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North American Butterfly Association(NABA) Butterfly Count, July 23rd

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Saturday, July 23, 2022
9:00am – 3:00pm
Where: The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
Cost: Free
For more information and Registration click here.

Every year community scientists help count the butterflies in 15-mile-diameter circles all around the country and contribute their data to the North American Butterfly Association. This summer The Clifton Institute will host their 27th annual butterfly count and celebrate their 20th year contributing their data to NABA. Butterfly enthusiasts of all levels of experience are welcome! If you feel like you don’t know many butterflies, this is a great way to learn and it’s always helpful to have more eyes pointing out butterflies.

Butterfly Identification Workshop, July 9th

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Saturday, July 9  10:00 am – 12:00 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187

Free

Instructor: Dr. Bert Harris

More information and registration.

Come and learn about butterfly biology and identification. Dr. Bert Harris will give a short presentation followed by a guided walk around the field station to look for butterflies (and perhaps some dragonflies as well :). All skill levels welcome!

Hosted by The Clifton Institute.

Butterfly Gardening with Native Plants, May 5th

Photo:  Virginia Native Plant Society

Thursday, May 5, 2022
2 – 3pm
Tyson-Pimmit Regional Library, Meeting Room 1
7584 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church
No signup is required.

Most people know that monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed plants, but many aren’t aware that other caterpillars have similarly restricted diets.

Margaret Chatham, a local native plant gardener and long-time member of the Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS), will share photos and lots of information about the native plants, known as larval host plants, that various species of caterpillars can digest. Learn how to create a butterfly-friendly habitat In your own yard by planting a variety of native larval host plants. Enjoy beautiful photos of the butterflies and silk moths that you can look forward to seeing in your own butterfly garden. Adults.

Butterfly Identification Workshop, September 16th

Photo: Comma and Question Mark, Gary Meyers

Butterfly Identification Workshop, September 16, 2021
7-8:30 pm
Online.
Register here.

The sight of butterflies fluttering around on a warm day is one of the most iconic signs of our warm weather months. These beautiful insects usually only live for a few weeks as adults, but they make quite an impression while they are in their full glory. There is a large variety of butterfly species in our area. Dr. Larsen will focus on identifying the 20 most common butterflies in Northern Virginia. Participants will then be able to sign up for our new fall butterfly count!

Elise Larsen is a post-doctoral associate at the Ries Lab of Butterfly Infomatics. Her interests include ecology, population dynamics, phenology, and disturbance. She is especially fascinated by butterfly dynamics, currently focusing on traits such as color and lifespan.

Butterflies, Waterwise Gardening, Groundcovers and more – Webinars abound!

The Hospitable Gardener
When: July 17, 10-11:30am
Are you interested in inviting butterflies to visit your garden? This talk will help you learn how to be a good host to Lepidoptera, providing cultural tips and plant suggestions to help your winged guests feel at home. Learn more and register.

Groundcovers
When: July 22, 11am-12pm
Do you have spots in your landscape that turf won’t grow, have high erosion potential or you would like to add a little seasonal interest, color and texture? Plan to attend this seminar to help you choose the right groundcover for each place in your landscape. Learn more.

Fruit Trees and Berries for the Urban Landscape: Part II – Natives
When: July 24, 10-11:30am
From shade to supporting wildlife, erosion control, and screening, you can choose a fruit crop to suit your home garden. Learn about growth habits, pros and cons, and how to acquire and care for these native plants. Learn more and register.

Waterwise Gardening
When: July 31, 10-11:30am
We will discuss which plants can best survive our long, hot summers, how to group plants to take advantage of existing water sources, and use of water gardens, rain barrels, and best landscaping practices. Learn more and register.

Annual Butterfly Count at Clifton Institute

Saturday, July 25, 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Join Clifton Institute, as they host their 25th annual butterfly count and celebrate their 18th year of collaboration with the North American Butterfly Association. 

Novice and experienced butterfly enthusiasts are needed! Citizen scientists will be assigned to small teams, led by an experienced butterfly counter. Teams will survey a variety of sites within our count circle.

Fee: $3 per person (Children 8 and older may participate for free, when accompanied by a parent.)

Register here

Free butterfly workshop, June 24th, then census June 29th

National Wildlife Federation
11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston, VA 20190
Monday, 24 June 2019
7-9 pm

The sight of butterflies fluttering around on a warm day is one of the most iconic signs of summer. These beautiful insects usually only live for a few weeks as adults, but they make quite an impression while they are in their full glory. There is a large variety of butterfly species in our area and we are going to census them on June 29 during the 19th Annual North American Butterfly Association (NABA) Count sponsored by Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. The NABA count takes place in and around our Occoquan Bay Count Circle. In preparation, Dr. Leslie Ries will be teaching a butterfly workshop focusing on identifying butterflies in Northern Virginia. The classroom portion of the workshop is FREE, but registration is required.

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.

The Hospitable Garden: Welcoming beautiful butterflies, moths, and other critters, Mar. 16th

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Long Branch Nature Center, Arlington VA
Saturday, 16 March 2019
10 am-12 pm

Long Branch Nature Center and the Washington Area Butterfly Club are pleased to present this talk by Tyler Ormsby and Alyssa Ford-Morel. They will talk about how to choose and cultivate plants to better create ecosystems in our yards. Tyler is a certified Master Gardener and his yard is an Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary. Alyssa is an Audubon at Home Ambassador and a Certified Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Free program.

Fairfax Master Naturalist CaterpillarsCount! Project

Don Coram

CaterpillarsCount! (Citizen Science Service Code C254) is part of a multi-year, multi-site National Science Foundation-funded study to determine whether seasonal activity of plants, insects, and birds are all responding in the same way to climate change. The lead universities for the study are University of North Carolina, Georgetown University, and University of Connecticut.  Figure 1 maps the 73 sites around the Eastern U.S. that collected data in 2018. 

The paper that was the impetus for the project is Increasing phenological asynchrony between spring green-up and arrival of migratory birds”, which appeared in Nature’s Scientific Reports, Vol. 7, in 2017. Phenology is a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (such as bird migration or plant flowering). At each site, volunteer citizen scientists count caterpillars and other arthropods on a specific collection of 50 leaves on each of 10 trees during the growing season (May-August). (50 is an arbitrary number intended to be a balance between getting enough data and not creating an overwhelming data collection chore.) These counts will be repeated over several years to look for trends. With 73 sites, there is no way this data could be collected without citizen scientists, hence the participation of naturalists like us.  Researchers at the universities analyze the data.  

For the Fairfax County site, the selected trees are in the Walker Nature Center (WNC) in Reston. WNC Director, Katie Shaw, is the site manager. I am the lead data collector, assisted by two other FMN members, Kim Schauer and Claudia Thompson-Deahl. Elise Larsen of Georgetown University has been our point of contact with the national CaterpillarsCount! project.  

In 2018, we conducted 140 surveys on 14 different dates, observing a total of 500 arthropods, including 13 caterpillars, which were present on 9.29% of surveys. (A “survey” observes the 50 leaves of one tree.) Nationally, the top 10 sites had caterpillars present in average of 5.32% of surveys, so our site looks good from this perspective.  

One of the prettiest caterpillars we found was the American dagger moth caterpillar, Acronicta americana, shown in Figure 2. We also observed fall webworm moth caterpillars, geometer moth caterpillars, and others that we could not identify.  Among the other arthropods we observed were debris-carrying lacewing larvae, daddy longlegs, beetle larvae, and sylvan jumping spiders.  

Because caterpillars are a major source of food for nestlings of migratory birds, we are especially interested in the timing of caterpillar availability. Caterpillar phenology  (e.g., lifecycle events) at the WNC site is shown in the Figure 3. Caterpillar occurrence peaked at 36.36% of surveys on August 19. Note that August 19 is late to provide a food source for nestlings. My conjecture for this lateness is that the insects usually responsible for caterpillars in the spring are becoming rarer (along with most flying insects; see More than 75 Percent Decline over 27 Years in Total Flying Insect Biomass in Protected Areas) and fall insects do not suffer as much predation by birds. No conclusions can be suggested yet about the effect of climate  change, since the sturdy will need to go on for several years to obtain comparative data.  

It is interesting that the “caterpillar” we observed most often is not a caterpillar at all. By definition, caterpillars are in the Order Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), whereas the most observed larvae were dogwood sawfly larvae, Macremphytus testaceus, in the Order  Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants). Two of these larvae are shown in Figure 4. The larvae were so numerous that they defoliated the tree, a Red Osier dogwood.  

One benefit in participating in CaterpillarsCount! is learning to identify all sorts of arthropods. There is an online training course and field guide for this purpose. As a novice entomologist, I found both the opportunity and guidance valuable. 

One unexpected benefit is the opportunity to observe nature surrounding the survey sites in a leisurely way, closely, and repeatedly. I noticed animals that I missed on other visits to WNC, such as tadpoles growing legs, a Northern water snake sunning on the rocks, a grey catbird taking a bath, an American rubyspot damselfly, and a violet dancer damselfly.  

The project could use additional volunteers this year and in the future. New volunteers could establish a new survey site or help with the WNC site. Training and support are provided.  

Please join me at the Walker Nature Center on April 23 for a discussion of the project. Elise Larsen will present with me. The talk counts for continuing education credits.

Researcher bios

Elise Larsen, PhD, Biology, University of Maryland 2013. Post Doc, Georgetown University, 2013 – present. Co-investigator on CaterpillarsCount!

Don Coram, PhD, Mathematics, University of Wisconsin, 1985. Graduate, Fairfax Master Naturalist 2016, certified 2017.  Volunteer Reston awarded Don its 55+ Volunteer Award for his community service in 2019.