Crunch Time in the Woods: Kids, Leaves, and Color

fall-yellowshirtIn sixth grade, I did a science fair project on chlorophyll.

Mom always shared science facts as we walked through the woods around our house, so I had a head start in science simply because we went outside. In Fall, she talked about changing leaf colors, explaining that leaves stop making chlorophyll, their green pigment, as the air gets colder. Then you could see the other colors in them, the oranges, yellows and purples.

Children may not understand the first time you share something, but repeat it often and add more information, and they will eventually have a wealth of knowledge and understanding.

Fall is the perfect time of year to give children hands-on experience with leaves. Take them on a nature walk and have them find leaves in as many colors as they can. Look closely at the leaves, and you may see signs of moths, butterflies or other creatures.

Green Spring Gardens is an excellent spot for this kind of walk. The park is an outdoor classroom of plants and wildlife for children and their families. Introduce the youngsters to color combinations, and let them explore mixing colors together. But go gently on your way. Remember that those fallen leaves are home to insects that lay eggs among those dazzling colors, and those decaying leaves will provide safety for them through the winter.

After walking the park grounds and exploring the children’s gardens at the site, visit the Green Spring library. The park has a fabulous, non-circulating library that features horticulture books. The children’s section includes welcoming rocking chairs, so plan a little time to browse the collection. Your day can be a perfect mix of exercise, bonding, education and relaxation.

More information about nature books for children is on the Green Spring Master Gardeners’ web page.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Master Gardener.



Plant Blubs Now for Spring Color

hyacinth5In summer 2016, I attended the wedding of a couple who handed out burlap sacks of tulip bulbs as guests left the reception. They attached a note that said, “As a living remembrance of the love we share, we give you these bulbs to plant with care.”

It was a lovely thought, and I’m getting ready to plant mine as cooler weather arrives. They’ve been stored in a cool, dry place. I’ve wondered if other wedding guests have done the same. I asked a cousin who attended the wedding what he did with his bulbs.

“I planted them, but I haven’t gotten any flowers,” he told me.

The bulbs were meant to be planted in the fall for blooms the following spring. If the couple had distributed summer bulbs, such as amaryllis, tuberous begonia, caladium, daylily, dahlia, gladiolus or lily, the bulbs would have flowered.

If you plant hyacinths, know that they have an oil in the bulbs which may make some people itch. Wear gloves when handling these bulbs, or wash hands with cool water and soap immediately after planting. It’s not unusual for some spring-flowering bulbs to send up a few leaves in the late fall or early winter. The bulbs will remain safe over the winter and will still produce flowers next spring.

If you want spring color, you need to plant before the first frost. Spring bulbs produce some of the most dramatic garden color with minimal effort. The most popular spring bulb is the tulip, but there are many others, including narcissus, daffodils, jonquils, snowdrops, fritillaria, winter aconite, anemone, allium and crocuses. Non-gardeners often don’t know: Plant spring-blooming bulbs in the fall.

There is a fact sheet published by the Virginia Cooperative Extension with the not-very-exotic-but-specifically-accurate government title of Publication #426-201, “Flowering Bulbs: Culture and Maintenance.” You can get a copy online at http://www.ext.vt.educ. The fact sheets says that “bulbs” is a term loosely used to include corns, tubers, tuberous roots, and rhizomes.

I’m a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener, and in the Master Gardener class I learned that bulbs are broadly grouped into spring flowering (January-May) and summer flowering (June-September). Hardy spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall. Spring bulbs provide color before most annuals and perennials bloom, so if you want spring color, plant in the fall.

When buying bulbs for fall planting, choose the best quality you can because the flower bud has already developed before the bulb is sold. Look for plump, firm bulbs. When you’re ready to plant, consider light, temperature, soil texture and function. Be certain to check the correct planting depth for each bulb.

One last thing to remember about your flower bulbs. After they bloom in the spring, do not cut the leaves back until they start to wither. Green leaves produce food for plant growth the next year. After leaves turn yellow, cut and compost the stems and foliage of the plants. If you cut the leaves back early, you’ll have no flowers next spring.

For information on preparing your garden for winter, check out the Green Spring Master Gardener web site,

If you’re interested in becoming a Green Spring Master Gardener, there’s information on Green Spring’s website, or contact the program’s coordinator, Pam Smith, at 703-642-0218 or


Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Master Gardener at Green Spring Gardens.





The Year in Cultural Resources

So much going on that we don’t see. Roads, military, parks, safety, health. Government agencies perform massive amounts of work on behalf of citizens — present, past, and future — and we sometimes don’t notice it on a day-to-day basis. A simple example is the protection of cultural resources – our history.

A couple of years ago, the Park Authority’s Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch (since divided into two branches, one for Archaeology and Collections and the other for Historic Preservation) listed 239 goals for the next few years. Staff worked on 86 of them from July 2015 through June 2016 (Fiscal Year 2016) and completed 30. Here are examples of what they’ve done, what they do, and what they plan to do.

Historians and archaeologists worked across the county with 30 teams that were creating master plans for parks and executing capital improvement projects. They analyzed cultural resources at those sites before a shovel pierced the ground. They reviewed more than 300 plans for easements, stormwater issues and development, assuring that nothing of vital historic importance was lost. Along the way they partnered with volunteers, the Friends of Fairfax County Archaeology and Cultural Resources, site friends groups, archaeological and historical societies, the Fairfax County History Commission, the Fairfax County Architectural Review Board, and the public to protect cultural resources.

They conducted archaeological work as part of 20 projects at sites such as Lincoln Lewis Vannoy Park, the Huntley Tenant House, the Colvin Run Mill Miller’s House, Sully Woodlands, and Langley Forks Park. Archaeological oversight took place as part of road projects along Route 7, Route 1, Route 28 and Route 66. University students gained experience in some of those projects thanks to an internship program.

Working with history in Virginia isn’t complete without exploration of the Civil War. Park Authority employees co-chaired the county’s Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration committee, helped plan local and regional Civil War memorial events, and recommended sites for inclusion in the Civil War Trails program. They also took part in dedication ceremonies as 26 Civil War Trails markers were installed.

Back in the office, archaeologists catalogued more than 40,000 artifacts from Colchester, Sully Woodlands, Colvin Run, Lincoln Lewis Vannoy and Walney, and they updated older archaeological collections to federal and state standards. Some of those artifacts ended up in an exhibit in the lobby of the county’s Government Center, and others popped up on a reignited web page entitled artiFACTS. All this while filling out the immense paperwork required for reaccreditation with the American Alliance of Museums to show citizens they are doing things the right way according to modern day best practices.

Accreditation and best practices means adhering to guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and other federal regulations, such as the National Historic Preservation Act, the Antiquities Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, state and local regulations, and even a section of the Department of Transportation Act. That’s a lot of rules to know. That’s a lot of getting things done the right way.

Fiscal Year 2016 saw substantial work on county historic houses. Staff completed development of a Resident Curator Program and conducted studies designed to protect the Turner Farm House, Sully Historic Site, the Huntley Tenant House, and Colvin Run Mill’s miller’s house. Five historic sites in Fairfax County were headed for the county’s Inventory of Historic Sites, and three may land on the National Register of Historic Places. Park staff reviewed the nominations to make sure the sites qualified and that everything was in order. 

Back outdoors, staff provided technical assistance to the Fairfax County Cemetery Preservation Association for more than 20 cemetery documentation and cleanup projects. They also completed Cultural Landscape Studies for Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and the Great Falls Grange.

Beyond conducting the business of archaeology and history, park staff taught citizens about their cultural resources and how to protect them. They were involved in meetings of the Council of Virginia Archaeologists and the Archeological Society of Virginia. They co-sponsored the annual Fairfax County History Conference, presented papers at the Society for Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting, prepared an exhibit and organized a symposium to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, co-sponsored the Annual Archaeology Symposium with Friends of Fairfax County Archaeology and Cultural Resources, presented papers at the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference and judged student papers at that gathering, co-sponsored an archaeology symposium at Gunston Hall, worked on the steering committee for Historically Fairfax, the 275th anniversary of Fairfax County, and ran archaeology summer camps at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Riverbend Park and Huntley Meadows.

Future days will see continuation of these projects and partnerships along with these advancements in Fiscal Year 2017:

  • Continued archaeology at Sully Woodlands, Langley Forks Park, the Huntley Tenant House, and Lahey Lost Valley
  • Installation of monuments at Ox Hill Battlefield Park
  • Installation of an exhibit of Weights and Measures, on loan from Alexandria, in the Government Center as part of the 275th Anniversary of Fairfax County
  • Opportunities for interns and volunteers at Old Colchester
  • Creation of more interpretive signs
  • Rehabilitation of the Tenant House at Historic Huntley and the Miller’s House at Colvin Run Mill
  • A search for an expanded collections space and funding for it
  • Moving collections from a satellite location at Ash Grove to the Frey House
  • Rehousing of paper objects at Walney
  • Improving artifact storage conditions



All in a day’s work. And it’s a lot of work, because history has a lot of days in it.

ECLP’s Connection to The Burning of Washington, 1814


Lewis H. Machen

Lewis Machen Saves History’s Records

President James Madison fled a capital in flames through the land that is now Riverbend Park, but did you know that there is another park in Fairfax County with a connection to the burning of Washington?

When the British approached the Capital City in the summer of 1814, Lewis Machen was a 24-year-old junior clerk in the U.S. Senate. He had, just a few weeks earlier, purchased his first property. Because he owned land in Maryland, he was released from his office in the D.C. militia, and that freed him to make a critical decision as the British drew near.

Many civilians were either fleeing Washington and seeking safety or joining their militia units on the outskirts of the city. The chaos prevented Machen’s superiors from accessing the Senate, and Machen had received no direct orders about what to do. Taking matters into his own hands, he arranged for the Senate’s archival material to be taken away by a wagon driver he hired. He convinced another junior clerk to help, and together they loaded the most important documents of the Senate into the wagon and saw them hauled away to Machen’s property in Prince George’s County. The wagon journey was not without its interruptions. At one point, Machen had to replace a wagon wheel and, later, the wagon overturned. However, Machen eventually delivered the documents to a secure point. His quick thinking and the ability to take responsibility when needed saved the written records of the first 25 years of the United States.

There’s a historic marker commemorating Madison’s crossing of the Potomac River at Riverbend Park, and after you visit there, follow up with a visit to Lewis Machen’s farm at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. Although Machen did not live at the Walney farmhouse inside ECLP during the War of 1812, he moved there in 1843 and left his mark. At ECLP, you can follow the trails of history and the story of perseverance in the face of the fire, and you can see evidence of Machen’s ice house, dairy and ice pond on site.

Ellanor C. Lawrence Park has programs about its historic past. Find information about the park’s history and about the park’s programs on the Fairfax County Park Authority website.



Author Alli Hartley is a historian based at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly.

Elizabeth Collins Lee: 20th Century Nurse and WWI Heroine


Photo of a nurse in WWI Army Nurse Corp uniform. Courtesy of the U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History.

While sharing stories of Richard and Elizabeth Lee with visitors to Sully Historic Site, I’ve become curious about the lives of the Lee children and their descendants.  Using historical resources available online, I’ve discovered a treasury of information.  Particularly notable  is a female descendent whose life reflected the tradition of public service prevalent in the Lee family.

Elizabeth Collins Lee was the great granddaughter of Richard Bland Lee and his wife, also named Elizabeth Collins Lee. Richard Bland Lee was Northern Virginia’s first representative to Congress, and Sully was built during his ownership of the land. Elizabeth, his great granddaughter, was the granddaughter of Richard’s second son, Zaccheus Collins Lee. She was born in Mobile, Alabama, on July 31, 1870 to Zaccheus’s son, Richard Henry Lee, and Isabelle George Wilson.

Richard Henry Lee was a Confederate veteran of the Civil War. Historic records show that in the summer of Elizabeth’s birth, he was married and employed as a retail grocery merchant. By 1880, Richard and Isabelle had returned to their hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, and little Elizabeth had two younger brothers, six-year-old Richard Henry and two-month-old Joseph Collins. Elizabeth’s father died when the children were all quite young in March 1883, and they lost their mother nine years later in September 1892.

As a girl, Elizabeth attended the Baltimore Academy of the Visitation, a Catholic school for girls. She graduated in 1896 from the University of Maryland Faculty of Physics Training School for Nurses in Baltimore. Established in 1889, it was one of the nation’s early formal nursing programs and was originally directed by Louisa Parsons, a graduate of the Florence Nightingale Training School.  The school was located at University Hospital at Lombard and Green Streets, the present day location of the University of Maryland Health Sciences Library. Elizabeth also pursued graduate studies at Johns Hopkins in psychiatry, a very new field of medicine at the time.

A 1904 city directory and the 1910 Federal Census both show that Elizabeth was employed as a nurse and living in Baltimore. By 1910, Elizabeth had become the first University of Maryland School of Nursing graduate employed by the Baltimore City Health Department, joining its newly formed Tuberculosis Division. She joined the Red Cross on Nov. 2, 1911, and was later described in a University Hospital article about alumnae as “an ardent suffragist.”

A postcard photo of the Maryland University Hospital, where Elizabeth Collins Lee received her nursing training. It is postmarked from Baltimore, MD on Oct. 6, 1909. The postcard shows details such as utility lines, the tracks on the street, and people in period clothing.

A postcard photo of the Maryland University Hospital, where Elizabeth Collins Lee received her nursing training. It is postmarked from Baltimore, MD on Oct. 6, 1909. The postcard shows details such as utility lines, the tracks on the street, and people in period clothing.

A memorial published about Elizabeth following her death in 1927 described a heroic time for her from 1915 to 1920. In 1915, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Elizabeth joined the American branch of Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild to provide first aid and emergency services, giving “every moment of her time, and all her strength, — sewing and laboring weekly until she was sent overseas, June 11th, 1918, and after her return, until August 1st, 1920.”

Elizabeth tried to volunteer as a nurse for the British Expeditionary Forces in June 1917, but after receiving all her inoculations and purchasing her own overseas wardrobe, she learned that she had not been selected. However, by May of the following year, she was enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and was on duty at Base Hospital No. 45 in Blois, France on July 1, 1918.  She volunteered for field service, and on July 15, 1918 was assigned to Evacuation Hospital No. 4 with the 42nd Infantry Division. She remained with them until Dec. 1, 1918, when Evacuation Hospital No. 4 was ordered with the Army of Occupation to Treves, Germany. During its time in France, the 42nd Division participated in six major campaigns and incurred 1-out-of-16 casualties suffered by the American Army during the war.

On Nov. 2, 1918, just days before the Armistice would end fighting on the Western Front, Evacuation Hospital No. 4 was shelled by enemy artillery. Elizabeth was credited with carrying 11 stretchers to ambulances while under fire and helping three other men to safety.  For her bravery, on Dec. 12, 1918, Elizabeth and 38 other nurses with whom she had served received a Citation for Heroic Conduct from the command of U.S. Army General John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Elizabeth contracted influenza during the devastating Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919 in which millions of people died worldwide and returned to Base Hospital 15 in Chaumont, France. She was relieved from service on April 26, 1919.


The springs where Elizabeth was honored for her military services and her DAR service in 1924. Photo by Megan Johnson.

Details about Elizabeth’s life following WWI are elusive, but there are some clues that she continued a very active life. She was a member of numerous professional nursing, service and patriotic organizations, and she served them in leadership roles.  On June 5, 1924, Elizabeth was honored by the “Patriotic Societies of which Miss Lee was a member” when a bronze tablet commemorating her WWI service, as well as her service as Historian of the Francis Scott Key Chapter of the DAR, was unveiled at the newly restored and enclosed natural springs of “Ye Coole Springs” at Charlotte Hall, St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  It was an appropriate honor, as this was the location of one of the first hospitals of the American Colonies in the early 18th century.


Grave of Elizabeth Collins Lee, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Jen Snoots.

Grave of Elizabeth Collins Lee, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Jen Snoots.

Elizabeth passed away after a long illness on May 15, 1927, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Through at least 1992, The University of Maryland School of Nursing continued to honor her years of nursing service with the “Elizabeth Collins Lee Award” for the nursing student graduating with the second-highest scholastic average.








  1. Deaths: Elizabeth Collins Lee. (1927, August). American Journal of Nursing, 27(8), 699 – 700. Retrieved March 13, 2016, from http://
  2. Lee, Elizabeth Collins. (n.d.). World War I Service Record. Maryland in the World War 1917 – 1918 and Naval Service Records in Two Volumes and Case of Maps Volume II. Retrieved from online database.
  3. Lee, Elizab C. (1904). Baltimore, Maryland City Directory, 1904. Retrieved from online database.
  4. Lee, Elizabeth C. (1910). 1910 United States Federal Census, Baltimore Ward 14, Maryland. Retrieved from online database.
  5. Lee, Elizabeth C. (1927). U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962. Retrieved from online database.
  6. Lee, Richard Henry. (1920, July 29). U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970, Vol. 172. Retrieved from online database. 4
  7. Lee, Richard H. (1870). 1870 United States Federal Census, Mobile Ward 4, Alabama. Retrieved from online database.
  8. Lee, Richard H. (1880). 1880 United States Federal Census, Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved from online database.
  9. Marine, Harriet P. (1927, September). Tribute to Elizabeth Collins Lee. The University Hospital Nurses Alumnae Bulletin, 7 (1), 3-10. Retrieved March 3, 2016, from
  10. New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs (NYS DMNA). (2016). History of the “Rainbow.” Retrieved May 21, 2016 from
  11. Nursing News and Announcements. (1919, August). American Journal of Nursing, 19 (11), pp. 883 – 903. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, pub. Retrieved May 25, 2016 from
  12. Obituary: Miss Elizabeth C. Lee Dies in Hospital At Age Of 53. (1927, May 16). The Sun, p. 4. 13. Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved from Proquest online database.
  13. School of Nursing, University of Maryland. (1990 – 1992). Scholastic Honors for Graduates. Catalog, 1990 – 1992, p 18. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from–records/verifications/School-of-Nursing-Catalog -1990-1992-web.pdf.
  14. Timeline of Nursing History, University of Maryland School of Nursing 1889 – 2013. (2013). Retrieved March 3, 2016, from https://
  15. Warren, K. (2010, Spring). The Healing Waters of “Ye Coole Springs of St. Maries.” Southern Maryland, Vol. 12(1). Retrieved May 21, 2016, from
  16. Army Nurse Corps History (image of woman in WWI Army Nurse Corps uniform, 1917) “Army Nurse Corps Uniforms and Insignia.” Photograph retrieved from U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History ( Image used by permission.
  17. Johnson, Megan (photograph of enclosed spring at Ye Coole Springs, MD, July 1, 2010). “Taking the waters at Ye Coole Springs.” Photograph retrieved from “Write Meg!” blog (  Image used by permission.
  18. Maryland University Hospital, Baltimore, MD (postcard photograph of hospital, postmarked Oct. 6, 1909).   A.C. Bosselman & Co., New York, NY. Postcard from the private collection of Nanette T. Meo.
  19. Snoot, Jen. (Jan. 8, 2008). Find a Grave database (htttp:// Photograph retrieved from memorial page 15417740 for Elizabeth C. Collins (1870 – 1927).  Image used by permission.
  20. Reading, Alice Matilda (Portrait of Elizabeth Collins Lee, 20th Century).  Virginia Historical Society, Accession Number 1934.25.  Image used permission of VHS.



 Author Nanette Tippett Meo is a volunteer at Sully Historic Site.


Toad, Turtle or Snake? Get Out and Vote!

Vote for Your Favorite Herp!

It’s the most cold-blooded election you’ve ever known. One candidate is slimy, another is scaly, the third just hides when things get tough.

It’s a run-off among the American toad, the Eastern box turtle, and the Eastern ratsnake!

And you get to pick the winner.

Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles, and we’ve picked three of Fairfax County’s most common and popular ones for this election. And this election is open to all ages. No ID required.

All staffed Resource Management Division sites, along with Cub Run RECenter, are polling places as you Vote for Your Favorite Herp now through November 8, 2016. That means you can cast ballots at Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Riverbend Park, Huntley Meadows Park, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Green Spring Gardens, Frying Pan Farm Park, Sully Historic Site, Colvin Run Mill Historic Site, or at Cub Run.

There are ballots and a ballot box at each site, and you’ll see campaign posters on display. Sites also will have bookmarks that highlight fun facts about each animal and that list the free programs that will take place at the campaign headquarters.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale is campaign headquarters for the Eastern box turtle. Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria is home base for the American toad. Riverbend Park is Great Falls is throwing its support behind the Eastern ratsnake.

The candidates will appear in person at campaign rallies from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on September 24 at Huntley Meadows, from 2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. October 16 at Riverbend, and 2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. November 6 at Hidden Oaks.

This is a campaign to make you smarter. You’ll increase your understanding of and appreciation for reptiles and amphibians. And, although we are running this parallel to this fall’s national election, we must point out that it’s for fun and there is no intention whatsoever of mirroring any actual human candidate, past or present. Yeah, we know, you’ll think that way because Americans poke fun at politicians. But that is not our intent, so don’t go there. Let’s just have some fun.

To vote, visit any of the balloting sites. You can vote once per visit.

Here are the candidates’ campaign platforms:

American Toad

  1. Most commonly seen amphibian in our area. Favors moist spaces. Hibernates up to three feet underground. Most active in spring, when mating, and in fall when looking for a place to hibernate. Harmless, intriguing chubby creatures.
  2. Has an arsenal of defense strategies. Can ooze a toxin from parotid glands, play dead, inflate to look larger and/or urinate when threatened. Camouflage pattern and coloring adds protection.
  3. A gentle, peace-loving candidate, strong on defense and taking care of problem species (bugs and worms). Weak on population control (lays hundreds of eggs). Plagued with bad public relations regarding the causing of warts and folklore about association with witches.

Eastern Ratsnake

  1. Harmless. Most commonly seen snake. Juveniles are aggressive and often misidentified as the venomous Northern copperhead. Only snake native to Virginia that can be six–feet long.
  2. An excellent climber. Can lay eggs in trees and can eat eggs and baby birds in nests.
  3. A constrictor. Eats a variety of prey, including mice, rats, birds and amphibians.
  4. Adults are gentle unless provoked. Intimidates with its size and its method of eating its prey whole. Bad public relations as being a top predator and incorrectly thought to be venomous. Strongest of the candidates. Fast, lethal reactions toward small mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians. Great at clearing out mice and rats that carry disease-causing pests (fleas/ticks/lice) and that spread disease through their droppings.

Eastern Box Turtle

  1. Most common terrestrial turtle known. Only local species that can entirely close itself within its shell.
  2. Numbers are down due to being collected for pets and loss of habitat. Lives in moist places such as woodlands and stream valleys.
  3. Longest living of all the candidates, potentially more than 100 years. Diet ranges from dead animals to plants to small animals. Can eat poisonous mushrooms, which will make their own meat toxic.
  4. Perceived as the friendliest of all the candidates. Has a defense-in-place strategy. Traditionally thought to be wise due to their age and slow, steady ways. Lays only a few eggs per year. Population control is not an issue, but rivals challenge its bravery in the face of any adversity.

Vote today! And again tomorrow!


Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale.

What Do Animals Do During a Rainstorm?


It’s been a stormy summer. There have been more lightning and rainstorms than I ever remember during a Northern Virginia summer. What do our friendly park residents do during these storms? Some, like Canada geese, don’t mind rain, while others do mind and have developed ways of protecting themselves during storms.

You may remember our January 2016 blog, “Where Will Animals Go During the Snow Storm?,” where you learned how wildlife survive a heavy winter snow. I was curious how animals deal with summer thunderstorms, so I asked Kristen Sinclair, a Park Authority ecologist, about their habits and preferences with regards to rainy weather.

Here are some common members of Fairfax County’s wildlife community and their rain tolerance.

WDADimage001 Deer:  Deer go about their business in light rain. They still need to eat and drink, so they pretty much do what they usually do. Some deer hunters say that a light rain is the best time to hunt. In heavy rain, deer will seek shelter.
WDADimage003Squirrels: Squirrels have either leaf nests in tree branches or, like woodpeckers, in hollow trees. The hollow tree nests provide better protection from rain. Some young squirrels can actually drown in open leaf nests during a spring storm. Adult squirrels use their tails as umbrellas and will venture out in rain.
WDADimage005Birds: This woodpecker has made a nest in a tree, so it is safe from storms. Most birds have oil glands which they use to groom themselves, so their oil-coated feathers are essentially waterproof. Water rolls off them, well, exactly like off of a duck’s back. Owls are an exception. Their feathers are not waterproof, so they will usually not hunt in the rain.
WDADimage009Beavers: Beavers have oily glands in their skin that help them retain their body temperature, quite helpful since they spend so much time in and near water. The oil makes their fur impervious to water just as feathers do for birds. Fur and feathers are designed to repel water, and beaver fur does just that, so the critters do not mind the rain. However, they do make their homes on the water, so heavy floods have the potential to destroy their lodges.
WDADimage011Raccoons, Foxes, Mice, Rabbits, and other small mammals: Mammals that live underground will hide in their dens. They construct dens so they will not flood, which lets wildlife shelter at home during a heavy storm. Some small mammals hide in logs. This is why the Park Authority leaves dead wood on the ground on parkland and why snags (dead trees still rooted in the ground) are left standing. They are important habitats for many animals.
WDADimage013Bats: They hate the rain. Bats, like this silver-haired bat, actually have fur and are mammals. They are super light, weighing around five to 10 grams, which is approximately the weight of five to 10 raisins. If they get wet, their body temperature can quickly drop, and water affects their ability to fly. Their young need to stay dry as well. Bats will hide underneath certain trees where the bark provides space and protection.
WDADimage007Insects: The ones that fly can’t fly in rain, particularly butterflies and moths. The best weather for butterflies, like this Great Spangled Fritillary, is hot and sunny. Insects hide under tree leaves to keep dry, using leaves the way humans use umbrellas.
Fish: Since they live exclusively in water, they are not really affected by rain, although they may relocate because of a change from sunny to cloudy skies. Fish sometimes become active and feed before a storm arrives, perhaps due to atmospheric pressure changes, but any young bluegill or bass that mistakes raindrops on the surface for food learns quickly.
WDADimage015Salamanders and Frogs: Amphibians love the rain! Since their skin is sensitive to moisture, wet weather is perfect for them. Remember that amphibians spend time both in and out of water. Salamanders, like this spotted one, migrate and breed in the rain, using small pools created in the forest by storms.
Snakes: Some snakes are adapted to water, like water snakes and water moccasins, but the ones that do not usually spend their time in water would probably avoid it as much as possible. Water would not necessarily help their scales, and in desert climate areas some species have been known to take shelter during rain in man-made structures, including peoples’ houses.

In the event of a severe storm, like a hurricane, everything takes cover.


Author Lauren Rhodes is a student at Oberlin College in Ohio and a summer intern for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.