Sign up for the Fall Class

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailApplications are being accepted for the 2017 training program. Classes are led by experts and meet two Saturdays a month from September 2017 through April 2018.  Each class will cover one or two topics such as local plants, mammals, birds, trees, fish, mammals, soils, weather and more, and typically include field exercises to further explore the subject discussed in the classroom.

The classes are held at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve, at 21085 The Woods Road in Leesburg. The is open to those older 18 years old. See the course schedule. For more information, call 703-669-0889.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Continuing Education

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailExactly 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.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

What do YOU Know About American Chestnut Tree Restoration?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy 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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Adventures of a First Time Beekeeper: Part 2 – Raising Bees and Making a Meadow

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailPart 2a – Raising Bees

By Liz Dennison

20160814_131751 600Bees exist in the wild without assistance from beekeepers. As beekeepers, we provide a healthy environment, food and water when necessary, and protection from pests and predators, so that our bees can produce the honey and beeswax they need to thrive. The mission of the first year beekeeper, or the keeper of any new hive, is to grow bees. A new hive needs to produce enough bees and honey stores to survive its first winter. That means the hive must contain a basketball size cluster of bees and about 90 pounds of honey. The size of the cluster is essential to maintaining the required temperature of 93 degrees at the center when the queen begins laying eggs in midwinter. If there aren’t enough bees or enough food, the colony won’t survive. Honey stores are important as the bees’ primary energy source but beekeepers can provide supplemental food if the stores are inadequate. This year, we’re in the business of raising bees. If we’re lucky, we’ll harvest some honey next year.

Queen Bee

Queen bee with blue mark

Several days after installing the bees in the hives, we inspected them to make sure the queen was present and laying and the bees were drawing comb on the foundation. When we purchased our package and nuc we requested marked queens. A marked queen has a small brightly colored dot on her back making her much easier to find among thousands of busy bees. One of our hives has a queen with a bright pink dot and the other with a turquoise blue dot. We usually inspected our hives in the middle of the day when many bees are out foraging. On the first inspection of each hive, we removed the top and inner cover of the brood box and then each frame, one at a time. We were able to find the queen in both hives and see that she was laying and the colony was drawing comb on the frames. All was well.

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Inspecting a frame

What I found most interesting is that we can open the hives, pull individual frames, even remove an entire box and the bees pay no attention. They continue their work almost as if we’re not there. We’ve never had to use our smoker and prefer not to use it. It’s said that smoke calms the bees but the reality is that the bees perceive the smoke as a forest fire and focus on consuming their honey stores so they can carry it with them to safety. While there may be situations where smoke would be helpful, it seems counterproductive and unnecessary for routine hive care.

As the bees were able to find enough nectar and pollen, we discontinued the feeding we started earlier in the spring and removed the Boardman feeder. After several weeks, the bees nearly filled the original brood box so we added a second box to each hive. In late July, the second boxes were full with brood in the center and honey stores at the edges so we added a third box to each hive. Although we continued to inspect the hives every week, we no longer examined every frame or worried about finding the queen each time. If we saw active bees around the hive and drawn comb, brood cells and honey stores where they should be after sampling a few frames, we were confident that all was well. No need to disturb the hive any further.

We had some hot weather this summer and the bees definitely felt it. On some of the hottest days, the entire front of the hive was covered with bees. Hanging out on the “front porch” is the bees’ way of cooling themselves and the hive. Bees hanging out at the hive entrance are fanning the hive to increase air flow and ventilation. At this point a water source is very important. If there is no nearby water source, water can be provided with a Boardman feeder (a mason jar with small holes in the lid inverted and fitted into a wooden holder at the entrance of the hive). If entrance restrictors are in place to help bees defend the hive against invaders, they should be removed to improve airflow. If the hive has a solid bottom board it should be replaced with a screen bottom. If necessary, shade can be provided with a pop-up awning. Our bees have shade from trees for the hottest part of the afternoon which did seem to help. We certainly appreciated the shade when inspecting the hives because long pants, long sleeves, beekeeping gloves, hats and veils can be uncomfortable on a hot summer afternoon.

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Boardman feeder with syrup

By mid to late July the nectar flow was low and we saw that honey production had decreased so we resumed feeding a one-to-one mixture of sugar water and a small amount of vitamins and essential oils with the Boardman feeder (the same as for providing water but containing an appropriate concentration of syrup) and saw increased honey production in the honey super (third box). This will be the bees’ winter food supply. Some bee keepers don’t use this type of feeder because it can encourage “robbing” by bees from other hives but we haven’t seen any robbing activity so far.

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Mite board showing dirt, honey, and other debris but few mites

Around this time, a few local bee keepers reported large numbers of Varroa Mites in their hives. Even though we had treated the hives in the spring, we decided to do a 24 hour mite count on each hive. We waited for a day that would be a little cooler and inserted a foam board coated with Vaseline to make it sticky at the bottom of each hive. The board reduces ventilation in the hive so waiting for a cool day puts less stress on the bees. After 24 hours we removed the boards and counted the number of mites on each. We found only one or two mites so there was no need to treat the hives. Since we’re not harvesting honey this year, we can treat with Apivar which doesn’t harm the bees and is very effective. There are other non-chemical methods of mite control, including sifting powdered sugar into the hives to coat the bees. The sugar causes the bees to groom themselves and remove the mites along with the sugar. While many beekeepers swear by the sugar method, it does require ongoing treatments and should be started before there is a significant mite infestation.

The bees were very active in August and filled the third box on each hive with honey so we added a fourth box to each hive. We also started feeding pollen patties that we make ourselves. We no longer inspected individual frames but simply opened the top of the hive to peek in and see how much comb and honey there was in the upper box and to add the food patties. The hives sounded wonderful, activity around them was energetic with bees flying off and returning loaded with pollen, and there were already good honey stores. We did another mite check and again found only two or three mites so decided to hold off on treatment. All was well at the end of August.

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Hives with Meadow in the Background

We made it through the summer with healthy hives. I’ve been fascinated by bee behavior both in and out of the hives. I’ve enjoyed watching them leaving and returning. I can only follow them a short distance before they disappear into the background of our pines. I wish I could follow to see where they forage. We’ve become much more confident in handling the frames and feeders so hive care has become much more fun and less stressful.

Check back soon for Part 3 – Preparing for Winter

Part 2b – Making a Meadow

20160823_180354 600I’m sure all Virginia Master Naturalists are aware that pollinators need our help. Loudoun County is one of the fasted growing regions in the country but this growth comes at a price. Much of the farmland, open fields and forests in the eastern part of the county have been overtaken by urban and commercial development that replaces green space with concrete. Even in suburban neighborhoods, native grasses have been replaced by manicured lawns. Native trees and wildflowers have been replaced by exotic varieties. Non-native invasive plants are rampant along roadways and other areas disturbed by development. The result is a landscape that’s inhospitable to our native wildlife, including the pollinators.

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There are several excellent programs that provide education and support for removing invasive plants and replacing them with natives. Soon after we moved to Philomont, we contacted Audubon at Home (http://audubonva.org/audubon-at-home-1/). This wonderful organization brought experienced naturalists to our property to help us identify plant species and make an improvement plan. Although we still have some work to do we met the criteria for certification as a Wildlife Sanctuary. I also completed an online course on Woodland Options for Landowners through the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment (http://forestupdate.frec.vt.edu/ ) that helped me better understand how to manage my wooded acres. But, as a beekeeper, I still wanted to do something for pollinators so we decided to create a meadow.

We selected a grassy area of almost 1/3 acre along the road at the entrance to our property. It’s close to the bee hives and gets sun most of the day. There are natural ways to go from grass to meadow gradually over a period of years but we wanted to do it more quickly. We decided to seed the area with native flowers and began investigating sources for the seed. We settled on a bee friendly pollinator mix of annuals and perennials from American Meadows (http://www.americanmeadows.com/ ) but there are many other options depending on your soil type, amount of sun, amount of water, and the type of wildlife you want to attract. The people at American Meadows were very helpful in making recommendations about how much seed we would need and how and when to plant. All seeds from American Meadows are Non-GMO and Neonicotinoid-Free.

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Tiller attached to tractor

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Enough wildflower seed for 1/4 to 1/3 acre

We ordered the seed in March and got to work on preparing the land. We borrowed a tiller attachment for our tractor from our beekeeping mentor. That meant driving our tractor with the attachment on Snickersville Turnpike. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go very far. We used the tiller to turn the soil just a few inches deep. It wasn’t necessary to kill or remove the grass. When the nights were warm enough to be sure there wouldn’t be a frost, we attached a small seed spreader to the tractor and spread the seed as evenly as possible. The spreader was too light to work properly so we enlisted our son to sit on it for extra weight. After seeding, we drove the tractor over the area to push the seed into the soil. Then we waited.

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Meadow immediately after seeding

I was worried that birds would eat all the seed. I was worried that invasive species would take over in the disturbed earth before the seeds had a chance to germinate. I was worried that the grass would overwhelm the flowers. None of that happened. After a few weeks we started to see little seedlings popping up everywhere and growing quickly. The result has been a beautiful and ever-changing display, from tiny white flowers in the spring to magnificent sunflowers in August. This little 1/3 of an acre is buzzing with bees (not always our bees), butterflies and, a surprise to me, dozens of goldfinches. We’ve had lots of compliments from our neighbors. Some have even stopped to take pictures, one neighbor brings her children every few days to pick flowers, and a few high school students used it as the backdrop for their senior pictures.

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Meadow Bee August 9-2

 

This was easy to do and maintenance free – no watering or regular mowing. It supports our wildlife and is beautiful to look at. Next year we’ll expand this meadow a bit and do the same in some of the shady areas. The people who owned this property before us called a small, secluded, clearing in the pines “The Secret Garden”. By next summer, “The Secret Garden” will be full of flowers.

 

 

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Book Review: Feathers, the Evolution of a Natural Miracle

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy 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=9780465028788Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Upcoming VMN Training Class Schedule published

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailThe Banshee Reeks chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program just published its upcoming class schedule.  The What You’ll Learn section of the Virginia Master Naturalist website provides a good high level overview of what the classes cover.

The Banshee Reeks chapter’s upcoming classes start on September 17th, 2016 and run through April 2017 on Saturday mornings at Banshee Reeks.  The classes generally contain both a classroom and field portion on the same day, which provides a great way to apply your learning in the field.

If you are interested in joining the upcoming class, please fill out an application (word/pdf) or contact us via email.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Dragonfly resources

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Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

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Cornell Labs offering its Spring Field Ornithology course online

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFrom a Cornell Lab’s email:

“Each spring for 40 years, bird enthusiasts have gathered at the Cornell Lab for Spring Field Ornithology to learn from world-renowned ornithologists. This year, for the first time, anyone, anywhere can take the course online. 

Focused on species native to the Northeastern U.S., course lectures are packed with bird identification tips designed to expand your birding skills. They also highlight key behaviors including migration, nesting, and song to make your birdwatching more rewarding.

The eight-week online course runs March 24 – May 16 with new lectures posted each Thursday. The course also includes special access to new online ID quizzes to help you practice.”

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