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Christmas Bird Count Workshop

Photo (c) by Barbara J. Saffir

National Wildlife Federation, Wildlife Center Drive 11100, Reston, Virginia
November 24, 2019
1:00 pm – 03:00 pm

Location:

Join Phil Silas, the Manassas-Bull Run Christmas Bird Count compiler, at the National Wildlife Federation to learn about this long-running citizen science bird survey. Phil will cover its purpose and scope, explain how we organize our CBC, and show where the data goes and how it is used. The workshop offers tips on preparing for a winter bird count and will review how to identify many of the birds seen in our area in winter. Workshop is free, but registration is required. 

Birding the Blue Ridge, Nov 23

November 23, 2019

8:00 am – 11:00 am

Location: Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, Harpers Ferry Road 11661, Purcellville, Virginia

Join Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship (BRCES) for a walk through parts of this beautiful 900-acre preserve and see what lives in this diverse habitat.  As the leaves fall, it gets easier to see birds on trees. This outing takes place every fourth Saturday of the month except in December. Meet at the Education Center; bring binoculars if you have them. Click here for more information.

BRCES is located just north of Neersville at 11661 Harpers Ferry Road (Route 671); detailed directions at www.blueridgecenter.org.

Christmas Bird Count at Clifton Institute, Dec 15

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, VA, 20187
Sunday, December 15, meet at 8:00 AM

Join The Clifton Institute for their annual Christmas Bird Count! Spend the day surveying the birds in a 15-mile-diameter count circle. This is a great way to meet other birders in the area and to see what birds have migrated here for the winter. The count circle includes a nice variety of habitats and we see a diversity of waterfowl and grassland birds. There’s always a chance for Short-eared Owl and American Tree Sparrow! 

Please contact Alison at azak@cliftoninstitute.org if you are interested in participating. She will assign you to a team and each team will decide when and where to meet for the day. We’ll wrap up the count with a compilation potluck dinner at 5:30 at our headquarters. We hope to see you there!

All skill levels welcome. Dress in layers for chilly, wet weather. Rain or shine! 

Photo by Cameron Darnell.

Citizen science in chest waders

Photo: Barbara J. Saffir

David Gorsline

David Gorsline monitoring nest boxes in Huntley Meadows. Photo by Barbara J. Saffir

For the past 25+ years, I have participated in a program of monitoring nest boxes for Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers in Huntley Meadows Park.

Our team monitors 16 boxes in the park’s wetlands. We are the people with the big boots and sticks, because almost all of the boxes are mounted on poles in one to three feet of water.

These two species of duck begin laying eggs in very late February, and the last of the eggs hatch by about Memorial Day, sometimes a little later. Both of these birds bear what are called precocial young; that is, the ducklings come out of their eggs already covered in down, ready to be on their own, and they leave the nest box with their mother after only a day or two. Thus, it’s not often that we see chicks in the nest, unlike our counterparts on the Eastern Bluebird team. But, come April, if you keep a close eye on the vegetation at the edge of the marsh, you might spot a line of little ducks swimming behind a female.

FMN Kat Dyer inspecting box #68, Huntley Meadows Park, June 2017. Photo: David Gorsline

There’s about six of us on the team, including FMN Kat Dyer. At the start of the breeding season, we clean the boxes and lay down a fresh layer of wood chips. We handle simple repairs in the field; we notify park staff if a box needs to be completely replaced. During the season, we check boxes once a week, count any eggs we find, and record hatching events. Our collected information goes on file at the park, as well as to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s NestWatch project.

Since the 1991 breeding season, the number of boxes that we have deployed and monitored has varied between 14 and 21. Not all the boxes are used in a given season, but typically about three-fourths of them are used. Hooded Mergansers, expanding their breeding range, began nesting in our boxes in 2001.

Between the Mergansers and the Wood Ducks, the number of ducklings leaving our boxes has fluctuated year to year. Our lowest year was 2015, with only 26 fledged; our big year was 2013, with 140 fledged. The annual average for the past 28 years (I’m still compiling results for 2019) was 87 ducklings.

Clutch of Wood Duck eggs. Photo: David Gorsline

Who enjoys this birdy bounty? Everyone who visits the park. Especially the nature photographers take particular pleasure when they can document a fledging. When the monitoring team is out on the marsh, we often field questions from park visitors who wonder what we’re up to, and how the ducks are doing.

This project falls under C106: FCPA Citizen Science Programs. We’re always looking for new volunteers. I like us to work in pairs, just in case someone takes a tumble or gets stuck in the mud. What can I say? Nature happens.

For me, perhaps the greatest pleasure comes at the beginning of the season. It’s cold, there may be snow on the ground and the wetland iced over. Yet, I know that I will be giving these birds a boost in their struggle to thrive.

Fairfax Master Naturalist earns Reston’s 2019 55+ Volunteer of the Year Award

Don Coram

On April 18, I received the Reston Association 2019 55+ Volunteer of the Year Award. This surprised me since, although I am a certified Virginia Master Naturalist in the Fairfax Chapter, and my volunteer work was related to insects, my career was in mathematics. So how did I end up getting an award for service related to insects? Here is the story.

The Volunteer Reston Service Awards aim to recognize all of Reston’s volunteers and to distinguish a few volunteers who have gone above and beyond to support Reston Association (RA) and the Reston community. As a volunteer, I have been working to fill voids in Reston’s nature program, specifically related to insects and other arthropods. Insects may seem to be insignificant, but there are increasing alarms in the scientific community about the decline of insect populations and the negative effects to life on earth, including humans. 

One of the global issues is whether seasonal activity of plants, insects and birds are all responding synchronously to climate change. This issue is being addressed by CaterpillarsCount!, a National Science Foundation-funded study with lead universities of University of North Carolina, Georgetown University, and University of Connecticut. Reston’s Walker Nature Center (WNC) is one of the 73 sites in the Eastern United States. Georgetown University approached the WNC seeking volunteers to collect data. WNC in turn contacted the FMN members in Reston to ask for volunteers. I volunteered and became the lead citizen scientist data collector for WNC site. The project required weekly surveys of caterpillars and other arthropods, in accordance with a strict scientific protocol, throughout the season. A colleague from Georgetown and I briefed the results in an FMN-recognized program at the WNC on April 23.  

Another challenge that I accepted was publicizing the bee kill in Reston. I also informed the Reston Association Board of Directors, briefed the Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Committee, notified the Environmental Protection Agency, and contacted the Xerces Society, the national society for invertebrate conservation.  

I have participated in Reston’s Dragonfly Counts for many years and was recently promoted to instructor for the preparatory class and leader for the counting teams. (The class and the counting are FMN continuing education and service activities, E252 and C171, respectively.)  The original instructor on dragonflies in Reston moved away several years ago, so I volunteered to take over this project. Similarly, I led both teams surveying dragonflies in the 2018 Reston BioBlitz, when the leader of one of the teams was unable to participate.  

I have also volunteered in Reston surveys of butterflies and birds (FMN continuing education and service projects, E250,  C171, and C248). In fact, my volunteering began years ago with birds, continued to butterflies, and now includes dragonflies and caterpillars.  

I used the data gathered on butterflies, dragonflies, native bees, and caterpillars to author the invertebrates section of the Reston Annual State of the Environment Report (RASER), yet another FMN service project: C245. In the first edition of RASER, I contributed to several other sections, but observed that these sections were well-covered by the RASER working group, except for invertebrates. Thus for the second edition, I focused on invertebrates as the sole author.  

For each of the above projects, I volunteered time and expertise to photograph the subjects. For example, all of the photographs I used in the identification section of the Reston Dragonfly Class were taken in Reston. I believe that amateur photographs taken locally are easier for students to relate to than professional photographs in field guides covering a wide, unfamiliar area. I also submitted many of these photographs to iNaturalist and BugGuide.  

The activities discussed above illustrate success in meeting the FMN goal “to provide education, outreach and service for the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas in the Fairfax County area”. I first learned about FMN at the Spring Festival at the WNC in Reston.    

So the answer to the question of how a mathematician became a volunteer entomology awardee is the Fairfax Master Naturalist program.  

I welcome your participation in any of the projects I support.

Audubon Afternoon: Raptors of Virginia, Maryland, and DC, June 9

Sunday, June 9, 2019
2:30-5:00 PM
National Wildlife Center, 11100 Wildlife Center Drive Reston, VA, 20190

Please join the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia for an exciting Audubon Afternoon.

As Secret Garden Birds and Bees presents “Raptors of Virginia, Maryland and DC,” they will have with them five live raptors for us to see and photograph, including a Red-tailed Hawk and a Red-shouldered Hawk.

The audience will gather for refreshments at 2:30 p.m., have a brief Annual Meeting to elect officers and directors at 3:00, and begin the main program at about 3:15.

This is an event the whole family will enjoy!  As always, they welcome any food and drink that you would like to share with everyone.

If we work together, we can be a true force for nature

Cathy Ledec

If variety really is the spice of life, my work with Fairfax Master Naturalists is a tasty dish indeed. I engage with many projects throughout the year: as the president of the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park, the chair of the Fairfax County Tree Commission, as an Invasive Management Area site leader and Resource Management Volunteer for the Fairfax County Park Authority, Audubon-at-Home Ambassador, and as President of the Pavilions at Huntington Metro Community Association.

Mt. Vernon Government Center before our project

One of the most rewarding projects has been establishing a Natural Landscaping Demonstration project at the Mount Vernon Governmental Center, in Alexandria, Virginia. I attend meetings at this Fairfax County building frequently, and observed that the landscaping around the building had no variety, included mostly turf grass, and lacked blooming plants. The center needed some TLC! When I mentioned my observations and thoughts to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, he was enthusiastic. So I marshaled resources and my network and went to work.

Next steps towards implementation included preparing a planting plan, with drawings of the landscaping beds; and researching and preparing plant lists. I consulted with fellow Fairfax Master Naturalist (FMN) Betsy Martin, who is also an Audubon-at-Home Ambassador and very knowledgeable about native plants. Betsy provided great guidance on low-impact ways to establish the mulched planting beds. These methods included covering the large areas of turf grass with cardboard or newspaper and covering with 3-4 inches of mulch. 

Betsy Martin and George Ledec deep in the mulch

We established the first planting bed in November 2017, with one of Betsy’s friends donating of a huge load of mulch. Consulting with technical experts from the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District and Earth Sangha was especially important to the research and writing that resulted in our receiving two grants from these organizations for this project. (The grant writing process was fast, only taking a few months).  

Someone said to me once, “If you don’t plan, plan to fail.” So plan I did! The first planting event was in early April 2018. At the same time that I was planning for the planting, I started pursuing the needed permissions from the Fairfax County Facilities Management Division (FMD). This process was more challenging than I expected, but I kept the end goal in mind and eventually signed off on the needed Memorandum of Understanding with FMD. I knew that once this was signed, it would pave the way for future projects of this type for my fellow FMNers.

The goals of this project were to restore and improve environmental conditions. Converting turf grass areas to mulched planting beds would result in:

  1. Improved stormwater management
  2. Reduced urban heat island effect
  3. Restoration of wildlife habitat
  4. Improved visual appearance of the building
  5. Trees planted to shade the building, reduce summer cooling costs, provide natural privacy screen for staff working inside, and improve the view to the outside for staff working inside

Anticipating questions from the visiting public, I also prepared outreach materials on the project that could be shared with interested visitors.   

Concurrently, I was also contacted during the planning phase by a scout leader looking for an outdoor project for his scouts—what great luck!—and an excellent project for this scout troop and their families. This serendipity brought in more than 90 volunteers to establish the planting beds and the spring planting. The scouts dug holes, planted trees, moved mulch, and completed their work in one weekend. Volunteers rock! Thanks to FMNer Patti Swain for her help guiding the scouts.  

FMNers Maryann Fox and Chris Straub

We did a second planting in the fall of 2018, with thanks to FMNers Christine Straub and Maryann Fox, who helped with weeding and the fall planting. Special thanks to Supervisor Storck and his wife Deb for their help with the planting. Supervisor Storck’s support for this project was key to our success. 

We planted over a dozen tree seedlings and more than 100 native plants. There will be continuing need for maintenance, so you’ve not heard the last on this project. You, too, can join with us on our next maintenance day (I’ll send out a note and put it on the calendar), and record service hours to Stewardship project S256.

Blooming New England Aster with bumble bee in Summer 2018

This past April, I was honored for my work improving our environment with the 2018 Fairfax County Citizen of the Year award, both a humbling and thrilling recognition.

It remains very rewarding to watch the landscape our little team built fill in, bloom, and attract the birds and the bees. Every time I go by, there is a new flower blooming, with bees in attendance.

 

Eagle Festival, May 11th

Mason Neck State Park
7301 High Point Rd., Lorton, VA 22079
Saturday, 11 May 2019
10 am – 6 pm
(Bird walk at 8:30 am, must register)

Don’t miss Mason Neck State Park’s 22d annual Eagle Festival! They’ll have live shows all day in the Main Tent, including raptors, reptiles and mammals. The Hartwell Children’s Tent will offer children’s activities from our conservation partners. We’ll have Bald Eagle nest viewing tours, hay rides, pony rides, music, food and drink, a live eagle cam, exhibits from more than 20 environmental organizations, including Fairfax Master Naturalists, a youth photo contest and Mini-Clinics from REI.

You can see the entire schedule of activities at Eagle Festival Flyer.pdf

A Bird Walk led by the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, starts at 8:30 am. You must register to participate in the Bird Walk, which is limited to thirty participants. You can sign up at Register for Bird Walk.

Admission to the Park is free all day, so come on out and enjoy the Park’s biggest event of the year!

Feather drawing class, April 11th

Hidden Oaks Nature Center
7701 Royce St., Annandale, VA
Thursday, 11 April 2019
7-9 pm

Join naturalist and artist Avery Gunther to learn how to draw feathers with colored pencil on toned paper.  Learn about types of feathers and feather identification.  Watch a demonstration about how to draw feathers, then draw your own feathers in this interactive class.  Drawing is a great way to sharpen your observation skills.  Paper is provided for a small fee.  A suggested list of supplies will be provided when you sign up.  Register on ParkTakes, https://fairfax.usedirect.com/FairfaxFCPAWeb/ACTIVITIES/Search.aspx.

Cheerily, cheer up: Colt Gregory on birding by ear

It’s impossible to miss the robins outside the window right now, but even if you missed Colt Gregory’s “Introduction to Birding by Ear,” at the March 18 FMN chapter meeting, it’s not too late to start understanding birdsong.

An Arlington Regional Master Naturalist and lifelong birder, Mr. Gregory entertained the crowd with reasons to learn the songs of local birds: they hide, for one thing, and it’s easier to hear them than to see them. Listening and parsing their music requires focus, which is good discipline for our fragmented attention. And, well, it’s fun to impress people. There’s more to it, of course, and he’s graciously shared his slides as a resource.

You’ll find a sound suggestion for what not to do: don’t play recorded calls outside because it confuses the birds and annoys other birders. But you’ll mostly find excellent resources for developing your skills. Mr. Gregory particularly recommends the CD Birding By Ear: A Guide to Eastern Bird-Song Identification, narration by Richard K. Walton and Robert W. Lawson: “This is an excellent way to learn songs and calls. Using an interesting approach, the CD places birds in general groups like whistlers, sing-songers, mimics, name-sayers, and high-pitchers.”

Birding by Ear, by Colt Gregory, ARMN, March 18, 2019

Thank you to Kit Sheffield for arranging the presentation. If you are interested in sharing your skills with our members or community, please contact Mr. Sheffield at vmnfairfax@gmail.com