Help repopulate white oak forests

From Laura DeWald, Forest Genetics Specialist:

I am at the University of Kentucky (Dept. Forestry and Natural Resources), where I am developing a genetics improvement program for white oak (Quercus alba) to address sustainability of the white oak resource into the future. The eventual goal of the project is to have a sustainable supply of good white oak to support healthy forests and restore the white oak resource. 

The first obvious step in a genetics program is to get germplasm – in this case acorns. Collecting will begin this fall and will occur for at least two more seasons, with the future collections focused on filling in collection gaps in the geographic range. Acorns collected will be grown in the Kentucky Division of Forestry’s state nursery and then outplanted into genetic tests as 1-0 seedlings. 

I need help getting acorns from throughout Virginia. Each individual person only needs to collect from 1-2 trees.

Important First Steps

1. Scout for one or two healthy white oaks now and look for the baby acorns to make sure that tree will produce this fall. That said, you can also watch for mature acorns on the tree–it’s important that they aren’t old ones from years past. Mature acorns will start dropping late September to October, so you will need to act soon.

 2. Contact Laura DeWald (Laura.DeWald@uky.edu | 859-562-2282) for the collection kit and the important instructions you will need to follow before you gather the acorns. Laura will start sending out kits now to those who contact her. Each tree will get its own kit. (You don’t want to mix up the acorns from different trees because they want to sample the parent’s genetics.) Laura.DeWald@uky.edu   859-562-2282

Virginia Association for Environmental Education seeks conference proposals, deadline Sep. 27th

2020 Virginia Association for Environmental Education Conference- EE for EverybodEE
Sweet Briar College, Amherst VA
26-28 February 2020

This conference is a celebration of and call of action for efforts to make environmental education in Virginia more equitable and inclusive for all audiences and the diverse field we all know it can be.

Proposals that will suit the following 5 strands are being accepted until September 27:

• Early Childhood EE
• Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for EE
• Action Projects and Citizen Science
• Teaching EE Outside
• EE Best Practices

VAEE offers the following opportunities to present:

• 50 minute sessions
• Half-day Workshops (3 hours)
• Full- day Workshops (6 hours)
• Make and Take Workshop: For this session you will lead the participants in making a product to take with them such as a Bee House or Habitat Cage. Extra fees will be charged on the registration to cover costs. Please indicate suggested costs in your proposal. (3 hour session)
• Interactive Activity Showcase: Do you have a fun and engaging EE activity you’d like to share with others? You will lead other participants in the activity and give them a copy of the activity with directions. (3 hour session – each person will have varying time to present their activity.)

You will be notified as to whether your proposal has been accepted or not by Oct. 31, 2019.

SUBMIT YOUR PROPOSAL

If you have further questions, please contact Sarah McGuire, Page Hutchinson, or Bruce Young. Thank you for your interest in supporting VAEE and environmental education!

Earth Sangha fall open house and native plant sale

Wild Plant Nursery
6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield VA
Sunday, 22 September 2019
10am – 2pm
Click here for the Wild Plant Nursery Species List.

The Fall is really the best time to visit the Earth Sangha nursery. In the Spring, plants are still emerging from winter dormancy, and so they cannot offer as many species. The Fall, as experienced gardeners know, is also the best time to plant! Trees, shrubs, and perennials like the cooler weather and greater rainfall lets them establish robust roots. Late blooming annuals can make great additions to your garden, and many will “volunteer” from seed next year.

All plant sale proceeds go toward local parkland restoration. Last fall, customers helped them raise over $15,600 for local parkland restoration!
Choose from over 275 local-ecotype native species and help them fund the restoration of our area’s native flora.

If you’re interested in volunteering at the sale please email Katherine Isaacson at kisaacson@earthsangha.org. There will be a morning shift (9:45 to Noon) and an afternoon shift (Noon to 2:30).

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Harriet

Marilyn Kupetz

So the bare facts are these: Harriet is a wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) who lives in a terrarium at Riverbend Park. Roughly 10 inches long beak to tail, she has the brown eyes of a female and “a rough carapace and pyramid-like raised scutes” (Abugattas, 2017, p. 42). She’s of a certain age, but what that is exactly is unknown given that rescued reptiles don’t come with chips.

Unlike her box turtle peers—Romeo, Tortuga, Pumpkin, and Tojo—Harriet has all of her limbs. She certainly has all of her faculties. Each Thursday morning, when I come to take care of her, she peers up at me from her swimming basin, registers that I’m the behemoth who brings her strawberries, and crawls onto her landing stone to be lifted out, fed, and taken for a walk. After 6 months of this routine, we’re pals. I am lucky to have the privilege of learning about turtles from Harriet.

Harriet sunning in front of the Riverbend Visitor Center. Photo: Marilyn Kupetz

Although she knows what she wants, Harriet ambles to get it. While gazing at the back of this creature thus frequently at rest, I realized that turtle shells exhibit the Voronoi tessellations that, for example, Pixar uses to design scales for their digitally animated reptiles. 

Voronoi growth diagram

Animation by Balu Erti, CC BY-SA 4.0

Imagine two bubbles, or drops or water, or globs of tadpole eggs. When these masses are separate, they are more or less spherical, right? But when they come in contact with one another, their edges form planes and the geometrical shapes typical of the scales or bony plates covering dinosaurs and dragons. And turtles.

Biologists use Voronoi patterns to model cells. The tessellations help scientists understand what happens when cells multiply rapidly, making it possible to visualize cellular behavior so that, for example, doctors can treat illnesses.

Wikipedia reports that ecologists also use Voronoi patterns “to study the growth patterns of forests and forest canopies” and to develop “predictive models for forest fires.” An interesting conceptual shift from micro (cells) to macro (woodland systems).

Who knew that an elderly wood turtle could be such a good gateway to information about the natural world for curious citizen scientists?

Harriet doesn’t just stimulate learning, however. She and her kin offer volunteers a rare type of emotional connection: They show us that they appreciate the attention we give them. How do we know? By observing their uplifted heads as they sun, their ever enthusiastic consumption of fresh fruit and worms, and, yes, their gift of uninhibited deposits as they bathe.

They also enable us to work with other volunteers who, like philosopher Peter Singer, have come “to be persuaded that animals should be treated as independent sentient beings, not as means to human ends.” The Riverbend creatures cannot, alas, return to the wild—they were rescued from danger or abuse and are now dependent on human kindness. But those of us who care for them care about them.

Every 6 months, Riverbend’s Senior Interpreter Rita Peralta and Volunteer Coordinator Valeria Espinosa invite additional volunteers to help attend to not only Harriet and the box turtles, but also the snakes, frogs, and fish living in the Riverbend Visitor and Nature Centers. The always-welcoming Riverbend staff offer training sessions, flexible scheduling, and, best, the chance to nurture, learn from, and teach visitors about the gentle beings inhabiting the wild places that still remain to us in Fairfax County.

Plans for Fall training sessions are in the works. In the interim, here is the county’s description of the work. Please submit an expression of interest to Valeria Espinosa: valeria.espinoza@fairfaxcounty.gov or Rita Peralta: rita.peralta@fairfaxcounty.gov.

Questions? Feel free to ask me anything.

FMN volunteers get credit for volunteering under Service Code: S182: FCPA Nature Center Animal Care

 

 

Reference
Abugattas, A. (2017). The reptiles and amphibians of the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Self-published. Contact author.

Stream monitoring events, Sep. – Nov.

Sugarland Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

Sugarland Run Stream Valley Park, Herndon VA
Sunday, 8 September 2019
10:00am-12:30pm

Join Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District as they discover aquatic life in Sugarland Run! This official NVSWCD stream monitoring workshop covers watershed health, what macroinvertebrates tell us about stream quality, and what you can do to prevent pollution in your local stream. This workshop will also help to prepare you to become a certified stream monitor. Registration is limited. Send questions to Ashley Palmer and RSVP here.

Accotink Creek Stream Monitoring Session

Lake Accotink Park, Springfield VA
Saturday, 14 September 2019
9:30 – 11:30am

Join Friends of Lake Accotink Park and Friends of Accotink Creek for a rewarding and fun time for adults and children who enjoy helping our parks and environment by identifying and counting stream critters to document the health of the stream. RSVP here.

Holmes Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

Roundtree Park, Falls Church VA
Saturday, 19 October 2019
9 – 11:30am

Join Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District as they discover aquatic life in Holmes Run! This official NVSWCD stream monitoring workshop covers watershed health, what macroinvertebrates tell us about stream quality, and what you can do to prevent pollution in your local stream. This workshop will also help to prepare you to become a certified stream monitor. Registration is limited. Send questions to Ashley Palmer and RSVP here.

Reston Association Stream Monitoring Workshop

Reston VA
Saturday, 19 October 2019
1:30 – 4:30pm

What better way to enjoy the changing seasons than to get your feet wet in one of Reston’s streams? RA welcomes new volunteers to assist with stream monitoring at several locations. Get involved with a small team to collect data and identify insects with the goal of assessing the health of Reston’s streams. Not only do you get to learn about streams, it also provides an opportunity to make new friends! Learn more and register.

Reston Association Stream Monitoring Workshop

Reston VA
Saturday, 16 November 2019
11am – 2pm

What better way to enjoy the changing seasons than to get your feet wet in one of Reston’s streams? RA welcomes new volunteers to assist with stream monitoring at several locations. Get involved with a small team to collect data and identify insects with the goal of assessing the health of Reston’s streams. Not only do you get to learn about streams, it also provides an opportunity to make new friends! Learn more and register.

Canoe/Kayak clean up, Sept. 28th

Belle Haven Marina
George Washington Memorial Pkwy, Alexandria, VA 22307
Saturday, 28 September 2019
10am – 3pm

Thanks to funding from TransUrban ExpressLanes Community Grant program Northern Virginia Conservation Trust will be holding a second Canoe/Kayak Cleanup this year!

This time they will be launching from Belle Haven Marina and will provide a free lunch for our volunteers at Belle Haven Park afterwards!

This will be a great time to both do your part to clean up our waterways and also to make some new friends!

Click here to register!

Virginia Waterways Cleanup Events for Fall 2019

YOU can make a difference!

Various dates and locations

On the 25th anniversary of this clean-up, be one of over the 104,000 volunteers who have, in that time, helped keep our beloved rivers and beaches clean. 

Since 1995, Clean Virginia Waterways, located at Longwood University, has organized the annual “International Coastal Cleanup in Virginia.” Volunteers pick up litter AND collect valuable data that are used by local and state governments to address litter.

The following is from Katie Register, Executive Director of Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University (with slight editing):

We know you care about our environment, so please do three little things:

1. Pick a cleanup (or two!) and volunteer for a few hours. You will FEEL GREAT when you see the contribution you have made to cleaner water.

2. Encourage your friends, family, and everyone else to participate in this annual statewide volunteer effort to remove litter and debris.

3. “Like” Clean Virginia Waterways on Facebook. There, you can share photos from your cleanup, and get information about worldwide efforts to keep waste and litter out of our oceans.

https://www.facebook.com/Clean.VA.Waterways

AND every time you pick up a piece of litter, you can record it using the smartphone app “CleanSwell” by the Ocean Conservancy. This helps us collect valuable data about the types of litter out there…and helps us form litter prevention strategies. Thank you!

 

Are you a leader? If so, please lead a cleanup! Learn how HERE. Clean Virginia Waterways will send you supplies.

Please join the effort in September and/or October! Cleaner rivers and oceans depend on us. Check it out and register for one near you (move down to see locations):

http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/CleanupEvents2019.html

If you have questions, contact Katie Register, 434-395-2602, registerkm@longwood.edu

Out with the sun, in with the moon

Jerry Nissley

That’s the unofficial mantra for the twilight kayak tour at Mason Neck State Park (MNSP).  A group departs in time to revel in the golden hour of the setting sun and returns after dark by the moon’s guiding light. The park schedules twilight tours two evenings a month, June through October, to coincide with the full moon, with an additional “evening” tour scheduled once a month that does not necessarily coincide with the full moon. The park offers Saturday morning tours as well. The approved service description for all kayak tours at MNSP is detailed in FMN service category E410.

Photo by Jerry Nissley

A typical tour group consists of between 10 to 12 people in kayaks or canoes, which are accompanied by a lead guide and a sweeper. All guides have been skill certified by a qualified Virginia State Park instructor. The objectives of any guided tour at MNSP are to introduce paddlers to the various plants and animals found at the park and to the conservational, historical and cultural significance of the Mason Neck Peninsula (MNP).

Photo by Jerry Nissley

Guides are trained up in each of the above objective topics prior to leading a tour. The guides may include culture from as early as 1608, when Captain John Smith sailed up the Potomac and encountered the Dogue and the Taux Native Peoples on and around the MNP. Farmers, fishers and hunters, these tribes were part of the Algonquian-speaking Federation and built permanent long house villages along the Potomac River in counties that include Fairfax, Prince George, and Prince William. Records show that Miompse (now Mason Neck) may have been Taux capital known as Tauxenent. 

Colonial history includes times that saw the peninsula’s namesake, George Mason and his extended family, take virtual control of the area. George Mason’s home, Gunston Hall (1759) and the remains of his eldest son’s home built on Mason’s Lexington Plantation (1783) are still located on MNP. It is well documented that at one time George Mason’s family operated nearly 25 fish catching/processing facilities on the Potomac from what is now Prince William County, north into waters that are now in Washington, D.C. 

Photo by Jerry Nissley

Equally as important as the culture and history of MNP is understanding why the state park was established and how the natural resources found in and around are preserved. MNSP (est. 1965) and the conjoined Elizabeth Hartwell National Wildlife Refuge (est. 1969) were established for the conservation of the American Bald Eagle and supporting habitat. In 2017, 40 nesting pairs were counted on MNP alone. There is also an active great blue heron rookery with approximately 125 nests near the northern interior of the park. Numerous ospreys may be seen diving for fish each evening and great egrets frequently contrast the falling night with their bright white feathers. 

A typical 2.5-hour tour consists of outfitting the paddlers with gear, “kayak 101” instruction, and the round trip tour through Belmont Bay and the adjoining Kane’s Creek. As mentioned, the tour is timed to catch the setting sun and still have enough light so the group can see what the guides are talking about early in the tour. Paddling out we talk history and culture and point out birds such as osprey (Pandion haliaetus), bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), great egrets (Ardea alba), great blue herons (Ardea herodias), belted king fishers (Megaceryle alcyon), and red winged black birds (Agelaius phoeniceus) to name a few. Critters, too, like beaver, turtles, raccoons, deer, and snakes, are common. 

Photo by Jerry Nissley

About mid-tour, we stop to point out several of the aquatic plants that adorn the shore as the calm vail of dusk settles over the marsh. Spatterdock (Nuphar advena), pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), wild rice (Zizania aquatic), arrow arum (Peltandra virginica), swamp rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), and cattail (Typha latifolia) are abundant. 

Fun facts: Pickerel weed is such an efficient biological filter of polluted water in natural wetlands that it is used in constructed wetlands. Spatterdock has long been used in traditional medicine. Studies show that its root juice may be applied directly for skin for irritations, and the root and seeds may be eaten together for stomach conditions. Native wild rice and cattail were valuable food sources for native peoples. Wild rice found on the Potomac tidal tributaries was boiled and eaten or ground into a powder. The entire cattail plant was used—rhizomes are edible, the long, linear leaves were used for weaving mats and baskets, and the sausage-shaped spike (actually a dense aggregate of female flowers and seeds) was used to kindle fires and to stuff bedding. 

Once we enter the far reaches of Kane’s Creek, the quiet solitude of darkness is interrupted only by the chorus of frogs, the flight of dragonflies, and the distant hoot of an owl. We stopped one evening to listen to the grand frog chorus and I literally had to paddle closer to a kayaker to hear the question being asked.

Returning by moonlight is priceless. The herons and egrets have roosted for the night so I try to stay quiet and enjoy the rustling swish of shoreline trees, an occasional deer or raccoon drinking at water’s edge, the splash and churn of spawning snakehead or carp. One time a bass flopped into and out of a kayak as the fish leapt for and missed a flying insect. No worries though—just another cool story for someone to tell at the office on Monday.

The lead guide and sweeper now turn on small safety lights as the group glides back through the evening. The return leg is always the least eventful for me but the most positive. The cool darkness seems to wrap her arms around me and imbue a sense of tranquility within. It encourages inner reflection, a release from the agitation of the six o’clock news and the complexity that daily life may bring on. 

As we continue across glass like water of Kane’s Creek, we are bid adieu by the joyful noise of frogs, cicadas, and katydids in three-part harmony no less. Once back, we rack and stack the boats and call it night—and we are all better off somehow for the experience. Each guest is unique so during their night on the water, each guest makes unique connections with Mason Neck and its inhabitants that they will not soon forget.

Background on MNP 

Some of the informational material guides use to prepare is supplied by the park but most of the written material I learned from was prepared by fellow VMN and guide, Tom Blackburn. His material encouraged me to do my own follow-on research and learn additional details. Tom has volunteered at MNSP for many years and compiled a wealth of park and habitat information that he readily shares with the 10 or so guides each year. A big thank you goes out to Tom for his continued mentoring.

Photo by Jerry Nissley

Two thirds of Mason Neck peninsula, roughly 5000 acres, is protected area managed by four jurisdictions: Virginia State Parks (MNSP), Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (Pohick Park), U.S. Department of Interior-Bureau of Land Management (Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Elizabeth Hartwell National Wildlife Refuge) managed as part of the Potomac River National Wildlife Resources Complex.

The Fairfax County peninsula is shaped by Belmont Bay to the south, Potomac River to the east, with Gunston Bay and Pohick Bay bordering the north.

MNSP is a stellar example of the natural and recreational areas maintained by our great state of Virginia. Volunteer opportunities abound at the park and FMN members have indeed been involved in several areas—shore line clean-ups, invasive species removal, Eagle Festival, and of course guides to name a few. MNP consists of unique habitats (woodland and wetland) and was the site of a spring 2019 FMN program field trip. It appears to be a fall 2019 site as well. 

Rita Peralta, VMN and senior interpreter at Riverbend Park, was able to share her time with us and presented the wetlands portion in the Elizabeth Hartwell NWR section of the peninsula. The dendrology portion of the field trip was given in the MNSP section and was led by Jim McGlone, Chapter Advisor for the Fairfax Chapter of VMN and an Urban Forest Conservationist with the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Volunteer at Riverbend’s Native American Festival, Sept 7

Join Riverbend at this year’s Virginia Native American Festival held at Riverbend Park in Great Falls, VA, on Saturday, September 7, 10-4. Admission is $8 online, $10 at the gate. Volunteers receive free admission to the festival.

To volunteer, register here, by September 1.

You can sign-up for a shift directly. Valerie Espinosa will contact you about station assignments soon, but feel free to let her know if you have any questions or are volunteering with a group. Riverbend is  providing a shuttle from Colvin Run Mill again this year.

About the Native American Festival 

Celebrate the culture & history of the first people of Virginia. The festival includes eight American Indian tribes from Virginia, including the Rappahannock dancers and drummers. Enjoy hands-on activities and live demonstrations that include American Indian storytelling, shooting bow and arrows, throwing spears and making stone tools. Help build a dugout canoe, and visit a marketplace of American Indian crafts, pottery and jewelry. $8 online, $10 at the gate.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Valeria at valeria.espinoza@fairfaxcounty.gov or call 703-759-9018.

Review aquatic ecology publications for VMN

Virginia Cooperative Extension has a 2009 publication series set to expire, “Sustaining America’s Aquatic Biodiversity”. VMN uses publications in this series as part of the VMN curriculum, particularly for the Aquatic Ecology and Management topic. To renew these publications so that they do not expire, they need to review them to make sure the information is still accurate, links still work, etc.

What You’ll Do

They are seeking volunteers (just one or two per publication) to review twelve publications. Each publication is typically just 4-8 pages long, with illustrations. They are all written for a layperson audience, and you do not need to be a professional biologist to review them. You will be asked to:

  1. Read through the publication to check for any information that may no longer be accurate. Most of the text is general and likely still correct. Things that may have changed are likely number-based facts.
  2. Using reliable sources, find updated information to replace anything that is no longer accurate. For example, if the publication lists the number of federally endangered salamander species, you would want to do further research with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see if that number is still correct.
  3. Look at the illustrations and confirm that the drawings and pictures are labeled correctly.
  4. Correct any typos found in the publication.
  5. Test any internet links provided and make sure they work. Update the URLs as needed.
  6. Handwrite your edits directly (and neatly!) on a printed copy of the publication. Then, either scan and email the revised version back to me, or snailmail me the printed version.
  7. Communicate with Michelle Prysby if questions come up along the way.
  8. Complete all your edits and send them back by October 23.

You will be recognized in the acknowledgements of the revised publication once it is updated in the Virginia Cooperative Extension publications system online.

They are looking for reviewers for the following publications

  1. What is Aquatic Biodiversity and Why Is It Important?
  2. Why is Aquatic Biodiversity Declining?
  3. Aquatic Habitats: Homes for Aquatic Animals
  4. Freshwater Mussel Biodiversity and Conservation
  5. Crayfish Biodiversity and Conservation
  6. Freshwater Fish Biodiversity and Conservation
  7. Selected Freshwater Fish Families
  8. Frog Biodiversity and Conservation
  9. Salamander Biodiversity and Conservation
  10. Turtle Biodiversity and Conservation
  11. Freshwater Snail Biodiversity and Conservation
  12. Aquatic Insect Biodiversity and Conservation

To volunteer

Please contact Michelle Prysby by September 15 and let her know which of the twelve publications you would be willing to review. She will send out the final assignments shortly after that date, and you’ll have approximately one month to complete your review. Depending on the volunteer response, she will try to assign volunteers to just one or two publications, unless someone really has a lot of time on their hands!