. The NestWatch site sums a total egg count, as well as the total fledgling count. Although we counted eggs and fledglings as best as we could, it was not always possible to count all eggs as the view was obstructed, nor could we always count fledglings accurately as they could be piled on each other. The total number of fledglings, therefore, is a minimum counted number. It could be slightly higher, as indeed it was evident from the bluebird egg count, which was 29 eggs compared to the 26 recorded fledglings. Although we lost a bluebird egg due to predation, one can see a remaining discrepancy of 2, which I believe favors 2 additional fledglings. Likewise, the count of tree swallow eggs (16) were obviously undercounted because of obstructions like large nest feathers. Although we lost 4 eggs due to predation, the total number of fledglings was 33. This leads to small inconsistencies in the NestWatch data and the automated calculations. For this reason, I would recommend that nest monitors make a good effort to count precisely, as well as document in the NestWatch comments the perceived situation for the benefit of other researchers. Nonetheless, the small discrepancies did not prevent an analysis. Finally, together with the accurate count of 4 house wren eggs and a corresponding 4 fledglings, one arrives at the sum of 63 fledglings. We had 17 nesting attempts at the 10 boxes.

For context, the six seasons of monitoring (2016 through 2021) saw 77 next attempts for the 10 boxes, with a sum of fledged at 208 for all species. Of these fledged species, bluebirds accounted for 48, tree swallows for 127, and the balance between house wrens and Carolina wrens. Consequently the 26 bluebird fledglings in 2021 represents 54% of all 48 bluebird fledglings since 2016. This was indeed an outstanding success.

Analysis

Bird populations have been decreasing worldwide, and along with it important ecosystem processes such as pollination and seed dispersal. To date, the number of birds is estimated to have been reduced by up to 25 percent in overall numbers. It is encouraging then when organizations like the VBS help boost those populations. The VBS trains and organizes volunteers to monitor nest boxes. was fortunate to be able to experience the success of the 2021 bluebird season at Langley Fork Park. As I speculated on the reasons for the success, my investigation consisted of the following areas of review: trail leader management; weather; and food availability.

Last year (2020) was a very disappointing year at Langley Fork Park as there were no successful bluebird nests. Almost every box had tree swallows to start, and later in the season there were a couple of house wren nests. There was only one bluebird attempt, but that attempt was ended by a house wren which poked holes in the bluebird eggs and removed them from the nest. In 2021 we moved a few boxes by a little bit in the beginning of the season. This made all the difference in helping to create a more favorable nest site habitat for the bluebirds. We discussed some possible standard types of actions that could improve the locations for nesting. We decided to move boxes #3, #6, #7, #8, #9 and #10. Afterwards, it was these boxes that the bluebirds embraced, i.e., boxes #3, #6, and #8. Bluebirds also nested in box #7 initially, before a tree swallow evicted the bluebird with the loss of an egg.

When I started monitoring the bluebird trail, I noted everything I saw, including other nearby wildlife, such as foxes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I

Box 9 Sparrow spooker. Photo: Stephen Tzikas, 5/5/21

was documenting potential predators. But the noticeable issues of predation came from other bird species instead. We lost a male bluebird in Box #8, though we were not sure how it was killed when we found it’s body in the nest box. Nor did we know what species of bird was responsible for it. We don’t know if the bluebird was attacked in the nest box, or sought refuge in it after a struggle outside the box. As noted, we also lost a bluebird nest box with 1 egg when it was taken over by a tree swallow family. Finally, one tree swallow nest was abandoned when its eggs were attacked and damaged. Other than that, we did not have much predation except for some assertive house sparrow attempts at competition in the beginning of the season. To frighten the sparrows away, we successfully used a spooker. Finally, the last aspect of this season’s trail management was the quick elimination of an ant infestation in a couple boxes.

Weather in the form of temperature, precipitation, and snow can clearly play a role in the health and number of birds. With Langley Fork Park being about 3 miles from the Washington DC boundary line, I reviewed historical weather data from Washington, DC from the NOAA and National Weather Service. A precipitation link offers monthly, seasonal, and annual average data back to 1871, plus a comparison to the norm. It shows a significantly wetter season in 2021, and the data can be accessed here: https:// www.weather.gov/media/lwx/climate/dcaprecip.pdf. A temperature link likewise offers monthly, annual, and seasonal data at https://www.weather.gov/media/lwx/climate/ dcatemps.pdf. A review of the annual data shows that Washington’s seasonal temperatures had not been significantly different than prior years or the norm. For those who live here, the finding may be a surprise as it seemed to be a more mild winter in 2021. However, when the snow fall data is reviewed, the trend is different. Many news articles can be found on the internet focusing on how little snow precipitated in the 2021 season, and the general trend of less snowfall over the past few years. Indeed, the lack of snowfall in the 2021 winter was quite noticeable and extraordinary for local residents. I did not have to check the records on this to validate the observation, but I did so anyway. The Washington Post edition of 1/14/2021 reported that as of 1/14/2021, it had been 694 days in a row without at least a half inch of snow in Washington (and the season was still ongoing). This is a record. Apart from the next highest records in 1999 and 1973 at 693 and 617 days respectively, the next 7 longest streaks varied from 428 to 357 days. The Washington DC snowfall norm is 13.7 inches for the season. The 2020-2021 (Jul-Jun) was only 5.4 inches. The data may be reviewed at https://www.weather.gov/media/lwx/climate/dcasnow.pdf.

Hungry Bluebird mouths wide open at box 3. Photo: Cindy Morrow, 6/21/21

A robust bird population will be dependent on an abundant food supply. Food supply too can be correlated to adequate rainfall and soil fertility. While there were no negative determinants on the food supply in 2021, there was a bounty with the 17 year cicada life cycle emergence, en masse, of the cicadas. Consequently, birds had a new and plentiful food source in the environment. Growth rates of the nestlings were healthy and many of the nest boxes were used twice.

Conclusions

The Virginia Bluebird Society’s Langley Fork Park Bluebird Trail had a successful season in 2021, in great part due to a mild winter, active management, and a once in 17 year cicada ample food source. A total of 63 birds (33 Tree Swallows, 26 Bluebirds and 4 House Wrens) fledged at Langley Fork Park Bluebird trail.

 

 

References

· Stanford Report, January 10, 2005, Bird populations face steep decline in coming decades, study says. Mark Shwartz
· Population limitation in birds: the last 100 years. Ian Newton
· 17-year Cicadas: Bird Buffet or Big Disturbance? May. 18, 2021. Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. https://
nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/news/17-year-cicadas-bird-buffet-or-big-disturbance
· D.C.’s lack of snow over the past two winters is making history. Capital Weather Gang. https://
www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/01/14/washington-dc-snow-drought/

Hidden Oaks Renovation Plans Include Consideration for Wood Frogs’ Mating Season

Article Photos courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

Author Suzanne Holland is Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center.

Preparations for construction take many forms. For Hidden Oaks Nature Center, the upheaval to the trees, park access and program scheduling are but a few of the aspects that site staff have long considered to get ready for the current renovation. One consideration was the construction’s impact on the pond that many frogs and salamanders use to mate in late winter and spring. Assisted by Eagle Scout Daniel Tootle, Hidden Oaks management planned a year in advance to minimize the habitat impact – a plan that has proven to be successful over the past two weeks.

Wood frogs arrived at Hidden Oaks Nature Center’s temporary pools on Feb. 20, 2022.

The current construction required filling in the existing pond. Staff’s concern was that this would disrupt mating patterns for the frogs and later the American toads and yellow spotted salamanders. Every March, more than a hundred wood frogs gather in a small body of water just outside of Nature Playce – the site’s outdoor nature exploration area. The male wood frogs call in a laughing duck manner to woo the female wood frogs from their winter slumber. All meet up in the pond. Females lay thousands of eggs which hatch into tadpoles which metamorphose into froglets by mid-summer.

In June 2021, Dylan Tootle and 23 volunteers installed two temporary ponds on either side of the planned construction zone as part of Dylan’s Eagle Scout project. Using repurposed baby pools and prefabricated pond liners, Tootle’s “ponds” created above-ground and in-ground options for the park’s resident amphibians. The first wood frogs appeared on February 20 and soon had eggs floating in the above-ground pool in front of the building. A few days later, the second pond was brimming with frogs. While programs are currently suspended at Hidden Oaks Nature Center, the frogs and their cacophony of sound have fascinated the construction crews and contractors. Unfortunately, a dozen frogs opted to disobey the signs, hop into the construction zone and plop into the partially rainwater-filled new pond still being built. The team from Kadcon installed a ramp in the new pond to accommodate the wood frogs, who find it easier to jump in than climb out the comparatively steep sides. Though rains have created plenty of puddles over the last few weeks, the frogs seem to prefer our ponds over the rainwater puddles.

Frog mating calls joined the construction noise to create a cacophony of sound at Hidden Oaks.

 

Wood frog egg masses soon appeared in the baby pool pond.

The new larger and permanent pond should be ready for its new inhabitants next week. Naturalists will then relocate the egg masses and newly hatched tadpoles into their new home. Sometimes the earliest laid eggs do not survive a hard freeze, but the adults can return to their shelter under the forest’s leaves and reenter “brumation”, a partial form of hibernation. They will rouse again when the weather warms up. The staff will track which pools the frogs and salamanders prefer and look forward to sharing the marvels of metamorphosis with visitors old and young.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center is located at 7701 Royce Street in Annandale. Please note the Nature Center is closed Feb. 14 to June 10, 2022, for renovations. No public restrooms will be available until April.

 

 

 

This entry was posted in Resource Management and tagged construction, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, nature, outdoors, Wood Frogs on  by .

The Message is Simple

All photos provided by Annie Palermo

According to the inimitable Steve Irwin, “The message is simple: love and conserve our wildlife”. Annie Palermo (FMN Fall 2021) passionately lives this message on a daily basis as a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator with the Wildlife Rescue League (WRL).

Cottontails

Wildlife Rehabilitators are individuals, organizations, or animal hospitals that have obtained state and or federal permits, to care for injured, ill, and/or orphaned wildlife with the ultimate goal of successfully releasing them back into the wild. Migratory bird rehabilitation requires a federal permit.

Each year in Virginia, rehabilitators work tirelessly to provide thousands of animals a second chance at life, taking special care to raise them in a safe and natural environment.

Racoons

Annie has recorded 250+ hours to S081 Animal Wildlife Rescue League by providing valuable wildlife rehabilitation services to about 25 animals over the course of the year. Her passion and caring spirit was evident in her voice as we talked. You quickly realize she has a real heart for the animals in her care. Annie has been a rehabilitator for 3 years, personally providing rehabilitation services to fawns, squirrels, cottontail bunnies, and raccoons. Others in the network provide services to opossums, foxes, turtles, and a myriad of other animals. She said, “25 animals a year may not sound like many but consider that most babies need to be fed every 2 hours in their early stages of development, it becomes quite time consuming – but time well spent”.

The Wildlife Rescue League (WRL) provides licensed rehabilitators throughout Northern Virginia and surrounding areas. It works with a network of volunteers, wildlife centers, animal shelters, humane societies, nature centers and veterinary hospitals to provide life-saving work for wildlife in need. Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is the permitting agency for WRL.

Annie feeding an orphaned squirrel

The busiest season for rehabilitators is February through October, but some animals must be over-wintered. Most rehabilitators work from home on a volunteer basis, personally paying for housing, supplies, medication, and species-specific nutritional requirements.

Annie encourages that if you, or anyone you know, has a passion for wildlife animals and is interested in volunteering on a helpline, as a transporter, caregiver, or rehabilitator please contact one of the organizations below who will be happy to talk to you about starting a highly rewarding journey.

 

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Rescue League Services –

Animal Education and Rescue Organization –

Blue Ridge Wildlife Center –

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources –

 

Skunk Cabbage, Spies and Waterfowl, a Photo Essay — CE Hike

Photos:  Barbara Saffir, unless otherwise labeled

On January 15th, 2022, with the temperature in the 20’s, or “seasonally brisk” as one hiker described the day, a hardy group of Fairfax Master Naturalists hiked through Foxstone Park in Vienna.  This was a Continuing Education, or CE, Hike.  (Our first stop was at a bridge in a nearby neighborhood which FBI spy Robert Hanssen used as his “dead drop” site.) Jim McGlone, pictured above in tan gloves, FMN Chapter Adviser and hike leader, gave an informative talk on the botany of skunk cabbage. Although too cold for note taking with pen and paper, cameras were in top form, resulting in this photo essay.  See an excellent handout on skunk cabbage. 

The second half of the day took a smaller group into Washington, D.C. We didn’t find as many ducks at Constitution Gardens and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pond as we would have liked, but we still saw relatively up close several kitten-cute buffleheads, a dozen ring-necked ducks, a gadwall, a northern shoveler, and other birds braving the cold. Some ducks came REALLY close to our five naturalists like they had been PAID to do that on cue. Some male mallards jumped out of the pond right in front of us and came to visit right at our feet. Of course, if they had been rainbow-colored wood ducks instead of mallards, it would have been more memorable.  See an excellent handout on Winter Ducks in the DMV.

Leader Larry Cartwright, Sarah Mayhew, Sarah Glassco.
Hope to see you again soon!

Public-Private Partnership Leads to a Greener Springfield District

Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

A pilot project on Arley Street in Springfield is an environmental success story. With significant community initiative and modest government assistance, 4,300 square feet of asphalt in the Springfield district was converted back to green space.

Community property within the Springfield Station Homeowners Association (HOA) included a deteriorated basketball court which was at the end of its lifecycle and no longer provided a useful benefit to the community. During planning for the community space, residents decided to remove the basketball court entirely. The HOA applied to the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District’s (NVSWCD) Conservation Assistance Program (CAP) for cost-share funding and technical assistance for the proposed conversion of the basketball court to green, open space. The community space is entirely within the Resource Protection Area (RPA) of an unnamed tributary of Middle Run (Pohick Creek) and eventually flows into the Potomac River. The community planned to remove the asphalt surface and reduce the compaction of the soil by adding at least two inches of topsoil and compost.  With this plan in mind, NVSWCD confirmed that the project was eligible for participation in CAP because it promotes infiltration, reduces the potential for nearby flooding, and improves stream health.

Through a newly established partnership between NVSWCD and Fairfax County’s Land Development Services (LDS), the project was able to receive the maximum possible cost-share amount eligible under the CAP. This partnership effectively created the new NVSWCD/LDS Water Quality Improvement Program (WQIP), whereby LDS allocates funding for eligible CAP projects with funds collected under LDS enforcement action, thus improving the environment within the impacted communities where violations previously occurred. The Springfield Station HOA project was the first recipient of funding from the newly launched partnership.

The public-private partnership is one that will be replicated throughout the county for other community association and places of worship projects approved under the CAP program. Thus the 4,300 square feet could represent the first step in projects that occur across the county, improving water quality in every district.

LDS project lead Brandy Mueller said, “Though small in terms of scale, this project was really a huge endeavor and a great benefit to the community. This new partnership seeks engagement and environmental opportunities. We hope this successful case study will encourage others to pursue similar projects.”

Replacing impervious asphalt (which does not allow water to pass through it) with green space results in multiple environmental benefits:

  • Fields absorb water, replenish the groundwater and slowly contribute to nearby streams whereas asphalt (or other impervious surfaces) divert rainwater to storm drains and sewers.
  • Fields allow the water to feed the soil supporting trees and other plants and resulting in healthier habitats for wildlife, insects and birds.
  • Fields are about 30 degrees cooler than asphalt helping cool down surrounding areas.

                               

Photo of basketball court before conversion.                                 Photo of basketball court after conversion.

Photos courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

Learn more about the Conservation Assistance Program.

Article reprinted from the Fairfax County Land Development Services website: Public-Private Partnership Leads to a Greener Springfield District | Land Development Services (fairfaxcounty.gov)

Fairfax Master Naturalists’ Donation Making a Difference!

Article by FMN Steve Wright

Plant NOVA Trees is a new, five-year drive by the Plant NOVA Natives campaign to increase the native tree canopy in Northern Virginia by promoting planting and preservation of native trees. The drive kicked off with a bang on 1 September 2021 with over 50 local organizations executing more than 100 events throughout the fall to celebrate trees. Events included tree plantings; tree rescues; conferences; webinars; tree walks; library displays; story time and art classes with youth; and many others.

Fairfax Master Naturalists was approached to support the new campaign and made a generous donation of $2,500, one of the largest donations received. Plant NOVA Trees is using the contribution to create Plant NOVA Trees promotional materials including brochures, stickers and native tree hang tags that have been used during the kick-off events and distributed to organizations, businesses and nurseries across the region.

Following a presentation about Plant NOVA Trees, the members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed in October to have their Office of Public Affairs help support the Plant NOVA Trees campaign outreach efforts. The office will develop a communications strategy to include social media, sharing Plant NOVA Trees information and content, and encouraging all residents to consider participating by planting native trees.

As all Master Naturalists know, native trees are an essential part of our local ecosystem, supporting our butterflies, songbirds, and all other wildlife. The social, economic, community and environmental benefits of trees are massive, and thanks to our chapter’s “seed money,” the Plant NOVA Trees campaign is off to a rousing start.

You can find Celebration of Trees events and information about the campaign and how to protect and plant native trees on the Plant NOVA Trees website. There are many ways to help, including joining the Tree Rescuers program to survey your community for trees at risk from invasive vines, participating in the speakers’ bureau, organizing community tree plantings, and planting trees yourselves. Volunteers are also needed to approach corporations to ask them to participate in the campaign.