Help repopulate white oak forests

From Laura DeWald, Forest Genetics Specialist:

I am at the University of Kentucky (Dept. Forestry and Natural Resources), where I am developing a genetics improvement program for white oak (Quercus alba) to address sustainability of the white oak resource into the future. The eventual goal of the project is to have a sustainable supply of good white oak to support healthy forests and restore the white oak resource. 

The first obvious step in a genetics program is to get germplasm – in this case acorns. Collecting will begin this fall and will occur for at least two more seasons, with the future collections focused on filling in collection gaps in the geographic range. Acorns collected will be grown in the Kentucky Division of Forestry’s state nursery and then outplanted into genetic tests as 1-0 seedlings. 

I need help getting acorns from throughout Virginia. Each individual person only needs to collect from 1-2 trees.

Important First Steps

1. Scout for one or two healthy white oaks now and look for the baby acorns to make sure that tree will produce this fall. That said, you can also watch for mature acorns on the tree–it’s important that they aren’t old ones from years past. Mature acorns will start dropping late September to October, so you will need to act soon.

 2. Contact Laura DeWald ( | 859-562-2282) for the collection kit and the important instructions you will need to follow before you gather the acorns. Laura will start sending out kits now to those who contact her. Each tree will get its own kit. (You don’t want to mix up the acorns from different trees because they want to sample the parent’s genetics.)   859-562-2282

Review of The Songs of Insects

Jerry Nissley

The Songs of Insects by Lang Elliott and Will Hershberger

On September 11, 2019, Friends of Dyke Marsh (FODM) hosted speaker Will Hershberger, co-author of The Songs of Insects (2007). The evening presentation was given in the visitor’s center at Huntley Meadows Park, followed by a night walk through Huntley Meadow’s woods and wetland to actually hear the calls, chirps, tics, and trills of the insects. Mr. Hershberger has been recording insect sounds for many years and has amassed a vast collection of insect images and recordings, first published in his book and now maintained on his fascinating website. He is an avid naturalist, award-winning nature photographer, nature sound recordist, and author. He and his wife, Donna, formed Nature Images and Sounds, LLC, and photograph a wide variety of animals in addition to insects. He is an entertaining public speaker as well.

The presentation explored the world of singing insects and explained how to distinguish individual species of crickets, katydids, and cicadas. I learned a lot about what we hear day and night during each season of the year. What I am hearing at night now, which I thought to be frogs, may well indeed be insects, especially the Snowy Tree Cricket, Davis’s Tree Cricket, and the Northern Mole Cricket. (See Hershberger’s Guide to Species.) You may be as amazed as I was.

My big take-away was something we perhaps all know but don’t think about all the time: Animal songs are seasonal and specific to one predominant purpose–mating. In general, the frog-calling season is late winter through spring, birds carry us through summer, and late summer (now) through early winter is insect time. The sounds we are hearing now are most likely insects. Each season carries some overlap, of course. Birds are the ones we hear most across all seasons but even their calls/songs change. Now is the time of the insects.

Seasonality explains why now I don’t hear frogs during the evening Mason Neck kayak tours, where earlier in the year I couldn’t talk over the frog ruckus. Now I hear the three-part harmony of crickets, katydids, and cicadas. Each sound interesting in its own right, which The Songs of Insects re-enforces beautifully.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Harriet

Marilyn Kupetz

So the bare facts are these: Harriet is a wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) who lives in a terrarium at Riverbend Park. Roughly 10 inches long beak to tail, she has the brown eyes of a female and “a rough carapace and pyramid-like raised scutes” (Abugattas, 2017, p. 42). She’s of a certain age, but what that is exactly is unknown given that rescued reptiles don’t come with chips.

Unlike her box turtle peers—Romeo, Tortuga, Pumpkin, and Tojo—Harriet has all of her limbs. She certainly has all of her faculties. Each Thursday morning, when I come to take care of her, she peers up at me from her swimming basin, registers that I’m the behemoth who brings her strawberries, and crawls onto her landing stone to be lifted out, fed, and taken for a walk. After 6 months of this routine, we’re pals. I am lucky to have the privilege of learning about turtles from Harriet.

Harriet sunning in front of the Riverbend Visitor Center. Photo: Marilyn Kupetz

Although she knows what she wants, Harriet ambles to get it. While gazing at the back of this creature thus frequently at rest, I realized that turtle shells exhibit the Voronoi tessellations that, for example, Pixar uses to design scales for their digitally animated reptiles. 

Voronoi growth diagram

Animation by Balu Erti, CC BY-SA 4.0

Imagine two bubbles, or drops or water, or globs of tadpole eggs. When these masses are separate, they are more or less spherical, right? But when they come in contact with one another, their edges form planes and the geometrical shapes typical of the scales or bony plates covering dinosaurs and dragons. And turtles.

Biologists use Voronoi patterns to model cells. The tessellations help scientists understand what happens when cells multiply rapidly, making it possible to visualize cellular behavior so that, for example, doctors can treat illnesses.

Wikipedia reports that ecologists also use Voronoi patterns “to study the growth patterns of forests and forest canopies” and to develop “predictive models for forest fires.” An interesting conceptual shift from micro (cells) to macro (woodland systems).

Who knew that an elderly wood turtle could be such a good gateway to information about the natural world for curious citizen scientists?

Harriet doesn’t just stimulate learning, however. She and her kin offer volunteers a rare type of emotional connection: They show us that they appreciate the attention we give them. How do we know? By observing their uplifted heads as they sun, their ever enthusiastic consumption of fresh fruit and worms, and, yes, their gift of uninhibited deposits as they bathe.

They also enable us to work with other volunteers who, like philosopher Peter Singer, have come “to be persuaded that animals should be treated as independent sentient beings, not as means to human ends.” The Riverbend creatures cannot, alas, return to the wild—they were rescued from danger or abuse and are now dependent on human kindness. But those of us who care for them care about them.

Every 6 months, Riverbend’s Senior Interpreter Rita Peralta and Volunteer Coordinator Valeria Espinosa invite additional volunteers to help attend to not only Harriet and the box turtles, but also the snakes, frogs, and fish living in the Riverbend Visitor and Nature Centers. The always-welcoming Riverbend staff offer training sessions, flexible scheduling, and, best, the chance to nurture, learn from, and teach visitors about the gentle beings inhabiting the wild places that still remain to us in Fairfax County.

Plans for Fall training sessions are in the works. In the interim, here is the county’s description of the work. Please submit an expression of interest to Valeria Espinosa: or Rita Peralta:

Questions? Feel free to ask me anything.

FMN volunteers get credit for volunteering under Service Code: S182: FCPA Nature Center Animal Care



Abugattas, A. (2017). The reptiles and amphibians of the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Self-published. Contact author.

Behavior-centered design for the environment training

Rare Center for Behavior and the Environment
1310 N. Courthouse Road, Suite 110, Arlington, VA, 22201
Phone: 703.522.5070

October 16 & 17, 2019
9:00 am–5:00 pm

Register now

Want the key to unlocking greater impact from your environmental programs?

Environmental and conservation organizations have deep expertise in the natural sciences. But if human behavior is the biggest threat to the environment, we need a better understanding of what motivates people. Join Rare for an interactive behavior-centered design training, and gain tools and techniques for moving people toward more sustainable behaviors.

What is Behavior-Centered Design (BCD)?

A process that blends insights from the behavioral sciences and approaches from design thinking to build breakthrough solutions to environmental challenges.

Who is this training for?

• Conservation and environmental practitioners

• Program designers and policy staff

• Sustainability professionals

Why would a BCD training help you?

• Behavior is at the root of both conservation problems and solutions

• Strategies that incorporate human behavior can achieve larger and lasting impact

• BCD holds the potential for unlocking fundraising opportunities

• It provides a step-by-step process for identifying target behaviors and developing strategies       to achieve them

What will I leave the training with?

• Applicable skills and easy-to-use tools

• Hands-on experience with a behavior-centered design process

• A tutorial on Rare’s behavior change toolkit

• A  membership in a learning network of practitioners


Review aquatic ecology publications for VMN

Virginia Cooperative Extension has a 2009 publication series set to expire, “Sustaining America’s Aquatic Biodiversity”. VMN uses publications in this series as part of the VMN curriculum, particularly for the Aquatic Ecology and Management topic. To renew these publications so that they do not expire, they need to review them to make sure the information is still accurate, links still work, etc.

What You’ll Do

They are seeking volunteers (just one or two per publication) to review twelve publications. Each publication is typically just 4-8 pages long, with illustrations. They are all written for a layperson audience, and you do not need to be a professional biologist to review them. You will be asked to:

  1. Read through the publication to check for any information that may no longer be accurate. Most of the text is general and likely still correct. Things that may have changed are likely number-based facts.
  2. Using reliable sources, find updated information to replace anything that is no longer accurate. For example, if the publication lists the number of federally endangered salamander species, you would want to do further research with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see if that number is still correct.
  3. Look at the illustrations and confirm that the drawings and pictures are labeled correctly.
  4. Correct any typos found in the publication.
  5. Test any internet links provided and make sure they work. Update the URLs as needed.
  6. Handwrite your edits directly (and neatly!) on a printed copy of the publication. Then, either scan and email the revised version back to me, or snailmail me the printed version.
  7. Communicate with Michelle Prysby if questions come up along the way.
  8. Complete all your edits and send them back by October 23.

You will be recognized in the acknowledgements of the revised publication once it is updated in the Virginia Cooperative Extension publications system online.

They are looking for reviewers for the following publications

  1. What is Aquatic Biodiversity and Why Is It Important?
  2. Why is Aquatic Biodiversity Declining?
  3. Aquatic Habitats: Homes for Aquatic Animals
  4. Freshwater Mussel Biodiversity and Conservation
  5. Crayfish Biodiversity and Conservation
  6. Freshwater Fish Biodiversity and Conservation
  7. Selected Freshwater Fish Families
  8. Frog Biodiversity and Conservation
  9. Salamander Biodiversity and Conservation
  10. Turtle Biodiversity and Conservation
  11. Freshwater Snail Biodiversity and Conservation
  12. Aquatic Insect Biodiversity and Conservation

To volunteer

Please contact Michelle Prysby by September 15 and let her know which of the twelve publications you would be willing to review. She will send out the final assignments shortly after that date, and you’ll have approximately one month to complete your review. Depending on the volunteer response, she will try to assign volunteers to just one or two publications, unless someone really has a lot of time on their hands!

Two bioblitzes – citizen science in action, Sep. 13-14 & Sep. 29

Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex is doing a couple of BioBlitzes this September:

BioBlitz: Presquile NWR
What? A BioBlitz is an intense period of biological surveying in attempt to identify all living species within a unit of the refuge. During this BioBlitz, biologists and citizen scientists will have the opportunity to assist the refuge with a biological inventory of Presquile National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Surrounded by the James River, Presquile NWR contains freshwater marshes, a network of creeks, fields, and hardwood forests. While attending this event, surveyors are welcome to explore the extent of the refuge and will be given a data sheet to record all identifiable species. You can also opt to record your information in your iNaturalist app.


Surveyors have the option to choose between two survey periods. Space is limited as each survey period can have 14 surveyors. Spots will be filled on a first come first serve basis. Please specify which survey period when you RSVP to

Survey Period 1: An overnight survey for those who plan to inventory wildlife at night and/or in the early morning. Overnight surveyors will be able to stay in the bunkhouse. The pontoon boat departs for Presquile at September 13, at 5p and returns for pick up on September 14, 9a. (max. capacity 14 surveyors)

Survey Period 2: Pontoon Boat Departs on September 14 at 10a and returns at 3pm. (max. capacity 14 surveyors)

Where? Henrico, VA. Directions to the pontoon boat launch will be distributed closer to the event.

What to Bring? Any equipment you may need to complete your survey (ie, binoculars, field scopes, water quality measurement devices). Survey Period 1: We will send a separate email closer to the event. Survey Period 2: We will provide water and snacks but be sure to bring your own water bottle and lunch.

RSVP? Email Lauren at with your specified Survey Period if you are interested or have any questions. We look forward to seeing you there!

BioBlitz: Fones Cliffs
What? A BioBlitz is an intense period of biological surveying with the objective of identify all living species within a tract of the Refuge. During this BioBlitz, biologists and citizen scientists will have the opportunity to explore our newest Refuge tract while contributing valuable data to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This Refuge tract contains various habitats. It borders the Rappahannock River and consists of fields, mixed forests and ravines. While attending this event, surveyors are welcome to collect data within the extent of the Refuge and will be given a data sheet to record identifiable species. Surveyors can also opt to record information in the iNaturalist app. Please note, surveyors are only to collect data within the Refuge boundary which will be represented on a map upon arrival.

When? Sunday, September 29, 9a-3p

Where? Carters Wharf Road, Warsaw, VA; Google Maps Link: Signs will guide you from Carters Wharf Road to the cliffs on the day of the event.

What to Bring? Any equipment you may need to complete your survey (ie, binoculars, field scopes, snake tongs, field guides). We will provide water and snacks, but be sure to bring your own water bottle and lunch.

RSVP? Please email Lauren at Lauren_cruz@fws.

Try Nest Quest Go to help the Cornell Lab

In the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s new crowdsourcing project, you’re invited to delve into decades of handwritten nest data cards and the valuable information they hold.

You can help them digitize these cards while taking a trip back in time and peeking into the stories inside birds’ nests.

Just sign up for the project via Zooniverse—even a few minutes is really helpful. Our current project is on American Kestrels, with more species lined up for the future (we can even send you notifications about new projects).

Check out Nest Quest Go and start on your first nest card!

Wildlife Corridors and Crashes: Research and Efforts to Facilitate Safe Wildlife Movement across Roads

Webinar Details

Wednesday, August 28, 2019, 12:00 pm
Meeting Number: 306-718-517
Link to Join: Join Webinar
Link for recordings of this and past webinars: VMN Continuing Education Webinar page


As wildlife move across the landscape or through our waterways, they increasingly find their habitat shrinking or carved up by human development and infrastructure. The road network was built with a focus on providing safe and efficient transport, with little regard for ecology. Roads not only threaten the viability of certain species’ populations, but also pose a substantial risk to driver safety. Virginia is consistently among the 10 states with the highest number of deer-vehicle collisions, with more than 60,000 reported each year.

Today, the transportation and scientific communities increasingly seek to reconnect fragmented habitat and avoid further disruption to wildlife movement. It is now more widely recognized that prioritizing wildlife corridor protection and helping wildlife move safely through the landscape is a benefit to both wildlife populations and drivers.

This webinar focuses on three road ecology efforts underway in the Commonwealth:

  • Wildlife crossing research conducted by the Virginia Transportation Research Council (the research division on VDOT)
  • A newly established Virginia Safe Wildlife Corridors Collaborative that seeks to implement solutions to address driver safety and habitat connectivity, and
  • The development of wildlife corridor legislation to identify corridors in the Commonwealth and encourage the implementation of measures to ensure safe wildlife passage across roadways.


Misty Boos received a Master of Environmental Planning degree from the University of Tasmania in 2006 and a BS in Sociology with emphasis on Environmental Studies from Southern Oregon University. She has extensive experience in the non-profit sector working on research projects and in the field for many environmental organizations. She has been an active participant and leader for Wild Virginia outings and completed training as a Virginia Master Naturalist.

Bridget Donaldson is an associate principal research scientist at the Virginia Transportation Research Council. She holds a BS in Ecological and Populational Biology from the University of Colorado and an MS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Tennessee. While her research covers a variety of environmental topics, ranging from climate change to roadkill composting, she has been involved in the research and implementation of measures to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions for over 15 years.

Citizen Science: Leaf Survey

Participate in this component of the Fossil Atmospheres project with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

In order to understand how well the features of ginkgo leaves reflect the climate they grow in, scientists need to study leaves from trees growing in many different climates.

Ginkgos are the perfect plant for this. While their natural range is restricted to China, ginkgo trees can now be found all over the world, transported to new places by humans. Ginkgos also have a rich fossil record dating back to the Jurassic Period, meaning scientists can apply what they learn about reconstructing climates from today’s ginkgos to the past hundred million years through beautifully preserved fossil leaves.

How can you help?

The Smithsonian is looking for citizen scientists to send them leaves from their communities!

What you will need


A Ginkgo tree that is at least 10 feet tall


A smartphone or computer + camera


A free account on iNaturalist


Materials to mail in your leaves: a large envelope, cardboard, newspaper and tape

Watch the video or follow the instructions below to join in with the research. A PDF of the complete instructions is also available for download here and a one page version is available here.

If you are sending a sample from outside of the United States please follow this additional protocol to ensure the sample reaches us.

Questions? Email

Read more from the Smithsonian Magazine

Working together to keep Fairfax County streams healthy

Valerie Bertha

Front Row left to right: Victoria Skender, Richard Skender. Back row, left to right: volunteer, Bradley Simpson, representing Audubon, Terri Skender

Over three years ago, I started attending stream monitoring sessions with Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NVSWCD). I was amazed at how much fun I had learning how to identify the benthic macro invertebrates (tiny spineless bugs) that live on the bottom of the streams in our community. I learned that the type and diversity of the creatures we found would tell us how healthy or impaired the stream was.

But the goal wasn’t just for me to learn something, stream monitors are citizen scientists whose work complements that of the NVSWCD. By submitting the data we collect to Virginia Save Our Streams, citizens have the opportunity to identify streams that need help and work with the county to determine a plan of corrective action. Our efforts also provide a baseline for monitoring pending construction projects to prevent any degradation of water quality.

So is the work valuable? Yes, and it’s not overly time consuming. Each session takes a mere 3 hours of the volunteer’s time.

Hellgramites from Holmes Run

But is it fun? Yes, it is! So much fun that I decided to take the next step and become a certified stream monitor. I adopted a site on Holmes Run near my house to monitor quarterly. My goal is to have around 8 volunteers per session. We find a variety of macro invertebrates: net spinners, beetles, hellgrammites, black flies, midges, flat worms and sometimes stone flies.

Anyone can volunteer. I have trained multiple girl scout troops, run workshops for high schoolers, and always accept individual volunteers. You do not need to be an FMN member. I enjoy working with NVSWCD because they provide the equipment and training certification, and they are always helpful.

Are you curious about the water quality of your local stream? Would you like to make a positive difference in our environment? Join me or other volunteers and participate in stream monitoring. Start here. Just search under Fairfax County Stream Monitoring.

If you would like to come to one of my quarterly stream monitoring sessions please send me an email at valerie.bertha@gmail,com. My next session is August 18, 9 am – noon. I will host another in November, time to be determined.