May 3, 2016

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

I have a goal for my family which I know we won't achieve before we leave Arlington. I would like for us to visit almost every NOVA regional park. I wrote about our walk at Potomac Overlook Regional Park and the park's nature center. We have been to Upton Hill Regional Park many times. If you follow me on Instagram, you may recall photos I posted there last fall.

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Almost two months ago we visited our third regional park, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. On our way we saw signs for Wolf Trap National Park and exited the highway, at my urging. What we saw were lots of signs indicating that the park was a performance space only. Later online research yielded information about a two trails, one of which takes hikers through wetlands and woodlands. We didn't know this at the time so we got back unto the highway and continued on to Meadowlark.

We were not expecting an entry fee but it was a reasonable total of $10 for our family of four. Once we walked out of the visitor's center we entered the Fairy Garden which was another surprise. At that point we were skeptical about our choice of park but once down the path in sight of the lake our outlook changed.

We spent a couple of hours at the park. Each area we explored was a favorite for a different reason. You can get to the water's edge of Lake Gardiner. The koi and turtles in Lake Caroline provided seemingly endless fascination.

My favorites were the trail through the Young Forest and the combined Lake Lina - Virginia Native Wetlands - Bog Garden zone. The Korean Bell Garden was another high point as I enjoy Korean green and black teas. I have a Periscope tour of the Historic Tree Grove. One thing I wished we had time to see was the Virginia Native Tree Trail.

If you are in or around Vienna, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is worth a visit and I imagine the seasonal plantings and perennial borders are stunning now, in the spring, and later, in the summer.

Apr 28, 2016

National Park Week Family Adventures

Did you know that last week was National Park Week? If you didn't, mark your calendar now for next year. On April 15, 2016, President Barack Obama declared April 16 to 24 as National Park Week. Admission is free to all national parks during park week. (This first year of National Park Week coincides with the National Park Service Centennial.) I don't know the actual number of national parks; I have read numbers ranging from 58 to 400. We visited two local national parks -- the National Mall and Memorial Parks and Shenandoah National Park. These two parks bookend our national park continuum; the former represents more urbanized parks and the latter wilder landscapes. (We have visited the White House grounds, also known as President's Park, several times this year, so technically we have been to three of our local  national parks.)

We drove into DC on a bright sunny Saturday morning. We parked on Constitution Avenue across from the Washington Monument. Our first stop was the National World War II Memorial. The fountain is exuberant but also calming. Another feature of the memorial that I was drawn to is the Freedom Wall which is decorated with 4,058 stars each of which represents 100 Americans who died during the war. From there we walked along the northern side of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool towards the Lincoln's statue. The pool is lined with an allee of mostly mature trees including some very old, large American elms.

I walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the first time that day. The memorial is beautiful. The temperature and light quality in the interior makes the space feel like a refuge even among the crush of visitors. The edges of the interior are less crowded and contain the Speeches (the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address) and the Murals ("The Angel of Truth" and reunification).

At this point we had a decision to make. Should we visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial? We were scheduled to tour the West Wing and thought we only had time for one of these memorials. Fortunately for us, we were able to visit both. I had seen photos of the Korean War memorial in the winter and was struck by the loads of snow on the statues. The memorial is striking in person and on a spring day. The expressions as captured by the sculptor Frank Gaylord are very realistic. The faces are haunting. Researching the memorial after our visit, I learned that the statues represent the ethnicity of the troops who served in that war.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is actually composed of four parts of which the Memorial Wall is probably the most well known component. We did not see The Three Servicemen, the Vietnam Women's Memorial, or the In Memory Plaque for those who died after service in the war. We walked the wall from west to east. You start walking at one tapered end and end at the other tapered end both of which are well below knee height. The height of the apex of the wall is 10.1 feet. Walking the wall elicited a sinking feeling as you literally descend below ground. There is almost a sense of release when you emerge on the other side.

One week after our National Mall excursion we visited Shenandoah National Park. This was my first* trip to Shenandoah and it is something I have wanted to do since college. In my freshman class there was a girl named Shenandoah. We left Arlington in the rain but well before we arrived at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, the rain had stopped, though it drizzled for a short time on our hike.

The visitor center was a big hit. There is a animal artifact display table with a prominent sign that reads, "Please Touch." My son asked why visitors were encouraged to touch the display and I answered that it was a way for us to better understand and appreciate the wildlife that live in the park.

We asked the park ranger to recommend a hike given the following factors: (1) It might rain; (2) It was our first visit to the park; (3) We were a party with two young children, one of whom is a toddler and would be hiking during her nap time. He recommended hiking the Fox Hollow Trail [pdf] specifically walking to see Snead Farm. We started our hike east of the picnic area. It was a slightly hilly walk which led to foot dragging and calls for piggy pack rides but also running downhill. We saw a blue bird which I thought was a Bluebird but it might have been an Indigo Bunting. We also observed two Eastern red-spotted newts. I was the only interested in walking around the Snead Farm barn. (You may have seen my walkabout on Periscope. If you use the app, my handle is @locaecologist.)

The park was abloom with dogwoods. The American dogwood is the state flower of Virginia and the Shenandoah floral logo resembles a dogwood flower (well, the flowers surrounded by white bracts).

Did you observe National Park Week? If you didn't which national parks are on your bucket list?

*Shenandoah was officially established as a national park in 1935. Initially, the State of Virginia wanted to ban African Americans from entering the park but was limited to segregated facilities in the park by the Department of the Interior. By 1950, all park facilities were fully integrated in compliance with a Department of the Interior mandate. Shenandoah was "the 'test case' for integration the parks."

Apr 26, 2016

Species in My Yard

I had another post scheduled for today but after yesterday's incident with the cardinal eggs, I thought I should share the wildlife using my yard. I currently live in Arlington, VA and the house we rent has a yard. The lot is triangular in shape, fairly close to an isosceles triangle in form. Now imagine the triangle on its side with the house sitting towards the base leaving a large side yard.

Azaleas, hydrangeas, roses, and rhododendrons grow in the front yard. Redbuds line the sidewalk. A large holly grows behind the house. We are attempting to grow a vegetable garden in the back yard, too. (A bike path runs behind the house. Numerous back yards filled with large-stature trees and gardens line both sides of the path. Crows are often chased up and down the path by bluejays and mockingbirds.) A Bing cherry, lilac, and two dogwoods grow in the side yard. Much of the wildlife action occurs in the lilac, the cherry, and the holly. When the holly first came into flower, it was buzzing with bees. Mourning doves like to roost in the soil below the holly. The cherry sees a lot of bird action. Robins, bluejays, mockingbirds, and cardinals eat the fruit and sing and all from the branches.

Image: Cardinal nest, one egg remaining of a clutch of three
A cardinal pair made a next in the lilac. Yesterday, I tiptoed close to the nest but didn't spy the female through the leaves. As I continued my approach, a bird did not fly out so I stepped next to the nest and noticed a few things: (1) the female was absent; (2) only one egg was in the nest and it was broken; (3) the other two eggs were on the ground, intact. I asked on Twitter for advice and thanks to Metro Field Guide and Must-see Birds, I removed the broken egg from the nest and returned the other two eggs to the nest. I also propped up the nest. I am sad to report that one of the two intact eggs is missing. There are no signs of it on the ground. Only one intact egg remains in the nest. Very disheartening. Cardinals make 1-2 broods per nesting season and each clutch contains 2-5 eggs. I am hopeful that these eggs are part of the first brood but now I remember that when I first noticed the nest, there was only one egg in it and later two were laid, so in fact, the egg pictured above might be from the second attempt of this nesting pair. Snakes and bluejays are among the predators of Northern cardinal eggs and nestlings and I've observed in and around the yard. Actually, we saw one snake last fall, but there are many bluejays in the neighborhood. Other predators include red squirrels, chipmunks, and cowbirds. I haven't noticed either of these animals.

Other signs of life in the yard are wasps, carpenter bees, rabbits, and bats. There is a bat box on the chimney, installed by a previous tenant or the owner. Two weekends ago one night, my husband called my attention to small bats circling above the house. The rabbits are back! I have seen so many this week. Last weekend, we watched two leaping and frolicking in the yard, literally by starlight. There are at least two wasp nests in the deck railing (see the top photo). I used the selfie function on my phone to photograph one. My attempts to examine the railing have been thwarted by the insects. We don't feel comfortable with active wasp nests on the deck we use this space regularly. Yesterday when I went to the shed to take out my daughter's scooter and helmet, I observed a carpenter bee burrowing into one of the wooden window frames. New additions to the yard nature have been butterflies. In recent days, we have observed small whites and monarchs.

I would love to hear what's blooming, buzzing, nesting in your yard or greenspace.

Apr 22, 2016

Nat Geo WILD Celebrates All Animals from A to Z

This year's Earth Day kicked off with the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations in New York. To joyfully remind us of some of the life that's at stake, Nat Geo WILD produced this moving animal alphabet.

How will you celebrate Earth Day weekend?

If you like this video, you might like to enter our book giveaway of 8: An Animal Alphabet by Elisha Cooper.

Video courtesy of Nat Geo Networks.

P.S. This week has brought both good and sad news. Although this isn't a lifestyle blog, I would like to acknowledge, here, the death of singer, songwriter, musician, producer, and actor Prince Rogers Nelson on April 21, 2016.

Apr 18, 2016

Wild About: Animals for Earth Day + Elisha Cooper book giveaway

Every year, Earth Day is celebrated on April 22nd. The first Earth Day was held in 1970. When I've participated in Earth Days past, I usually participated in tree planting or gardening events. There are a terrific number of tree-oriented events on Earth Day. Furthermore, events seem to emphasize the conservation and restoration of Earth for human benefit. However, as Joel Satore, founder of National Geographic's Photo Ark project to document every animal species in captivity, reminds us, "It’s their #EarthDay, too." And it's not only terrestrial animals that are important to celebrate. The National Aquarium in Baltimore will launch its 48 Days of Blue campaign again this year on Earth Day. The campaign will run for 48 days until World Oceans Day on June 8th. John Racanelli, CEO of the aquarium, notes, "It’s been said that the best way to imagine Earth without its ocean is to look at Mars. No ocean, no us." With these messages in mind, I am happy to host another book giveaway!

Last month I read a favorable review of 8: An Animal Alphabet, a new book by Elisha Cooper's. (I don't think any of Mr. Cooper's books have received poor reviews.) I borrowed the book from my public library and we enjoyed it very much. The illustrations of animals from aardvark to zebu are classic Cooper. The book is engaging. Eight animals are named on each page. And one of these animals is drawn in eight different ways. It's fun to spot that animal. You can probably guess that eight is Mr. Cooper's favorite number. Finally, the book concludes with "Did You Know?" facts about each animal.

*** The Giveaway ***

Scholastic Inc., the publisher of 8: An Animal Alphabet and other Elisha Cooper books, has provided the books for this giveaway. Two winners will be selected. Each winner will receive a signed copy of 8: An Animal Alphabet and a copy of either Where's Walrus and Penguin by Stephen Savage or Elephant in the Dark by Mina Javaherbin with illustrations by Eugene Yeltsin.

Enter by telling us about a wild animal encounter in one of two ways: 

1. In the comments section. Please include an email address or social media handle, for contact purposes only.

2. Or via social media. Make sure to tag @localecologist.

The deadline to enter is Monday, April 25, 2016 at 11:59 pm ET and two winners will be chosen randomly.* Fingers crossed!

This giveaway is now closed and the winners have been notified.

*The giveaway is open to US residents only. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. The approximate total value of each prize pack is $35. Books provided by Scholastic, Inc.

Apr 14, 2016

5 Things I Like about Arlington VA

We are more than halfway through our time in Arlington. We have taken advantage of the numerous programmatic, educational, and recreational resources offered by the county. Previously on the blog, I have written about the county's nature centers, bicycling and car-lite living in Arlington, and Roosevelt Island. Here are two other things I like about Arlington: neighborhood signs and "Potomac overlook" parks.

Nature Centers

We have visited two of the nature centers located in the county -- Long Branch, managed by Arlington County Parks & Recreation, and Potomac Overlook Regional Park, managed by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. The other county-run nature center is Gulf Branch which we have yet to visit. Read about our Potomac Overlook walkabout.

"Overlook parks"

We are an outdoor family so park adventuring is always high on our to-do list. The eastern edge of Arlington County sits on the Potomac River across from Washington, D.C. The Potomac Heritage Trail runs along the river. This amenity is on our to-do list. Upland of the river are several overlook parks including Fort Bennett Park (see above photo), Fort CF Smith Park, Windy Run Park, Potomac Overlook Regional Park, and Donaldson Run Park. A bounty of verdancy!

Car-lite living 

Full disclosure: we own a car. However, we mostly walk. And when it is really nice (fall and soon, spring), I bike. Arlington's program to promote transportation alternatives is known as Car-Free Diet. The materials are displayed in many places. I have seen publications in public spaces -- at branch libraries and other county buildings -- and in private spaces, too, such as in shops and restaurants, Also, new residents receive these materials by postal mail. My younger child rides on my bicycle and my older on his own or on a scooter, both of which he has outgrown this year. I wouldn't mind a family bicycle but the models that seem like a good fit are out of our budget! Read my bike story.

Neighborhood signs

As we approached our neighborhood for the first time last August, one of the first things I noted was its sign. I've since learned that this is not unique to our neighborhood. "Neighborhood signs give a community an identity and instill a sense of pride among residents," from the Neighborhood Signs Program website. Forty four neighborhoods have signs. You can see all 44 signs on this online gallery. Each sign highlights a historic or natural element or the urban form of the neighborhood. For example, the Penrose neighborhood sign features a streetcar. Between the late 1800s and early 1900s, trolley cars ran through the neighborhood along South Fillmore and Second Streets.

Roosevelt Island

One reason I like the island is that the only land access is via Arlington County. (The island has a DC address.) There are many features of the island we like. The boardwalk is a great place for a sprint(er). You can get down to the Potomac. You can see Georgetown and DC. You can watch people kayaking, canoeing, and partaking in other water sport on the river. It is great to feel small among woodlands. We like to observe the ducks in the freshwater tidal marsh. Finally, it was the first place we took note of bald cypress knees. Read about our winter visit to the island. Another National Park Service site in the Potomac is Lady Bird Johnson Park.

We don't have a formal list in case you are wondering. During each week we talk about what we'd like to see during the weekend. We are open to suggestions!

Apr 12, 2016

DC Metro Area Citizen Science Projects on SciStarter

Last weekend, Darlene Chevalier tweeted about SciStarter's new partnership with Philadelphia Media Network. Each week, a Philadelphia-based citizen science project will be showcased on PMN's media outlets. Since I am living in Arlington, VA, the news inspired me to present projects based in the DC Metro Area. If you recall, I did something similar for New York citizen science projects last year. I conducted a simple search using keywords "Washington, DC," "Maryland," and "Virginia" in the SciStarter Project Finder. You don't have to have a SciStarter account to participate in the research projects but please note that some projects may have expired. For example, the Cricket Crawl DC/Baltimore event was held in August 2015.

Washington, DC

Smithsonian's Neighborhood Nestwatch: Volunteers for the Smithsonian Institution's Neighborhood Nestwatch in the Washington, DC, area team with scientists to find and monitor bird nests and to record and report their observations.

Casey Trees: Casey Trees is a Washington DC-based organization that enlists volunteers to help restore, enhance, and protect the tree canopy of our Nation’s Capital.


BUGSS: BUGSS stands for Baltimore UnderGround Science Space. We are a community lab for amateur, professional, and citizen scientists and a place to be curious about biotechnology and have fun responsibly.

Blue Catfish Watch: Show us your blue catfish catch! Collaborate with scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to help us track the expanding range of the non-native blue catfish into the upper Chesapeake Bay and into Delaware Bay and the Delaware River.

Be A Smithsonian Archaeology Volunteer: Join the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) Archaeology Lab as we excavate two sites on SERC property this summer! Work with scientists and students to excavate sites, preserve artifacts, and collect environmental data to understand the ways that people change the land has changed (or not) over the past 200 years.

BiodiversiTREE: BiodiversiTREE is an experimental forest on the campus of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD. In fall of 2013, staff and volunteers planted more than 20,000 trees in 75 plots. Some of the plots have one species, some have 4 species, and others have 12 species. Over the next 100 years, professional and citizen scientists will collect data to better understand the impacts of forest biodiversity on environmental factors such as tree growth, insect diversity, and soil quality.

Communicating Climate Change: Maryland Science Center: Maryland Science Center's Communicating Climate Change project needs volunteers to take temperature measurements across the urban-rural gradient. The study will look at Urban Heat Islands, which provide a glimpse of what the world will look like with warmer temperatures.

Jug Bay Macroinvertebrate Sampling: Maryland's Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary needs volunteers to collect, count, and identify macroinvertebrates (small animals without backbones) in its streams. The sanctuary is in southern Anne Arundel County, 20 miles east Washington, D.C., and 18 miles south of Annapolis, Maryland.

Cricket Crawl DC/Baltimore: Discover Life is calling all citizen scientists in the DC/Baltimore area to help them map out the distribution of crickets and katydids through the city and suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC. Participants can track the sounds of these insects during the annual Cricket Crawl event held on the evening of Friday, August 21st 2015.


West Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas II: The West Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas Project needs volunteer surveyors to document the breeding status of bird species. Surveyors register for atlas blocks and agree to provide adequate survey coverage either in the form of hours spent atlasing or number of species encountered – or both. Surveying a block involves documenting all bird species encountered. Their breeding status is recorded based on a series of codes which categorizes them as possible, probable or confirmed.

Loudoun County has five projects listed on SciStarter. They are administered by Loudon Wildlife Conservancy.

The projects shown above are fairly diverse so I hope residents of the DMV can find something to suit their interests. And no matter where you live, don't forget that National Citizen Science Day is celebrated April 16 to May 21. You can find events here.

P.S. The DC Cherrypicker is not a citizen science project and it's utility has passed for this year - cherry tree blossoms are past peak -- but it is a cool app nevertheless. Bookmark it for 2017.
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