City Nature Challenge, April 30th – May 3rd

Photo from City Nature Challenge

Invented by citizen science staff at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (Lila Higgins) and California Academy of Sciences (Alison Young). The City Nature Challenge is an international effort for people to find and document plants and wildlife in cities across the globe. It’s a bioblitz-style competition where cities are in a contest against each other to see who can make the most observations of nature, who can find the most species, and who can engage the most people.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers made some modifications to City Nature Challenge 2020 to help keep everyone safe. Firstly, CNC 2020 pivoted to be a collaboration rather than a competition. Instead, they wanted to embrace the healing power of nature and encourage the celebratory aspect of the CNC. This allowed people to safely document biodiversity in whatever way they could, even from the safety of their own homes. They urged all participants to carefully follow public health guidelines provided by their local governments, as they are changed in real-time. Individual safety and public health were and will be their utmost priority. The decision as to whether CNC 2021 will be a competition or collaboration will be announced in 2021.

The observation period for the City Nature Challenge will take place April 30th through May 3rd. Then during May 4-9, observations can still be uploaded to iNaturalist and identified. The global results will be announced on Monday, May 10. Please join the project on iNaturalist which will automatically collect all of the relevant observations during those 4 days.

For the DC metropolitan area (including DC and parts of MD, VA, and WV), we’ll have monthly meetings to coordinate our activities and foster new collaborations. Any organizations or individuals who want to play a role in encouraging and supporting participation anywhere in the metro area are invited to join these calls. January 29 will specifically be a call for anyone new to the City Nature Challenge, so please invite others who may be interested to join.

This year, all calls will take place on Fridays from 11 am to noon.

Call dates for organizers:
Jan 22: meeting for returning organizers
Jan 29: first time organizers (if you haven’t participated in the City Nature Challenge before, this will orient you)
Feb 19: monthly meeting for all CNC organizers
Mar 19: monthly meeting for all CNC organizers
Apr 16: monthly meeting for all CNC organizers
May 21: post-CNC debrief call for all CNC organizers

The January 29th meeting will be recorded, so it won’t be too late to get involved! For more information join https://groups.google.com/g/dc-area-citynaturechallenge.

Science Fair Judges Needed, dates various

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Fairfax County Regional Science and Engineering Fair
Online judging is scheduled during the week of March 13-20, 2021
Register on the category judge website

Mount Vernon High School, 8515 Old Mt Vernon Rd, Alexandria VA
Tuesday, February 2 to Saturday, February 6, 2021
Judges will have several days to review student videos, evaluating the work with a simple rubric.
Please contact Alexander White for more information or to volunteer, especially if you have a particular category you would like to judge.

New School of Northern Virginia, 9431 Silver King Ct., Fairfax VA 22031
Wednesday, April 14, 2021 — all submissions will be available on Wednesday evening and all judging forms will need to be completed by noon on Thursday, April 15th.
Sign up here.

Virginia Association for Environmental Education Virtual Mini-Conferences, Feb. 20, July 17, Oct. 23

Want to connect with other environmental educators? The Virginia Association for Environmental Education (VAEE) is offering a virtual mini conference series! Each day will highlight one of Virginia’s different regions, seasonal changes, and the educators that work within that area.

February 20 – Winter in the West
July 17 – Summer on the Shore
October 23 – Fall in the Piedmont

Registration is currently open only for the full conference (all three dates together as a package) and the February event.

VAEE is now also accepting proposals for presentations, so if you would like to lead a session or workshop, submit your proposal. Many volunteers have had great presentations at past conferences.

Please see the VAEE website for all the details you need on both registration and submitting a proposal.

A Choice on MLK Day of Service, January 18th

A Dyke Marsh inlet. Photo by Ned Stone.

January 18, 2021
10am – Noon
Meet at the Belle Haven Park south parking lot registration table. This will be canceled if there are heavy storms or lightning that morning.

Friends of Dyke Marsh and National Park Service will host two activities:

(1) a shoreline trash cleanup and

(2) removing English ivy from trees.

Volunteers can choose either activity. You do not need prior plant identification experience.

To follow covid-19 protocols, we must require registration and limit participants to 15 people in each group. We will provide work gloves, tools, trash bags and hand sanitizer.

Wear a mask, sturdy shoes, long pants and sleeves, winter gloves and sun protection. Bring your own water.

Register here and indicate your choice:
https://forms.office.com/Pages/ResponsePage.aspx?id=urWTBhhLe02TQfMvQApUlHWAzFDL3hpMiePFqcjTpuxUMTVQUzZRSFo1WEdST1JaTTk5MkZTSTlXUy4u

Wine to Water Filter Build: Create A Meaningful Experience for Your Family and Community

Conservation, community service, hands-on environmental engineering, and social justice intersect in the work of Wine to Water, a North Carolina-based 501 (c) (3) nonprofit whose mission is to support life and dignity through the power of clean water.

The organization enables many ways to participate, one of which is Filter Build, a guided experience to build small, portable water filters that the organization distributes to communities in the U.S., Colombia, The Dominican Republic, Nepal, Tanzania, and elsewhere. Here is a copy of their 2018-2019 Annual Report, which presents the results of their work in both quantitative and human terms.

Do Fairfax County residents need these filters themselves? Nope.

Can Fairfax County residents and Master Naturalists host virtual events to actually build them for communities that do? You bet.

Might we, our children and grandchildren, and our neighbors learn about some of the engineering that goes into making water potable? Yup, that, too.

Learn one, do one, teach one?

Start here–with a video by founder Doc Hendley.

2020 Christmas Bird Counts and Alternatives

Photo of Eastern Towhee by Bob Howdesell, CBC

Central Loudoun Christmas Bird Count
When: Monday, December 28, 2020
Join Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy as they participate in the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count. The count circle has a 15-mile diameter and covers 177 square miles of Loudoun’s countryside: north to Waterford, south to Aldie, east to Ashburn, and west to Purcellville. LWC will not be holding an in-person Tally Rally this year but may do something virtual. If you are interested in participating for just a couple of hours or the entire day, sign up here.

Reston Association’s Winter Bird Count
When: Saturday, January 2, 2021 7 am – 12 pm
Half-day annual bird count throughout Reston natural areas. Meet local bird experts, obtain tips on identification, and help with collecting vital information about our feathered friends. Register using code 106201205 or call (703) 476-9689, ext. 5, by December 30th.

Audubon Society of Northern Virginia plans to hold the 39th Manassas-Bull Run Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 20. This year’s count will be different, in light of the pandemic.

Instead of recruiting new participants, they will be limiting the count to last year’s participants who want to do the count under conditions that conform with pandemic restrictions, including wearing masks, maintaining social distance and carpooling with household members only. Instead of their count day lunch gathering, they will have an online “tally rally” in the evening of count day. If you participated in last year’s count, you should have received a message about participating this year.

If you were looking forward to volunteering for the first time for this CBC, they hope you’ll understand and volunteer next year. BUT there are still ways you can join the spirit of the count! Consider these possibilities or invent your own:

Join the Free Zoom CBC Celebration and Summary:

Learn about highlights of this year’s CBC and celebrate with the CBC community. Register here.

Do Your Own Count:

Walk through your neighborhood or visit a park or refuge to gather observations and report your personal findings via eBird. (see below) Be sure to practice social distancing and wear a mask if within six feet of others!

Learn More About Useful Identification and Database Applications:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a suite of useful tools and sites related to birding.

Explore many aspects of birding (species, hotspots, regions, etc.) at ebird.org.

You can also take a free course on their eBird smartphone application that allows you to document the species you see or hear. https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/product/ebird-essentials/

Take a free course on using another great smartphone app, Merlin Bird ID and other tools at https://merlin.allaboutbirds.org

Play learning games about birds at https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/learning-games/

Project FeederWatch:

Count birds that visit your feeders from the safety of your home or yard. Submit data from your sightings to contribute to winter and early bird counts. The 2020–21 FeederWatch season began on November 14 and ends on April 9. You can still sign up, and the last day to start a two-day count is April 8. Details are at https://feederwatch.org.

CBC Feeder Watchers:

If you reside in the Manassas-Bull Run CBC circle, you can count your feeder birds on December 20 and send a report that can be included in the official count. Contact the CBC compiler Phil Silas, epsdcva@aol.com for details.

Training for new Audubon at Home Ambassadors, December 6th

Photo courtesy of audubonva.org

Sunday, December 6, 2020
2 pm
Register here.
Note: This training is for those interested in volunteering as Ambassadors, not a program for those wanting to learn how to landscape with native plants in their own yards.

Tami Sheiffer, Audubon at Home Coordinator for Fairfax County, will be holding virtual training for new volunteers interested in becoming Audubon at Home Ambassadors in Fairfax County.

Ambassadors are knowledgeable volunteers who expand quality wildlife habitat in Northern Virginia by sharing their knowledge of native plants and ecosystems with homeowners. As an Ambassador, you will conduct site visits, provide personalized advice to homeowners, and certify yards as wildlife sanctuaries. (The personalized recommendations are provided to the homeowner via email after the site visit so you will not be on the spot to provide all recommendations during the site visit.)

We have successfully resumed site visits since July with COVID-19 safety precautions in place. Site visits take place entirely outdoors, one on one or in small groups. Clients and Ambassadors must wear masks and fill out an online form prior to the site visit stating that no one in their families has symptoms. Followup communication with the recommendations is done through email.

Being an Ambassador is rewarding because you’re guiding people to make changes in their yards that noticeably improve wildlife habitat, as evidenced by the presence of sanctuary species. And, volunteering as an Ambassador is convenient because you schedule the site visit for a day and time that fits in your schedule. Clients are assigned based on proximity so you will usually not have to drive more than 15 minutes to a client’s house, and you can accept or decline clients based on your availability.

My Tree Counts–Help the VDOF

Photo by J. Quinn Article by Jim McGlone, Urban Forest Conservationist, Virginia Department of Forestry

In 2010, the courts determined that the EPA and its partners in the Chesapeake Bay watershed had not made sufficient progress in improving Bay water quality with voluntary measures and ordered the EPA to begin regulatory measures to clean up the Bay. The process the EPA settled on was the Watershed Improvement Plan (WIP) and directed the states in the Bay watershed to develop plans to improve water quality in the Bay and its tributaries.

In 2020, Virginia adopted WIP phase 3 or WIP III. This plan has many elements and practices, but one of the practices that is relevant to home owners is tree planting. The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) has been tasked with counting tree plantings to meet the WIP III goals. This year (October 1 – September 30) the goal for Northern Virginia is 28,500 trees and shrubs.

Needless to say, the VDOF needs your help to count all these plantings, so we made a web app for that. It is called My Tree Counts https://arcg.is/WryDG. On this app you can report your tree and shrub plantings made since October 1, 2020. You can also read about other tree planting projects in Virginia and learn why trees are so good at protecting water quality. We want to count every tree planted this year and for at least the next 4 years, so please report your tree and shrub plantings and ask your friends and neighbors to do so as well, because MY TREE COUNTS!

Report your Fox Squirrel sightings!

Photo and article by Marissa Guill, graduate student, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech

The fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is the largest species of tree squirrel native to the United States. In Virginia, fox squirrel populations are still present in the Delmarva Peninsula and west of the Piedmont into the Appalachians. However east of the Appalachians, particularly in the lower Piedmont and Coastal Plain, fox squirrels are rare and patchily distributed, especially the southeastern subspecies Sciurus niger niger, or the southeastern fox squirrel. Regionally, formerly suitable habitat has been subjected to fragmentation and degradation of mixed pine-hardwood forests and bottomland hardwoods by conversion to agriculture and plantation forestry, as well as decades of fire suppression. At this moment, the southeastern fox squirrel holds an unknown distributional status in Virginia which could ultimately impact future management efforts.

Our goal is to better understand the distribution of fox squirrels in Virginia to reveal important habitat requirements and ecological specialization. We are currently seeking out volunteers and citizen scientists to help us collect sightings of fox squirrels across Virginia.

Read the rest of the article here.

Knowledgeable Volunteers Sought for FLAP Pollinator Garden

Photo by Mary Keeser

Lake Accotink Park
7500 Accotink Park Road, Springfield VA
Pollinator garden up the hill from the marina parking lot

Enthusiastic, energetic President of Friends of Lake Accotink Park has transformed the former pollinator garden into a professionally designed, all-native landscape. This garden will become a learning center with a path, interpretive sign, and a “talking box” with buttons to press for plant information. Tri-fold pamphlets will be available for visitors to take to learn to plant a pollinator garden at their homes. Fourteen species await your TLC!

They need: 1) Advice on how to care for the garden, knowing seeds will be dropped.
2) Knowledgeable volunteers to help clean the bed of unwanted plants.

Be part of the forward progress of this inspirational project! To volunteer or learn more, contact Mary Keeser at president@flapaccotink.org.

Master naturalists, obtain service credit under code S105: Accotink Creek Cleanup and Service Projects.