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Review of Virginia Herpetological Society Website

Reviewed by Sarah Mayhew

I’ve had a life-long interest in amphibians and reptiles. My go-to tool for learning about local frogs, toads, salamanders, lizards, snakes, and turtles is the well-organized website maintained by the Virginia Herpetological Society. With a few clicks, you can quickly access the type of herp that interests you, then drill down to the species via lists that are local species only.

Each species has a detailed range map, written description, and multiple photos, along with sound files for species that vocalize. Where the juvenile looks different from the adult, there are photos pointing out the differences, along with descriptions or photos explaining how to tell apart similar species.

The site is kept up to date with name changes, so Eastern Box Turtle is now correctly called Woodland Box Turtle, and descriptions contain the scientific name, too. There are sections on typical habitat and food eaten, too. I find this resource is more complete than a field guide designed for a larger geographic area. After reviewing all this information, I always have a sense that I know exactly what I should be looking for when I go into the field in search of herps. 

VHS is about education in more ways than just “book” learning. If you are fortunate enough to have a picture, you may email the VHS for identification and they will also answer questions without a photo. 

Each year the VHS conducts multiple bio-blitz outings across the state. I find it very interesting to read the list of species that a dedicated group can locate in a single day in a local wildlife refuge or park. It gives me a good sense of what I might be able to find, too.  I haven’t been able to join the VHS on a bio-blitz yet, but hope to do so at some point.

Many VHS members volunteer to help Master Naturalists learn about herps by teaching basic training classes or advanced training, so please let them know if you like their website and Facebook posts.

I’ll close with some simple statistics from the VHS website to whet your appetite to learn more: 

Frogs and Toads:  28 species 
Salamanders:  56 species and subspecies. 
Lizards:  9 native species and two introduced species.
Snakes: 34 species and subspecies; only 3 species are venomous.  
Turtles:  25 species and subspecies; five are sea turtle. 

I hope these statistics tempt you to learn more. Just go to the VHS website!  

Sarah Mayhew is a graduate of the 2009 Fairfax Master Naturalist cohort.

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Review of Deep Look: PBS examines the mysteries of nature

Reviewed by Laura Anderko

We can all relate to the majesty of a mountain or the expansiveness of the ocean. And while many Fairfax Master Naturalists engage in activities that require an “eye for detail” such as counting caddisflies during stream monitoring, it is not always possible to capture the splendor of the life of a caddisfly.

Now in its fourth season, PBS Digital Studies and KQED San Francisco offer a series of nature videos entitled Deep Look. These 3- to 5-minute videos cover a wide range of topics, such as how the caddisfly builds a protective home of pebbles using a waterproof “tape”. The photography is stunning, using macrophotography and microscopy (in 4K resolution) providing detailed views of nature that are often overlooked or invisible to us. Decidedly better than our bug boxes with magnifying lid! 

But these videos offer more than the inside scoop on insects. Birds, sea life, plant life, animals, and how climate change impacts wildlife are also explored. Examples of topics include: 

Feathers and the owl’s quiet flight

Sea otter’s fur and the secret to staying warm

Life of sand

Death cap mushrooms in disguise 

Coral provides clues about weather 500 years ago

Episodes offer a topic of interest for everyone. New episodes are offered twice a month (complete watch list). For educators (elementary, high school and beyond), PBS Learning media provides a platform for students using the Deep Look videos. As a professor in public health, I found the episode on ticks fascinating with its images of how it uses its hooks to extract blood and ultimately, spread disease. I will be using it in the course I teach this fall. 

I encourage you to take a few minutes to observe nature “up close and personal” to gain a deeper appreciation of our natural world and the complexity of lives of even the smallest of creatures. And how our work as Master Naturalists helps in safeguarding nature, no matter how “small”. 

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

Become part of Nature’s Notebook, a platform from the National Phenology Network

Are you looking for a meaningful project? Does becoming a citizen scientist intrigue you? Want to learn a 21st-century tool that connects naturalists?

Nature’s Notebook is the National Phenology Network’s (USA NPN) online program and platform through which amateur and professional naturalists regularly record observations of plants and animals to generate long-term data sets used for scientific discovery and decision-making. As a citizen scientist, you can become a part of the community of observers by downloading the app (IOS or Android) and signing up for a campaign, such as Flowers for Bats, Shady Invaders, and others relevant to naturalist work in Virginia.

You can also start your own project and become certified!

If you just want to get your feet wet, or find materials for your classroom, NPN offers free, sharable resources.

Take a systems view and broaden your understanding of the network effect

As naturalists, we know that phenology (the study of periodic plant and animal lifecycle events and how they are influenced by seasonal variations in climate and habitat factors) is nature’s calendar—when dogwood trees bloom, when an eagle builds its nest, and when leaves turn color in the fall.

Phenologists take a systems view of the natural world. According to the National Phenology Network (USA NPN): “Many birds time their nesting so that eggs hatch when insects are available to feed nestlings. Likewise, insect emergence is often synchronized with leaf out in host plants. For people, earlier flowering means earlier allergies. Farmers and gardeners need to know the schedule of plant and insect development to decide when to apply fertilizers and pesticides and when to plant to avoid frosts. Phenology influences the abundance and distribution of organisms, ecosystem services, food webs, and global cycles of water and carbon. In turn, phenology may be altered by changes in temperature and precipitation.”

Learn more

Explore vernal pools at Lake Accotink, April 14th

Saturday, April 14th

1.00-4.00 pm, Lake Accotink

The Friends of Accotink Creek invite you to join them for a vernal pool exploration led by Mike Hayslett, a passionate and dedicated champion of these special habitats! This is an excellent opportunity to enjoy a lovely spring day in nature, learning about some of our intriguing neighbors like fairy shrimp and spring peepers and spotted salamanders!

The group will meet in the lower parking lot at Lake Accotink, below the dam.
Youth are welcome! Please dress for the weather. Some areas will be muddy, and there’s some possibility of ticks and poison ivy, so long pants and boots are recommended.

Mike Hayslett (Virginia Vernal Pools LLC), a state expert on vernal pools, is conducting an inventory of vernal pools in Fairfax County, as part of an initiative by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands, rare ecological features that provide essential habitat for a variety of living beings, including frogs and salamanders. They are vulnerable to a variety of threats associated with human impact, and this inventory will support efforts to monitor and protect them.

Please RSVP at the meetup  or by email to krisunger@gmail.com. If the group doesn’t get enough participants (12) then they will need to cancel the event, so it’s important to RSVP!

Mason Neck State Park Eagle Fest–Live Animal Presentations

Saturday, May 12th
10.00 am to 6.00 pm (8.00 am for a pre-opening bird walk)
Mason Neck State Park, 7301 High Point Rd, Lorton, VA 22079

See shows and talks in two tents, including live animal presentations by Reptiles Alive, Secret Garden Birds and Bees, and Wildlife Center of Virginia; and, with luck, there will be a visit from Buddy the Bald Eagle.  In addition, there will be hay rides, pony rides, food for purchase, two live bands, walks to view nesting bald eagles and (hopefully) their young, a live Bald Eagle Cam, and mini-clinics by REI, Inc. Check out the booths set up by environmentally-oriented groups such as the Fairfax Master Naturalists, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, Dogue Hollow Wildlife Sanctuary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Potomac Riverkeepers, and the Virginia Sierra Club.

Weather permitting, we’ll also have a Boating Bonanza, where you can try out canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.  Presented by Friends of Mason Neck State Park. Learn more or volunteer to help at the event.

Wood Frogs in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park

Ellanor C. Lawrence Park

Friday, 9 March, 7.00-8.30 pm

Wood frogs are breeding in vernal pools at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park.  Assist in collecting and releasing frogs and recording data for our amphibian survey.  Wear waterproof boots and bring flashlights.  Cost:  $7.00 per person.  Register with Fairfax County Park Authority Parktakes.

FrogWatch USA looking for volunteers to monitor calls this summer. Training in March

FrogWatch USA at the National Zoo is in its sixth season. To date, they have monitored 75 sites in DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maine and have submitted 1,650 frog call observations.

Tracking frog populations throughout the United States, FrogWatch invites participants to 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.

Three indoor trainings will help orient people to the frogs that are in the DC-metro area and their calls. Content is the same, so choose one training that fits your schedule. If you are interested please contact Matt Neff: neffm@si.edu

Trainings:

Sat., March 3rd, 3:00-6:00pm @ NZP – Rock Creek Campus

Thur., March 8th, 6:00-9:00pm @ Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria, VA

Sat., March 17th, 3:00-6:00pm @ NZP – Rock Creek Campus

 

A Day of Discovery at Huntley Meadows

Birdwatching on the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows (Photo by Ana Ka’ahanui)

Huntley Meadows Park offered our gaggle of naturalists a perfect view of its 1,500 acres of wetlands, meadows, and forests for our second fall field trip, on 7 October. In the morning, Rentz Hilyer and Mary Benger directed our eyes skyward as we looked and listened for birds. Alonso Abugattas, Jr.’s afternoon herps walk kept us earthbound as we tried to spot the creatures that slither and swim. And wiggle. And sometimes just lollygag in the weeds.

Rentz, land steward specialist at the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, and Mary, a graduate of the FMN program, helped us track the movements and calls of the more than 200 species of birds known to live in the park. As a group we observed 29 species of birds including Great Blue Herons, Hairy, Downy, Red-Bellied and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Great Egrets, Red-winged Blackbirds, Carolina Wrens and Chickadees, Northern Flickers, Mourning Doves, Wood Ducks, Canada Geese, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Gray Catbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Belted Kingfishers, Blue Jays, American Robins and more. Rentz introduced us to the app eBird so that we can contribute to its ever-growing database as citizen scientists.

Gorgeous afternoon for discovering the park’s biodiversity. (Photo by Ana Ka’ahanui)

After lunch, we trekked back out into the park in search of herps with Alonso, the natural resources manager for the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation. With the recent drought, we weren’t sure how many critters we would find, but the beautiful day was good to us. We observed Eastern Ribbon and Eastern Garter Snakes; Snapping, Spotted, and Eastern Painted Turtles, as well as Southern Leopard, Pickerel and various other types of frogs. We learned that a group of frogs is called an army, and a group of toads is called a knot. Alonso has published a great resource called the The Reptiles and Amphibians of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area and leads a Facebook group called Capital Naturalist, both of which are helpful to naturalists looking to identify the great diversity of life in Northern Virginia.

Alonso gives us a closer look at a painted turtle. (Photo by Ana Ka’ahanui)

In addition to animals, we observed all manner of plant species, such as Lizard’s Tail, Swamp Rose Mallow (a type of hibiscus), Winterberry, Arrowwood Vibernum and Wood Asters, to name a few. We learned that Jewelweed is a natural preventative and treatment for poison ivy and poison oak and that Turtlehead Flowers are a favorite treat of grazing deer.

Insects were plentiful, too, and some were vocal, such as the Handsome Meadow Katydid. The Long-jawed Orb Weaver spiders spun impressive webs at angles to best catch their prey. Common Whitetail Dragonflies and electric blue and red Damselflies whizzed over the wetlands as we wandered over the trails and boardwalk.

While we saw some evidence of the local beavers—lots of chew marks and piles of wood—they proved elusive that day. We did, however, see a lone muskrat cruising around in the marshes. The day was filled with nature discoveries galore and was a perfect learning lab for our Master Naturalist class.

Class photo on the observation deck

Click here to view photos from our outing.