April 23, 2018

Wildflower Identification Class

This past week I had the pleasure to attend a Wildflower Identification class at the Virginia State Arboretum at Blandy Experimental Farm in White Post, VA.  Marion Lobstein led the class, with some assistance from Alex and Sally.  Sometimes I am a terrible person and neglect to note last names.

The class focused on learning to use Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, The Flora of Virginia and the Flora of Virginia App  to identify wildflowers.  Not having a botany background, Marion suggested using the Plant Identification Terminology: An Illustrated Glossary by James & Melinda Harris to look up the definitions when keying in the Flora of Virginia.  On the first day there was a nice overview of understanding the difference between a Monocot vs. a Dicot.  Always helpful to those of us that do not have a biology background.  We then proceeded to use all three to identify the Common Violet.  We also used Newcomb's to look up a daffodil.  Intimidated at first, I found Newcomb's and the Flora of Virginia App on my smart phone quite easy to use.  

We were given homework to find at least three flowers and ID them.  With the large Flora of Virginia, I really had to use the Plant Identification Terminology book to understand the scientific terms and really just need to practice.  However, I was able to find a flower in there I could not ID using Newcomb's and the app.  Practice is definitely needed.  What did I find?  Whitlow grass (invasive), Ground Ivy and Partridge Berry.

The second day of class included a walk through the Native Plant Trail at the arboretum.  The entire class wanted to stay out on the trail all day as we learned many new plants.  I saw my very first trillium, I know, I know - been living under a rock.  There were a number of flowers in bloom and just seeing everything brought a real smile to everyone's face.  Returning to the classroom, we dissected some flowers - sunflower, hyacinth and then many students brought plants in to share.  We also learned more about many plant families and it was suggested we should learn those.  

As I almost always have my cell with me, the Flora App has been incredible helpful.  An additional dozen or so plants have now been identified in my neighborhood using the app.  My neighbors have been asked me over to see if I can assist in identification and if the plant if considered invasive or not.  Veronica Speedwell seems to be rather widespread and invasive in all our yards.

If you have not yet been to the Virginia State Arboretum I would highly recommend a trip.  They have a number of interesting classed and their spring Garden Fair is coming up Mother's Day weekend.  Not to mention their Arbor Day festival.  Always remember to take the time to stop and enjoy the beauty nature provides, and if you can ID some of these flowers even better!!!

Sesal Trillum

Yellow Violet

Arboretum Building

Experimental Greenhouse - Closed to Public

Pennsylvania Sedge

Herb Robert Geranium

April 9, 2018

Montpelier Working Woods - Home of James Madison

I have been going to James Madison's home, Montpelier, every year since it opened to the public.  The first tour we had was on a bus, riding from the old Esso station on Rt. 20, by many Sears & Roebuck barns, back when the mansion was still pink, stucco, and 100+ rooms from the DuPont era of ownership.  Seeing the mansion revert back to James Madison's home over the years has been fascinating.  

Having joined the Master Naturalist program, I noticed the request for volunteers for the Montpelier Working Woods tours.  The forest at Montpelier is special, recalling the first time I traversed the trail behind the mansion.  This same forest is a designated Natural Landmark, one of ten in Virginia.  Working Woods is a great collaboration with Master Naturalist Organizations (Old Rag, Rivanna and Central Rappahannock Chapters), The Montpelier Foundation, and the Virginia Extension Office.  The working woods walk takes visitors through the Landmark Forest to the Working Woods.  An area where different forest management techniques are being used, providing great examples of how to maintain healthy wooded areas.

Freedom Tree
White Oak 225+ Years
There are many things to see on these walks.  View champion Sweet Cherry Trees, very large Tulip Poplars, Spice Bushes, stands of Paw Paw trees, numerous wildflowers and a forest teaming with life.  As trees fall, such as the Freedom Tree, a 225+ year old White Oak, new life grows as sun shines down through the gap now in the canopy.  A meadow surrounded by forest, where Red Bud, Milk Weed, Mullein and other flora grow attract various pollinators.  The woods change significantly with each season.  The walk this past Sunday we found emerging Jack in the Pulpit, mullein and wild comfrey.  Cutleaf toothwort, blood root, and rue anemone were all in bloom.  Buds on Spice Bushes and Red Buds.  Evidence of a pileated woodpecker and his tell tale oval holes on a fallen tree.

Cutleaf Toothwort
Rue Anemone
Not only do the Master Naturalists guide these working woods tours, but we also help with the significant challenge on invasive species.  This is an ongoing effort that has really helped make a difference in the forest.  Unfortunately it is an effort that will never end, as one invasive species is worked, more gain a foot hold.  Some are fairly easy to remove, others require significant time, effort and occasionally herbicides (those are left to the professionals).


 Come join us for a walk in the woods.  July 15 and October 21 both at 2pm.

Jet Bead (Invasive)
Removing Chinese Privet
 (Invasive)
Spice Bush

Princess Tree Seed Pod
(Invasive)
Wild Comfrey
Barberry (Invasive)
Five leaf akebia (Invasive)






April 2, 2018

The Cacophony Outside


One of the things I have noticed in the past few weeks is just how many birds are singing outside.  The songs have been slowly increasing in crescendo, along with those tell tale signs of spring.  Being a part of the Master Naturalist organization one must admit to paying a bit more attention to these songs now.

My dog walks me at least a mile in the morning and night.  He definitely likes to stop and sniff the proverbial rose so to speak.  Just for the record, I do pick up after him, but that is another topic for another time.  One of the most interesting things I have found is the number of bird songs heard while walking.  It is coming to the point, songs that are new immediately stand out.  Stopping we watch until the bird is located and identified.  Surprisingly enough I am seeing bird species I have never seen in the wild before.  Perhaps it is because my view has changed, but honestly it is due to paying closer attention.  Not to mention slowly learning some of the songs.

This past week I saw my very first Cedar Waxwing, but wait there's more.  I didn't see just one but seven.  All flitting around in my neighbor's yard.  Their high pitched call was new, not hearing that before.  Initially I thought they were female cardinals, but then the yellow tail tip and belly and the black mask gave them away.  I was so excited but alas the only camera with me was my phone and the birds were too far to get a decent picture.  Not to mention my dog pulled me along saying it was time to go.

The next day, we stepped outside and I saw a rather large bird tossing mulch in the air in my flower bed.  At first he looked a bit like a yellow bellied sapsucker, but that was not right.  I ran in and grabbed my Sibley's Guide to North American Birds.  A Northern Flicker with his pretty scallops black feathers.  We sat down and watched him for quite awhile, after all he was hard at work in my garden turning it over for insects.  His harassment of the squirrels was amusing.

My final treat for the week was observing a very small hawk fly overhead.  Luckily my binoculars were with me.  The size caught my attention, stopping to watch until he flew out of sight.  Remembering important identification markings, I was able to look the bird up when I got home.  An American Kestrel.  Reading more about their habitat and conservation needs I realized this really was the treat of the week.

I understand why some of my fellow Naturalists are avid birders, while they probably have seen these species hundreds of times, it was new for me.  When I have to sit inside and work, instead of digital radio I will simply listen to nature's concert going on outside my window and smile as now I know many of the lead vocals and it doesn't cost me a dime.

March 27, 2018

Motts Run Nature Center


A number of the Master Naturalists signed up to attend the Motts Run Nature Center training in order to assist in staffing the Nature Center.  I must confess, it was my very first visit to the center.  Being relatively new to the area, I discovered Motts Run Reservoir last year for kayaking.  Not realizing the Nature Center was there, I would definitely have stopped in. 

What a hidden gem.  This is a place I would definitely have brought my children when they were younger had we lived in the area.  The training session included learning about the resident female snake “Pocket” as well.  Unable to resist the opportunity to hold her, I held my very first snake.  She was cool to the touch, ever so smooth and really quite curious and friendly.  But Pocket wasn’t the only interesting thing in the Nature Center.

The Center is a one room log cabin with numerous on-hands displays.  There was quite a nice library of books on nature, nature games and scavenger hunts.  Equipment that could be checked out such as binoculars, books, field guides, dipnets and so forth.

I must admit, I look forward to volunteering at the Nature Center in hopes that others will be equally inspired and become curious in this beautiful world we live in.  Not to mention I plan on discovering each display personally….as I am always a kid at heart.

Hopefully everyone will take the opportunity to stop by Motts Run Nature Center, open April through October on Saturdays and Sundays from noon – 5pm.  Best of all there is no charge and you can bring a picnic lunch, kayak, fish and hike.





March 19, 2018

A Hike in the Woods, but What on Earth is that?


Taking the Master Naturalist class was an absolute joy, I learned so many things or I should say relearned some things grade school.  Now prepared with my new-found knowledge, I happily spend hours in the woods.  I can easily tell you, according to Ben, “Rushes are round, sedges have edges and grasses are found where willow abound.”  Perhaps you laugh, however remembering some of these rhymes definitely helps those with a less scientific mind.   

But inquiring minds want to know what tree, bush, flower, plant, bird, lizard, rock, etc. as it is seen in the wild.  How will I ever learn all this identification?  The bottom line is, you won’t.  Everyone, even the professionals, needs reference guides from time to time.   With this new desire to learn, I find myself stopping and looking at everything and asking “What is this?”

In the class we received some very helpful guides, many from the Virginia Department of Forestry.  These have extensively been used already, as the guides are specific to Virginia.  But sometimes the desire for additional data or for covering species not in these Virginia Guides is too great.  Now filling up a backpack with a number of guides may not be great on your back, so I suggest the first few times you go out with a guide you try to concentrate in a specific area.  I have some phone apps I use as well in a pinch, but much prefer the physical guides.

Always have some basic equipment with you.  Personally, I always carry a jeweler’s loupe, binoculars, a camera of sorts and a notebook.  If I am find something of interest taking a number of photos and making notes with my mobile device is helpful for review later.  Then after studying let’s say a plant, I use the guide to find the plant, determine its scientific name and read about additional information.  Most guides have some type of key to help you identify the species, many using a dichotomous key.  

Occasionally some local naturalist may have written a book on a specific area, those I have found most useful.  Such as Hal Wiggins “A Field Guide to Crow’s Nest” or “Virginia Native Plants”.  Many of photos in his books are taken from areas local to Fredericksburg so I should find those species.  As for personal favorite commercially available guides, I use "Sibley’s Guide to Field Birds – Eastern North America" and a very old Audubon Guide (with color plates) that belonged to by grandmother for birds.  For trees, I use the “Sibley’s Guide to Trees”, for wildflowers “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide”, for insects “Kaufman’s Field Guide to Insects of North American & Field Guide to Butterflies of North America”.  I do have other Audubon Guides as well and did pick up a guide on mosses from the Princeton Field Guides “Common Mosses of the Northeast & Appalachians” by as I really find mosses interesting.

Needless to say, as a naturalist you will find your library grow with your knowledge and desire to learn more about the species we see in the wild.



 

March 12, 2018

Spring is in the Air, Thoughts Towards the Garden


As we spring forward with the time change, days are getting longer and the temperature rises, our minds start wondering towards warmer outside activities.  It is a great time to prep those kayaks, canoes, tents and outdoor gear but also to start planning any garden activities for our yard.

A few years ago, I would simply go to the nursery and plant whatever I thought was attractive.  But I noticed I was not getting many butterflies or pollinators.  Then I read Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home.  If you have not read it, I would highly encourage you do so.

Doug mentions the importance native plants play in our ecosystem to further encourage native butterflies and pollinators to your garden.  Little did I realize my garden and lawn had become a waste land to local species, although pretty to the eye I was nothing more than conforming to all the other homes in suburbia.  I decided to start switching plants over to more heavily rely on native species.  My reward?  Within 3 years I had an abundance of butterflies, birds that had never visited my yard before, and a large variety of bees…..but that was not all.  My home had become a haven to three different species of skinks, a few chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits not which had previously made their home in my yard.

Now that I have moved from my very mature garden to a new place, I have a clean palette to attract all sorts of butterflies, birds, pollinators, you name it.  The soil is much different here and significant amounts of shade, but that will not limit me.  Learn what natives grown in your soil type.  I already see my native bee balm is coming up and has spread significantly.

There are some great resources out there in deciding what to plant:

A personal favorite:  US Fish & Wildlife Service Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Another favorite: Central Rappahannock Native Plants 

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation 

The Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS) has a wealth of information and I highly recommend reading their site resources.  

Where to buy plants:

VNPS Native Plant Nurseries  

Attend Native Plant Sales:

National Arboretum Sale - March 24, 2018 
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy - April 7, 2018 
Spring Garden Fest – Reynolds Community College – April 22, 2018 
Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale – April 28, 2018
Maymont Herb Galore & More – April 28, 2018
Jefferson Chapter Native Plant Sale – April 30, 2018
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Plantfest – May 4-5, 2018
Friends of Riverbend Park Native Plant Sale – May 5, 2018 
Earth Sangha Wild Plant Nursery Sale – May 6, 2018 
Prince William Wildflower Society – May 12, 2018 
Blandy Farm Garden Fair – May 11-13, 2018

March 6, 2018

Volunteer Opportunities for March


· March 10 – Trash Pickup along Chapter-adopted highway (Route 208) Spotsylvania Courthouse, 8:30am – 10:30am. Meet at the Gazebo. Bring gloves. Chapter has grabbers.  Evelyn Way is the Point of Contact
· March 17 – Caledon State Park -  1pm:  St. Patrick’s Day Snake & Shamrock Shakedown – discussion on snakes’ native to the area, habitat, etc. and search for 4 leaf clovers.  Anyone with a native snake or willingness to discuss and assist with participants.  Contact Callie Morgan, callie.morgan@dcr.virginia.gov  at Caledon if you can assist
· March 17 -– Join Tree Fredericksburg for our Spring Tree Planting at Snowden Park3340 Fall Hill Ave at Wicklow Drive, 9am-12noon. Participation is limited to 50 people. Please register to volunteer at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tree-planting-near-snowden-park-tickets-42434396422. Planting rain or shine, unless there’s thunder and lightning. Be sure to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes – no sandals or flip flops are allowed. We’ll provide all the tools and safety equipment necessary. All planting teams will be led by experienced volunteers and Tree Fredericksburg Tree Stewards. Children ages 5 years or older are welcome. If you bring children, be prepared to work one on one with them for their safety.  We are planting along the streets and safety is our main concern. Please plan to arrive 10 to 15 minutes prior to 9 AMto sign in and get your equipment. The safety talk will begin promptly at 9 AM and all participants must be present for the safety talk or will not be allowed to plant trees with us that day.  All tools and equipment provided. Holes are pre-drilled so digging is easy. This event is a green event and plastic water bottles are not provided. Please bring your own reusable water bottle. Water and paper cups are provided.
· March 24 – Motts Run Nature Center Volunteer Training6300 River Road, 9am-11am (rescheduled from March 3); calling nature enthusiasts of all ages! Volunteers needed to staff the Motts Run Nature Center on weekends from April 1 through October. A ten-hour commitment requested for the season. We’ll teach you everything you need to know! Must be 16 years or older (children may volunteer with parents). It’s easy, great fun, and all you need is a love for nature and people! Contact Linda Bailey 540-372-1086 x213 or lbailey@fredericksburgva.gov
· March 26-27 – Aspen Grove Farm Field Days, Aspen Grove Farm in King George, 8:30am-1:30pm (rain date March 28-29). Looking for at least 4 volunteers for each day to assist station instructors, no experience necessary.  Training will be provided. Tri-County City Soil and Water District, contact Izabela Sikora at Izabela.sikora@tccswcd.org
o   Station 1- Macroinvertebrates identification- we will look at live organisms and using filed guides identify species and evaluate water quality
o   Station 2 – water testing – helping students collect water samples and test them for dissolved oxygen, pH and water quality.
o   Station 3 – wetland forest scavenger hunt – assisting students with finding wetlands’ specific characteristics.
o   Station 4 – water quality game. Students will need assistance to interpret water quality data and understand consequences of pollution on aquatic organisms.
· March 31 -– Join Tree Fredericksburg for our Spring Tree Planting near Train Station at Frederick and Caroline Streets, 9am-12noon. Participation is limited to 50 people. Please register to volunteer at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tree-plantingmulching-near-train-station-tickets-42435566923. Planting rain or shine, unless there’s thunder and lightning. Be sure to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes – no sandals or flip flops are allowed. We’ll provide all the tools and safety equipment necessary. All planting teams will be led by experienced volunteers and Tree Fredericksburg Tree Stewards. Children ages 5 years or older are welcome. If you bring children, be prepared to work one on one with them for their safety.  We are planting along the streets and safety is our main concern. Please plan to arrive 10 to 15 minutes prior to 9 AM to sign in and get your equipment. The safety talk will begin promptly at 9 AM and all participants must be present for the safety talk or will not be allowed to plant trees with us that day.  All tools and equipment provided. Holes are pre-drilled so digging is easy. This event is a green event and plastic water bottles are not provided. Please bring your own reusable water bottle. Water and paper cups are provided.