Press Club

Morning Notes

Walking in Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

More on the Weird Chime Sound — “Janae Bixby first heard the sound near Pentagon City, where I-395 and Glebe Road intersect, as she picked up her kid from daycare on Monday evening around 5. She described it as ‘some sort of clock or doorbell chime that you would hear — very digital.’ She assumed the noise was coming from the building and started heading home. But then, in her car ride home to the southern edge of the Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, she kept hearing it, again and again.” [DCist]

Parents Group Wants Smaller Class Sizes — “A group of parents in Arlington, Virginia, is urging the county’s board to allot additional funding to its school system in the next fiscal year’s budget. The group Arlington Parents for Education said in a letter to the board this week that more money should be provided so that class sizes can be smaller, teacher pay can be competitive with surrounding school districts and student mental health and learning loss can be addressed.” [WTOP]

TR Bridge Work Could Wrap Up in June — “A section of the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge that was closed abruptly for emergency repairs two months ago is likely to reopen to traffic in June, according to officials with the District Department of Transportation. Crews began work on the 58-year-old bridge after an early-February inspection found steel support beams had continued to deteriorate, prompting the closure of three middle lanes and restrictions on heavyweight vehicles.” [Washington Post]

Operator Shortage Behind Bus Delays — From MetroHero: “For most of the morning, only one #WMATA 16Y bus has been in service where at least 5 are supposed to be running right… Previously-unannounced operator shortage was the cause of poor 16Y service this morning.” [Twitter]

School Bus Crash Yesterday Afternoon — “A crash involving several vehicles including a school bus has snarled southbound traffic on S. Carlin Springs Road, near Campbell Elementary… No injuries have been reported and one lane of traffic is squeezing by the crash scene. This is the same stretch of road where a group of residents recently called for safety improvements. [Twitter]

Video: Adorable Baby Squirrel — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “We’ve definitely got the cutest thing on the internet today! This baby squirrel came to us underweight and hungry, so after a snack she was transferred to a local wildlife rehabber who will care for her until she can be released back into the wild!” [Twitter]

Arlington GOP Ramps Up Outreach — “They are still on the lookout for local candidates, but the Arlington County Republican Committee also is working to connect with prospective supporters. ‘There are thousands of Republican voters who turn out on Election Day but who are otherwise unengaged with the Arlington GOP,’ party communications chair Matthew Hurtt said. ‘We can change that.'” [Sun Gazette]

FBI Warns of Moving Scam — “The FBI Washington Field Office is warning the public about increasingly prevalent moving fraud schemes and providing information about how to avoid being victimized by them. A typical moving fraud scheme begins when a customer is enticed into entering into a contract with a moving company to transport their household goods by offers of extremely low-cost estimates from a sales representative or broker.” [FBI]

It’s Friday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 72 and low of 52. Sunrise at 6:23 am and sunset at 7:53 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Has Farmbird flown the coop in Ballston, or will it rise from the ashes?

The chicken-centric restaurant, which first opened on the ground floor of the Ballston Exchange complex last summer, has been closed for the past few days. It was still closed this morning, when several men could be seen inside sitting and talking around a table.

Reached via email, restaurant co-founder Andrew Harris told ARLnow that Farmbird is working to reopen.

“Unfortunately, we sustained a minor fire on Saturday, 4/9/22 but are working to re-open ASAP,” he wrote this morning. The Ballston location is still listed on Farmbird’s website.

But a local restaurant equipment auction website tells a different story.

“This restaurant is closing and will make a complete liquidation of all late model equipment,” says an auction webpage that clearly shows the interior of Farmbird in Ballston.

D.C.-based Farmbird — which specializes in grilled chicken dishes served in a fast casual setting — opened the 4121 Wilson Blvd location, its first in Arlington, last June. It replaced Miami-based fast-casual health food restaurant Dirt, which closed in January 2020 after less than a year in business.

Farmbird won acclaim for its “gourmet” and health-conscious approach to fast casual dining, and was listed near the top of Yelp’s “Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. for 2020” list, a month prior to the start of the pandemic.

As of publication time, Harris has not replied to an email seeking clarification about the restaurant’s status.

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Chair in tree in Rosslyn’s Hillside Park (photo courtesy John Thomas)

Four years ago, we asked why a stick of deodorant was on top of a Clarendon bus stop.

Today, a new mystery: why is there a cheap plastic chair resting in a treetop in a Rosslyn park? A reader sent us the photos above, showing the chair lodged in some tree branches well above a pedestrian pathway.

“There is a plastic garden chair stuck in a tree about 40 feet off the ground at Hillside Park in Rosslyn,” writes John Thomas. “It might make an interesting story to speculate how it got there. Tornado? Cicadas?”

Trebuchet testing and aircraft door mishap are perhaps some other options that could explain it.

With the caveat that we have yet to contact Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation or the National Weather Service for official comment about what happened, the tornado hypothesis might actually make some sense.

On July 1, an honest-to-goodness EF-1 tornado touched down in Arlington, doing most of its damage in the Waverly Hills, Cherrydale and Lyon Village neighborhoods, before crossing the Potomac and snapping trees on the west end of the National Mall. The damage path finally ended near the South Lawn of the White House.

Between Lyon Village and the Mall, however, the path of the tornado did take it over Rosslyn and… Hillside Park, which is located at 1601 N. Pierce Street.

To better illustrate, here’s a line drawn between Woodstock Park in Arlington, where the tornado damage started, and where it ended. The pin in the center shows Hillside Park.

So unlike the deodorant mystery, which to this day remains unsolved (though a local bar employee’s comment that “people get drunk on the weekends, that would be my best guess,” seems as plausible as anything) it appears that the twister take is a definite maybe for Arlington’s latest head scratcher.

Have any alternative theories? Anything to disprove the tornado hypothesis? Let us know in the comments.

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Bird in the tree (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

Whatever was sickening and killing local birds earlier in the summer seems to be subsiding and it’s now safe to put bird feeders back out, according to both local and state officials.

“As far as I am aware, we have not taken in or received any calls about said birds in several weeks,” writes Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA) spokesperson Chelsea Jones writes ARLnow. “At this point, it is safe to put bird feeders back out, but we definitely encourage everyone to wash their birdfeeders regularly.”

A press release this morning from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources echoes that.

“As of mid-August, reports of sick and dead birds have declined in many jurisdictions, and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is lifting its previous recommendation to cease feeding birds in affected areas,” reads the release.

If choosing to put out a feeder or a bird bath, DWR asks that they be cleaned once a week and disinfected with a 10% bleach solution.

Back in June, authorities advised residents to remove their bird feeders as a precautionary measure.

Despite this good news, the mystery still remains on what exactly was causing birds to get sick and die throughout Northern Virginia, D.C., and parts of Maryland.

The mysterious illness seemingly coincided with the emergency of the Brood X cicadas, but Virginia DWR also said that “no definitive cause(s) of illness or death have been determined” at this time. There was no mention of cicadas in the DWR press release.

DWR has ruled out a number of potential causes, though, including salmonella, chlamydia, avian influenza virus, West Nile virus, herpesviruses, and coronavirus. Toxicology tests have also been negative for heavy metals, common pesticides, and herbicides. Other diagnostic tests are ongoing, the release notes.

In May, reports from across the region came into authorities about birds suffering from eye issues including swelling, crusting, and discharging that was potentially leading to blindness. Along with other neurological symptoms, this caused a significant number of even healthy juvenile birds to die. AWLA set up an online form, asking residents to report dead birds.

The issue was of great concern to authorities and naturalists across the area.

“We are very saddened by this ongoing issue and are hopeful for more finding soon,” AWLA Animal Control Chief Jennifer Toussaint told ARLnow back in June. “These birds are federally protected for a reason, they are a national treasure and vital to our ecosystem.”

While whatever was happening impacted much of Northern Virginia, reports of bird deaths were the highest in Fairfax and Arlington counties. This is what made this particular occurrence rare.

“Bird mortality events are not uncommon,” reads DWR’s release. “Several aspects make this particular event unique, including the specific age and species of the affected birds, the extensive geographic scope, the duration of reported mortalities, and the fact that the initial reports were received from an urban area.”

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Suspected oak mite bite (courtesy photo)

(Updated 8/19 at 12:25 p.m.) Some Arlingtonians suspected it a few weeks ago, and an entomologist with Virginia Tech has now confirmed it: those mysterious, itchy red bug bites generating a buzz here are likely from oak itch mites.

The Virginia Tech Insect ID Lab has not yet received a mite this year to study, Kirsten Ann Conrad, an extension agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension, tells ARLnow. But the mite theory nonetheless is likely correct, she says.

“No entomologist can identify a bug based on a bite. People have very different reactions to stinging biting insects,” she said. “In this case, there was plenty of circumstantial evidence that links outbreaks of oak leaf mites, and the resulting bites on humans, to cicada emergences.”

The mites are hard to track down because they’re between .2 and .8 millimeters and “nearly invisible,” according to a flier distributed by VCE’s Arlington and Alexandria offices. While they primarily feed on the eggs and larvae of the oak leaf gall midge and wood boring insects, they’re here because of the abundance of cicada nymphs. The mites bite humans when they run out of options.

“Humans are not their first choice of food,” Conrad said.

The author of the flier, Conrad said she has been getting complaints of “large raised, red skin welts and extreme itching” directly from residents and during VCE’s various educational sessions. (An Arlington County spokesman declined comment and referred us to VCE’s statements.)

The bites and mites have also been widely reported in the media. After ARLnow first reported that residents were being bitten and suspected oak itch mites, the phenomenon was covered by TV stationsthe Washington Post, and even other national and international outlets.

We later unscientifically polled readers to see if they think they’ve been bitten by these mites. About 93% of the 5,463 respondents reported that they have been bitten by the mites anywhere from once to “a lot.”

“It seems to be very local,” Conrad said. “And I don’t know what the extent of the problem is outside of the areas in which we had the Brood X emergence.”

The high response rate is not surprising, according to Conrad, who said that during a 2004 outbreak in Crawford County, Kansas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 54% of the population suffered from the bites.

While the attacks have been linked to the Brood X emergence, a cyclical occurrence, people have told Conrad they’ve never been bitten like this before.

“People here say to me that when, 17 years ago, the last Brood X emerged, they don’t remember having such an outbreak of these itch mites then,” she said. “This is my first ever experience with them myself.”

The wet, windy weather could also be to blame.

“Their success is attributed to prolific reproduction and their dispersal by wind,” according to the flier. “These microscopic mites travel with the wind, and it is likely that moist weather and abundance of food supply has caused the population of these common insects to grow.”

As for how long they’ll stick around, Conrad says there has been speculation that the mites could be a problem until frost arrives.

“I hope not, because I’ve been getting those bites too,” she said. “I can tell you that — and this seems to be contradictory — cool, moist weather conditions favor the growth of the population, which is not what we’ve had this summer.”

As for the bites, they’re not life-threatening. Typically, the itching starts within 10 to 16 hours after the mite bites and can last up to two weeks. Conrad advised using over-the-counter products to reduce itching and inflammation, such as calamine lotion, Benadryl and After-Bite, and advised people to see their doctor if the irritation requires medical attention.

Dr. Hong Hanh Nguyen, with Virginia Hospital Center, said she’s been seeing a number of patients seeking treatment for bug bites.

“From what we’ve been seeing, the itching resulting from the bite can last about two weeks and experts have suggested that we may be seeing bites from the mites until about October,” Nguyen said. “We recommend using over the counter Cortisone ointment to decrease the swelling and itching and have also recommended the use of Sarna cream for itching, both can be used multiple times a day. Ice, even just rubbing on an ice cube on the bite for 10 seconds or so, can also help reduce the itch.”

When going outside, people can apply repellents such as DEET formulations, IR-3535, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus, Conrad said. People who are particularly sensitive to bites should don long sleeves, a hat and long pants when outdoors, she said. Showering and washing clothing after coming inside can help.

Treating oak trees with pesticides, however, “is not recommended nor is treatment of trees showing cicada damage,” she said.

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Mysterious bug bites (courtesy photo)

Arlington residents say they are being plagued by mysterious bug bites featuring unusual red splotches that are itchier than those left by typical summer suckers.

A Facebook group, “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19,” has helped community members with similar bites find each other, share information and try to get to the bottom of the mystery. There’s been similar chatter on local email listservs.

“I was so grateful to see that I wasn’t the only one experiencing this issue — and apparently many, many others feel the same way,” resident Becca Collins tells ARLnow.

The Facebook thread started on Sunday, when the original poster asked the group, “Anyone else finding that they’re getting bit by something while outdoors that is leaving a lingering mark?” She added that “this has happened to us multiple times in the last 10 days. The bite seems a lot different from your typical mosquito bite, leaving a red patch around the bite that’s been lasting for over a week (as well as the intense itchiness despite Benadryl, etc).”

The post has since received at least 160 responses and been shared eight times. A respondent said she went to an urgent care  clinic “after a sleepless night due to the itching/burning bug bite on my neck, that swelled up into a small patch… It also had red itchy streaks reaching up to my lymph node that became swollen and painful.”

Another reported a similar story.

“Had my daughter at urgent care yesterday,” the poster wrote. “Her two bites look EXACTLY like everyone’s photos here. The doctor at urgent care said they’re seeing a lot of these bug bites.”

Receptionists at three local urgent care centers confirmed they’ve seen an influx in patients with bug bites.

“It is up this summer, more than usual,” said one receptionist for All Care Family Medicine & Urgent Care.

Another for Urgent Care Center of Arlington said “we don’t really know what type of bites they are. Patients come in for a bug bite, but they’re not sure if it’s a tick, mosquito or spider bite.”

Collins said hers was different from a tick bite, which is ringed by a clearly defined red circle. Hers and “many of these welts have ‘trailing red tails’ coming from them,” she said.

The Facebook group members have hatched a theory that these bites are tied to oak itch mites, or pyemotes, which are thought to feed on cicadas eggs. Similar outbreaks of itchy bug bites have coincided with periodic cicada cycles in Chicago and Northern Ohio.

“They are the gift that keeps on giving,” one resident tells ARLnow of the Brood X cicadas that swarmed the D.C. area. The cicadas may also be linked to a wave of dead birds this spring and summer.

These mites feed on insect larvae that inhabit oak trees, according to previous news reports and academic papers. And this year, with thousands upon thousands of eggs laid by cicadas, there was a veritable feast for the mites.

“Until I saw the post, I thought I was getting eaten by spiders in my sleep and was going to take some serious mitigation steps, but if the mite theory is correct, that saves me A LOT of work and worry,” one tipster told ARLnow.

Kurt Larrick, the assistant director of the county’s Department of Human Services, confirmed that residents are reporting these strange bites to the county. But county staff cannot say anything definitive yet about the phenomenon.

“We are tracking reports and consulting with internal and external subject matter experts,” he said. “However, there is no clear cut answer at this point.”

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One year ago today, a mystery captivated the Arlington community.

Why, we asked, was there a stick of Old Spice deodorant on top of a Clarendon bus stop? We sent an intern to interview passersby to see if anyone had any idea how it got there.

“People get drunk on the weekends, that would be my best guess,” said a man who works at a local bar.

“I assume somebody just threw it and didn’t expect it to land up there,” said another passerby.

[…] “Maybe somebody was upset with the deodorant’s performance and threw it up there out of anger. Or, more often than not, people throw things up there to see how often they stay up there.”

A few weeks later, the deodorant was joined by a bottle of mouthwash.

We may never know the real explanation of why either personal care product went astray. The deodorant spent a few months on top of the bus stop, looking no worse the wear despite plenty of wind, rain and other inclement weather. Then, one fateful day, we arrived at our office and it was gone without a trace.

On this one year anniversary, we again photographed the bus stop. The roof was sans deodorant, but you can see a new addition in the zoomed-out photo: stray shopping carts from a local Giant grocery store.

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A national hair salon chain that specializes in blowouts is coming to Arlington County as part of a nationwide expansion, but its location has not yet been revealed.

Drybar announced January 1 on Facebook it is expanding into Arlington and 21 other cities, including nearby Alexandria as well as in the likes of Pennsylvania, Texas, New Jersey among others.

A Drybar spokeswoman did not provide any further information on the Arlington outpost as of the time of writing after repeated requests, including requests for specifics on its location and a possible opening date.

Drybar offers hair blowouts at more than 70 locations in the United States and Canada, and has products at department stores like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.

Currently, the closest Drybar to Arlington is in Tysons Corner.

New year, new shops!! Over 20 new Drybar locations coming to a city near you in 2018!💛

Posted by Drybar on Monday, January 1, 2018

Photo via Facebook

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An establishment called “Miso Men” will replace the Asian Kitchen restaurant on Lee Highway, but few other details are available about the new spot.

A sign on the front of the eatery at 5731 Lee Highway shows the new restaurant’s name, but no permitting applications have been filed with the county yet, nor with Virginia ABC.

Inside, some work appears to be underway, although the building was empty when an ARLnow reporter stopped by Tuesday. Other signs for Asian Kitchen are still up, including in its parking spaces.

“We are currently remodeling,” reads a sign on the door. “Coming back soon.”

The restaurant is close to a now-closed car repair center, which shuttered after more than 30 years. It is also near the original District Taco.

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A fast-casual sushi restaurant appears to be moving into Virginia Square, but details are sparse.

An application filed with Virginia ABC indicates that Snap-A-Roll will be arriving at 3811 Fairfax Drive, in the same building as a Tropical Smoothie Cafe and the now-closed Water & Wall restaurant.

The space occupied by Water & Wall is still vacant, while another first-floor retail space is listed as being for lease.

In a brief interview this morning with ARLnow.com, the person whose phone number is listed with the ABC application declined to go into details about the new restaurant, or give his name.

“We’re still in the process of getting set up, so I have no specific information to give you,” he said.

The eatery shares a name with the Williamsburg, Va.-based Snap-A-Roll. On its Facebook page, it describes itself as “a revolutionary way to enjoy fresh, healthy and affordable sushi, hibachi and Asian cuisine.”

The restaurant became embroiled in controversy last month after it closed, with disagreement over whether it was for good or for a few weeks to carry out renovations.

In announcing its closure, the company’s Facebook page published a since-deleted post criticizing management and saying that employees did not know when it would reopen.

But the man who answered the phone declined to say much on whether this Virginia Square outpost is connected to that existing restaurant.

“There are some connections, but I do not have any specific information on that,” he said.

Photo No. 3 via Google Maps

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A rarely-open restaurant near Clarendon could be set for some big changes.

Pio Pio at 3300 Wilson Blvd has been the source of fascination for months, with some calling the Peruvian restaurant’s unpredictable hours downright “mysterious.” Pio Pio closed earlier this year, reportedly for maintenance on its roof.

But a permit approved in late July by the county indicates that someone has filed to open a new restaurant with indoor seating in the space.

There are no other concrete details available about the future of the eatery, but a tipster said it would be a kabob restaurant.

“They are fixing up the building and parking lot,” said the anonymous tipster.

As of Friday morning when an ARLnow reporter visited, no work appeared to have been done, with tables and chairs still sitting in the vacant restaurant.

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