Enter the VMN Photo Contest by Friday, July 21, 2017 Last Chance!

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We’ve extended the deadline for photo submission to the 2017 Statewide VMN Photo Contest, to this Friday, July 21! We’re looking for interesting and creative pictures to represent the Banshee Reeks Chapter in the upcoming contest at the VMN Statewide Conference.

Chapters may submit one photo each to three separate categories:

  • Virginia flora, fauna and other species
  • Virginia landscapes and habitats
  • Virginia Master Naturalists in Action

If you think you have what it takes to represent the Banshee Reeks Chapter, please submit your digital photos to vmnbansheereeks@gmail.com and include the following:

  • Date of photo
  • Species in the photo, if applicable
  • Location of photo taken

The VMN Board will choose one photo for each category, and those photos will go on to represent Banshee Reeks Chapter in the contest.

Due Date Extended to Friday, July 21!  Submit your photos Today!

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

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Part 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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