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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. 

Birding by Ear

Song Sparrow photo by Pat Ulrich

On line: Thursday, May 13, Tuesday, May 18 & Thursday, May 20
7:00 – 8:30PM
Field Trip: Saturday, May 22 (Limit 20), Place TBD
Fee: $75/Online only; $100/Online + Field Trip
To register, click here.

Sponsored by Audubon Society of Northern Virginia

Have you ever wondered what that song or ‘chip’ note was that you heard on a forest hike? Can’t tell the difference between a spring peeper and a wood warbler? How does one learn to memorize the complex and endless variety of bird sings? This workshop is designed for you. If you are a relative beginner, and want to start building a repertoire of learned bird songs and calls, here is the place. This workshop on Birding by Ear will help you phoneticize a variety of bird calls using mnemonic devices, understand the basic function and purpose of avian vocalizations, organize a library of calls and songs having similar characteristics, and improve your field birding skills.

Beginning Birding – Hybrid Workshop, April 27th, 29th & May 1st

Photo by Luke Franke

April 27, 29; Tuesday & Thursday, 7:00 – 8:00PM
Field Trip: May 1, 7:30AM (Limit 20)
Where: Hybrid – online and in the field!
Fee: $25/Online only; $50/Online + Field Trip

To register, click here.

Are you new to the world of birding? Not sure if the bird in your binoculars is a warbler or a sparrow? Then this class is for you! This three part hybrid class will focus on the basics: Why go birding? What is birding? What about binoculars, field guides, and phone apps? How can you get started identifying the birds you see? Where can you go birding?

Join Greg Butcher, Larry Meade and Dixie Sommers for Audubon Society of Northern Virginia’s first hybrid workshop. They’ll meet online for two, one-hour Zoom sessions and follow up what you’ve learned in the field.

Global Big Day, May 8, 2021

Black-crowned Night-heron; photo (c) John C. Mittermeier

Be a part of birding’s biggest team! Global Big Day is an annual celebration of the birds around you. No matter where you are, join us virtually on 8 May and share the birds you find with eBird.

Participating is easy—you can even be part of Global Big Day from home. If you can spare 5 or 10 minutes, report your bird observations to eBird online or with our free eBird Mobile app. If you have more time, submit checklists of birds throughout the day. You never know what you might spot. Your observations help us better understand global bird populations through products like these animated abundance maps brought to you by eBird Science.

Last year, Global Big Day brought more birders together virtually than ever before. More than 50,000 people from 175 countries submitted a staggering 120,000 checklists with eBird, setting a new world record for a single day of birding. Will you help us surpass last year’s records? However you choose to participate, please continue to put safety first and follow your local guidelines.

Learn more.

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!

Octobird Fest at The Clifton Institute, webinars October 16th and 30th

Winter Bird Identification
Friday, October 16, 2020
7 – 8 pm
Register here.
$20 registers you for both webinars.

Every season brings its own challenges for birdwatching. In winter similar-looking sparrows can be hard to tell apart and birding by ear becomes more difficult as birds start singing less and calling more. Join the leaders of The Clifton Institute bimonthly bird walks, including Executive Director Bert Harris, to learn some tips for identifying winter birds. Managing Director Eleanor Harris will quiz them with tricky calls and pictures and you can play along as Bert talks through the identification process. And then come out for one of their bird walks and put your new skills to the test!

Evolution and Biology of Bird Song
Friday, October 30, 2020
7 – 8 pm
Register here.
$20 registers you for both webinars.

Bird songs are beautiful and diverse and they have played an important role in the evolution of birds. Bird songs also give us the opportunity to see animals learning and sexual selection in action. In this presentation Managing Director Eleanor Harris, Ph.D., will give an overview on the biology and evolution of bird songs. And she’ll highlight some of the questions about bird songs that scientists still don’t have answers for. Throughout the talk she’ll focus on local examples.

Little Brown Jobs: Online Workshop with Larry Meade, October 22nd

Fox Sparrow photo by David Boltz/Audubon Photography Awards

Thursday, October 22, 2020
7 – 8:30 pm
Fee: $15
Register here

Have you been wondering about all those “little brown jobs” in your backyard? Could you use a little help distinguishing between the House Finches and the Pine Siskins? Song Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows? This Audubon Society of Northern Virginia workshop will concentrate on identification skills for some of the finches, sparrows, and other similar birds in our region, including both residents and migrants, just in time for the arrival of our cold weather birds.

Instructor: Larry Meade, a member of the ASNV Education Committee, is president of the Northern Virginia Bird Club and a former board member of the Virginia Society of Ornithology. He has served as a sector leader for a number of years for several local Christmas Bird Counts and is an avid nature photographer.

Confusing Fall Warblers, webinars 9 & 10 September

Photo: Magnolia Warbler, Seth Davis/Audubon Photography Awards

Two webinars
Wednesday, 9 Sep and Thursday, 10 Sep 2020
7 – 8:30 pm
$25
Register here

Join Audubon Society of Northern Virginia for a webinar with Marc Ribaudo and learn to identify warblers that pass through Northern Virginia in the fall.

This workshop is back by popular demand. Don’t be afraid of the little green jobs! The presenter will focus on the field marks of fall warblers that typically pass through our region, with an emphasis on species that look very much different in the spring than fall, and species that are most often confused. 

Marc Ribaudo is an avid birder with over 40 years of field experience.  He regularly led trips for the Northern Virginia Bird Club and Friends of Dyke Marsh before retiring and moving to North Carolina. We are thrilled to have him teach this online workshop.

Ornithology Topics: Avian Biology, Spring Session (The Study of Birds)

National Wildlife Federation
11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston, VA 20190
Tuesdays, 24 March – 5 May 2020
7 – 9 pm
Cost: $250 ASNV members, $275 non-members

Join Dr. Chris Haney for a new class, “Ornithology Topics: Avian Biology, Spring Session.” There is no prerequisite for this course and it does not repeat the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia’s fall session of Ornithology but offers all new material.

This course is designed and presented at an introductory, university level in 6 parts, with each classroom session 2 hours long. Ornithology Topics: Avian Biology will feature major underpinnings to ornithology within the fundamental context of U.S. national history. Topics covered in Part 2 of this class will encompass: bird song; avian diet and foraging; mate selection and social behaviors of birds; breeding biology (incubation, chick-rearing, post-natal care); bird populations; and avian conservation and sustainable management. Instructional presentations will include PowerPoint slides, auditory or video supplements, and some in-class participatory exercises. Each night’s classroom lecture will be made available to all participants in PDF format by the following day.

Required textbook: Manual of Ornithology: Avian Structure and Function, 1993, Procter and Lynch, ISBN-10: 0300076193

Optional textbook: Handbook of Bird Biology (Cornell Lab of Ornithology), 3rd edition, 2016, Lovette and Fitzpatrick, ISBN-10: 1118291050

Recommended supplement: The National Geographic Society’s Field Guide to the Birds of America, The Sibley Guide to Birds, or a similar guide for field identification

Register here.

Mindful Naturalists: Birding Like Buddha

February 22, 2020 04:00 pm – 05:30 pm

Location: The Clifton Institute, 6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, Virginia

In February, join The Clifton Institute for an evening of ‘birding like Buddha.’ For this particular bird walk, we will prioritize the experiences we have watching individual birds and our connection to them instead of trying to identify species or maximize the number of birds we encounter. We will sit often and watch quietly as the waterfowl on our ponds live out their unique and fascinating lives. What new things can we learn about birds from watching them in this way?

Please dress for the weather. No birding experience required! Please feel free to bring: a comfy portable chair (though we may spend some time in the blind), a travel mug for a hot beverage, and/or binoculars! Click here to register.

Mindful Naturalists is a free program series created to inspire mindful observation and nature appreciation. Each month we will explore a different topic and experiment with a different practice for mindfully experiencing the natural world while enjoying hot tea and a peaceful evening at our beautiful field station.