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Arlington’s Salamander Patrol Goal? No Squishes

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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Friday Children’s Class to Combine Nature and Yoga

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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Morning Notes

Window washers on an office building in Clarendon

County Wary of Lifetime Dog Licenses — Virginia may soon have a new law that allows localities to issue lifetime dog licenses. However, Arlington officials say that the current 1-3 year dog licenses help remind residents to keep their rabies vaccinations up to date. [InsideNova]

Road Paving Season Begins in a Month — Arlington’s road paving season starts at the beginning of April and runs through October. Pre-paving concrete repairs have already begun. Residents whose streets are set to be paved this year can expect to receive notification letters from the county. [Arlington County]

Wait Times Improved at DMV — After a month of renovation work, the Virginia Dept. of Motor Vehicles office on S. Four Mile Run Drive reopened in January. Local and state officials held a ribbon-cutting for the renovated DMV location, which features “a new efficient countertop and workstation design to maximize customer flow and efficiency,” thus reducing wait times. [Facebook]

Native Plant Recommendations — Arlington County naturalist Alonso Abugattas has shared a list of his “favorite native plants for attracting and supporting wildlife.” [Mid-Atlantic Gardener]

Nearby: D.C. Issues Record Number of Tickets — The District of Columbia issued 2,760,482 traffic citations last year, an all-time high totalling $300 million in fines. That includes 1.1 million photo-enforced tickets, a 70 percent increase compared to a year prior. [WTOP]

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Gulf Branch Nature Center Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Gulf Branch Nature Center (Flickr pool photo by Cameron Manuel)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.

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White Squirrel Spotted Near Columbia Pike?

White squirrel spotted in the Columbia Heights neighborhood (photo courtesy Joan O'Keefe)

A rare white or albino squirrel was spotted near Columbia Pike this week.

Reader Joan O’Keefe sent along the above photo, showing the squirrel from a distance on 12th Street S. near S. Cleveland Street, in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, two blocks from Columbia Pike.

“The mailman said there’s a big family of them somewhere on 16th S.,” O’Keefe said. “Too bad it is a dark, drizzly day so the photo really doesn’t show its true white coloring, but you can get an idea by comparing the squirrel to the yellow in the grass. I don’t know if these are common in Arlington, but I have lived here since 1979 and I never saw another white squirrel. Solid black squirrels, yes, but white, possibly albino, never.”

We asked Arlington County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas about it.

“We have had a couple reports this year about the white squirrels. White squirrels, and specially albinos are very unusual,” he said.

“Black squirrels are fairly common due to the introduction of 18 black squirrels from a Canadian colony at the National Zoo during Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency, not so much white ones,” Abugattas explained. “White squirrels are much rarer since their coat color makes them stand out and become easier prey… Albinos with their pink eyes, because their eye sight is also compromised, are even rarer.

He continued:

I’ve only seen a couple of white squirrels in my life personally. So they’re rare in our area and all over for sure, but not unheard of. With few predators and maybe some help from folks feeding it, it looks like it will make it fine and be something the neighborhood may find a neat backyard critter.

I’m not sure about a colony of them (yet anyways), we’ve certainly had white squirrels reported to us. It is possible that that recessive gene, since there are no real predator pressures, could be carried on like the black genes were and we end up with a local colony someday like the ones previously mentioned.

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Morning Notes

Mannequins displayed in the window at Pacers Running Store in Clarendon

Two Add’l Endorsements for Gutshall — Democratic County Board Erik Gutshall has picked up two more endorsements. The campaign announced this week that Gutshall was endorsed by Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson and former county treasurer Frank O’Leary. [InsideNova]

Garvey’s Idea for I-66 — In an interview with the urbanist blog Greater Greater Washington, County Board Chair Libby Garvey, who is running for reelection, talked about her belief in more Bus Rapid Transit service as a transit solution and her plans for making Arlington a “great” place to live. Among her ideas: building large decks over I-66 to provide more parkland, more bus parking and to “knit our community back together.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Barley Mac Grand OpeningBarley Mac in Rosslyn is holding its grand opening celebration this weekend: “The party will kick off each night at 8:00 p.m. and go until 2:00 a.m., and we’ll serve [complimentary] passed appetizers and light bites in the bar from 8:00-10:00 p.m.” [Facebook, Rosslyn BID]

Native Species Returning to Arlington — The removal of invasive species from Arlington’s parkland is paying off. A number of plant and animal species once thought to be gone for good have started returning to the county, including certain frogs, otters, foxes and turkeys. The county announced this in a press release with the alliterative headline “Nurtured Nature Nets New Natives.” [Arlington County]

Inexpensive Local Art on Sale — The Arlington Artists Alliance is holding an art show and sale later this month where every work of art is priced at $95 or less. [Patch]

Real Housewives Filming in Clarendon? — An episode of the Real Housewives of Potomac was reportedly being filmed at Oz restaurant in Clarendon last night. The restaurants is owned by cast member Ashley Darby and her husband. [Twitter]

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Naturalists Encourage Planting Milkweed to Attract Butterflies

Monarch butterfly on swamp milkweedArlington naturalists want to see more Monarch butterflies in the county, and they are hoping residents with green thumbs can help make it happen.

In an email to the Arlington Neighborhood News Exchange, Long Branch Nature Center Naturalist Rachael Tolman wrote that the best way to ensure the butterflies’ presence in the area is to plant milkweed.

“Milkweed provides a critical link in the life cycle of monarch butterflies; they cannot survive without it,” Tolman wrote. “Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed because it is the only food their caterpillars can eat. Unfortunately, the numbers of milkweed plants across vast areas of North America have been declining for decades due to increased land use for crops and widespread herbicide use.”

According to National Geographic, Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains are threatened because where they migrate in the winter in Mexico has been hurt by natural disasters.

Long Branch Nature Center (625 S. Carlin Springs Road) offers milkweed seeds for free. In addition to the seeds, those interested in planting the flower — there are eight species native to Arlington — will need “a seed starter kit, soil, water, a heat mat (optional) and a grow light or sunny spot,” Tolman said.

For more information on planting milkweed and attracting butterflies, email Tolman at [email protected].

Photo by Derek Ramsey via Wikimedia

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Winter is Fox-Spotting Season in Arlington

Fox (Flickr pool photo by wolfkann)It may be frigid outside, but those willing to brave the cold may be able to spot one of Arlington’s more elusive mammalian inhabitants — local wildlife watchers have some of their best chances to spot a red or gray fox in the winter time.

Foxes were a recent topic of discussion in an Arlington neighborhood email list.

“Although foxes are primarily nocturnal, it’s not unusual to see one out hunting during the day in winter,” wrote Long Branch Nature Center Natural Resources Specialist Cliff Fairweather. “Nonetheless, foxes are elusive and seeing one is an uncommon treat.”

Red foxes are all over Arlington but hard to spot, according to another county naturalist, Alonso Abugattas. They are not native to the county, but they have since “naturalized.”

“The bottom line though is that we do not know exactly how many red foxes we have in Arlington, though they are very plentiful and inhabit almost every one of our neighborhoods,” he told ARLnow.com.

Gray foxes are native to Arlington, but much less prevalent and stick mainly to the areas around the Potomac, Abugattas said.

So how does one know if a fox is in their midst if there’s no red or gray bushy tail in sight? Fairweather says foxes tend to leave their “scat,” or feces, in “obvious” places to mark their territory, and their urine can smell like a skunk. Their scat “is usually dark and often twisted to a point at the ends and the contents reflect seasonal variation in fox diets. In winter, it is usually composed of hair from small mammals,” according to Fairweather.

Although foxes are peaceful animals and tend to be afraid of humans, they are omnivores and talented scavengers, according to Abugattas.

“They get to know the trash days and routes and stake out restaurants for the leftovers, unsecured trash, and rodents they attract,” he said.

If you do spot a fox and it approaches you or “acts unusually tame” — as opposed to running away — it might be a sign of rabies and should be avoided, Fairweather cautioned.

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Coyote Hit By Car Near Arlington Cemetery

Coyote (file photo via Wikipedia)The second-ever confirmed coyote in Arlington County was hit by a car on Route 110 last Friday morning.

According to Animal Welfare League of Arlington Chief Animal Control Officer Alice Burton, the coyote was struck at about 9:30 a.m. on Route 110 near Arlington National Cemetery.

The responding animal control officer — who works for AWLA, the county’s provider of animal control services — removed the coyote from the scene and brought it back to AWLA, where it had to be euthanized, Burton said.

Arlington’s only previous confirmed sighting of a coyote was in April 2012, courtesy of a wildlife camera set up in Potomac Overlook Regional Park. Other sightings reported by residents have either been foxes or dogs mistaken for coyotes, Burton said.

Despite the cemetery’s location in the heart of the county, Burton said it didn’t strike her as shocking that that’s where the animal was found.

“Right by the cemetery you have pretty quick access to D.C., and I know Rock Creek Parkway has had problems with coyotes,” she told ARLnow.com. “I believe they’ve had more confirmations [of coyotes] in D.C. than we have.”

Arlington’s Natural Resource Manager Alonso Abugattas confirmed that the animal found was a coyote. The female was about 27 pounds — the average adult weighs about 30 pounds — but had young teeth, a bushy tails and many other indicators Abugattas used to confirm the species.

“It’s very small for a coyote but is much too big to be a fox,” he said. “It’s very slender, has no microchips or tattoos to indicate it’s a pet.”

Abugattas said although coyotes are rare in Arlington, the second one spotted in two years is no cause for alarm; the animals don’t present a danger to humans.

“The reality is, I don’t think they’re going to be any kind of issue,” he said. “These animals learn to live next to humans and not mess with humans. I don’t believe they would cause any kinds of issues to the public. There have been cases, however, where feral cats and loose dogs, coyotes will occasionally eat a smaller dog, both as a competitor and as prey. Cats are considered prey as well. That’s the only way that they might affect the public.”

File photo via Wikipedia

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Fewer Squirrels Spotted Around Arlington

Squirrel in ArlingtonA sure sign autumn has arrived is the number of squirrels scampering around the county collecting nuts. But residents in many parts of Arlington will notice a lot less squirrel scampering than in years past.

It appears most parts of the county have fewer squirrels this year. Arlington County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas confirms that from spring through October — although no hard numbers yet are available — there have been “reports of fewer squirrels and anecdotal evidence” of a smaller population.

Abugattas said although many people immediately point to last year’s cold winter as the culprit, that’s probably not directly the cause. He said it would be very unlikely for large numbers of squirrels to die here by freezing to death.

“These animals, squirrels and so forth, if they have an adequate food supply, their little motors can keep them going and they can survive. If they have food they can keep their metabolism up and the cold won’t affect them as much,” he said. “Remember, we have squirrels way up in Canada, so they’re used to that weather. These animals are remarkably resilient.”

A more likely scenario, according to Abugattas, is that last year’s small acorn crop negatively affected the squirrel population. Many squirrels probably struggled to find adequate food with the decrease in acorns, but the problem is very localized. Certain neighborhoods where the animals managed to find other sources of food — such as bird feeders or berries — didn’t see the sharp decline other neighborhoods experienced.

“Places where they’ve been able to find an alternate food source, those may have been able to bounce back. It really depends on local conditions at that site. I still don’t think there are many places where there are extra squirrels, which we saw a few years ago,” said Abugattas.

Because it is the beginning of the season, so far the robustness of the 2014 acorn crop is not known. Researchers have begun analyzing acorn production but won’t have a better idea of the crop specifics for another couple of months. It’s something naturalists are paying close attention to due to the amount of wildlife that oak trees support.

“I don’t think I’ve come up with a more important tree in our woods, as far as its importance to wildlife,” said Abugattas. “More than 600 different species depend on oaks. Caterpillars, birds, bears, turkeys, deer.”

And of course, the squirrels. Although this year seems to have been an overall down year for the local squirrel population, Abugattas offers a reminder of how quickly it could see a resurgence.

“Squirrels are rodents, so like other rodents they can reproduce fairly quickly. If they have an adequate food supply they can reproduce twice or three times per year,” he said. “In fact, we’ve probably just had another batch born. Again, it’s all anecdotal at this point, but we could see the population bounce back in many areas rather quickly.”

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Morning Notes

Metroway bus in Crystal City (Photo courtesy Donna Gouse)

Crumbs Could Reopen — The shuttered Crumbs Bakeshop in Clarendon could reopen, after the bankrupt cupcake company was purchased by a new owner. Fischer Enterprises has yet to reveal which of Crumbs’ 48 stores will reopen. [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington’s Naturalist Blogs on the Side — Frustrated with “days filled with meetings and paperwork” after he started working as the natural resources manager for Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation, Alonso Abugattas founded an educational blog and Facebook group called Capital Naturalist. The blog has a loyal following among readers and respect from fellow naturalists. [Washington Post]

Transportation Among Reasons Politico Stayed — The president of Monday Properties, the major Rosslyn property owner, says political publication Politico decided to renew its office lease in Rosslyn largely because of “superior transit options and greater concentration of housing and retail.” [Washington City Paper]

Changes Coming to ARLnow — ARLnow.com is expected to roll out a website redesign this afternoon. The site may experience brief downtime during the transition. Readers should also expect various menu and visual changes immediately after the transition.

Photo courtesy Donna Gouse

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Get Batty at the Arlington Bat Festival

Bat Fest logoBats are back. The whole family can enjoy learning about the winged mammals at the Arlington Bat Festival this Saturday (August 16).

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.

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Bat Festival Returns Next Week

Bat Fest 2013 logoThe Arlington Bat Festival is back Saturday, Aug. 24, at Gulf Branch Nature Center.

The annual event, which serves to entertain and educate locals about the flying nocturnal creatures, begins at 6:00 p.m. with “Bat Talk” activities for younger children at 3608 N. Military Road.

Bat Fest admission is $7, up from $5 last year, and visitors are encouraged to register in advance in order to be sure of a spot. The festival typically draws more than 100 people.

This year, the festivities will include habitat walks, games, crafts, a festival lantern parade and live bat shows presented by Leslie Sturges, Director of Save Lucy, A Little Brown Bat, established to protect and conserve bats in the region. Bat shows run every 45 minutes until the event ends at 9:00 p.m.

Image via Department of Parks and Recreation

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‘Old-Fashioned Fun’ at Gulf Branch Fall Heritage Fest

The Gulf Branch Nature Center at 3608 Military Road will be hosting its annual Fall Heritage Festival on Saturday.

The festival will feature live music and family-friendly autumn activities. Admission is $5 per person, though children under three may attend for free.

The nature center issued the following promotional blurb about the event.

On Saturday, October 13 from 1 to 5 p.m., visit Gulf Branch Nature Center for old-timey fun for the whole family. This is a beloved community event that has been attracting hundreds of Arlingtonians for over a dozen years. “We’re starting to see the second generation now – young families coming whose parents remember making cider here when they were little.” said Jennifer Soles, staff naturalist. Last year, two more activity stations were added: pumpkin-painting and scarecrow making, so bring old clothes! Families can also participate in activities such as butter-churning, candle-dipping, cornhusk doll-making and LOTS more. “Everyone always wants a chance to explore the log cabin when they visit” reports naturalist Marty Pross. The Blacksmithing Guild of the Potomac has ongoing demonstrations in the forge. “Kids love to see the sparks – but the dads are the ones who often have to be dragged away” smith Curt Welch remembers. Festival goers enjoy music by Andrew Acosta & the New Old-Time String Band too! Summing up, 4-year old Mason Schnell says of the whole festival “It’s my favorite!”

For details, please call (703) 228-3403. Gulf Branch Nature Center is located at 3608 Military Rd, Arlington, VA 22207. $5 per person (children under three enter for free). Parking lot is closed for the event. On-street parking available on Military Road and 36th Road North.

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Bat Fest Arlington Coming To Gulf Branch Saturday

Gulf Branch Nature Center (Flickr user Kevin Borland)The Gulf Branch Nature Center (3608 N. Military Rd.) is hosting its popular annual Bat Fest Arlington event on Saturday, with a live bat presentation and a “bat walk” for adults, weather permitting.

“Bat rehabilitator” Leslie Sturges will explain the mysterious nocturnal mammals with a 6:30 p.m.- 7:15 p.m. live presentation.

The event includes crafts and games for families and a walk through the woods to check out the bats’ habitat. Adults are welcome to stay until later, when Nature Center guides will go out to search for flying bats.

The bats typically don’t start flying until 8:30 p.m.

Bat Fest draws about 100 people each year, so the Nature Center is asking those interested to register in advance online. Admission is $5.

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Borland

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