Book Review: Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington

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Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington,
D.C. By Howard Youth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press. 2014, 393pp.

By Sheila Montalvan

This compact guide to Washington, D.C. parks and natural areas identifies many common plants, trees, birds, insects, mammals, etc., which are also found in Loudoun County. The beautifully illustrated guide is for those of us who may appreciate the urban environment of the capital city, but are also fond of nature-based recreation.

The book is written by Howard Youth, a local the Washington area in that its west side runs along the Fall Line, “where rolling Piedmont cedes to a gradually leveling Coastal Plain.” And, with the merging of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, the city is a “floral and faunal melting pot.”

In D. C., one can take a hike through a forest, canoe down a river, or see an endangered bird. This book is a handy guide to natural recreation activities, parks of various sizes, and the living things that are part of them.

The book is divided into four sections Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast, and includes such parks as Rock Creek Park, the National Arboretum (a personal favorite), Roosevelt Island, and Glover Archbold Park.

At 1,754 acres, Rock Creek Park is twice as large as New York’s Central Park, and is the oldest urban National Park in the U. S. Rock Creek Park has the largest density of raccoons in the United States, and coyotes have been inhabitants since at least 2004. Peirce Mill dam is in the park, and is “A place to watch for night-herons, wood ducks, and migrating herring along the ladder-like “fishway” installed there” in 2006. The guide is great for identifying natural areas in Washington that may not be as well-known as Rock Creek Park. For instance, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with over 19,000 acres, is comprised of over 80% floodplain forest, and “more than 2,000 species of plant and animal have been identified in the park.” Also, Fort Dupont Park, located on F Street, S.E., is “one of the largest protected forests in the city.” According to Youth, the oak trees provide acorns for the many wild turkeys spotted in the park, and “is an important nesting habitat for D.C.’s official bird, the wood thrush.”

My only gripe with this book is that the parks are only listed in the Contents section by area: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. So, if you were looking for a particular park or site, it might be more difficult to locate in the book. However, each plant, animal, tree, insect, etc., etc. is listed in the Contents. The guide would be perfect for those making the trek with family and friends into the city to see the monuments, but may also want to visit a less urban area.

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Member Spotlight: Thaissa Klimavicz

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1 – How long have you been involved with the Virginia Master Naturalist Program, and what is your
capacity (title?) now? How did you hear about the program? What projects have you worked on, i.e.,
guides, training, etc., etc.

I saw the advertisement about the Banshee Reeks VMN program in the local newspaper and was very excited to hop on board, especially since the nature preserve is less than two miles from where I live. I graduated with the class of 2010. I currently serve on the Training Committee and was a former Co-chair. I have also previously served on the Board for 3 years. As a member of the Host Committee, I have also been involved in organizing the annual VMN picnic raffle over the last few years.

I enjoy participating in nature education programs for children and have assisted high school and middle school nature field trips including stream monitoring, as well as children’s nature camps. I was instrumental in heading up the Audubon Naturalist GreenKids project, whose focus is to provide support for environmental education and to assist schools in obtaining the Virginia Naturally School Award, the environmental school recognition program for the Commonwealth. Specifically I was involved in Potowmack Elementary School’s courtyard pond habitat project and installing a native pollinator garden at Guilford Elementary.

2- Family: do you have a spouse and children, grand-children? Pets? What is your background, besides the VMN program? When did your interest in nature begin?

My family includes my husband John, 16-year old son Alex and 12-year old daughter Isabella and our 2 dogs. I’ve lived in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area for the last 25 years. My hobbies include travel, hiking, gardening and sewing.

I have a degree in Biochemistry from McGill University, Canada. I have worked as a pharmacological laboratory research assistant at the Rockefeller University in NYC, as well as an environmental consultant with a Navy Contractor in Arlington, VA. I changed careers and obtained my Masters in Education at Marymount University and taught middle school life science for 5 years in Loudoun County. Taking a graduate environmental education course really got me excited about teaching nature education to children. That led to a position as a Naturalist for the Audubon Naturalist Society. I currently work at Simpson Middle School as a teacher assistant.

I grew up in RI loving nature and spent a lot of my childhood exploring the nearby woods and meadows riding my pony. We lived only a few miles from the ocean and I enjoyed collecting shells, driftwood and skate cases, and was always enthralled watching the crabs and seabirds scurrying about. This fascination with nature is still with me today.

3- What aspects of being a naturalist are your favorite? Is there a particular area that you enjoy (or are more knowledgeable about) than another; i.e., geology, birds, insects, etc ?

I have particular interests in Invertebrates and Botany. I am trying to increase my knowledge of both – I have recently completed an online college course in invertebrate zoology. I love to garden and have made it a point to include many native plants in my backyard. My yard is a certified “Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary”.

4- Feel free to philosophize about a favorite aspect of being a naturalist if you like.

I truly believe in a reverence for nature and inspiring others, especially children. I am a big proponent of Richard Louv and his case for “saving our children from nature-deficit disorder”. I feel that every school should have an outdoor classroom.

I am always inquisitive and nature provides the opportunities for exploration, whether I’m kayaking in the Pacific Northwest and learning about the shore and ocean ecosystems, or piddling around in my own garden finding a tomato hornworm covered in parasitic wasp eggs. Any words of encouragement for the new VMN students enrolled in this years’ class?

The VMN program will provide a great foundation of understanding, but it will only just whet your appetite. Absorb and soak in as much as you can, but don’t let the content overwhelm you. Keep up the nature journaling. Be inspired and be willing to pass on the inspiration through your volunteer efforts.

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2016 VMN Banshee Reeks Class Schedule

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Class Schedule
Date Time Details
Sept 12 9am-3pm Orientation, Journaling, History of VA Naturalists
Sept 26 9am-3pm Taxonomy & Ecology
Oct 17 9am-3pm Dendrology & Forest Ecology (class rescheduled from Oct 3)
Oct 24 9am-3pm Ichthyology
Nov 7 9am-3pm Invertebrate Zoology
Nov 21 9am-3pm Interpretation
Dec 5 9am-3pm Geology and Soils • Handout Midterm & Committee choice
Jan 9 9am-3pm Weather, Climatology & Biogeography • Midterm & Committee choice due
Jan 23 9am-3pm Natural Resources Management & Urban Ecology
Feb 6 9am-3pm Mammalogy, Risk Management, VMS Lab
Feb 20 8am-3pm Ornithology
Mar 5 9am-3pm Wetlands Ecology
Mar 19 9am-3pm Herpetology
Apr 2 9am-3pm Botany • Hand Out Final Exam
Apr 16 9am-3pm Make-Up Class if needed OR Lab Practicum/Graduation • Journals & Final Exams Due
Apr 30 9am-3pm (Only if Make-up Class Used) Lab Practicum/Graduation • Journals & Final Exams Due
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