Monthly Archives: July 2012

IMA Volunteers Share Memorable Wildlife Encounters

One of the most exciting things about visiting Fairfax County parks is encountering wildlife. A family visit to a playground is made more special when a child points in awe at a deer moving quietly through the trees. A walk along a stream valley trail is more memorable when a fox scampers into view, even if only for a brief moment. And catching a glimpse of a bald eagle soaring high above a lake can make a bad day of fishing slightly more palatable. Wildlife is abundant on parkland, but you have to spend time in the parks for your best shot at seeing something extraordinary.

IMA volunteers work together to restore parkland by removing invasive plant species and planting native species.

One group that spends a significant amount of time in parks is our Invasive Management Area (IMA) volunteers, our frontline defense against the spread of non-native invasive plant species. These intrepid volunteers endure searing heat, stifling humidity, stinging plants, and painful thorns as they search for invasive plants to remove and replace with native species. Because their work often takes place off the beaten path, IMA volunteers also frequently encounter wildlife.

July is Parks & Recreation Month.

As we celebrate Parks & Recreation Month’s GET WILD theme, we thought we’d share some of our IMA volunteers’ incredible wildlife sightings. Enjoy these retellings and keep an eye out for wildlife in the parks and around your home. Your wildlife encounter, whether simple or spectacular, will be a story you can share with family and friends for many years.

Vivian Morgan-Mendez, a longtime volunteer at Nottoway Park, often sees bright orange Baltimore orioles and bluebirds flitting near community garden plots. She also remembers the afternoon a wild turkey flew out of the brush where her crew was working. “All five of us saw it. Pretty amazing!” However, sometimes wildlife encounters aren’t always fun; just ask Morgan-Mendez. “Several of my IMA volunteers and I were stung after we dug up a ground bee hiding place along with invasives. It was a very painful experience.”

Volunteer Jennifer Porter credits her proximity to Holmes Run Stream Valley Park for the abundance of wildlife activity around her home. “We have foxes around. They sashay down our pipe-stem drive at will at almost any time of the day or night. Our next door neighbor’s cat was forced to take refuge under a car to escape one fox that seemed too interested. Some years ago now, we had a fox on the front porch chasing our blind cat. A few days after that, another fox chased our second cat up the back steps.”

Porter used to be fond of gardening barefoot, at least until she nearly stepped on a copperhead. “Barefoot appears not to be a good idea,” she advises. One summer, Porter’s cats brought 16 small snakes into the house including one that tried to escape by crawling inside the piano pedals.

IMA Volunteer Renee Grebe photographed a pair of coyote pups as they crossed a creek on a downed log.

Those who venture into local green spaces have a unique window within which to see unusual things. Renee Grebe reports Clermont and Loftridge Parks are “alive these days – coyotes everywhere it seems.” Grebe has also encountered coyotes around her neighborhood, including a pair of pups she saw crossing a creek on a downed tree. Several times a week last summer, she began hearing the howls of a newly established coyote pack at dusk, and the howling has begun again. “The cacophony makes it sound like there must be 100 of them (though at latest report there may only be four adults and three babies).” She continued, “Also, it’s not unusual (and almost expected) that if an ambulance siren goes off, the coyotes will howl back.”

Grebe finds humor in some of her wildlife encounters. One morning she came upon a fawn that was standing a short distance from the path. The fawn seemed curious and crept closer as Grebe stood still. “But at one point,” she recalls, “it must’ve hit a spider web right on its nose because all at once it started snorting and jumping in place and shaking its head. It was so funny! I wish I had it on camera. It was just the reaction you’d have if you didn’t expect yourself to walk into a web.”

Wilson Harris was intrigued by a red fox that recently visited a bird feeder in his front yard. “The fox was just sitting placidly there. No sign later of any carnivorous activity” Harris has also seen box turtles ambling across his yard.

When Greg Sykes isn’t volunteering with IMA he’s taking photographs, and wildlife is one of his favorite subjects. While kayaking at Royal Lake he snapped a photo of a pair of egrets that came closer and closer to him. “I thought they might try landing on my boat!” he said. Sykes has seen foxes and kits by a den, sometimes with a dead goose or duck. On another kayaking excursion, this time at Lake Accotink with his dog, a bald eagle landed right in front of them.

Beavers are a common sight in lakes and creeks.

Royal Lake has been a particularly good place for Sykes to encounter wildlife. He has seen muskrats playing among wood duck chicks and he is one of the lucky few to have seen a river otter playing in a tributary in the park. Sykes remembers watching bats and beavers at twilight. “It was cool to watch the bats, and then a beaver swam up to where I was with a mound of vegetation and made a scent pile by the shore. I don’t think he knew I was there.” Sykes offered a tip to aspiring wildlife photographers. “You don’t always need blinds to photograph wildlife. I’ve used a camera bag and lay on my stomach to get some skittish animals, like hooded mergansers.”

Remember, Get Wild this summer and spend some time in the parks. You’ll be surprised and amazed by the wildlife encounters waiting for you there.

Have you had a memorable wildlife encounter in the parks? We invite you to share your story in the comments field.

You can view and print brochures about wildlife and other stewardship topics here.

 Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer

Get Wild In The Parks This Summer!

Each July, the National Recreation and Park Association invites park and recreation agencies from across the country to join them in celebrating Park and Recreation Month. In support of this year’s theme, GET WILD, we will share our ideas for ways you can get wild in the parks this summer. Throughout the month, you’ll find new ideas posted on Facebook, Twitter, and on this blog, and we hope that you will share your ideas with us, too.

From sending your child to summer camp during Wild About Water Week to taking a wild ride down the twin waterslides at the Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole, there are many ways to get wild in the parks. For thrill-seeking naturalists, the new Extreme Adventures program at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park is your chance to explore the park’s wild outback for stream monsters such as Hellgrammites, water scorpions, and water snakes, as well as poisonous plants and lethal predators in the forest.

An elephant from the Reston Zoo bathed in Lake Fairfax in 1986.

Speaking of wild animal sightings, did you know that elephants from the Reston Zoo used to cool off in Lake Fairfax, or that black bears have been seen in Riverbend Park? While not quite as wild as elephant and bear sightings, keep an eye out for photos of Buddy the Wolf, Rec-PAC’s wild mascot, as he visits camp sites with his anti-bullying message.

Getting wild can be joining a fast-paced Zumba class at a RECenter, hiking the Cross-County Trail, or riding the mountain bike trails at Laurel Hill. To get wild on the water, head to Riverbend Park or our lakefront parks to launch a kayak, canoe, or paddle boat. Getting wild doesn’t always require working up a sweat. Take a stroll along the newly refurbished boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park to look for an amazing array of dragonflies, or wander the manicured paths at Green Spring Gardens to see what’s in bloom. If music drives you wild, find your favorite venue to enjoy free concerts from our Summer Entertainment Series

The point is to get off the couch, get out of the office, and get wild in Fairfax County parks. It’s summer, so make the most of it!

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer.