If it seems like you’ve been seeing more reports of snakes around Arlington on local listservs, you’re not alone. Arlington County officials said there’s been a noticeable uptick in reported copperhead snake sightings.
Alonso Abugattas, the county’s natural resources manager, said there has been an increase in copperhead snake sightings but that the exact numbers are hard to track down because he, Arlington’s nature centers, and animal control all get and respond to calls about snakes.
“This past year I have gotten more,” Abugattas said, “but I expect there’s been more because more people are outside.”
Abugattas said with coronavirus keeping people at home rather than in their offices, the increase in calls may have something to do with people exploring their local parks during the day, when copperhead snakes are more active.
“Parks have had a 200% increased use because people are at home and bored,” Abugattas said. “I think more than anything else, people are more aware of them.”
The local emergency room is also seeing evidence of rising encounters between snakes and humans.
“We’ve had a few patients with copperhead bites recently,” Mike Silverman, head of the emergency department at Virginia Hospital Center, wrote last Friday. “As someone who trained and worked for a long time in Baltimore City, it’s seems so weird to see snake bites in what’s otherwise an urban area but they are definitely in Arlington.”
He encouraged anyone suffering from a snakebite to get a photo of the snake.
“Pictures of dead snakes are great,” Silverman wrote. “Please don’t feel the need to bring the snake into the ER, even if it’s dead, though it does add a little excitement to the shift.”
The copperhead is one of only three venomous snakes found in Virginia and the only one found in Arlington County. Ken Rosenthal, park naturalist at Gulf Branch Nature Center (3608 N. Military Road), said in a presentation last Thursday that they are most likely to be found in Gulf Branch and along the rocky, forested hillsides along the Potomac River.
Despite being venomous, Abugattas said there have only been one or two cases nationwide of copperheads killing humans, and even those had other factors. Neither of them, Abugattas said, were in Virginia.
“It is, for the most part, a very timid snake,” Abugattas said. “Even when they do bite, about one-third of the bites are dry bites — a warning.”
In the midst of Arlington’s efforts to protect local streams, the county last week released an extensive guide debunking what it says are common stream restoration “myths,” touching on everything from ecology to rain gardens.
The following six “myths” were challenged by the county:
- #1: If Arlington County did proper maintenance on the streams, we wouldn’t need to do stream restoration.
- #2: If Arlington County regulated infill development more, the streams wouldn’t be in such bad shape.
- #3: More rain gardens and trees in the watershed could restore the streams without having to reconstruct the stream channel.
- #4: Stream restoration makes stream habitat and stream ecology worse.
- #5: Streams should never overtop their banks. After stream restoration, stream flow should be significantly less.
- #6: The July 8, 2019 storm showed that stream restoration projects cannot handle intense storms or climate change.
When storms occur and water builds in steams, the resulting erosion can cause health issues for water-based wildlife and create infrastructure challenges. In order to prevent erosion, restoration alters the stream’s direction and adds step-pool structures to slow water flow, the county said.
County officials argue that restored stream sections of Donaldson Run, Windy Run, and Four Mile Run kept the channels from eroding during the summer storm. On the other hand, “unrestored sections of Donaldson Run did not fare well during the July 8 storm, with new erosion undermining the fence and trail.”
Arlington’s stream restoration projects aren’t without its critics, especially when it comes to the touchy subject of tree removal in Myth #3.
In an email sent to ARLnow, Suzanne Sundburg, a local environmental activist and member of the Arlington Tree Action Group, argues the opposite — “planting trees… ABSOLUTELY DOES reduce the stormwater runoff,” she wrote.
“These stream restoration projects, as implemented in Arlington County, use heavy equipment that involves significant tree loss in the very riparian areas that are supposed to be protected from tree loss and development,” said Sundburg.
Sundburg argued that development has damaged local streams.
“Maintenance of our streams and their banks isn’t the issue and thus stream ‘restoration’ is not the solution,” she wrote. “The underlying cause of urban stream syndrome is the increasing volume and speed of runoff coming from the watershed. Unless and until the county begins to correct and reverse the increase in impervious surfaces — now covering 45% of the county’s land surface — stream restoration is impossible.”
Local advocacy groups have previously sounded off against tree removal, namely in 2017 when local residents launched a petition against the removal of 70 trees in Donaldson Run.
Currently, the county is in the design phase of its Gulf Branch Stream Restoration project, which is intended to protect the waterway and the trees along its banks.
A Gulf Branch-specific “Myths and Misconceptions” was presented during a November 6 community meeting on the project. In the presentation, officials addressed the effects of the July 8 storm on the stream, noting the “unrestored stream segmented eroded tons of sediment, degrading and stressing habitat downstream.”
Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation is hosting a campfire series for families, staring this week.
The series starts this Saturday, September 7, at Gulf Branch Nature Center (3608 Military Road) from 6-7 p.m. and offers attendees campfire stories, games, and s’mores.
The theme of this Saturday’s fire is “Nice Mice,” followed by an “Insect Chorus” event next Saturday 14 at the Long Branch Nature Center (625 S. Carlin Springs Road) from 7-8 p.m.
“The whole family is invited to join in our campfires, for lots of old fashioned fun,” wrote organizers on the event’s website. “You’ll hear campfire stories, may meet some animal guests, play games, sing songs and, of course, enjoy s’mores! Each campfire has a nature theme and promises to entertain.”
The series alternates on Saturdays between Gulf Branch and Long Branch until November 23, and each event costs $5 per person.
Image via Flickr/Kevin Smith
Arlington will host an all-things-bat event later this month for families looking to learn more about the nocturnal mammals.
Next Saturday, August 24, people can check out the festival at the Gulf Branch Nature Center (3608 Military Road) from 6:30-9 p.m. The event will include a live bat show as well as games, crafts, and a walk to teach participants more about bat habitats.
The bat shows are led by Leslie Sturges, who runs the Save Lucy Campaign conservation program. Sturges is a former Smithsonian zookeeper who founded a Virginia bat rescue center called Bat World NOVA.
Sturges also wrote a book called “Lucy’s Story,” which follows the life of an imaginary little brown bat named Lucy as bats nationwide struggle with a deadly fungus that’s decimating many bat populations.
Animal Control Chief Jennifer Toussaint previously told ARLnow that the epidemic has hit the county hard, and asked residents’ help in saving any of the remaining ones.
“Eight years ago as an officer I would periodically bring in little brown bats,” she said. “I haven’t seen one in about two years.”
Organizers for the Arlington festival wrote in the Facebook event description that the event is a chance, “enjoy a thoroughly batty evening and add to your knowledge of local night life.”
Registration is required for the festival, and costs $5. Anyone interested in attending can sign up on the county’s website, or by calling the Nature Center at 703-228-3403.
Officials are asking for the public’s feedback on a plan to stem the tide of erosion plaguing one local stream.
Residents can fill out an online survey to share their thoughts on the Gulf Branch Stream Restoration project this summer as the county officials work to prepare designs for protecting the waterway and the trees that call its banks home.
The stream faces problems stemming from the increasing amount water flowing down its channel due to stormwater runoff. This causes the stream to eat away at the banks, which exposes roots and pipes, and carries sediment downstream, according to Watershed Outreach Program Manager Aileen Winquist.
“Restoration projects actually are trying to create a stream channel that’s stable for the long term,” she told ARLnow yesterday (Tuesday.) “So we’re designing a new stream channel that will help the stream water dissipate energy as it flows down, so it’s not doing as much damage.”
Officials are planning to change the way the stream curves and add step-pool structures to slow the water flow. The work will be similar to measures county crews previously took to restore the Donaldson Run stream.
Winquist says reducing erosion along waterways like Donaldson or Gulf Branch is critical because when too much dirt is carved out of the banks it can cause health problems for fish and other water-based wildlife. Sediment siphoned downstream can also cloud the surface of the Chesapeake Bay, preventing sunlight from reaching the watergrasses that shelter crabs, filter water, and feed aquatic creatures.
In the case of flash floods, algae can also bloom which strips the oxygen from the water, killing aquatic life. Chemical pollution can have the same effect — as the Gulf Branch stream experienced in 2012.
Because of this, Virginia requires local jurisdictions to lower sediment pollution levels. Arlington pledged to reduce pollution levels in 2012 by 5% in 2018, and enacted programs and ordinances to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and pollution.
Stream erosion also causes infrastructure challenges, Winquist said. Because many of the county’s older sewer lines from the 1950s rely on gravity they run under stream valleys. As a consequence, recent floods damaged pipes like the one under Lubber Run, which in turn swallowed the stream.
“When first installed, they were installed several feet down,” Winquist said. “But as as the stream erodes down over time, they become exposed.”
A pipe under Gulf Branch was encased in concrete to prevent damage from exposure — but now the concrete is crumbling.
Winquist noted that in the past, some residents have expressed concerns over trees that need to be felled as part of the process. She said the county replants at least one tree for each one cut and asserted that not performing the work would allow the erosion to continue and would be a greater threat to the local environment.
“It’s not a great condition to leave the stream in,” she said.
The county expects to hold a public meeting in the fall and will continue discussing restoration designs into the new year. Winquest said it will likely be “a couple of years” before construction starts.
Map via Google Maps
Why did the salamander cross the road? To get to the vernal pool breeding grounds, of course.
Most people wouldn’t laugh at that, but the joke might have killed at Thursday’s salamander patrol training session at Arlington’s Long Branch Nature Center.
The nature center holds yearly salamander training sessions to educate volunteers on the dangers that salamanders and other vernal-pool-dwelling amphibians face during the annual migration.
Amphibians generally live in ponds but some, like the spotted salamander or wood frog, only live in vernal pools — watering holes that dry up in the fall. These are ideal spots for the critters to thrive in, because predators like fish and other amphibians prefer year-round pools.
But because only two or three vernal pools remain in the increasingly urbanized county, hundreds of salamanders and wood frogs have no choice but to cross the pool-adjacent driveways and sidewalks, according to Jennifer Soles, an Arlington County naturalist and long-time Arlington resident.
Soles began the salamander squad program in 2013 after attending a master naturalist training the year prior. As Long Branch Nature Center volunteers were leaving the class, salamanders and frogs began their breeding ground migration — across the parking lot, and under a lot of car tires.
“They’re all there because they love nature and it’s their master naturalist training,” said Soles. “And everyone is running over the frogs and salamanders.”
Soles grabbed a flashlight and began escorting the unhurried salamanders off of the pavement, joined by other horrified naturalists.
Arlington’s naturalists have since tried to prevent further amphibian annihilation through the salamander training sessions. At the Feb. 8 training session, at least 16 community members learned how to protect their local croakers from another Arlington County naturalist, Rachael Tolman.
The session focused on frog and salamander biology and breeding habits, and taught volunteers safe handling practices. Tolman walked volunteers through filling out scientific forms that allow on-site naturalists to predict travel patterns.
“If it’s a little squish, it’s a [spring] peeper, if it’s a medium squish, it’s a wood frog,” said Tolman, explaining how to fill out the alive-or-dead count portion of the form for the rundown animals. “If it’s kind of a spotted, long squish, it’s probably a spotted salamander.”
A salamander patrolman is nothing without his or her tool kit, which includes a reflective vest, headlamps, pens — and a garden spade for scraping squished salamanders off of the road.
While the event was intended to be for ages 13 or older, few teenagers were in attendance. Most volunteers were much older with a more developed environmental interest.
Peter Hansen, a Federal Reserve Board researcher, is a 24-year-old Arlington resident and one of the county’s master naturalists.
“I saw the email blast about the salamander patrol, and it sounded really hype,” said Hansen, noting that several of his friends are nature enthusiasts that he admires for their vast knowledge of the environment.
“I can add a lot of color to my experience in nature,” said Hansen. Most likely, he’ll be returning to serve on the salamander squad.
Tuesday’s heavy rains caused some flooding around Arlington, especially in the northern reaches of the county.
An overflowing storm drain brought elevated water levels to the intersection of Military Road and 35th Street N., where drivers had to contend with significant standing water following a slug of heavy rain this morning. Police were on scene, but there were no road closures.
An earlier report suggested higher, more hazardous water levels along Military Road while the rain was still falling.
Other areas of reported flooding included the area of Glebe Road and Chain Bridge and the intersection of Yorktown Blvd and N. Harrison Street — though no standing water was observed there when an ARLnow.com reporter drove by.
The National Weather Service warned earlier today about flash floods in the region, with the threat running through early afternoon. The heavy rain that brought flooding to Arlington appeared to bring more severe conditions to Northwest D.C., where residents posted photos and videos (below) of roads turned into fast-moving streams.
Arlington’s Dept. of Public Safety Communications & Emergency Management, meanwhile, reminded residents to “turn around and don’t drown” when encountering flooded roadways.
It's legit flooding, I almost got knocked over by a stream pic.twitter.com/K8nSjBiMsv
— Sansa DARK (@HAITIANPAPI202) August 15, 2017
— Dave Dildine (@DildineWTOP) August 15, 2017
— Post Local (@postlocal) August 15, 2017
— Ready Arlington (@ReadyArlington) August 15, 2017
The area of heavy rain that triggered the flooding is making its way out of the District. pic.twitter.com/ienpVV1ccA
— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) August 15, 2017
Neighborhoods across the county are getting ready for Neighborhood Day, set to take place Saturday and feature a wide range of events and activities.
The day looks to bring together neighbors to strengthen bonds on blocks and across the county.
This year’s events are:
Jennie Dean Park Historical Markers Unveiling Ceremony
At noon, the park’s new historical markers will be unveiled, followed by a tour of Arlington Food Assistance Center’s new office at 2708 S Nelson Street.
Seventh Annual Turtle Trot 5K Race
A chip-timed 5K race at Bluemont Park on a certified course. The race begins at 10 a.m.
International Migratory Bird Day Festival
From 9-11 a.m., celebrate International Migratory Bird Day by learning about migratory birds such as hummingbirds and osprey with hands-on activities, games, crafts, bird walks and more. Meet at Lacey Woods Park Picnic Shelter, 1200 N. George Mason Drive.
Tuckahoe Home and Garden Tour
The self-guided Tuckahoe Home & Garden Tour showcases recently renovated Arlington homes that solve common space and design challenges through creative remodeling.
Fairlington Home and Garden Tour
Tour a variety of renovated homes and gardens in Fairlington Village. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased in advance or on the day.
Remove Invasive Plants
Increase native species diversity by helping with the return of ferns and wildflowers, and the animals that depend on them, in areas once covered in destructive invasive plants. The Gulf Branch Nature Center will host the event from 2-4 p.m.
Tara-Leeway Heights Community Day
From 1-3 p.m. at Big Walnut Park, the Tara-Leeway Heights community will host an event complete with food vendors, games and more.
LBCCA Celebration and Movie Night Series Kick-Off
The Long Branch Creek Civic Association will bring the community together to celebrate from 5-9 p.m. at Troy Park. The event will include a moon bounce, games and activities, potluck dinner, snacks, beverages and an outdoor movie screening.
Ashton Heights Neighborhood Yard Sale
From 8 a.m.-noon, visit the Ashton Heights neighborhood for a community-wide yard sale.
The event is taking place from 7-8 p.m. and will feature a fire and some wintery activities. Registration is required, according to an event listing.
“Celebrate the longest night of the year with candle making and s’mores!” says the listing. “Then we’ll take a night hike under the half moon.”
The Gulf Branch Nature Center at 3608 North Military Road will be celebrating its 50th anniversary with two events in June.
Both events will be free, with the first one taking place on Thursday, June 2 at Arlington Central Library and the second taking place at on Sunday, June 12 at the nature center.
The nature center released the following press release about the events:
On Thursday, June 2, starting at 7:00 p.m., a one-hour symposium will be held at the Arlington County Central Library on “Gulf Branch Nature Center: The Birth and Future of Arlington Parks.” Three speakers will be featured: Local author Charlie Clark, on how the creation of Gulf Branch in 1966 in response to the construction of Metro and I-66 sparked the move to protect parkland in Arlington; Jane Rudolph, director of Arlington County Parks and Recreation Department, who will review the status of park and green space in Arlington, and what they have on the drawing board; and Peter Harnik, Trust for Public Lands, on creating new parks in heavily urbanized areas.
On Sunday, June 12, from 1:00-4:00 p.m., a birthday party open to the public will be held at Gulf Branch Nature Center, 3608 North Military Rd.; Arlington, VA 22207. The party will include live music, food and beverages, a special visit (in an antique car) by silent-movie icon Pola Negri (who once lived at the Gulf Branch house), live demonstrations of ironsmithing by the Blacksmith Guild of the Potomac, tours of the nature center’s Native American Room and log cabin, live raptors, and (of course) a birthday cake. This family-friendly event is sure to be a hit with kids!
These events are being sponsored with the assistance of the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation and the Arlington County Central Library.
For more information, visit the county’s website for Gulf Branch Nature Center and the Friends of Gulf Branch Nature Center website.
From 6:00-9:00 p.m., attendees can take part in bat-centric habitat walks, games and crafts at Gulf Branch Nature Center (3608 Military Road). There also will be three live bat shows. The show schedule and which age group each is aimed at can be found online.
There is an $8 fee to attend the event and online registration is recommended to guarantee a spot.