Become a Citizen Scientist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POLLINATOR SURVEYS

Washing bee specimens at 2019 VWL workshop at Blandy Farm

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

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

 BIRD SURVEYS

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

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

PLANT SURVEYS

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

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

MAMMAL SURVEYS

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

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

WHAT VWL and SCBI WILL NEED FROM YOU

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

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

Unpaid Internship Opportunity with Plant NOVA Natives

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

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

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

Complete details here.

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

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

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

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

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

West Virginia-Jefferson County

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

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

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

Earth Sangha seed cleaning events

Earth Sangha office
5101-I Backlick Road, Annandale VA
Sunday, 15 December and Monday, 16 December 2019, 10 am – 1 pm
Sunday, 5 January and Monday, 6 January 2020, 10 am – 1 pm
Sunday, 12 January and Monday, 13 January 2020 , 10 am – 1 pm
Continuing until all seeds are cleaned

Ever wonder how Earth Sangha grows the plants in its nursery? It all starts with the seeds! Come volunteer and learn how the process works. The size of the office conference room dictates a maximum of 15 people participating at a time. If you want to join these activities, please register by sending an email to Lisa Bright at lbright@earthsangha.org. Regrettably, volunteers may have to be turned away if they show up without communicating to Lisa.

ASNV Winter Waterfowl Count Workshop, Jan. 23rd

National Wildlife Federation
11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston, VA 20190
Thursday, 23 January 2020
7 – 9 pm
Field Trip: Saturday, January 25, TBD

Learn about waterfowl that visit our area in winter. Please bring a dish to share. This event is FREE and open to the public.

Join Greg Butcher, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) board member and migratory species coordinator for U.S. Forest Service International Programs, for an introduction to waterfowl identification. Get to know many of the species that winter in the open waters of our region. You’ll learn how to tell a Bufflehead from a Hooded Merganser, and, with luck, you will see the beautiful Tundra Swans that winter in our area. Strategies will include identification by shape and color pattern. This workshop will include an outdoor field trip and bird walk on Saturday, January 25—details will be given in class.

After the workshop and field trip, you’ll be ready to rally for a tally during the ASNV 12th Annual Waterfowl Count, Saturday, February 8, and Sunday, February 9. Volunteer teams will survey the Potomac River from Algonkian Regional Park in Loudoun County south to Quantico Marine Base in Prince William County. Several important inland ponds, lakes, and marshes are included in the survey. To register contact Larry Cartwright: prowarbler@verizon.net or info@audubonva.org.

RSVP here.

Limit: 30
Fee: FREE

Volunteer to be a science fair judge, Jan. 25th

Lake Braddock Secondary School
9200 Burke Lake Rd, Burke, VA 22015
Saturday, 25 January 2019
Judge orientation 8-9 am
Judging 9am – 12pm

No experience necessary! If you have never judged a science fair, don’t worry-they will train you. If you can judge this year, please fill out your contact information and science specialty area on this form. Opportunities are also available to mentor and support student entrants. Questions? Contact Maureen Goble, Lake Braddock Secondary School Science Department Chair.

Master naturalists report service hours under code E:152.

Upcoming Planting/Seeding Projects at Riverbend Park

Riverbend has planting/seeding projects in the works before winter (and the holidays). These are great for master naturalists or anyone interested in restoring of our parks. Please sign up using the link below:

Sign up here: https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/184069

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Not available on these workdays? Schedule a volunteer workday at Riverbend Park!

Email Valeria to schedule a day/time that works for you! We are available most weekdays 10am-3pm. Weekends vary.

Christmas Bird Count Workshop

Photo (c) by Barbara J. Saffir

National Wildlife Federation, Wildlife Center Drive 11100, Reston, Virginia
November 24, 2019
1:00 pm – 03:00 pm

Location:

Join Phil Silas, the Manassas-Bull Run Christmas Bird Count compiler, at the National Wildlife Federation to learn about this long-running citizen science bird survey. Phil will cover its purpose and scope, explain how we organize our CBC, and show where the data goes and how it is used. The workshop offers tips on preparing for a winter bird count and will review how to identify many of the birds seen in our area in winter. Workshop is free, but registration is required. 

Stream monitoring volunteer opportunities

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.

Accotink Creek Stream Monitoring Session
Lake Accotink Park, Springfield VA
Saturday, 14 December 2019
9:30am-11:30am

Join 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. See upcoming Accotink Stream Monitoring events here.

Planning for 2020 City Nature Challenge: Please complete survey

Photo (c) by Barbara J. Saffir

In case it’s not on your radar already, save the dates for April 24-27 for making observations during the City Nature Challenge, then adding identifications until the results are announced on Monday, May 4, 2020.

There are well over 100 cities participating again. To recap how we’ve organized in the DC area, anyone is welcome to participate & organize events and communication within your organization/neighborhood/groups. We’ll have monthly calls to share pertinent information, probably starting in December.

For individuals who are interested in taking a leadership role in organizing across the region (for things like outreach, social media, etc), please fill out this survey if you haven’t already. Stella Tarnay and Carrie Seltzer will be in touch for next steps with last year’s leadership group and anyone who fills out the survey.