Review of Naming Nature, by Carol Kaesuk Yoon

Reviewed by Michael Reinemer

In the midst of an accelerating mass extinction where we are losing species much faster than science can identify them, this is an engrossing look at taxonomy, or how we organize life on earth.

Yoon laments our disconnects from nature. A child living among the Indigenous Tzeltal Maya people in Mexico can identify about 100 different plant species, Yoon says. How many American adults can do that?

She provides an account of “folk” taxonomies that are binominal, two-word descriptors the predate Carl Linnaeus, the botanical whiz kid from Sweden who published Systema Naturae in 1735. That system laid out the framework that most of us learned, the Linnaean hierarchy — kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. (Of course, we use that every time we select an unadulterated native plant for our garden, relying on the scientific name — genus and species — rather than a vague or even misleading common or commercial name. Don’t we?)

Later schools of thought refined how we might arrange living things. Well into the 20th century, “cladists” organized the tree of life around the branches (clades) based on evolutionary relationships. They famously declared that, technically, fish don’t exist. Lungfish, they would explain, are more closely related to cows than they are to salmon. That news would have been nonsensical to Linnaeus, and perhaps blasphemous to Izaak Walton. Walton described his 17th century meditation on conservation, The Compleat Angler, as a “Discourse of Fish and Fishing.” In any case, the cladists’ fish-dissing were fightin’ words to other taxonomists. With breezy, engaging insights, Yoon chronicles the debates.

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

Public Meeting and Comment Period to Introduce the Salt Management Strategy Toolkit, January 21st

Article by Joe Gorney; Photo by Ann Fossa on Unsplash

The use of salt during the winter provides benefits, such as making roads and sidewalks safer and keeping businesses and services open. However, winter salt use also impacts the following:

• Drinking water (which is especially challenging for people on salt-restricted diets)
• Infrastructure and property (through corrosion)
• Freshwater fish and other aquatic life (which are not adapted for salty water)

To balance the benefits and impacts of salt, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) has been working with agency and community stakeholders on the development of a Salt Management Strategy (SaMS). SaMS will include recommendations and resources for winter maintenance professionals and residents, including water quality monitoring tools and plans; practices to improve water quality; and strategies to promote collaboration and improvement in public awareness and winter maintenance practices.

As part of these ongoing efforts, VDEQ announced the pending public release of a stakeholder-developed Salt Management Strategy Toolkit. To introduce the Toolkit, VDEQ is holding a public meeting on Thursday, January 21, 2021 followed by a 30-day public comment period. The public meeting will be held entirely through remote, electronic means. Included below is meeting and comment period information:
1. Public meeting: January 21, 2021 @ 6:30 pm
o Register for this meeting here: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2180983979203362831
2. 30-day public comment period: January 22, 2021 through February 22, 2021

Following the public meeting and comment period, VDEQ will address community comments and transition into the implementation phase.

Please consider registering and offering your recommendations for a healthier community and environment.

Drawdown 101: An Introduction to the Science of Climate Change

A well-reasoned, thoughtful conversation on climate, with data, stories, and counsel.

Dr. Jonathan Foley is the Executive Director of Project Drawdown and the California Academy of Sciences (which brings us iNaturalist).

Yup, the video is an hour, and absolutely worth the investment of time. Learn the science behind bending the curve, viable drawdown scenarios, environmental justice, potential technical interventions, and steps we ourselves can easily take.

Look here for curated Creative Commons classroom materials.

Your turn: Which videos and resources are your own go-to’s? Share them in Comments and we’ll add them here with pleasure and great interest.

Winter is for Nature Lovers

Article and photos by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Don’t hibernate! Winter is for nature lovers.

You can glimpse Bald Eagles nesting, self-heated skunk cabbage wildflowers that resemble Georgia O’Keefe paintings, perky kinglets that pop up their ruby-red crests when they’re excited, sly foxes hunting for a mate, and many other winter wonders mentioned below. It’s enough to transform winter loathers into winter lovers.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

But before heading out on frosty trails, it’s important to gear up and to prepare so you truly have fun and stay safe rather than just enduring an uncomfortable walk.

Bring water, a snack, and a fully charged cell phone. Watch the radar with your own eyes and consult two different weather apps. Tell someone where you’re going. Dress for 20° colder than it is, especially if you’ll be standing around for more than 60 seconds. Wear layers. Feel fireplace-warm with a scarf, a hat, gloves, ear muffs, wool socks, and hand/toe warmers.  If it’s snowy, icy, or soggy wet, clip Yaktrax or similar cleats onto your waterproof shoes or consider Gore-tex boots or spiked trail-running shoes to stay warm and to prevent falling. Or grab your snowshoes or cross-country skis to discover more of winter’s treasures. 

There are also a slew of other benefits to winter treks, such as a shot of long-lasting energy, stronger muscles and bones, better cardiovascular health, and an uplifted soul.

Whose soul would not be inspired by watching colorful “snowbirds” that choose to winter in Virginia instead of Costa Rica, greenery that paints khaki forests with cheer, and Instagram-worthy views of landscapes and critters that are usually hidden by a tangled thicket of trees and shrubs? And did I mention that (virtually all) snakes and ticks are “sleeping”?

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker


Some of my favorite winter birds are Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (no, it’s not a cartoon character), White-throated Sparrows (they sometimes sound like computers), Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Golden-crowned Kinglets (my latest infatuation), Red-breasted Nuthatches (2021 is an irruption year), and Dark-eyed Juncos (I once saw a leucistic one). I also adore photographing wintering waterfowl like Canvasback ducks with rusty red heads and bright red “vampire” eyes, elegant “super-model” Tundra Swans, chunky “boy-next-door” Snow Geese, and feisty American Wigeon ducks with green-striped heads and squeaky voices.

You can pinpoint these birds’ locations with the free eBird app and it can alert you to rarer visitors, like teensy but tough Rufous Hummingbirds.  (One is visiting the Beatrix-Farrand designed Green Spring Gardens as of late December, 2020.) Free Merlin, Audubon, and other birding apps can help you identify your finds with photos, bird songs, territory maps, and more. 

Red fox

You’ll know you’ve stumbled upon a sapsucker if you hear meow-like sounds and spot trees with perfect rows of square holes.  Itsy-bitsy Golden-crowned Kinglets might flit down beside you to show off their sunflower-yellow crests.  These and many other birds hang out in forests or at the forest edge, especially if it bumps into a meadow.  It doesn’t hurt if there’s a creek, a waterfall, a bird bath, or another water source nearby. In Northern Virginia and throughout the DMV, you’re never more than a mile from a “birdy” park or other public land. Winter ducks even promenade around the pond at Constitution Gardens near the U.S. Capitol.  Red foxes also live on the National Mall, parading around at dawn and dusk before joggers and tourists scare them away. Red foxes are probably prowling through your own backyard or neighborhood park in the winter since it’s their breeding season.

Juvenile Great Horned Owl

And don’t forget our common birds like fire-engine red Northern Cardinals (one of the most beautiful birds on the planet) that you can often see better without leaves obscuring your views. The more you notice about them, the more likely you’ll fall in love.  Relatively common birds like Bald Eagles and owls nest in the winter.  Depending on the weather, Virginia’s Great Horned owlets typically hatch in the winter. Fuzzy eaglets greet the world a tad later: by late winter or early spring.  But if you’re lucky, you might catch Ma and Pa Eagle adding new sticks to their massive nests in early winter and sitting on their eggs by February.  Both of these big nesters live along the Potomac River in Arlington near Spout Run. Another eagles’ nest flanks the main trail through the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. To find dozens of others in Northern Virginia, consult the Center for Conservation Biology’s unparalleled eagle nest map. Just don’t venture closer than 330 feet to an active nest or the feds might swoop in to bust you for breaking the law since eagles are still protected.  

At Dyke Marsh, you might also see Barred Owls “honeymooning” this winter.  Babies come a bit later. This popular peninsula on the Potomac River attracts a great variety of birds year-round.

Huntley Meadows Park is another “must see” bird hangout.  Cute Brown Creepers with two-toned curved beaks zip head first down the frigid tree trunks while Northern Pintail ducks dabble for dinner along the boardwalk of this locally famous wetland. If you’re extra lucky, you might spy a common muskrat chomping on its leafy green dinner. In late February and early March, woodcocks perform spiral “sky dances” to lure mates.

Muskrat

Some parks, like Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, hang bird feeders, which makes it even easier to gawk at beautiful birds close-up.   But you don’t have to visit those hotspots for a bevy of birds. Just trek anywhere along Fairfax County’s 40+ mile Cross County Trail and NOVA Park’s 45-mile W&OD Trail to find these treasures.  Before you go, open Fairfax County’s comprehensive “Trail Buddy” trail map in the free ArcGIS Explorer app and you’re all set.  With that in your pocket, try going on an adventure alone one day.  You’ll likely find more birds and critters.  Or if you’re in a group, stop often to listen for sounds of life.  

Wherever you go, you might encounter rascally raccoons, acrobatic eastern gray squirrels (and maybe some black morphs), white-tailed deer, and perhaps even a Virginia opossum, North America’s sole marsupial.  Salamanders and green treefrogs also stick around in the winter. Sometimes they’re no farther away than underneath a flat log or a hefty rock.  It’s best to leave them slumbering. (Unless you’re conducting an iNaturalist bioblitz!) But thumb-nail sized spring peeper frogs will announce where they are in late winter with their deafening, high-pitched wailing.

Virginia’s forests are dotted with green life all winter long. Clumps of American mistletoe are visible near the treetops. The white berries of this parasitic plant are poisonous for humans but a yummy snack for Cedar Waxwings and other crayon-colored birds.  

Lush Christmas ferns paint the forests a deep green hue.  Light-green, yellow-green, and gray-green lichens light up trees and rocks. Bog clubmosses form a spongy green oasis on the ground. Invasive plants, such as English ivy, wind their way up trees. They’re not good for the health of the trees, but birds and critters find them a warm and welcoming hideout. Pint-size partridge-berry plants (the Virginia Native Plant Society’s “Wildflower of the Year” in 2012) and spotted wintergreen plants also decorate the dirt.  The leaves of August-blooming Cranefly orchids stand out. They are green on top and plum-colored underneath.

Native and non-native flowers, berries, and seeds also brighten the winter woods. You can find little white snow drops spreading along the ground; sunshine-yellow leatherleaf mahonia and winter jasmine; spiky apricot-colored and pale yellow witch hazel flowers; and ivory and pink hellebores; along with brick-red sumac seeds, beaming American red holly berries; and glowing red winter holly berries.

And all those eye-candy seeds and berries must taste like real candy to critters and birds. Maybe they like them so much that it has transformed them from winter loathers into winter lovers. 

Back to our Roots: Leveraging Native Plants to Restore the Environment, GreenScapes Symposium, February 19th

Photo (c) by Barbara J. Saffir

Friday, February 19, 2021
9:30am – 4pm
Early Bird registration fee of $45 ends on Friday, January 8th
Standard fee is $55
Register using this link ActiveMontgomery.org (Course #87621) or call 301-962-1470.

Join industry experts as they tackle the native vs. non-native plant debate: Is a native plant-only prescription necessary? Under what conditions should non-native plants be incorporated, and what are the risks of using cultivars? Join the conversation as experts assess the scope of environmental benefits that native ecosystems create, such as decreasing pollution and fighting climate change.

They’ll explore the latest strategies to combat pollinator population collapse, considering key factors like pollination syndromes, specialist pollinators, plant genetics and floral balance.
Speakers will demonstrate the latest tools to assess the sustainability of sites, including best practices for evidence-based designs that maximize the ecological, social and economic benefits of native landscapes.

Key note: Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard, Doug Tallamy, Professor & Chair, Department of Entomology & Wildlife Ecology, University of Delaware

View full Symposium details.

About GreenScapes
The GreenScapes Symposium, formerly Green Matters, is an annual program sponsored by Brookside Gardens since 2004. The symposium will continue to concentrate attention on the intersection of horticulture and environmental issues Environmental stewardship is a core value of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), Brookside Gardens’ parent organization. As such, we strive to provide timely information and viable solutions to environmental challenges.

NVSWCD Green Breakfast: Valuing our Urban Forest, January 9th

Huntley Meadows, photo by J. Quinn

Saturday, January 9, 2021
9 am
Free

To register for this webinar or learn more, please email conservationdistrict@fairfaxcounty.gov.

Recently, Fairfax County adopted the updated Tree Action Plan unifying many program efforts to enhance Fairfax County’s urban forests. At the same time new climate and pest stressors have been discovered.

Grab the breakfast of your choice and pull your comfy chair to your computer to hear from Jim McGlone, Urban Forest Conservationist with the Virginia Department of Forestry. Jim will share an overview of these activities and concerns, as well as new tools available to help capture information on a wide variety of tree plantings across the Commonwealth and help DOF meet its goal of planting 56,000 trees over the next two years.

National Council for Science & the Environment and Project Drawdown 2021 Virtual Conference, Jan 5-9

Science & Solutions for a Planet under Pressure

Co-hosted by the National Council for Science & the Environment (NCSE) and Project Drawdown

January 5-9, 2021

The NCSE Drawdown 2021 Conference is bringing together leaders, research partners, scientists, decision-makers and friends from across the globe to share their science and solutions to the world’s most pressing global challenges. This joint conference will:

  • focus on the physical and social realities of climate change and the way this impacts people, ecosystems, markets and the places people live; and 
  • how implementing climate solutions produces positive co-benefits to society, the economy, and the planet.

Read more about the themes, schedule, and speakers, and register (the last two days are free!)

For Fairfax Master Naturalists: This opportunity is posted to the Continuing Education Calendar.

Stop Mowing, Start Growing! Webinar, February 6th

Photo courtesy of Virginia Native Plant Society

3rd Annual Native Plant Symposium Webinar for Beginners
Saturday, February 6, 2021
9am – Noon
Registration fee $5
Register here.

Create a beautiful yard, save time and money, improve water quality, AND build habitat for pollinators and birds. The keynote speaker is Alonso Abugattas, The Capital Naturalist on social media and the Natural Resources Manager for Arlington County. He will speak on The Interconnectedness of Nature.

Breakout Sessions Topics
Establishing and Maintaining Meadows
Natives for the Suburban Yard
Trees: Reestablishing the Cornerstone of Our Ecosystem
Waterfront Properties and Native Plants
Natives for Small Properties
Introduction to Soils
Site Assessment and Design

View the full schedule here.

Waterfowl Identification Webinar with Bill Young, January 11th & 12th

Hooded Mergansers, photo by Bill Young

Two sessions:
Monday, January 11, 2021 7-8 pm
Tuesday, January 12, 2021 7-8:30 pm
Fee: $25
Limit: 150
To register, click here.

Waterfowl can be easy to see, but difficult to tell apart. This two-part program, presented by Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, will provide techniques for identifying ducks, geese, and swans. It will also show how to identify other species typically seen on the water, such as loons, grebes, cormorants, and coots. Suitable for beginning and skilled birders. Practice your skills during the second session with a fun Kahoot!

Urban Wood Use, Keeping Lumber out of Landfills and More

The Virginia Department of Forestry along with the Virginia Urban Forest Council is promoting better use of urban wood from both tree removal and building deconstruction.  This is a nationwide movement to use a valuable resource, extend the carbon storage of urban wood and provide jobs.  Below is a YouTube video of a story from CBS:

Less than six minutes long!

As part of this effort they have developed the Urban and Small Woodlot Forestry Business Directory found here: https://treesvirginia.org/education/directory. This directory covers small lot management, harvesting, milling, and end use production.  If you or your neighbors have a tree they are planning to take down, consult the directory and look for something other to do with the tree than sending to the landfill or the chipper.