Journey Through Hallowed Ground Native Plant Trail Dedication Ceremony at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve

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Date: Saturday, April 15, 2017

Time: 11 am

Join community members and volunteers to celebrate the dedication of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Living Legacy Project native tree planting at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve in Leesburg, VA. The Living Legacy Project commemorates the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Dedication will feature comments from local dignitaries, patriotic music, and time to tour the Living Legacy planting.

Ninety-five trees were planted at Banshee Reeks, through a partnership with Loudoun County and the Virginia Master Naturalist Program. All trees are native species and include white oak, sassafras, black gum, and Virginia’s state tree – flowering dogwood.

Through this program, one tree will be planted for each of the 620,000 soldiers who died during one of the most defining moments in American history. Upon completion, the Project will create the first 180-mile landscaped allée in the world, and the only one dedicated to memorializing the American Civil War.

For more information about the preserve, visit http://www.bansheereeksnp.org/.

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Continuing Education

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Exactly what events qualify for CE credit has been a source of confusion, and sometimes controversy, since the VMN Program’s earliest days.  I recently corresponded with the State Office and asked for some guidance on their current understanding.  They started by citing the entry on page 16 of the Volunteer Handbook and Policy Guidelines, which is available on the VMN website (http://www.virginiamasternaturalist.org) under “Documents and Resources”.

Does the continuing education opportunity:

  1. Promote continued learning and development of naturalist skills?
  2. Provide Master Naturalists with knowledge and skills to work in volunteer efforts?
  3. Provide Master Naturalists an opportunity to focus their interests in one or a few specific topics?
  4. Build on the core curriculum initially provided by the local chapter?
  5. Provide information on natural resources and resource management or naturalist skills applicable to Virginia?

 

Under these guidelines they note that an event does not need to be of a specifically educational nature to be providing a Master Naturalist with new knowledge and/or skills.   Of greater importance is the presence of a leader who can share from his or her own knowledge and experience.  With this in mind they now say that events such as general Nature walks or bird walks could present CE opportunities, a change from earlier interpretations.  They added that, while the decision to accept or reject a given event for credit lies with the individual chapter, many of the chapters are now accepting things like bird walks for CE credit.  For us this opens LWC’s Birding Banshee, Birding the BRCES and the like for consideration as CE.

On the Chapter website (http://www.vmnbansheereeks.org/) under the “Member Resources” dropdown at the top is a “Calendar” option.  On the calendar you will see various entries starting with either “(CE)” or “(Vol)” indicating that they are opportunities for CE or Volunteer hours.  We will try to keep the calendar updated with new opportunities as soon as we learn of them.  You can help by letting Chapter leadership know about new opportunities that you learn of.  An email to vmnbansheereeks@gmail.com is probably the best way to present something for evaluation and, if acceptable, posting on the calendar for all to see.

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2016 Annual Meeting – New officers and board

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On November 10th, the VMN Banshee Reeks chapter held an annual meeting.  The election results are:

  • President – Barbara Erlandson
  • Vice President – Frank McLaughlin
  • Secretary – Susan Sims
  • Treasurer – Angie Bommersbach

Board of Director Members:

  • Dave Cazenas
  • Bill Cour
  • Liz Dennison
  • Allison Gallo
  • Thaissa Klimavicz
  • Thomas Letonja

Other Members:

  • Kevin Rose, Chapter Advisor
  • Brian Meyerreicks, Past President & Chapter Agent
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eBird – a handy tool and a help to science

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Lists

Most people as they start birding on a regular basis decide to start keeping lists.  A life list, a state list, a county list – sometimes it seems that birders are more interested in lists than birds.   Did you know that eBird can BE your list?  If you enter your data regularly into eBird, it shows you a breakdown of your history of sightings by all kinds of different measures.

eBird provides life, year, month lists for a variety of locales

eBird provides life, year, month lists for a variety of locales

Hottest hotspots in Loudoun

Hottest hotspots in Loudoun

Checklists

When going to a new park, many folks pick up the copy of the bird checklist for that park – often a paper copy can be found in the visitor’s center.  Sometimes you go to a new park and there is no checklist, even no visitor’s center.  So you have to guess at what birds are likely and at what else you might have seen.  eBird can provide you a good checklist in all kinds of locations.  For a Hotspot (a publicly shared location like Banshee Reeks), it is based upon what has actually been seen at that location at similar times of the year.   And not just by the season (e.g. Winter), but for the week that you are there visiting.  Further, eBird will highlight which birds are rare – the central point of the feature is to keep the data clean, but it can be very helpful to help you choose between two similar species based upon likelihood.  eBird Mobile can be your notebook/checklist in the field – I find it much easier than scribbling notes down on paper.

Bar charts showing likely locations for a hotspot

Bar charts showing likely locations for a hotspot

Hotspot summary

Region summary

 

Planning

eBird has a few features that help with planning birding trips.  You can look at a particular Hotspot (or even a region) and see what birds are likely by looking at the bar charts for that location.  Or if you know you’ll be in a place, you can explore that region (a country, state, county) and find the Hotspots with the biggest number of species seen.   Next, if you want to see a particular bird, you can explore the data by species and see where you could go to see that bird.  Finally, you can look at a list of target species at a location based upon your life lists.

Target species list - clicking map will show where they might be seen

Target species list – clicking map will show where they might be seen

Alerts and Social

eBird provides the capability to subscribe to alerts – both rare birds (anything that would be flagged by eBird) and ‘Need’ birds.  ‘Need’ birds are birds that you haven’t seen that have been seen in a particular area.  These two features really help to ensure that you are more likely to see a wide variety of birds.  Finally, for each area, eBird will show you who has seen the most birds and who has submitted the most checklists – you can even see recently submitted checklists to see who is recently active.  This can help you connect with other active birders in your area.

Alert subscriptions

Alert subscriptions

The Science

eBird captures all this data and from it the researchers at Cornell (and other institutions) produce many papers and tools.  This dataset is one of the largest ever amassed biodiversity data sets.  eBird is being increasingly used to support Breeding Bird Atlas projects which dramatically reduces the amount of manual effort required to collect and compile the data.

To Get Started

 

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What do YOU Know About American Chestnut Tree Restoration?

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By Larry Johnson

Question– Is an American Chestnut tree growing on BRNP property?

Question– Does a wild (native survivor) American Chestnut tree exist in Loudoun County?

Answers at end of article.

Looking for a botanically-focused venture, this past June 2016, I volunteered for a week-long annual inoculation project at The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) Research Farm through the Roads Scholar Program. Having read numerous articles ranging from newspapers to journals, I arrived in Meadowview, Virginia, naïvely thinking I knew a lot about the plight of the American Chestnut. Not so much, it turned out.

After a brief introductory session, the volunteers were turned over to the Research Farm’s lead scientist, Dr. Laura Georgi. For the next five days Dr. Georgi lectured, instructed, tutored, demonstrated, illustrated—motivating us to learn about almost every aspect of the chestnut species. During the course of the week our learning environments ranged from a class setting to the research farm’s laboratory to the orchard fields. I gained direct knowledge by performing field work in the Meadowview orchards. I learned first-hand how to identify the various symptoms of the blight’s infections; developed a detailed understanding of the pathology of the fungus; and learned to differentiate taxonomically the hybridized tree generations produced in the backbreeding projects. In the Farm’s laboratory, Dr. Georgi provided a rudimentary introduction into the genetics of crossbreeding as practiced by TACF (intrabreeding), and a working level tour through the lab’s procedures and techniques in germinating nuts to grow approximately 5000 seedlings per year.

It is rather common knowledge in botany-centric worlds, that the accidental introduction of the fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), devastated the American Chestnut tree (Castanea dentata), the penultimate foundation species to grow in the eastern North American forests (1-1.5 billion trees). By the end of WWII, in slightly over 50 years, the great American Chestnut was reduced to a few standing survivors and even now these more immune exotic specimens continue to succumb to the blight. Less known is that although the fungus destroys the aboveground stems, it does not attack the root systems which are protected by the soils. This is a fortunate factor in an otherwise total ecological disaster, as the blight did not cause full extinction of C. dentata. The fungus does however cause the extirpation of the tree’s physiology out of the forest canopy, resulting in the chestnut being functionally extinct.

Recent research,[1] designed around and based on the enhanced version of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program[2] where sampling was compiled by states’ forestry evaluation groups, estimates roughly 431 million (error ±30.2 million) C. dentata stems (stem, sapling, or tree). This population equals less than 10% of pre-blight population in its historical range. Distributed across the 16 core-range states, 70.9 million live trees (>2.5 cm dbh) are estimated to exist. That the vast majority (84%) of the stems inventoried in the FIA are seedlings (< 2.5 cm dbh) illustrates the greatly diminished structure of the surviving stock.

Since the blight was discovered, various groups have attempted either to eradicate the fungus or to develop resistant trees; this latter option considered the most viable in terms of success. Hypovirulence control, inter/intra breeding, and genetic engineering are the three main approaches practiced by restoration efforts. Recently the breeding programs and the genetic engineering techniques are experiencing broader support and probability of success in chestnut tree restoration.

TACF is one of the larger national restoration organizations. See box below. The TACF pursues the traditional inter/intra-breeding approaches to developing an immune hybrid tree that is 95% American. The TACF Research Farm is located in Meadowview, with three large local orchards and another remote orchard at Matthews State Forest near Galax. These properties contain approximately 50,000 trees, sprouts, and seedlings planted as stock for their backbreeding program headquartered and operated in a Virginia Dept. of Forestry certified laboratory. With only four staffed positions, the Meadowview backbreeding programs are highly dependent upon volunteers and citizen scientists to perform hands-on tasks during the critical spring and fall months when the chestnut trees are in their annual growth stages.

source - Wikipedia (creative commons)

American chestnut field trial sapling from the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation

Meanwhile back on the farm, er, in the orchards that is, with nine other Roads Scholars, we worked up to eight hours per day performing inoculations of over 2000 trees. Yes, we were intentional infecting trees with the fungus! Inoculations are performed on 3- to 5-year-old trees to determine each plant’s susceptibility to the fungus. Of the 2000 tree we treated with the fungus, the survival rate will probably be 5 or 6 trees. American chestnut tree immunity to the fungus is a very low percentage condition enabled by a genetic mutation from cross breeding.

After limited early success, much progress is being achieved in producing a blight resistant tree, especially in the past 10 years. Advances in breeding techniques and procedures have been greatly enhanced through the contributions of biochemical analysis and mapping of the chestnut genome by genetic engineers. Aided by these scientific disciplines, one can perceive within the chestnut groups a change of attitude from one of dogged determination working against an overwhelming foe to one of confidence based on intelligent information. Conservation literature is beginning to address the pragmatic environmental impacts of repopulation dynamics of the chestnut tree on the current forest biome.

After a brief—but intense— indoctrination into the Chestnut tree and its blight I cannot claim to be naïve any longer. But based on my experience in Meadowview, I must humbly admit that even more than before, my level of knowledge remains “Not so much—still.”

However, I more fully comprehend the scope of the task of the TACF and related organizations with their goal of forestland restoration. More importantly, I understand the vital importance of the role and the dedication of volunteers necessary to support the mission of restoring the mighty Chestnut tree.

Answer 1. Unreported; Highly improbable.

Answer 2. Yes, according to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, Plant Database

[1] Dalgleish,H.J.; Nelson,C.D.; Scrivani,J.A.; Jacobs,D.F. Consequences of Shifts in Abundance and Distribution of American Chestnut for Restoration of a Foundation Tree. Reprinted from Forests (ISSN 1999-4907) in Chestnut, The Journal of The American Chestnut Foundation, Issue 2, Vol. 30, Spring 2016.

[2] Bechtold,W.A.; Patterson,P.L. The Enhanced Forest Inventory and Analysis Program- National Sampling Design and Estimation Procedures; Gen. Tech. Rep. -80; Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station; Asheville, NC, USA, 2005; p.85.

 


The mission of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is to restore the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands to benefit our environment, our wildlife, and our society.

To learn about TACF and its national breeding program, visit www.acf.org. To join the effort to restore the American chestnut tree, visit www.acf.org/join.php.

The American Chestnut Foundation has a Tree Locator project that encourages identification and verification of native or wild specimens of C. dentata. To assist and standardize the inventory efforts TACF maintains an online reporting site: acf.org/find_a_tree.php.

 

 

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As Fall approaches

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By Anne Owen

As Fall approaches, many of us will be thinking about ‘tidying up’ the yard ready for Winter – and for most, that will mean cutting down dead flowers, raking up fallen leaves and piling up bags of yard waste at the curb for pick up. Then, we can settle back into our warm homes to wait things out until Spring.

But spare a thought for the many critters that live in our yards. Mostly, we won’t see them, but they are there and they too need safe habitat to survive the winter. The insects and arachnids that overwinter successfully will the ones that provide food for hungry fledgling birds in the Spring. They will pollinate the early flowers, providing fruit and seeds later in the season and some will even assist in keeping other destructive insects under control.

Many butterfly and moth species over-winter as pupae in leaf litter. When the caterpillars emerge in Spring, they provide critically important food for birds feeding their young. Ladybugs and Lacewings like to nest in dry, sheltered crowns of native grasses and spiders hide at the base of old stems. Different species of bees use hollow plant stems, or small holes just below or on the ground’s surface.

Swamp Sparrow foraging

Swamp Sparrow foraging

Even species that are active in the winter months, such as birds, need food and shelter. Birds will greatly appreciate the seed heads of grasses and forbs, especially Coneflower. Standing stems and grasses will also provide safe spaces for small birds to escape ever-present predators such as hawks. Visiting Juncos and White-throated Sparrows love the brush piles in my yard!

Here are some suggestions:

  • Let leaves lie where they fall (or just blow them off the lawn and onto beds). Natural leaf litter will provide shelter for many species and is a great natural mulch.
  • Leave perennial stem and seed heads standing through the winter months. If you are not comfortable to leave it all, consider cutting down only a half or two thirds and leave just a section standing. Stems left standing can protect the plants themselves in severe weather by collecting insulating snow.
  • If you do cut down some or even all of your perennials, think about leaving the cut stems in a loose stack on the ground, to form a small brush pile that can provide winter habitat.
  • When planning your garden, include plants that actually look great in winter, such as coneflower, yarrow and native grasses – then enjoy the artistry on frosty mornings when the leaves and seed heads are accented with halos of ice.

 

Because many of the critters that will benefit from this approach are very small, it may be hard to see the changes that are taking place in your garden, but you will be making a difference and those changes will happen!

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Book Review: Feathers, the Evolution of a Natural Miracle

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By Sheila Montalvan

Feathers, the Evolution of a Natural Miracle. By Thor Hanson. New York, NY: Basic Books. 2011, 336pp.

Recently I heard about an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York called Dinosaurs Among Us that features a 23-foot- long feathered tyrannosaur (Yutyrannus huali) and a small dromaeosaur with “four wings and vivid plumage.”

Information on the exhibit states that, “the boundary between the animals we call birds and the animals we traditionally called dinosaurs is now practically obsolete”, and that “many dinosaur species sported primitive feathers—precursors to those birds use to fly, court mates, and more.” This information would have astounded me, except that I happened to be reading Thor Hanson’s well-informed book, Feathers. Dr. Hanson, a biologist and author, won the American Museum of Natural History John Burroughs Medal for Feathers, and was nominated for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize in the UK.

According to Dr. Hanson, it all started in the German countryside in 1861. A quarryman, who “worked in a world of dust, the fine grit of limestone powdered by blasting, chisel work, and constant hammer blows”, had a very bad cough. Unable to afford a doctor, his “method of payment was a delicate, crow-size fossil he had found that would change science forever.” The fossil was Archaeopteryx lithographica –a fossil of a reptile with the feathers of a bird.

Archaeopteryx lithographica fossil

Archaeopteryx lithographica fossil

Fossils are known to be fairly common in limestone, and sometimes miners would smuggle out any interesting finds to trade for necessities, such as medical advice. The doctor knew he had something special, and the fossil eventually ended up in London where its origins and meaning were debated by scientists for years. The fossil is now in the Natural History Museum in London. I was fortunate enough to see the actual fossil while in London recently. It is kept in the “Treasures” section of the museum and is their “most valuable fossil” (see photo). It is larger than I thought it would be, and even to my untrained eye I could tell it was a bird by the shape and feather detail. Seeing the fossil certainly put the author’s enthusiasm on the subject into perspective.

The book touches on a wide variety of feather trivia. Did you know that early humans probably used feathers to create paintings in caves?  Or that the metallic fins on the “massive rocket that launched Apollo 15 were direct technological descendants of the first feathers to stabilize the tail end of a dart”?  And that the “word pen is derived from the Latin penna, for feather.” Feathers were also used for dental hygiene purposes, back in the day.

The author informs us that there is a desert dwelling bird called the sandgrouse, who will fly to a water source and carry water back to its young in its breast feathers. The water source can often be 30 miles away. Sandgrouse feathers actually absorb the water – and “will hold two to four times as much water as the average dish sponge.” The sandgrouse chicks are able to get a sip of water since they are unable to fly to the water source yet.

Another section examines how feathers get their pigment, and how scientists determined that feathered dinosaurs were colorful. Did you know that the coloring in parrot feathers makes them resistant to bacteria? Perfect for life in a damp rain forest.

There is plenty of discussion on feather anatomy, too. The author provides a very detailed visual reference to various types of feathers, including their size and structure. Everything one needs to know (and more) about flight and contour feathers, bristles, follicles, filaments and filo plumes are here.

This insightful, easy to read book is consistent with Dr. Hanson’s engaging style and enthusiasm for the subject. Feathers contains a variety of biological, cultural, scientific, and religious information that would appeal to most readers. Any naturalist or bird watcher would benefit from reading this book, and you won’t want to miss a single part.

Link to Publisher’s page: http://www.basicbooks.com/full-details?isbn=9780465028788

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