Meadowood Partnership

(Cover photo Jerry Nissley)

FMN recently established a partnership with Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area on Mason Neck Peninsula (SRMA). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Eastern States Lower Potomac Field Station manages recreation and natural resources on two properties, one in Maryland and the other in Virginia. The Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) includes 800 acres on the Mason Neck Peninsula in Fairfax County, Virginia, is located just 25 miles south of Washington, D.C. Mason Neck State Park, Pohick Bay Regional Park, Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and Gunston Hall historic mansion are also located on the peninsula. The peninsula is formed by Gunston Bay to the north, Potomac River to the east, and Belmont Bay to the south.

Morning Meadow (courtesy BLM)

The SRMA landscape contains a variety of terrains and vegetation types. These include gently sloping open meadows, mature hardwood forests along steep slopes, floodplains, and riparian areas, as well as freshwater ponds and streams. Red and white oak, beech, sweet gum, Virginia pine, and persimmon, which are common sights in mid-Atlantic woodlands, appear throughout the forests at Meadowood. The ponds, streams and riparian areas in the SRMA host a wide variety of insects, fish and other wildlife.

Veterans group, Fishing Community Org (FCO), ‘Fishing On Public Lands’ Event (photo Jerry Nissley)

BLM and the State of Virginia survey the population in the fishing ponds periodically, and restock them when needed. Grass-eating carp are among the species stocked in the ponds; they cannot reproduce, and they eat invasive aquatic weeds, which would otherwise overwhelm small ponds. In addition to stocked species, the American eel appears in the area’s ponds and streams and serves as an attractant to the local Bald eagles. Migrating waterfowl such as various ducks species, Canada geese, egrets, and herons commonly occur at water features. Dragonflies and butterflies are abundant at and near the ponds and meadows. Whitetail deer, Fox squirrels, Red fox, and coyotes abound throughout Meadowood. Moreover, the North American beaver makes the occasional appearance in the floodplains of Thompson Creek, Giles Run and South Branch as well as at Enchanted Pond.

Mountain bike trail ramp (courtesy BLM)

Miles of well marked multi-use trails (courtesy BLM)

Equestrian competition (photo Jerry Nissley)

The Meadowood Area encompasses 13.4 miles of hiking trails, 7 miles of horseback riding trails, 6.6 miles of mountain biking trails, and a large equestrian center. Meadowood hosts a universally accessible trail to two fishing ponds, 800 acres of forest and meadows, environmental education programs, horse boarding stable, geocaching, picnic areas, and bird watching sites. Portions of both the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail wind their way through the managed hiking area.

The environmental education programs are developed for homeschoolers, public and private schools, local 4-H groups, and community agencies. Programs consist of bird identification, fishing, habitat hikes, tree identification, Urban Leave No Trace, tracking, invasive weed removal, clean-up days, and many other outdoor environmental educational activities.

FMN/BLM tree planting team. National Public Lands Day. (Courtesy Ryan Sierra Jackson)

In conjunction with National Public Land Day, FMN helped the Meadowood team in our inaugural service project with them by planting trees and shrubs, trimming the pollinator garden, and general landscape maintenance  around the Mustang Trailhead pavilion. Thank you to FMN volunteers Monica Hoffman, Amy Eisenmenger and her husband, and Steve Tryon and his wife for pitching in. Future service opportunities will present themselves so be sure watch for FMN announcements. Please contact Meadowood directly to inquire about open volunteer opportunities or becoming a regular volunteer.

FMN welcome’s Meadowood as a chapter partner and created both a Service Code and a CE code for future opportunities.

Service hours may be entered under – S175: Meadowood SRMA Service Projects – – Bureau of Land Management

CE hours may be entered using the category All Continuing Education and then Bureau of Land Managment as the approved CE organization. Please enter project description and/or CE title when recording hours.

Plant NOVA Trees — One Year On

September marks the first anniversary of the launch of Plant NOVA Trees, a regionwide effort by over a hundred local organizations and thousands of individuals to promote native trees and shrubs in Northern Virginia. There is no regional tree planting agency that can do the job for us. Rather, it is up to each individual to look around to see how they can contribute, at home, at work, or on common land. Plant NOVA Trees connects people to the resources they need to do that.

There are many ways to participate. The simplest is to identify every appropriate site and plant young trees or shrubs there now, preferably canopy trees if there is room. They may not look like much the first couple years, but soon they will grow and provide shade and cooling for humans as well as shelter and food for our birds and butterflies. Information on how to choose and plant a native tree or shrub is available on the Plant NOVA Trees website. Fifty volunteers have visited local garden centers to hang thousands of tags on the native trees, making them easy to identify. (The same volunteers have been putting red stickers on all the native plants in those garden centers for several years.)

Each of our local jurisdictions and park services has tree planting plans for public lands. For example, the Prince William Soil and Conservation District has been working with 3rd and 4th graders to plant trees on school grounds. Kudos go especially to Purcellville, which planted 118,100 trees last year on former farmland that is owned by the town.

Members of local communities have also gotten together to plant trees in their common areas and to help residents plant on their own properties. So far, residents have self-reported 7850 trees and shrubs  on the Plant NOVA Trees website form. The Virginia Department of Forestry is collecting these figures as it works to meet its goal of 600,000 planted in Northern Virginia by 2025. This number is intended to help our region meet its obligation to protect the Chesapeake Bay, since runoff from roofs, roads and empty lawns is causing damage downstream, and trees are nature’s tool for capturing water. Those who appreciate our waterways should give careful thought to how they can contain stormwater on their own properties before it rushes off to erode our streams and dump sediment and pollutants into the Bay.

Despite all these efforts, Northern Virginia is gradually losing tree canopy. Multiple factors contribute to tree death. Some are hard to change on a local level, such as the stress on trees from climate change. Others are absolutely within our control, such as poor planting and mulching practices or the sacrifice of trees for more roads, buildings, and park amenities. Each native tree lost is one less home for birds and other wildlife as our local ecosystem suffers its death from a thousand cuts.

Invasive vines (as opposed to the beneficial native vines) pose another important threat to trees, and this has become one of the foci of the Plant NOVA Trees campaign. Volunteers for the new Tree Rescuers program spot trees that are at risk from English Ivy, Asian Wisteria, or other invasive non-native vines and drop off literature with the owners to alert them to the easily-mitigated problem. While they are at it, the volunteers count the trees at risk so we can get a more precise handle on where resources should be concentrated. So far, over two hundred volunteers have alerted 799 residents to 3491 trees at risk in 4.2 square miles of residential properties. In addition, they have counted almost 22,000 trees at risk in 3.3 square miles of non-residential areas. The data collection is too preliminary to make an accurate extrapolation, but it would appear that the total number of trees in need of rescue in Northern Virginia’s 1,300 square miles may be in the millions.

There are numerous opportunities around Northern Virginia to help control these invasive vines by cutting them near the ground. Over 3500 trees have been reported as saved so far. Besides saving the trees on their own properties, volunteers can organize the work on common land within their communities or join the invasives management programs of the various park services, listed on the Plant NOVA Trees “Rescuing Trees” page. Residents and communities can obtain a permit to clip the vines on VDOT property. In general, though, the resources to control invasives on government-owned land and easements will need to come from the governments themselves (and ultimately from the taxpayers.) It is also critical that everyone stop planting invasive plants to begin with, not only the invasive vines but all the other invasive non-native landscaping plants such as Bradford Pears and Burning Bush that escape from our properties into natural areas.

Businesses have been helping with the regional tree campaign in several ways. Local garden centers are promoting native trees and shrubs in honor of Celebrate Native Trees Week (Sept 26-Oct 2). Landscaping companies are increasingly choosing native species,  and a few have started to offer invasive plant removal services. Any company could educate its employees and customers and provide financial support to neighborhoods that need help with their open spaces.

Those businesses that control property can plant and preserve native trees there, which in some places may mean tearing up concrete to make room.

So what can you do to support the native tree campaign? Plant NOVA Trees is essentially an educational organization. The success of this initiative depends on the individual efforts of residents  across the region. So what can you do to support the native tree campaign? Plant NOVA Trees is essentially an educational organization. The success of this initiative depends on the individual efforts of residents across the region. There is no shortage of ideas on how to get involved, whether where you live or work or on a wider scale. Find these ideas on the Plant NOVA Trees website.

Acorn collection for VDOF, deadline October 14th

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) collects a variety of species of acorns and nuts that can be planted at its Augusta Nursery (Crimora, Va.) to grow into tree seedlings that will become the forests of tomorrow. These seeds will produce next year’s hardwood seedling crop, which will be sold to Virginia’s forestland owners. Seedlings grown from Virginia-grown seed generally produces trees that will best thrive in our state’s climates.

Certain nuts can be difficult to find regionally, and availability can change year to year. At times, one species of tree in a region may produce minimal acorns, while others are abundant. This is why VDOF puts out a call-to-action for landowners across the state. The more trees that can be identified for collection, the more nuts can be potentially planted in the nursery.

Virginia landowners interested in sharing their acorns or nuts are asked to review Seeking Acorns and Nuts to Grow Seedlings to learn about the species needed and procedures for collecting acorns and nuts.

This year’s deadline for receiving acorns is Friday, October 14, 2022.

Help Save Blake Lane! Invasive management in October

Photo:  FMN Jennifer Pradas

Saturdays, October 8, 15, 22 and 29, 2022
10 am
Blake Lane Park parking lot
10033 Blake Ln, Oakton

Two years ago, a group of citizens saved Blake Lane from being turned into a school. Now they need to save the park from invasive plants. The area is covered with bittersweet, porcelain berry, wisteria, mile-a-minute, stilt grass, Japanese honeysuckle, and others. They need help pulling and digging. They also need help maintaining a pollinator garden that the Girl Scouts planted a few years ago.

Pollinator garden photo: FMN Jennifer Pradas

The site leader for the Fairfax County Park Invasive Management Area Program will be hosting a workday almost every Saturday in October at BLake Lane Park in Oakton. There will NOT be a workday on Oct 1. Volunteers are asked to bring gloves, water, a snack, bug spray and long pants.

They hope to see you there! Please let Jennifer Pradas know ahead of time if you are planning on coming.

Why are my Oaks dying…and what can I do about it?

Photo: Moderate to severe decline symptoms in mature red oak. Joseph OBrien, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Wednesday, Oct 19, 2022
7:00 PM
Webinar

Please register in advance here.

Have you noticed oak trees that appear to die suddenly without explanation? Are you concerned about your oaks dying and want to know what you can do to keep them healthy?

Please join this meeting to learn about Oak Decline Syndrome, a combination of environmental and biological factors that slowly weaken and eventually result in the death of vulnerable oak trees. Oak Decline Syndrome has been studied by the US Forest Service since the 1940’s and has not been linked with any specific insects or pathogens. This webinar will include a general overview of the history, symptoms and management strategies for oak decline in Fairfax County.

Bluebirds at Langley Fork Park Continue to Thrive

Feature photo: Bluebird nestling residents of Box 6 (May 21, 2022). What are they thinking?

Article and photo by FMN Stephen Tzikas

The 2022 Bluebird box monitoring season at Langley Fork Park in McLean was my second year, and first as its trail leader. The trail leader duties came unexpectedly, but it successfully concluded thanks to the existing and new trail monitors who helped me with this success. Although I wrote an article last year on the extraordinarily successful season at Langley Fork Park, in part due to the cicada bounty, I was pleasantly surprised that this year’s Bluebird fledglings approached very close to the number we had last year.

In 2021 we nurtured 63 total protected birds which included 26 Bluebirds. In 2022 we had 57 total protected birds which included 24 Bluebirds. This can be contrasted to the 5 years prior to that in which Langley Fork Park monitoring succeeded with about 40 protected birds per year which included about 5 Bluebirds a year. Since our efforts are on behalf of the Virginia Bluebird Society and the Bluebirds themselves, having about a 5-fold increase in Bluebirds these past couple years was phenomenal.

As trail leader, I had a closer look at the total 7-year record of data at Langley Fork Park in order to determine if any changes in the location of the Bluebird boxes were necessary to increase the effectiveness of the Bluebird program even further at Langley Fork Park. This data is part of the Nest-Watch database administered by Cornell University. I found the record-keeping in the years prior to 2021 to have some gaps, but this did not detract from the large increases recorded for the Bluebirds at the park. Nonetheless, the gaps were an interesting comparison that should not be ignored for a program’s quality control. Monitoring in prior years were not always on a weekly cadence, and it was not certain if preventive maintenance was rigorous. While I could infer final fledgling counts on what was recorded, these numbers could have been a bit higher and a good maintenance regimen could have made a nest box habitat resilient for an immediate welcoming of a new set of Bluebird parents during critical times for egg laying. This is contrasted to a strict weekly check on the birds in 2021 and 2022, and immediate attention to issues of concerns: wasp nests, ants, predators. For Bluebird monitors, I can’t emphasis enough how important these matters are. Bluebird monitoring trails should have an adequate number of team monitors to keep pace and avoid burdens with scheduling for a trail that has too few monitors.

With this analysis I did have enough data to make some conclusions for future planning. In the past 2 years, 3 of the park’s 10 boxes had successful Bluebird nestlings, while in the entire past 7 years, 6 of the 10 boxes were home to successful Bluebird nesting attempts. Considering that Tree Swallows are also a protected bird and the main successful competitor of the Bluebird boxes, our Bluebird attempts are good.   But can we do better? These are decisions for our trail that may help others in their trail decision-making too.

Before the close of the 2022 season, our team suggested that moving boxes 1, 4, 7, 9 might help the Bluebirds, because currently they had some issues with predators and intense competition.

The data showed that boxes 1, 2, 5, and 9 never had Bluebirds.   We also have the opportunity to add an 11th Bluebird box which will be determined at a later date. While boxes 2 and 5 may never have had Bluebirds, they are in good locations and have other active protected birds nesting here. These will not be relocated for now.

  • Box 1 is in a fairly hidden area. By moving it closer to the parking lot it may get more attention by the Bluebirds.  There is some playground equipment here, but on closer inspection it is for adults to exercise who are not likely to interfere with the box.  The location is more bushy, so it may also attract more House Wrens too.
  • Box 4 has had occasions of broken eggs from intense competition.  Moving it from the corner of the field to a more bushy area closer to some benches could improve it.
  • Box 7 may be too close to a tree with snake predators. Moving to a more bushy area a few feet away may help.
  • Box 9 is in a fairly active area with baseball activity, and relocating it closer to Box 8 may help. The advantage of the new location is that it is slightly less active and has more trees, but it is not necessarily a suggested 100 foot separation from Box 8.

The 2023 season will evaluate these adjustments.

Anti-Wisteria Expedition, October 31st

Image: courtesy of the Friends of Accotink Creek, Chinese Wisteria

October 31, 2022
9:30AM – 11:30AM

Accotink Gorge
Meet at treeline BEHIND
Dos Amigos Restaurant
7375 Boston Blvd
Springfield, VA 22153

Click here for more information and sign-up details.

THIS HALLOWEEN, BE PART OF THE HORROR SHOW THAT IS THE WISTERIA INFESTATION IN THE ACCOTINK GORGE. SURVIVE IF YOU CAN!
The Accotink Gorge is truly one of the most biodiverse locations, especially given its small size and proximity to development. However, if urgent action to remove Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria) vines which are rapidly killing its canopy trees is not taken soon, all of this will be irrevocably lost. Many beautiful native wildflowers are currently in bloom and the area is teeming with pollinators and birds. It is not too late to save this oasis, but it will be soon.

The Friends of Accotink Creek will lead a workday to reduce the Chinese Wisteria infestation threatening the unique biodiversity found in the Accotink Gorge.

THE SPOOKY AND THE SPECTACULAR: ALL ABOUT SPIDERS WITH DR. SARAH STELLWAGEN, October 25th

Photo: Female Jumping Spider, Thomas Shahan

Tuesday, October 25, 2022
7:00 PM – 8:00 PM

This is a Virtual program

Member Ticket: $15
Non-member Ticket: $25

Click here for more information and registration details. 

 

The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia would like to help you celebrate the spooky this October.  Learn all about the spectacular, secret lives of spiders. These eight-legged critters may be a little creepy to some, but they also are fascinating animals with unique hunting strategies. A favorite snack of many birds, arachnids are a crucial part of the ecosystem. Dr. Stellwagen will discuss some of the scary and not-so-scary species that live in our region. You might be surprised by how clever, creative and, yes, even “cute,” spiders can be.

FMN Quarterly Chapter Meeting, September 19th

Curious about the Fairfax Master Naturalist Program?

Come and join a virtual Fairfax Master Naturalist Quarterly Chapter meeting. It will be held on Monday, September 19, 2022 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. It will consist of a short business meeting followed by a presentation by the incomparable Alonso Abugattas. His talk is entitled “From Reptiles to Butterflies: A Capital Naturalist Shares Expertise and Resources.”

Please contact the Fairfax Master Naturalists at vmnfairfax@gmail.com for more information.

Alonso has won many awards for knowledge and skills about the natural world. He is the creator of the award-winning Capital Naturalist blog and Facebook group, which “reveals some of the wonders of the natural world found right around the Washington, DC Metropolitan area using his own photography and his life-long experiences”. He will be sharing these resources and how they can be helpful for Master Naturalists during his presentation at our fall Chapter meeting.

He has worked as a professional naturalist and environmental interpreter in several jurisdictions, including Fairfax, Alexandria, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and Arlington, where he served as the acting director for Long Branch Nature Center, and is now the Natural Resources Manager for Arlington County.

He’s an instructor for five master naturalist chapters, teaching classes in Maryland and Virginia, and was named a Trailblazer (honorary) master naturalist for his role in starting two chapters. He’s held various board positions, including president of the Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society and is co-founder of the Washington Area Butterfly Club. A member of the identification team for the Virginia Herpetological Society, he wrote a natural history and identification book, The Reptiles and Amphibians of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area.

Alonso also serves as a Certified Heritage Interpreter and as Co-chair of the Beltway Chapter of the National Association for Interpretation, receiving regional and national awards, including the Regional Interpretive Manager of the Year. In December 2020, Alonso was named a Regional Environmental Champion by the D.C.-based Audubon Naturalist Society.

Crawl Into Fall With Bug Fest at Lewinsville Historic House – now on October 22nd

Photo: FMN Kate Luisa

Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 (rain date due to Hurricane Ian)
10:00AM – 2:00PM

Lewinsville Park
1659 Chain Bridge Road
McLean, Virginia 22101

Click here for registration details.

Lewinsville Park is featuring Bug Fest on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Come celebrate all things bugs with a creepy-crawly adventure! This event is fun for the whole family Play games and activities including insect safaris, explore live insects, inspect insect collections, log rolling, soil stations, bug walks, critter talks, bug experiments, and make your own bug. Use technology to explore the world of insects. Children must be accompanied by a registered adult.