The Southeast’s Diverse Flora: Discoveries, Conservation & Identification with Alan Weakley webinar, April 8th

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) ; photo by Margaret Chatham

Thursday, April 8, 2021
7:30 – 9 pm
Register here.

Alan Weakley is a plant taxonomist, community ecologist, and conservationist specializing in the Southeastern United States. He holds a B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Ph.D. from Duke University. He has worked as botanist and ecologist for the N.C. Natural Heritage Program, and as regional and chief ecologist for The Nature Conservancy and NatureServe. He is currently Director of the University of North Carolina Herbarium, a department of the N.C. Botanical Garden, and teaches as adjunct faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill and at the Highlands Biological Station.

Dr. Weakly is author of the Flora of the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, and co-author (with Chris Ludwig and Johnny Townsend) of the Flora of Virginia, which has received five awards, including the Thomas Jefferson Award for Conservation.

Hosted by Virginia Native Plant Society, Potowmack Chapter.

Robin Duska: VMN Volunteer of the Year Award

Riverbend; photo by Jerry Nissley

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir

During the pandemic, the restorative value of walking along dirt paths became especially clear to Fairfax Master Naturalist Robin Duska, who was recently recognized by the Virginia Master Naturalist state board as 2020 Volunteer of the Year for her outstanding contributions to natural resource education, conservation, citizen science, and stewardship.

Robin Duska – photo by Richard Huff

The VMN award announcement identified Robin’s leadership in promoting the creation and conservation of wildlife habitat and in educating the community about the importance of natural, native habitat.  When serving as co-director of the Audubon at Home (AAH) program of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV), Robin often went out birding–and eBirding–along the 55 miles of trails near her Reston, Virginia home.  “It occurred to me,” she says, “that Reston Association (RA) staff like FMN Claudia Thompson-Deahl were already managing Reston’s natural areas to the standards of the AAH Healthy Yard Pledge one of the requirements for certifying properties as AAH Wildlife Sanctuaries.”  It also seemed likely, however, judging from behaviors like littering and letting dogs run off leash, that many Reston residents enjoyed the trails solely for recreation. “Having served with AAH inspired me to highlight the wildlife value of the natural areas in Reston through which the trails meander,” Robin added. As an AAH Ambassador, she got buy-in from AAH  and RA to conduct a project to certify natural areas as AAH Wildlife Sanctuaries and then hit the trails to locate  AAH Sanctuary Species.  After finding 60 Sanctuary Species, she certified six of the natural areas covering 400 acres. “Reston’s Chief Operating Officer Larry Butler signed the applications for certification, and it’s my hope that the AAH certification signage and related publicity will help educate Reston residents about the wildlife habitat value of these wonderful areas,” Robin says. 

AAH Certification Sign – photo by Robin Duska

Robin found it possible to manage over 500 hours of volunteer service in 2020 across a variety of activities.  She explained, “When I retired five years ago, I decided to structure my volunteering to make some kind of contribution on national, regional, and local levels. During the pandemic, when weekly public bird walks are not being conducted, it has still been possible for me, FMNs Kris Lansing and Janis Stone, and Arlington Master Naturalist Colt Gregory to help out authorities at Great Falls National Park by walking the dirt paths and providing a weekly update on the park’s birds.” She continued by saying, “sadly the pandemic precluded my other usual national-focused volunteering in the National Museum of Natural History’s Bird Division and Q?rius Learning Center—and sadly as well, I didn’t do much traveling in 2020.  But on the bright side, that left more time for regional and local service, much of which can be done outside, in writing, or via Zoom.” 

On the regional front, out on those dirt paths again in the absence of public bird walks, Robin and FMN Kris Lansing report weekly to park authorities on the bird life at Fairfax County’s Riverbend Park. Also, Zoom became a resource early on:  In March, having recruited experts from Pennsylvania Audubon to hold a jointly sponsored RA-ASNV program in Reston, Robin realized that the pandemic would preclude travel from Pennsylvania to Virginia. So, she restructured the program into a webinar—a continuing educational resource about bird-window collisions. In summer, she also facilitated Audubon at Home discussions with parties in Fauquier and Rappahannock Counties to expand AAH operations there–and the pandemic did not prevent drafting and coordinating the requisite documents to clinch the new AAH partnerships. 

Great Falls – Photo by Robin Duska

Locally, after a term on Reston’s Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC), Robin has remained involved with its project teams. “Reston is part of the Biophilic Cities Network, and I got to thinking that some residents who want to take action to help the environment might not know what is actually helpful,” she says. Therefore, she conceptualized a pledge and led the 2020 team that refined it and developed a communications plan for the Reston Biophilic Pledge, which asks Reston’s 60,000 residents to commit to specific actions.  For the 2020 update of the award-winning Reston Association State of the Environment Report (RASER), Robin and co-lead FMN Doug Britt worked with 16 authors via Zoom, email, and phone to assess the status of 21 natural resources and environmental topics.  A report card evaluating progress on RASER’s recommendations has been briefed to the RA Board of Directors every year since RASER first baselined Reston’s environment in 2017.

She has been volunteering in her own neighborhood as well. “In 2020 FMN Ann Garvey, other volunteers, and I organized a small group called Go Natives! in our Reston HOA that focuses on planting Virginia natives and educating our neighbors about why they are important,” she told me. “I’m now working on a presentation for landscaping committees in other Reston neighborhoods to share the lessons that Go Natives! has learned in the past year, to include sources for grant funds.”  In 2020, Robin also identified the need for a non-technical handout on pesticides geared to readers in HOAs and on their Boards, and she worked with FMNs Barbara Tuset (AAH Co-Director), Margaret Fisher (of  Plant NOVA Natives), and  Tami Sheiffer (Coordinator for both AAH in Fairfax County and Fairfax County’s Watch the Green Grow program) on a brochure that Tami inspired Fairfax County to produce.   

Blue Bird Box – Photo Robin Duska

Robin believes the most satisfying volunteer work involves teamwork like that described above.  Having spent much of her adult life outside the United States, she notes that she lacked information about the volunteer world when she moved to Virginia a few years ago.  “Becoming a Fairfax Master Naturalist in 2017 and volunteering with the regional Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and local Environmental Advisory Committee wired me into great networks and has helped me figure out how best to use my skills for a mix of ‘what needs to be done’ and ‘pure pleasure’ volunteer service,” she says. 

What’s in that “pure pleasure” category?  “Anything involving birds,” Robin tells me.  “It’s time to start monitoring bluebird nest-boxes again and happily, the paths to them are dirt.”

Audubon Afternoon: Native Landscape Design with John Magee, March 21st

Sunday, March 21, 2021
3 pm
Free
Register here.

Join Audubon Society of Northern Virginia as they welcome award winning landscape designer and host of The Native Plant Podcast, John Magee. 

John Magee has been designing and building landscapes in the Washington DC Metro area and beyond for the past 25 years.  After receiving his B.S. degree in Agriculture from the Ohio State University and spending a few years training and showing horses, he settled into the industry as the General Foreman of Pennsylvania’s highest award-winning landscape firm.  While in Pennsylvania, he became a volunteer at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and not only did he meet his wife there, but he was introduced to habitat gardening and the use of native plants in the landscape.  He now operates his own award-winning design firm (Magee Design) in the beautiful countryside of Middleburg, VA where he also enjoys kayaking and taking long walks with his wife and dog.  He created and hosts the Native Plant Podcast and hosts and produces the “Protecting what matters” podcast in partnership with the Department of the Interior’s “National Invasive Species Council” Secretariat.

Izaak Walton says, Watch your Salt!

Article and photos by FMN Bill Hafker

Last fall I was looking for some environmentally beneficial things to do as winter approached and the usual opportunities were dwindling. Then I spotted information about the Izaak Walton League’s (IWL) Salt Watch program.  I was aware of the serious negative impacts that road salt can have on roadside vegetation, and more so on the aquatic systems that receive the runoff.  With IWL supplying the needed test strips by mail, and their phone app used to upload the data, this seemed to be an easy way to make a meaningful contribution. 
 
I did a bit more research on salt usage and was surprised to learn that if we think we use a lot of salt in our foods, we actually use over 10 times more on our roads annually. Doctors are starting to worry that road salt getting into drinking water could affect people with high blood pressure.  Most freshwater fish cannot adapt to salt in water, and it can also be harmful to macroinvertebrates and other food sources for fish, birds and other species that forage in impacted waters.  Chloride levels over 100ppm exceed natural background concentrations, with prolonged exposures over 230ppm being toxic to freshwater aquatic life.
 
Last winter, 222 Salt Watch results were submitted for the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.  18% were above 100ppm, and 6% were above 230ppm.  It may be that there were relatively few samples submitted and high readings found, since we had a relatively mild and snow-free winter.

Strip on the calibration card
2020/21 DMV Salt Watch readings


Welcome 2020/21.  Snow and ice returned and I got a chance to get out for some before and after testing.  I went to two streams near roads I know are salted, with a small cup in hand, to collect a half-inch of water.  I did get some curious looks from passing drivers as I dipped my glass into the stream and started heading off to my car with it.  After putting the IWL test strip in the cup for about 5 minutes, I took a picture of the strip on the calibration card provided, and uploaded it to the IWL Water Reporter App.  Process complete!
 
The results were concerning, and seemed to mirror what others were finding around Fairfax this year (see chart).   Of the five pairs of readings I took, the baselines were at or below 50ppm, except in one case where the readings before and after a snow event were both over 600ppm.  In the other cases, two stayed at ~50ppm, one went up to ~100ppm, but in the final case it went to over 400ppm. 

I was curious about what the salt impact on some nearby ponds/lakes might be.  The two I tested registered below 50ppm.  Finally, I wondered how salty our tap water, which comes from the Potomac, might be, and was surprised that it had a 1.2 reading, which was higher than one of the lakes I tested.    
 
Once you get outside and start looking around, it’s surprising what you can find in addition to what you are looking for.  Last fall I participated in the FMN education and field opportunities related to invasive water chestnut in local water bodies.  At one of the ponds I tested in Oakton, I was distressed to find the banks covered with the seeds of water chestnuts.  I don’t know if this infestation was already known, but I was able to report this finding to the USGS invasive species reporting website and to the researcher who taught us about this.


It’s fun to be able to find a meaningful activity that gives me an excuse to get out into the field at a time when most folks don’t get out.  The extra solitude and peacefulness actually makes this a wonderful time to do meaningful citizen science.  The data collected makes it possible to identify chloride hot spots and assess the impacts of the salting practices of various jurisdictions.  This allows researchers to assess possible impacts on affected environments, and policy makers and transportation department managers to evaluate salting options.  IWL’s Salt Watch is the only place where volunteer chloride data is collected on a national scale. 
 
If this appeals to you, please put a tickler in your calendar for next October/November to contact IWL about Salt Watch, get your test kits, and get out and get your feet wet.  And keep an eye on your salt! 

https://www.iwla.org/water/stream-monitoring/winter-salt-watch

[Ed. Note: The Washington Post’s John Kelly recently reported on IWL’s Salt Watch: A clean water group wants us to give the cold shoulder to excessive road salt}

Review of Crow Planet, Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Reviewed by FMN Stacey Remick-Simkins

(2009, 229 pages) This is a masterpiece that I recommend to all, but particularly those grappling with the most difficult questions of how to live meaningfully in this challenged environmental milieu. Crows are the purveyor of the wisdom and carry us to the places of wonder that Haupt seeks to take us.  Specifically, she portrays her relationship with the injured crow Charlotte. 

Crow science and lore engage us to consider our humility and courage as we live out our life of responsibility and care for the wild world.  Haupt uses references to some of the great known writers and scientists, including Leopold, Thomas Eisner (Cornell professor and biologist), and Rachel Carson, that offer us ways and tools to challenge many of our naturalist assumptions and potentially revising our thinking. She suggests tools for further exploration such as nature journaling, Buddhist practices of Mindfulness, the Benedictine Rule of Life and Lectio Divina, as they can be transformed for our observations of nature.  She recognizes science as critically important to understanding where we are now, but demands that we do not lose our ability to see the wonder that exists quite apart from data gathering and naming only. She provides us the tools, the questions and the insights that challenge us all to be reverent co-inhabitants and all the profound responsibility that entails.

I have made it part of my life library which contains books that have had an extraordinary impact on my thinking or influenced me in ways that are life-changing. 

(Included is a reading group guide which includes an interview with the author, study questions and her list of must-read texts)

Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan Public Surveys Are Now Open

What would it take for you to make a major energy-saving improvement to your home? Would a rebate help? How about changes to HOA or permitting requirements? What do you think it would take to reduce the use of personal vehicles in Fairfax County?

Answer these questions and more in three very brief online surveys, open now through March 14, and help inform the development of Fairfax County’s first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan, or CECAP. The five minutes you spend on a survey today will have a real impact on our community tomorrow and for years to come. Find the surveys here.

Attracting Bees and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants, March 6th

Agapostemon photo by Heather Holm

Saturday, March 6, 2021
11 am
Fee: $10
Register here.

Most insects have a positive impact in our landscapes. Native plants can be selected to attract specific bees and beneficial insects including predatory and parasitic wasps, beetles, flies, true bugs, and lacewings. Learn about the predator-prey relationships of these flower-visiting beneficial insects and how they help keep problem insect populations in balance. The life cycles, diversity, and nesting habitat of native bees will also be covered along with examples of native plants for different site conditions.

The program will be presented by Heather Holm, biologist, pollinator conservationist, and award-winning author.

This is a joint venture with Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and the American Horticultural Society.

Fundamentals of Avian Biology, The Study of Birds: Spring Session

Photo: Dr. Chris Haney

March 2,4,9,11,16,18, 23, 25, 30; April 1, 13, 15
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 – 8:30 pm
Fee: $150/member; $175/non-member
Click here to learn more and/or register.

Are you new to birding and want to learn more or just want to dig deeper into the subject? Then this class is for you! This course is designed and presented at an introductory but comprehensive university level in 6 weekly parts, with each internet-hosted video instructional session about one hour long.

The Search for Lost Birds, webinar February 25th

Thursday, February 25, 2021
4:00pm EST
Zoom link provided upon registration

For 75 years, the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove was known only from scattered records and old illustrations. In 2016, researchers in Brazil observed the ground-dove for the first time in decades, launching an international partner effort to save the Critically Endangered species.

Like the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove, over a hundred birds around the world are considered “lost,” and American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is helping to lead efforts to find and protect these species.

Jordan E. Rutter, ABC Director of Public Relations, will discuss their Lost Birds program, past and upcoming expeditions, and the urgent conservation need of finding lost birds.

She’ll be moderating the conversation with these wonderful speakers:

John Mittermeier, Director of Threatened Species Outreach and head of ABC’s Lost Birds initiative
Albert Aguiar, Project Coordinator, SAVE Brasil
Eliana Fierro-Calderón, International Conservation Project Officer and ABC lead for the Sinu Parakeet expedition

Action Alert: Scrub your Bird Feeders!

Pine Siskin photo by William Kurt; text by Jessica Bigger

Recently, there have been several local reports of birders finding sick and dead Pine Siskins. The likely culprit is a bacterium called Salmonellosis, which is fatal to many feeder birds. Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, and Common Redpolls appear to be exceptionally vulnerable to the disease. Salmonellosis is usually spread through feces which can contaminate bird feeders and bird baths. So, it is important to make sure you clean your bird feeders and bird baths very well and often. 

Sick birds may appear thin or fat and fluffed up and may have swollen eyelids. They are often lethargic and easy to approach. Some infected birds may show no outward symptoms but are carriers of the disease and can spread the infection to other birds,” as stated on feederwatch.org.

If you spot a bird you believe is sick, make sure to clean your bird feeders and the surrounding area to prevent the spread of the disease, and call your local wildlife rehabilitation center. If there are several sick birds around, remove your feeders for at least a week and clean them thoroughly.

Prevention is key to reducing the spread. You should clean your bird feeders every two weeks. Scrub your feeders thoroughly to remove any debris, and then wash them with soap and boiling water or soak your feeders in a bleach solution for at least 10 minutes.

For additional information, visit feederwatch.org.

Reprinted with permission of Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.