Urban Bats: Studying and Protecting our Wildlife Neighbors, October 26th

Photo by Rick Reynolds on www.dwr.virginia.gov

Tuesday, October 26, 2021
7 pm
Zoom
Register here.

When you think of urban wildlife, critters like rats, pigeons, and raccoons may come to mind – but what about bats? Bats have a scary reputation, but play an important role in ecosystems and face serious conservation threats. Dr. Ela-Sita Carpenter will discuss her study of bats in Baltimore, as well as ways we can all support these special creatures in our neighborhoods. Presented by Audubon Naturalist Society.

Poplar Island: An Innovative Model of Habitat Creation through Reuse, October 19th

Photo courtesy of http://www.poplarislandrestoration.com/

Tuesday, October 19, 2021
7 pm
Zoom
Register here.

Join Kristina Motley, Senior Environmental Specialist, to examine why the Poplar Island project is such a successful model of reuse. This environmental restoration project located in the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County, Maryland, relies on dredged material collected from the approach channels to the Baltimore Harbor to restore lost remote island habitat within the Chesapeake Bay. This results in restoration of almost 400 acres of wetland habitat where more than 400 different species of wildlife have been documented and more than 30 different birds have been confirmed as nesting. Join Audubon Naturalist Society to learn about this unique story of continuing habitat victories.

Celebrate Fall Color!

Photo and article courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives

As Northern Virginia continues to celebrate trees to mark the start of the five year regional native tree campaign, autumn colors move to center stage. We may not get New England’s sudden (and brief) burst of color from the dominance of sugar maples, but our region makes up for it with the more gradual unfolding of a warm and lingering fall.

Most deciduous trees are best planted in the autumn, which conveniently coincides with the best time to choose a tree for its fall foliage. Trees are like people: within one species, there is plenty of variability, so if fall color is a high priority for you, this is the time to go shopping.

If your attention is drawn to a particular tree on a forested slope in Virginia, chances are you have spotted a Black Gum tree, whose red leaves positively glow in the sun. Other native trees with markedly red foliage include the Red Maples and the Scarlet and Shumard oaks. All these trees are eminently suitable for planting in a yard. Hickory trees have bright yellow foliage and tend to have planted themselves, as they are harder to find in nurseries because their deep tap roots makes it hard to dig them up. The muted red leaves of the Flowering Dogwood, Virginia’s state tree, provide a background for scarlet berries that are an important food source for migrating birds. This brings up two related subjects. The first is that it is important to choose native trees, as it is only plants that evolved within our local ecosystem that support that ecosystem. The second is that fall color is not just about foliage. The berries of many native plants, especially shrubs, ripen in fall and make a bright display that attracts birds to your yard. Many of those shrubs, such as blueberries, chokeberries, sumacs and native viburnums, also have brilliant fall foliage in their own right. Fall is also the time for the many species of the aptly named goldenrod and for the purples, blues, pinks, whites and even yellows of asters. Goldenrods and asters are the host plants for more species of caterpillars than any other perennials. But it is trees that support the most wildlife of all. If you only have the time and energy to plant one plant, let it be a native tree.

One of the fun things about our drawn-out autumn is watching the colors evolve over time. Certain patterns emerge. Sycamores start to fade well before summer’s end, with Dogwoods starting to turn rust red soon afterwards and Sassafras either red or gold. The brighter reds and yellows of canopy trees follow, with oaks being late to turn. Once those are shed, what is left is the light brown leaves of oaks and beeches that hold onto their leaves well into winter. The trees do not march in lock step, though, and there is plenty of variation from year to year, tree to tree, and even from branch to branch on the same tree. The Plant NOVA Trees website includes photos as well as a practical guide to choosing and planting native trees.

You might be thinking that when choosing a native tree, it might as well be one with bright red foliage. But consider that it is not a sea of red that makes autumn so beautiful but the quilt of contrasting red, gold, green and brown provided by the diversity of our woodland species. There are over fifty native species of trees to choose between in Northern Virginia, each of which plays its own important role in the beauty and the ecosystem of our region. Not only would it look odd to see only red trees, planting too many of one species puts the community at risk if disease strikes. Biodiversity is the key to resilience in a changing world.

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy seeks Eagle Cam Volunteers

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy (LWC) is excited about partnering with Dulles Greenway, the American Eagle Foundation, and HDOnTap to bring livestream action to your home from a Bald Eagle nest in the Dulles Greenway Wetlands. Read more about it in a recent article.

LWC will play an important role in helping to educate the public on the habits and behaviors of Bald Eagles through remotely operating the two high-quality livestream cameras and by moderating the website chat function. The camera is now available to view through a link on the Dulles Greenway website.

LWC is currently seeking volunteers to assist with this project. Stay tuned for more information on what will be involved with being a Remote Camera Operator or Chat Moderator. Training will take place in November.

Please contact Loudoun Wildlife Volunteer Coordinator Kim Strader at kstrader@loudounwildlife.org if you are interested in volunteering for either of these unique opportunities to work with the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Eagle Cam.

Clifton Institute Work Days, October 23rd & 30th

Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA

Saturday, October 23, 2021
9 am – 12:30 pm

Invasive plant species crowd out native plants and provide little to no food for native animals. Every winter Clifton Institute works to remove invasive Autumn Olive from around their property and over the last few years they have made a lot of progress, thanks to all of their amazing volunteers! Join them on October 23 to start the 2021-2022 Autumn Olive removal season.

Registration is REQUIRED so that they can communicate with you in case of changes.

Saturday, October 30, 2021
9 am – 12:30 pm

In the spring Clifton Institute planted 975 tree seedlings along the stream in their native grassland. They need your help finishing the planting with a few more trees.

Registration is REQUIRED so that they can communicate with you in case of changes.

New App Brings Awareness of ADA Requirements to Trails

Photos courtesy of Stephen Tzikas

Article written by FMN Steve Tzikas
Reprinted with permission of Audubon Society of Northern Virginia

As we celebrate Birdability Week, October 18  – October 24, 2021, we would like to highlight Steve Tzikas, an energetic volunteer who has been mapping trails in Northern Virginia for their “Birdability.”

“The Birdability Map is a crowdsourced map which describes the accessibility features of birding locations all over the world. This allows people with accessibility challenges to find out in advance if a birding location is one they would like to visit.”

Read Steve’s account of his mapping experience: 

In early 2021 I inquired if the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia needed any volunteers for a citizen science field project that involved exercise. As I got older I needed more exercise opportunities, but as a scientist and engineer, I wanted it to involve science to keep my interest. The response I received informed me about Birdability, which was founded in 2016 by Virginia Rose. As the Birdability website notes,

“Birdability works to ensure the birding community and the outdoors are welcoming, inclusive, safe and accessible for everybody.”  They “focus on people with mobility challenges, blindness or low vision, chronic illness, intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental illness, and those who are neurodivergent, deaf or hard of hearing or who have other health concerns.”

A lot of information can already be found on the Internet about Birdability, including that found on its own website. Rather than repeat much which has already been noted by others, this article focuses on how a government regulation can become common knowledge to the public.  

Accessibility is an important part of trail development, because it is key to ensuring that trails are available to all groups such as the elderly and people with disabilities. The first accessibility laws were enacted in 1968 under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibited discrimination based on disability. 

After some thought the proposal to volunteer and evaluate trails for Birdability became an interesting prospect, even if not citizen science. Birdability still offered exercise by walking trails, but it also intrigued me. One of my many duties as an engineer over the years was the creation and review of facility design standards and agency policies as they related to specific requirements for the environment, safety, health, and security. These were technical requirements that few people, except professionals, ever see. Such regulations keep the public safe, even if they are not aware of their surroundings and the issues that impact them.  Sometimes, during reviews, a rather broad-based standard could include many other requirements not necessarily for my attention, but for other professionals in collaborating offices. As such, I would see information pertaining to ADA requirements. 

So, when I reviewed the Birdability template used in trail reviews, I thought about how this organization took a complicated regulation and converted it to an app for the public to use, educating them in the process. Moreover, this caught my interest, because as an engineer I also develop models that track government operations based on transactional data and the resource requirements that are part of those operations. Developing models based on big data is another item only professionals will do. But, Birdability developed a public app based on “dry” government requirements and made it appealing, useful, and educational.

The Birdability survey template covers the basic ADA requirements so people with accessibility challenges can access a reviewed trail quickly and get outside to experience the natural surroundings. When submitting a survey, reviewers are asked to comment on ADA aspects including parking, ramps, restrooms, and other accessible features as well as trail accessibility criteria such as surface(s), slope(s), shade, benches, gates, railings, steps, and viewing blinds.

The largest section is for any additional information. This connects the trail to the types of birds seen, seasonal conditions, width of trails, overall difficulty, wildlife activity, and so on. This is followed by a section for rating the location’s overall accessibility, and there is the ability to add photographs.

I forwarded suggestions for improvements, whether for future upgrades of the website itself, or to fellow reviewers on best practices for entering a review. For example; slope criteria are noted, but it’s not always an easy task to measure, especially if a trail has a lot of vertical variability. Reviewers can’t be expected to conduct an engineer’s transit measurement on every trail slope encountered. At first I attempted to measure the slope with the greatest incline. I used a simple astrolabe I owned to get a quick estimate for the degrees of inclination.  However, it was even easier to take a photograph and post it so a reader could decide whether such inclines posed a challenge to their body strength or wheelchair. The photograph section of the survey template acted as a useful place to add information that words alone could not describe accurately. I also noted other ideas by including comments, such as whether a trail is accessible through public transportation. 

Steve measuring slope

While most people might associate ADA with people using wheel chairs, the ADA also covers conditions due to deafness, blindness, diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, missing limbs, autism, and other medical conditions.  

The accessibility guidelines apply to those trails that are designed and constructed for pedestrian use. These guidelines are not applicable to trails primarily designed and constructed for recreational use by equestrians, mountain bicyclists, snowmobile users, or off-highway vehicle users. Regulations also recognize the existence of constraints and limitations in the outdoor environment and allow for certain other exceptions. 

I do many of my reviews in my town of Reston, Virginia. Reston was founded in 1964 as a planned community. Today it has 60,000 residents, over 55 miles of walking paths, about 250 acres of woodlands and open space, 4 lakes, and a tree canopy covering about half of its total area. There is a high degree of accessibility, and there are many birds along the paths and lakes.  Birdability offers the chance to get to know your community and what it has to offer. The Birdability map notes the locations where people have submitted reviews. It is constantly growing with submissions.

Steve with Astrolabe

If you are seeking a good experience with exercise and learning, Birdability mapping may be the one for you. Visit the website and view the Birdability map, where you can read what others wrote, as well as submit your own trail review. Whether it is a simple trail review, or a more thoughtful one that attempts to identify the variety of birds and their habits through the seasons, it’s worth a try. 

A World of Bugs

Feature photo by J. Quinn

Photos and article by FMN Steve Tzikas

Upon following an approved sampling protocol,
a net is ready for examination, collection, and identification of the macroinvertebrates captured on it.

As kids, we all had a fascination with bugs. If we owned a microscope, inevitably a few bugs would be examined close-up. We would be fascinated by the insects at natural history museums, even as an adult. Some of us would decide to make a career around bugs. With a vocational education leading to certification and licensing, one can become a pesticide applicator to protect homes and properties against harmful insects. With a little more education one can get a 4-year entomology BS degree. Personally I went into engineering, but it would not be the last time I encountered insects in some other than ordinary fashion. When I was Chief of the US Army’s Environmental Office in Japan, I had a program to control pine beetles on forested property overseen by the Army. There too were those pesticide applicators and any issues that I may have had to address with environmental and safety concerns. At another point in my career, with Ports-of-Entry programs, I was one of many who occasionally offered support to ensure our Agricultural Specialists had the resources they needed to secure America from deadly pests that could enter the country. In fact, there are many opportunities for aspiring students when it comes to insects. For those aspiring students, and for that matter curious adults, there are opportunities to get up close to insects, but in a more friendly manner, because these insects help us monitor the health of streams.

I just entered the Fairfax Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist (VMN) course program, and one of the classes covers entomology and invertebrates. The VMN program is a great way to offer community service, get some exercise, and learn something that might be beneficial for a future goal. When I retire I would like to take some graduate level courses in GMU’s environmental science program, which has a biology/ecology component.

A large Hellgramite found by one of the sampling teams.

One of those local volunteer opportunities is with the popular stream monitoring program managed by the Northern Virginia Soil and Conservation District. It’s a chance to learn about watersheds, the basics of stream ecology and monitoring, the sampling and identifying of benthic macroinvertebrates, and the recording of that data for use by researchers and professional decision makers. For more information about this program, visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/soil-water-conservation/volunteer-stream-monitoring.

If this is something that appeals to your inner scientist, certifications are also offered once you accumulate some field experience. Part of that certification journey begins with this weblink: https://www.iwla.org/water/stream-monitoring/upcoming-water-monitoring-workshops.

This biological stream monitoring is great fun. People of all ages attend, not just teenagers. Like myself, there are also a lot of professionals – university graduates seeking new experiences, retired professors, and others who have an interest in life-long learning. Why not discover a whole new world of bugs? I hope to see you at one of the streams monitored in Fairfax County.

How to Improve Your iNaturalist Photos to Better Help Scientists

Photo courtesy of Barbara J. Saffir

By FMN C.E. Hike Coordinator Barbara J. Saffir
(iNat username: DMVphotographer)

WHY USE INATURALIST? 

If you want to contribute to citizen-science while exploring outdoors, iNaturalist’s free, user-friendly app and website provides the best virtual toolbox. Your data will actually get used. Real humans are available to respond to problems. You can join projects and interact directly with other observers around the globe. Plus, it’s downright fun! And iNat is powered by a world-class team of experts at the National Geographic and the California Academy of Sciences.

But before you start snapping pictures, learn how to improve your photos so your observations can be identified easier by iNat’s artificial intelligence, which, in turn, helps scientists more. Some helpful camera tips follow. But in some cases, it also helps to learn when you need to photograph specific parts of some critters or plants to identify them.

CAMERA

Whether you use a cell phone camera, a DSLR, a mirrorless, or a point-and-shoot, its best to learn your camera’s capabilities by practicing and by studying its manual.

APP OR WEBSITE?

Most of the time I photograph and upload directly from iNaturalist’s app because it’s faster, easier, and it’s the sole photo app I allow to use my location, due to privacy. Also, if I have cell service, I can identify observations in the field and upload them immediately — though I usually wait until I’m connected to a power source since those functions use a lot of “juice.”

However, instead of relying solely on unaltered photos uploaded directly from the app’s camera, your photos will be better if you tweak them first with a third-party processing program like Photoshop. In less than 60 seconds, you can often improve the composition (via cropping), lighting, sharpness, and more before uploading them to iNat. If you upload using your computer, you can batch-edit the dates and locations. The website is also better at identifying critters and plants because it gives you ranges and can confirm if observations of your organism have already been made in that county, adds a local science teacher who identifies thousands of iNat observations. She also recommends that you should only identify what you, yourself, can confirm. For example, she says if iNat suggests a “two-spotted bumble bee” but you’re only sure it’s a “bumble bee,” stick with that. Of course, beginners and/or casual users have to rely on iNat’s suggestions until they learn more.

BASICS FOR IMPROVING PHOTOS:

 1.        IN FOCUS:  Look at your photo right away and if it’s not in focus, take another until it’s sharp.

 2.      SUBJECT SHOULD TAKE UP MOST OF THE FRAME:  Get as close as feasible.  Crop your photos to cut out major distractions, such as other species, weeds, and sticks.  Don’t crop too much or it will result in poor resolution. Also, don’t waste your time using “digital zoom” on a camera because of its poor quality — unless you’re far away and you spot the Loch Ness Monster or Brad Pitt.

 3.      WELL-LIGHTED:  Keep the sun behind you.  Use flash or a flashlight if needed.

 4.      ADDITIONAL VIEWS MAY BE NEEDED FOR ID:  Sometimes a close-up detail of an organism’s features, such as its underside, bark, leaves, head, etc., is needed. (See below for iNat’s ID tips.)

 5.      ADD SCALE IF NECESSARY:  Use your finger, a ruler, a penny, etc.

 6.      NOTES:  You can add notes to your observations, such as the number of plants or critters observed.  You can also add that you shot a video if anyone wants to see it.

7.      MISCELLANEOUS:  Clean your lens before photographing. Check your battery.  Use your foot, your chest, a tree, a fence, or another solid object as a makeshift tripod to prevent the camera from shaking.  For plant photos, bring a piece of cardboard for a backdrop and to block the wind. Join iNat projects to share your finds with people who care about them most.  Join local bioblitzes, such as City Nature Challenge each spring and Fairfax County Park Authority’s occasional bioblitzes.

INATURALIST’S PHOTO TIPS:  To pinpoint certain species, such as mushrooms, flowers, turtles, snakes, and birds, it’s best to learn about those subjects independently to know what kind of details are required to clinch an ID of specific species.  For example, with birds, it helps to photograph the entire bird, and to document important details, such as its color, shape, size, beak, behavior, habitat, and feather field marks (such as an eye ring or bars on its feathers) with photo(s) or in notes. https://www.inaturalist.org/guides/2465

PHOTO TIPS FROM RUTGERS UNIVERSITY:  The photo below shows how a plain background works best for identification purposes.  Click here for Rutger’s full presentation: https://botanydepot.com/2020/07/27/presentation-how-to-photograph-plants-and-more/

Lena Struwe and Peter Nitzsche, Rutgers University

DISCOVERY TIME:  So now that you’re prepared to contribute better photos to help citizen-science, the only question is: “Where should I go hunting for nature today?”  You don’t even have to venture far from home.  Fairfax County has more than 400 parks along nearly 1,000 miles of paved and dirt trails. Maybe you’ll even discover a whole new species.  This year, Virginia Tech discovered a new species of millipedes on its own campus.

Nonpoint Source Pollution & Labeling Stormwater Drains, a Gold Award Project

Article by FMN & Gold Award Girl Scout Mackenzie Nordai
Photos courtesy of Mackenzie Nordai

My Gold Award* aimed to address the issue of nonpoint source pollution’s effect on Pohick Creek Watershed which includes Hidden Pond Park in Springfield, Virginia. As the leader of the project, I led groups of volunteers through three communities adjacent to this watershed and labeled stormwater drains to alert people about where these drains lead. I also communicated awareness to the communities around Hidden Pond through a community newsletter, Fairfax Master Naturalist social media, and postings on bulletin boards at Hidden Pond Nature Center about the negative effects that nonpoint source pollution has on the environment. Nonpoint source pollution has the largest impact on our water quality, because it comes from many sources like our suburban neighborhoods. Some examples include fertilizers, pesticides, dog waste, car soap, oil, grease, antifreeze, paints, sediment, and excess salt from salting the roads. When it rains, the runoff from our neighborhoods enter our stormwater drains dispersing different pollutants into our ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers leading to the Chesapeake Bay and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean, which can hurt the ecosystem and marine life.

Did you know that a single six pack plastic ring can last 400 years before it finally can decompose? And paints, oils, and grease can pollute the waters through dissipation. These pollutants along with various others can impact different wildlife through suffocation and by changing the environment’s carrying capacity to a level that the wildlife can no longer sustain. Amphibians, for example, have thinner skin than most animals and are affected by water and air pollutants, so imagine what a drop of oil or grease is going to do to a whole population of organisms.

I selected my issue, because I care about the environment, plan to pursue a related field in college, and have already begun educating others on this topic during my coursework to become a certified Fairfax Master Naturalist. While doing so I was inspired to spread the knowledge about how to prevent nonpoint source pollution and the impacts that it has on our watersheds. As I delved into research, I felt a passion in understanding the impacts of pollution and I felt driven about educating others on what society can do to help prevent it.

In conclusion, there are ways that we all can help our environment by preventing nonpoint source pollution. First, you can contact the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NVSWCD) and label the stormwater drains in your neighborhood to increase awareness. Next, you could work on establishing native plants in your landscaping and minimize fertilizers and pesticides, or by purchasing household detergents and cleaners that are low in phosphorus. Also, you can dispose of used oil, antifreeze, paints and other household chemicals properly. Lastly, you can properly dispose of dog waste and litter. All of these actions help to protect the environment and our local watershed.

* The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest award a Girl Scout Senior or Ambassador can earn. A Gold Award Take Action Project has national and/or global links, is sustainable, takes approximately 80 hours and addresses an issue the Girl Scout cares about.

Fruit Talks and Field Walks: Persimmons with Eliza Greenman – November 11

Photo: Persimmon, Keith Bradley

Workshop:
Online
Thursday, November 11, 2021
7 – 8 PM

Field Trip:
Saturday, November 13, 2021
8 AM – Noon
Oak Spring Garden Foundation, Upperville, VA

Fees: Workshop only: $15; Workshop and field walk: $75

Register here.

Join Audubon Society of Northern Virginia for an exciting new series with Oak
Spring Garden Foundation that focuses on native and heritage trees. The first
workshop will be led by Eliza Greenman, a fruit explorer, horticultural historian,
designer, and implementer of agroforestry. Learn more about Eliza and her work here.

Eliza will lead participants in a one-hour online class, followed by a half-day field
trip to Oak Spring Garden Foundation. They will be outdoors and walking
in the field. Please wear comfortable clothing and appropriate shoes.