Arlington, VA

Families looking to enjoy the spectacle of bioluminescent beetles can check out the Firefly Festival next month at Fort C.F. Smith Park (2411 24th Street N.) in Arlington.

The annual event is being held Sunday, June 30 from 7:30-9:30 p.m. and will include games, bug hunts, crafts, nature walks and talks about fireflies.

Families with children ages 3 and up are encouraged to bring a blanket and dinner, as they wait for the fireflies to make their appearance at sunset. All children must be accompanied by an adult.

Registration is required and a $7 fee will be collected upon registration, according to the county’s website. Interested residents can contact Long Branch Nature Center or call 703-228-6535 for more information.

Photo by Bruce Marlin, via Wikimedia Commons

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On the heels of being named the fittest “city” in America, Arlington has also earned a fourth-place ranking in parks from the Trust for Public Land (TPL).

The national ranking has been fairly consistent for Arlington, while neighbor D.C. surpassed Minneapolis to take the first place spot. The “ParkScore” rankings rank the quality of the park system of the top 100 cities in the United States, including Arlington.

Arlington scored in the top percentiles for access, investment and amenities, though it scored fairly low in overall acreage.

The TPL noted in its report that 98 percent of Arlington residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park — exceeding the national average of 54 percent — and that park access was consistent across all income levels.

“Parks build community. Our mission is to promote wellness and vitality through dynamic programs and attractive public spaces. And it looks like we are right on track,” Jane Rudolph, Director of Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation, said in a statement. “Our public spaces, which include parks, playgrounds, trails, fields and nature and community centers, bestow a unique and irreplaceable benefit to everyone in Arlington. Our public spaces make us happier and healthier.”

The assessment noted that Arlington has a particularly high amount of basketball hoops — 7.8 per 10,000 people — and playgrounds — 4.4 per 10,000 people.

Arlington was commended for the amount the county spends on parks: $267.23 per resident.

But with 11 percent of Arlington’s land used for parks and recreation, the TPL noted this as being below the national median of 15 percent and D.C.’s 21 percent.

The TPL also pointed to locations across Arlington in need of a new park, mainly locations around the northwest periphery of the county.

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With summer around the corner, Arlington County has shared an update regarding four newly renovated parks.

The parks have either recently completed renovations or are planned to open soon.

The Fairlington Park playground opened in March. The project included a complete redesign and reconstruction of the playground, exercise equipment, park trail and more. The renovated play area offers options for different age groups and exercise equipment for all ages.

For a more subdued park experience, Glencarlyn Park has also recently opened a new picnic structure surrounded by forest. The shelter includes accessible picnic tables and power outlets with USB ports. The project page noted that renovations also brought the park into compliance with Americans With Disability Act standards.

While there has been no ribbon-cutting yet at McCoy Park, it is fully accessible to the public. Enhancements at the park, which is wedged between Lee Highway and I-66, include a realigned sidewalk and a seating deck with tables and chairs.

Dawson Terrace Park hasn’t reopened yet, but the Arlington County website says it will be “later this spring.” Plans are for the two small courts at the site to be replaced with a single, lighted court that can be used for basketball, volleyball or other court games. A separate playground area will cater to kids and the park will have have upgraded picnic areas and trail connections.

Images 1, 2, 3 via Arlington County

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Bird lovers of all feathers can head to Bluemont this weekend for a morning of avian education and exploration.

World Migratory Bird Day Festival” will feature bird walks, games, activities, and free coffee from 9-11 a.m. Saturday at Lacey Woods Park, organizers say. Attendees to the free event are asked to meet at the park’s basketball court near the intersection of Washington Blvd and N. George Mason Drive.

The Wildlife Rescue League will also showcase some of its live feathered friends, including a blue jay named “Snafu.”

Arlington County naturalists Jennifer Soles and Ken Rosenthal are organizing the weekend event. Rosenthal told ARLnow on Monday that festival attendees have a chance to spot interesting birds because several species often flock to Lacey Woods Park, which he described as a “green oasis that will get the birds in.”

Last year, Rosenthal said attendees spotted a blackpoll warbler. These songbirds typically weigh less than an ounce but migrate over 1,800 miles across North America, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and 88% of blackpoll populations have died out in the last half century.

Many other birds that can be spotted in Arlington migrate between North to Central America — such as hummingbirds and osprey.

Soles and Rosenthal say all the printed materials for the event are in English and Spanish, but they are seeking one to two volunteers who can help translate some of the discussions on Saturday into Spanish.

Soles said these migratory birds “live half their lives in Spanish-speaking countries” and hopes that Arlingtonians with roots in Central American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala will attend the event and get a chance to recognize some familiar species.

“We sort of share these birds between us,” said Soles.

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With many animals preparing to rear their young, the season of wildlife encounters is upon us, says the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

Animal Control Chief Jennifer Toussaint told ARLnow that service calls to her department typically increase this time of year. She shared some tips on making sure the encounters are safe for both humans and animals.

The Arlington County Board banned residents from owning “wild and exotic” animals as pets in 2017, but residents have documented many wild encounters over the years: including feral cat colonies, a coyote on the move, a construction-site turkeybooming bunny populations, and trash truck raccoon as well as school drain raccoon.

Overall, Toussaint said animal control officers receive about 3,500 calls for service annually, and about half those calls involve wild animals. “That tells me that that is a huge need the community has for my department,” she said.

One way she’s trying to meet that need is with public education events, like the one she held on Tuesday. It’s an opportunity to talk about animal-proofing one’s homes, and about dispelling old myths about normal animal behavior.

“I think most of the calls we get are genuine concern. They find a bird on the ground and it looks like a baby. They don’t know that most songbirds fledge from the nest and spend a few days on the ground building up the shoulder strength to fly,” she said, joking, “Cartoons lied to us as children!”

And the rule about not touching baby animals lest their scent changes and their parents abandon them? Also a myth, she says.

As for homeowners who prefer enjoying wildlife from a distance?

“A lot of it is pretty simple,” Toussaint says, “one of the main things is ensuring your home is impenetrable.”

Her tips include capping chimneys, and inspecting attics, eaves, roof siding, and trim regularly for any signs of wildlife.

Ensuring trash barrels stay closed with bungee cords, and clearing debris from yards also helps discourage animals from making homes or meals at people’s homes.

One thing she doesn’t recommend?

“We’re all kind of on top of each other here in Arlington, so I don’t promote people putting chemicals out,” said Toussaint. There are a number of safe, alternative remedies people can use for the problems they most often call about, she said.

For more questions, Toussaint recommends Arlingtonians check out the Humane Society’s species-specific website, or call animal control any time at 703-931-9241. Some animal-specific advice is below, after the jump.

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Arlington is asking residents to submit nature photos in a contest for which locality can log the most nature sightings in urban environments.

The City Nature Challenge aims to create a database of animal and plates species using photos uploaded to the iNaturalist app by users in different cities worldwide each year.

This year, challenge runs from Friday to Sunday and Arlington is hosting hourly spotting events at local parks where participants can learn to use the app and log their nature observations.

“The Arlington Regional Master Naturalists are sponsoring a series of events and need your help to get better data about our environment,” said Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreations on its website, adding that participants can “help biologists understand the biodiversity of Northern Virginia by documenting the organisms” they find during the events.

Thirteen events are planned in Arlington throughout the weekend. The events planned for tomorrow (Friday) are:

  • Barcoft Park from 10 a.m.-1 p.m, with a focus on looking for insects, fish, and more species.
  • Benjamin Banneker Park from 2-4 p.m.
  • Fort C.F. Smith from 8-9:30 a.m. spotting birds with naturalist David Farner
  • Woodlawn Park from 2-4 p.m.

After the observation period closes, the challenge is inviting participants to help out between April 30 and May 5 to identify the species spotted, per the event’s D.C. area website.

Last year, the Greater Washington area entered as one region in the challenge and placed fifth among 68 competing cities, according to the parks department. However, the D.C. area was awarded fourth place for participation with 876 people in the region logging nature sightings in the app.

Image via City Nature Challenge

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As has become something of an annual occurrence, an eagle nest has again been spotted in or near Arlington’s Ft. Bennett Park, overlooking the Potomac.

Though we haven’t heard of any eaglet sightings so far, county naturalists believe the behavior of the eagles that have been tending the nest suggests there are, in fact, eggs or hatched chicks inside.

“I too have seen the eagle sitting on what are likely eggs (maybe newborn?) on the nest,” wrote Arlington County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas. “An eagle sitting on there for extended periods of time that would suggest eggs or newly hatched young.”

“The current nest [is] located in a Sycamore tree between the south-bound and north-bound lanes of the George Washington Parkway,” David Farner, manager of the county parks department’s Conservation and Interpretation Section, told ARLnow. “It’s difficult to tell at this point whether there are eggs or recently hatched chicks or how many. But the behavior of the adults would suggest that they do have eggs or chicks. It’ll be few more weeks before any chicks will be big enough to be seen in the nest.”

ARLnow first reported on an eagle nest in Ft. Bennett Park in 2011. There have been a number of subsequent nestings, including in 2012, 2016, 2017 and 2018, according to news reports and Farner’s recollection.

Other D.C. area eagles have also been in the spotlight this month. At D.C.’s National Arboretum, an eagle pair dubbed Mr. President and First Lady are being watched for signs of egg laying, WTOP reported today, while the pair known as Liberty and Justice had their nesting attempt end in disappointment when a raccoon climbed into their nest and dined on an egg.

Photo courtesy Jim Balick

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Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.comStartup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations. 

(Updated at 4 p.m.) JJ Linser and Jack Linkous have a dream. They want to save sharks, and they want to do it with artificial intelligence.

They are the co-founders of L2Platforms, a startup in Arlington founded earlier this year, that aims to use an AI program to track boat movements and identify suspicious behavior.

“Visualize different places where this fishing is taking place as a huge map,” said Linser. “We want to figure out, based on previous illegal fishing activity, where that is currently happening. It’s all about tracking those patterns.”

Right now, Linkous says the only way to really catch illegal shark fishing is through random searches. Linkous says the aim of L2Platforms is to help direct those searches and make them a little less random.

“With limited resources, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Linser. “Right now, we’re trying to refine that.”

Using publically available data sources, L2Platforms should be able to model where illegal fishing takes places.

Linser said all of this data is fed into an AI that continually learns from these events and builds a map of suspicious activity. It’s a lot of data, there might be 100,000 suspicious events registered drawn from billions of points of data, but the AI will refine those events down to ones where it is 90 percent sure something illegal is occurring.

Because of the scale of the data being collected and processed, Linser and Linkous say they want to start small.

“We’re going to start with a place like the Galapagos islands,” said Linkous. “There’s a lot of sharks around there and a lot of nefarious fishing. We’ll start small with [tracking that] and grow from there.”

The development of the AI technology behind L2Platforms is largely drawn from Linser and Linkous’s experience working in the defense industry.

“We both have experience writing these kinds of models,” said Linkous. “I come from a defense background and you see these same types of stuff being funded at the Department of Defense. We want to use our knowledge in fields that get less love.”

The pair is currently working with Neil Hammerschlag, director of the Shark Research & Conservation Program (SRC) at The University of Miami.

“[Linser and Linkous] have been supporting my shark research with their impressive skill-set,” said Hammerschlag in an email. “It is an exciting collaboration. In addition, we have conceived an exciting collaborative research project that uses artificial intelligence to inform shark conservation efforts. We are currently seeking funding for this research project.”

Linser said L2Platforms is currently looking at working with conservation foundations for funding, then possibly looking at government grants starting in 2019. If they can secure funding, Linser says they hope to hire a small team of engineers over the next year.

Linser and Linkous, who met while walking their dogs, are both Arlington residents. They are working from home for now, but say they are currently looking for an office somewhere along a Metro corridor in Arlington, specifically because of the technical talent in the area.

“Arlington is where we have a core group of engineers that we know,” said Linser. “There are lots of talented software engineers in this area.”

Photo courtesy Neil Hammerschlag

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Morning Notes

Fire at Retirement Home — A fire broke out in the laundry room of the Sunrise at Bluemont Park senior assisted living facility Sunday morning. The blaze was quickly extinguished, but not before filling part of the building with smoke. No injuries were reported. [Twitter]

Serious Crash on Arlington Blvd — Arlington County police investigated a crash involving critical injuries and a reported vehicle rollover last night on Route 50 at N. Pershing Drive. One person was transported to a local hospital. [Twitter]

DEA Staying in Pentagon City — “A federal judge has ruled against an Alexandria building owner’s efforts to lure the Drug Enforcement Administration from Pentagon City… Judge Loren Smith’s judgment, issued Thursday, effectively clears the way for the General Services Administration to award a new lease for the DEA to CSHV Lincoln Place LLC, the agency’s current landlord at 600-700 Army Navy Drive.” [Washington Business Journal]

Dragonfly Population Booming — “Your eyes are not deceiving you – there really are more dragonflies (and their cousins, damselflies) in the local area this summer. And according to Arlington naturalists, that’s a good thing.” [InsideNova]

No, Arlington’s Recycling Program Is Not Ending — Apparently a rumor has been circulating that Arlington County was ending its recycling program. A local TV station fact checked that and found, unsurprisingly, that the rumor is not true. [WUSA 9]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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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.

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Kids aged 7-10 can combine a walk among nature with yoga and relaxation at a class this Friday (August 11) at the Long Branch Nature Center.

The class, entitled Yoga in the Nature Center, begins at 10 a.m. at the center at Glencarlyn Park (625 S. Carlin Springs Road). It first begins with a short walk, then attendees return to practice poses that represent the plants and animals they find.

A short relaxation period follows the yoga session, with the entire event expected to wrap up around 10:45 a.m. Organizers said no prior yoga experience is needed and yoga mats are not required, although those that have one are encouraged to bring them.

Registration is available online or by phone at 703-228-4747. The session costs $5 each.

Summer is a popular time for yoga in Arlington for young and old. As well as the new “Yoga at the Fountain” sessions in Crystal City, a sunset yoga session is set for tonight (August 9) at the Ballston Bocce Park at the intersection of N. Glebe Road and N. Randolph Street from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Flickr pool photo by James L.

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