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Volunteer Reston honors Doug Britt for community service

Doug Britt was honored as one of two 2019 Volunteers of the Year, for his efforts to guide Reston into becoming a member of the Biophilic Cities Network. In 2018, Reston officially became the 13th partner community, joining such biophilic cities as Singapore;  Sydney, Australia; Wellington, New Zealand; Oslo, Norway; Edmonton, Canada;  Portland, San Francisco, Austin,  and Washington, DC. The successful application to join this prestigious Network came about as a result of a recommendation made by the Reston Annual State of the Environment Report (RASER) Working Group, led by Mr. Britt. The RASER Working Group was established by Reston Association’s Environmental Advisory Committee in 2017. It was charged with the task of assessing and documenting the environmental conditions of the community to establish a baseline against which future changes could be measured. Doug served alongside five other Fairfax Chapter VMN program graduates: Don Coram (who won the 2019 Volunteer Reston 55+ Volunteer Award), Robin Duska, Linda Fuller, Lois Phemister, and Claudia Thompson-Deahl, all of whom helped prepare the RASER.

The first RASER was published in July 2017. It evaluated 16 separate environmental attributes of the Reston community, concluding with a postscript arguing that Reston is a biophilic community by design and intent of its founding principles. Reston’s particular way of connecting its natural areas to its residents (through its many walking paths, trails, Nature Center, recreation areas, and education/outreach programs) maximizes such connectivity and promotes more frequent, longer duration, and more immersive interactions, while the preservation of Reston’s green spaces also creates healthy viewscapes from much of the built environment.

The current RASER was completed by the Working Group in November 2018. The report updates and expands upon the first RASER. The 2018 report evaluates the status of the following environmental attributes: Air Quality, Streams, Lakes & Ponds, Stormwater Management, Drinking Water, Wastewater Treatment, Urban Forests, Meadows, Wetlands, Landscaping & Urban Agriculture, Birds, Mammals, Reptiles & Amphibians, Invertebrates, Wildlife Management, Hazardous Materials & Toxic Wastes, Light Pollution, Noise Pollution, and Education & Outreach. 

All together, the Working Group analyzed and reviewed more than 325 data sources and scientific reports during the summer and fall of 2018 by the Working Group. Each environmental attribute was then given a qualitative status using a traffic light icon to distinguish between “good”, “fair”, “poor”, or “undetermined”. The last designation indicates that not enough data exist to make a reasonable assessment at this time. The full report includes 135 graphs, tables, maps and photos, along with a complete list of references for readers interested in more detailed information. The current report also expands on each environmental attribute analyzed by including information about how each attribute relates to Fairfax County’s current Environmental Vision document (something that was not included in the earlier 2017 RASER). 

Another addition to the current RASER is a “Recommendations & Report Card” chapter. It describes 11 new recommendations for improving or protecting Reston’s environmental quality, and evaluates progress made towards implementing the 61 previous recommendations listed in the 2017 RASER. Nearly 2000 hours of uncompensated volunteer time went into the production of the RASER and implementation of many of its recommendations. 

The complete 2018 RASER (and its Executive Summary) can be viewed at the Reston Association’s NATURE OVERVIEW.

This work falls under Service Project C-245. Mr. Britt welcomes the service of Fairfax Master Naturalists who are interested in contributing.

Full account of the awards and the activities that led to them

Dragonfly training workshop at Riverbend, May 18

Riverbend Park
8700 Potomac Hills St.
Great Falls , VA 22066
Saturday, May 18
2-4 PM

Instructors: Jerry Peters & Rita Peralta

Participate in a long-term citizen science project that is monitoring dragonfly species in and around the Potomac River above Great Falls. Learn the protocols for collecting exuviae (shed skins) that dragonfly larvae leave behind when they emerge from the river and metamorphose into flying adults. Understand dragonfly life cycles and make the Virginia shoreline of the Potomac river one of your sites for nature appreciation through the seasons.

Learn more

 

 

Beetles of Virginia, with Dr. Art Evans, June 15

Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187-7106

Saturday, June 15
7:30PM – 9:30PM

Join the Institute for a program about beetles presented by entomologist and author Dr. Art Evans. After his presentation, Dr. Evans will take everyone outside  to set up several black light sheets to attract nocturnal beetles and other insects. Dr. Evans is the author of Beetles of Eastern North America. He is an adjunct professor and teaches entomology and medical entomology at the University of Richmond, Randolph-Macon College, and Virginia Commonwealth University. $10 a person.

Learn more

Natural history and conservation of Virginia moths, with Dr. Steve Roble, June 29

Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187-7106

Saturday, June 29
8:00PM – 10:30PM

Dr. Steve Roble will give a presentation on the natural history about moths and a summary of his agency’s efforts during the past 30 years to study the moths of Virginia. Then we will go outside and use ultraviolet lights to attract moths and other nocturnal insects and discuss some of our finds.

Dr. Steve Roble is the head Zoologist for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Division of Natural Heritage. He is the editor of Banisteria, the semiannual journal of the Virginia Natural History Society, and a research associate at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. $10 a person.

Learn more

What I learned during the 2019 City Nature Challenge

Bill Hafker

Participating in the City Nature Challenge was an enlightening and enjoyable experience in several ways.

First, I was somewhat surprised at how many unique living things you can spot when you are really intent on trying to find as many as you can, and you slow down and “get into the weeds” looking for things!

Wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator), by Bill Hafker

Second, I found that looking at the species identified by others participating in the Challenge was a good source of information for identifying things that I saw. A good example is when I found what I believe now is the wool sower gall wasp. I really had no idea where to start looking to see what this colorful little ball might be, but I found a picture of it in the species list identified by others. Several days have passed and no one has confirmed my ID, alas. Although my pictures are a bit blurry, I think there’s nothing else this could be. I found who the leading identifier of this species was, hoping to engage him in its identification, but could not find a way in iNaturalist to try to contact him.

In addition to looking into how to work with other identifiers, I’ve learned other things to improve my performance next year. This year, I limited myself to submitting only one observation of a species, even if I saw it in more than one area to make observations. I now know that multiple observations are a good way to help define spatial distributions of observed species.

I also realized that, while I received training in how to make observations in iNaturalist prior to the event, I should have sought out training in how to do identifications so I could more actively participate in that aspect of it, also.

Caterpillars Count! – NEW at Riverbend Park, Training May 11th

Riverbend Park
8700 Potomac Hills St., Great Falls, VA
Saturday, 11 May 2019
9 am-12 noon

Interested in insect studies and research? Become a Caterpillars Count! citizen scientist! Caterpillars and other insects live on the trees and plants all around us. They make up a critical part of many ecosystems and are an important food source for birds and other organisms. Riverbend Park is a premier site for Caterpillars Count! a new citizen science project designed by biologists from the University of North Carolina.

Volunteers will learn about insect life cycles and phenology of foliage arthropods while enhancing their identifying skills through weekly surveys.  Great for Master Naturalists, scouts, families, and individuals interested in wildlife studies.

More information/register here.

Learn to be a dragonfly surveyor & collector, May 18th

Photo (c) by Barbara J. Saffir

Riverbend Park
8700 Potomac Hills St., Great Falls VA
Saturday, 18 May 2019

Participate in a long term citizen’s science project monitoring dragonfly species that live in and around the Potomac River above Great Falls. Learn the protocols for collecting exuviae (shed skins) that dragonfly larvae leave behind when they emerge from the river and metamorphose into flying adults. Understand dragonfly life cycles and make the Virginia shoreline of the Potomac river one of your sites for nature appreciation through the seasons.
Training with Jerry Peter & Rita Peralta on Saturday May 18th!
*Must attend training to participate
More info/register here. Questions?  Contact Valerie Espinoza or call 703-759-9018.

Caterpillars Count! A citizen science workshop for educators

Looking for a new way to engage your students or visitors in hands-on science learning and contribute valuable information to local research about insects and birds? Become aCaterpillars Count! citizen scientist! Caterpillars and other insects live on the trees and plants all around us. They make up a critical part of many ecosystems and are an important food source for birds and other organisms.In this workshop, we’ll introduce you to Caterpillars Count!, a new citizen science project designed by biologists from the University of North Carolina, and show you how you can become a part of research linking birds to their insect food sources on trees. Learn how to conduct surveys of insects with your students/visitors, monitor changes in the abundance and type of insects present over time, and report your data using our free mobile app. We’ll also introduce sample learning activities and the Caterpillars Count! website, where you can explore the data collected by your group with others from around the state.

This workshop is open to and designed for both formal (grades 6-12) and non-formal educators. Each participant will receive a handbook of instructional materials and sample learning activities. Lunch provided.

Friday, May 3; 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Riverbend Park

Location: Riverbend Park, 8700 Potomac Hills St, Great Falls, VA 22066

Cost: FREE

Registration: We have limited space, so click here to apply now. Applications will be accepted until 4/30/19.

 

Questions about the workshop?

Contact Sarah Yelton, Caterpillars Count! Project Coordinator:sarah.yelton@unc.edu

FrogWatch USA training and service

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Trainings:
Thursday, 11 April 2019, 6-9 pm @ Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria, VA
Sunday, 14 April 2019, 3-6 pm @ National Zoological Park, ­ Rock Creek Campus
Saturday, 27 April 2019, 3-6 pm @ National Zoological Park, ­Rock Creek Campus

The FrogWatch, USA, National Zoo chapter is entering its seventh season of FrogWatch USA at the zoo. To date it has monitored 75 sites in DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maine and has submitted almost 2,000 frog call observations.

FrogWatch tracks frog populations throughout the United States. Participants will choose a monitoring site that is easily accessible and close to where they live or work to listen to frogs that are calling throughout the warmer months. The three indoor trainings help orient people with the frogs that are in the DC-metro area and their calls. Content is the same, so chose one training that fits your schedule. If you are interested please contact Matt Neff: neffm@si.edu.

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.