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Fairfax Master Naturalist CaterpillarsCount! Project

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 synchronously 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.  

Want to become a Riverbend Park volunteer? 

Attend the next monthly Volunteer Orientation: Saturday, March 2, 9:30 am – 12:00 pm

Learn about our upcoming opportunities, projects, and events and get started on your training with a hands-on project!

Upcoming Opportunities 

  • Wildflower Survey (Feb-May) NEW – Identify & document native and non-native wildflowers 
  • Spring Salamander Survey (Feb-May) – ID, measure, and document salamanders 
  • Turtle Survey (Feb-May) NEW – ID native turtles and help us track & document their presence at Riverbend
  • Wildlife Camera Monitor NEW – Help us set up & track wildlife cams throughout the park and review footage for     some action! 
  • Exhibit Animal Care – Help provide care for our exhibit animals (min 4hrs/month for 6 months) 
  • Survey Data Entry (winter-spring) NEW – Enter data on our salamander survey onto a spreadsheet     
  • Spring/Summer Programs – Join our interpretive team and provide assistance at our camps & programs 
  • Dragonfly Survey (March-Oct) *training in March 
  • Bluebell Festival on April 6th! 
  • Ongoing Opportunities Watershed Clean ups, Habitat restoration, Trail maintenance and restoration, Gardening/plants Park Support 

Contacts:

Valeria Espinoza, Volunteer Coordinator valeria.espinoza@fairfaxcounty.gov

Rita Peralta, Natural Resources Manager rita.peralta@fairfaxcounty.gov

Friends of Wolf Trap host City Nature Challenge (and training!)

As urban development in Northern Virginia continues to accelerate, the management of open spaces becomes more important than ever. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, which encompasses more than 130 acres with 2.7 miles of trails, forests, native gardens, streams and a pond, contains important natural, recreational and historical resources for the community. As a not-for-profit organization, the Friends of Wolf Trap (FOWT) contributes to community awareness and assists the National Park Service with providing educational programs, recreation, and preservation through centralized volunteer efforts.  The FOWT are interested in increasing involvement from Fairfax Master Naturalist members in conducting citizen science projects and promoting the Park’s natural resources to the public.

Please register for one or more upcoming events listed at http://friendsofwolftrap.org/events/  and mark your calendars and join us for the following upcoming events:

  • Sunday, April 7, 2019 (10:00 am to noon):  iNaturalist Training and Hike at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts; Using iNaturalist to document and learn about nature is easy! Learn how, then participate in #CityNatureChallenge April 26-29.  In preparation for the 2019 City Nature Challenge, please join Deborah Barber, Director of Land Management from The Nature Conservancy, who will provide brief ‘classroom’ instruction in using the iNaturalist app before leading the group through the Park’s trails and gardens to obtain practical field experience using the app.  Be sure you have a fully charged smart phone and have already downloaded and signed in to the app.
  • Sunday, April 28, 2019 (1:00 pm to 4:00 pm): City Nature Challenge ‘Hike and Explore’ at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts; Take part in the 2019 City Nature Challenge at Wolf Trap! 130 cities across 6 continents are vying to prove that their area has the most nature and the most nature-loving residents – and we want the DC Metro Area to win! https://citynaturechallengedc.org/  Join us for a group hike or strike out on your own to explore the Park’s 130 acres including forests, trails, streams, ponds, meadows and gardens as you take pictures of Parks many plants and animals while taking part in the City Nature Challenge.  We will start with a brief introduction of how to use the iNaturalist app, so be sure you have a fully charged smart phone and have already downloaded and signed in to the app. (C260 is the appropriate service code)

Send us your success stories

Have you been working on a service project that has a goal?

Have you accomplished the goal or made progress toward achieving it?

Have you been working in concert with others?

Can you recount the accomplishments of your team?

Can you include measures?

Nope, you don’t need to have solved world hunger or addressed climate change all by yourself. Some successes are simply incremental steps toward outcomes that benefit the environment in Fairfax County and northern Virginia.

Every year, FMN reports stories of success to Virginia Master Naturalists. We’d like to share yours.

Whenever you are ready, please compose up to 500 words that relay (in whichever order best suits your story):

  • The name of your project and the service code
  • Its purpose, goals, and current objectives
  • Who’s working on the project–they don’t all have to be FMNers
  • What have you accomplished to date?
  • How do you measure those accomplishments beyond hours spent (e.g., if you planted a pollinator garden, what did it attract over what period of time that’s different from what used to visit that area? In addition to creatures that fly or crawl, did you attract human visitors? helpers? funding to continue? How many? How much?)
  • How much help do you need from chapter members?
  • What might we learn?
  • Why is this activity worth the investment of time?
  • How does it bring you pleasure? Would we have fun, too?

Please send the story and 2-3 photos with captions to vmnfairfax@gmail.com. A member of the FMN Communications team will be in touch within a few days, and your story will be posted to this site.

Yes, the time you spend on the story counts toward your service hours.

Questions? Again, vmnfairfax@gmail.com

Participate in CaterpillarsCount! this spring

Learn about the Fairfax Master Naturalist citizen science project, CaterpillarsCount! (Service code C254 if you’re an FMNer), including the results from last year and plans to continue the project this year. 

FMN efforts are part of a larger study to determine whether seasonal activity of plants, insects, and birds are all responding synchronously to climate change. 

CaterpillarsCount! is part of a National Science Foundation-funded study with University of North Carolina, Georgetown University, and University of Connecticut as lead universities.  Additional volunteers are needed to continue to collect data this year during spring and summer. 

Guest presenters: Elise Larsen, PhD, Georgetown University and Don Coram, PhD, Fairfax Master Naturalist. 

Location:  Walker Nature Center, Reston, VA. 

Date and time:   April 23, 7:00 – 8:00 pm.

The presentation counts toward FMN continuing education credits

Helping your stream through citizen science

Chapman DeMary Trail, Purcellville VA
Sunday, 10 March 2019
2-5 pm

Join Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy for a stream-side demonstration and discussion examining how citizen science surveys can be used to assess local stream quality. You will see how biomonitoring surveys are conducted. You will have a chance to look at the data and at aquatic macro invertebrates. They will discuss how the data is analyzed and how it can be used to improve our streams. At the end, you will have the opportunity to sign up for a spring survey, led by one of Loudoun Wildlife’s citizen science stream monitoring teams. Registration is limited, RSVP to Loudoun Wildlife.

Zooniverse Citizen Science Projects

The Zooniverse is a collection of web-based Citizen Science projects that use the efforts and abilities of volunteers to help researchers deal with the flood of data that confronts them. Review or transcribe data from centuries-old logs of whaling ships, listen to bat calls, identify marine invertebrates, or watch a red hawk nest to learn more about their calls and behavior. There are dozens of projects available in a variety of disciplines. To volunteer, just go to the Projects page, choose one you like the look of, and get started.

Volunteer at Riverbend Park: Wildlife Conservation & Animal Care

Volunteer Orientation

Saturday, Feb 2

9:30 AM-12:00 PM

8700 Potomac Hills St Great Falls, VA

Want to become a Riverbend Park Volunteer? Attend our next monthly Volunteer Orientation and learn about our upcoming opportunities, projects, and events and get started on your training with a hands-on project!

Please register

Upcoming Opportunities

  • Wildflower Survey (Feb-May)  NEW – Identify & document native and non-native wildflowers
  • Spring Salamander Survey (Feb-May)ID, measure, and document salamanders
  • Turtle Survey (Feb-May)  NEW – ID native turtles and help us track & document their presence at Riverbend
  • Wildlife Camera Monitor NEW – Help us set up & track wildlife cams throughout the park and review footage for some action
  • Exhibit Animal Care – Help provide care for our exhibit animals (min 4hrs/month for 6 months)
  • Survey Data Entry (winter-spring) NEW – Enter data on our salamander survey onto a spreadsheet
  • Spring/Summer Programs – Join our interpretive team and provide assistance at our camps & programs
  • Wagon Driver (spring-summer) – help us provide wagon rides at our programs and events
  • Astronomy Festivals (Feb. 16 and March 9)
  • Macroinvertebrate Stream Survey at Scott’s Run Orientation March 2
  • Dragonfly Survey (March-Oct) Training in March
  • Bluebell Festival, April 6

 

Ongoing Opportunities

  • Watershed Clean ups
  • Habitat restoration
  • Trail maintenance and restoration
  • Gardening/plants
  • Park Support

 

Contact

Valeria Espinoza, Volunteer Coordinator valeria.espinoza@fairfaxcounty.gov

Rita Peralta, Natural Resources Manager rita.peralta@fairfaxcounty.gov

Volunteer Opportunities

2018 Annual Report from Fairfax Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists

Each year, our chapter submits a record of what our members have accomplished to the Virginia Master Naturalists home office in Charlottesville, VA. This year, we recorded 12,569 hours across 137  citizen science, education, and stewardship service projects, in addition to chapter administration.

As Past President Michael Reinemer recounts, numbers alone convey neither the dedication of our volunteers nor the outcomes of their work. Those results of these hours, so generously given, include bird counts and surveys, maintenance of bluebird houses and trails; installation and monitoring of nest structures for Purple Martins; stream monitoring; outreach to school children; education on native plants; citizen science efforts to collect data on wildlife populations, native plants, pollinators, and other natural resources; work with partners such as Earth Sangha, Northern Virginia Soil and Water, Fairfax County Parks; and many more.

The report itself is available in its entirety.

Winter Salt Watch: You Can Help

Road salt (sodium chloride) is everywhere during winter months. It keeps us safe on roads and sidewalks, but it can also pose a threat to fish and wildlife as well as human health. 

Fish and bugs that live in freshwater streams can’t survive in extra salty water. And many of us (more than 118 million Americans) depend on local streams for drinking water. Water treatment plants are not equipped to filter out the extra salt, so it can end up in your tap water and even corrode your pipes. What can you do?

STEP 1: Test the chloride in your stream. Request a FREE test kit using the form on this page and follow the instructions you receive with your kit. (You can also order your own chloride test strips through Amazon.) You’ll want to test your stream:

  • Before a winter storm (to get a baseline reading).
  • After salt has been applied to roads.
  • After the first warm day or rainstorm following a snow or freeze.
  • After the next rain event.

STEP 2: Share your results using the free Water Reporter app. Just follow these simple instructions. With test results in one place, we can identify salt hot spots around the country, and you can see how salt is affecting your community. Check out the Winter Salt Watch map below!

STEP 3: Take action. If you find high levels of chloride, let someone know!

  1. Call your city or county department of environmental protection to report high chloride levels or large salt piles.
  2. Write a Letter to the Editor of your local newspaper or other news outlet to educate your community about this issue. You can start with our sample letter and adapt it for your use. (Download the Word file or PDF.)
  3. Share road salt best practices with community managers and state agencies.

Protect the health of your streams – and your community – with Winter Salt Watch!