Monthly Archives: August 2016

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.

On the National Register: Great Falls Grange and Forestville School

The Fairfax County Park Authority is taking part in the National Park Service’s (NPS) Preservation 50 celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the nation’s protection of America’s historic places by posting a series of blogs about county historic places on park land. The National Register of Historic Places, a part of NPS, was established in 1966. This series is based on information that appears in each site’s nomination to the National Register. The nomination forms give us a chance to look back and learn why the sites were considered to be significant historic places.

Fairfax County and Preservation 50  Great Falls Grange  Forestville Schoolhouse

We’ve heard the stories. An ancestor or a friend’s great grandfather got his education in a one-room schoolhouse. That’s what Forestville School was. Nearby is a building with two concrete porch pillars, and on the parapet between them are the words, painted in black, “Great Falls Grange No. 738.”

The grange and the school are fairly recent additions to the National Register of Historic Places, with certification coming from the Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources on June 30, 2004. The two buildings are, in the words of the National Register nomination form, “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad pattern of our history.”

ofs1The farmers and millers of Fairfax in the late 1800s didn’t have a countywide school system with a two and a-half billion dollar budget, but they had the same need for education. Out of that came the Forestville Schoolhouse, built in 1889 some 19 years after free public education was begun in the county. It was named for the area called Forestville, which today is the community of Great Falls. A school from the Floris Community, where Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon now sites, had been vacated in the early 1900s, and that building was moved and joined to the Forestville Schoolhouse in 1911. Thus came about the L-shaped building that continued to serve as a school until 1922. It then became a private residence before again serving the community as its local post office from 1959 to 1982.

The registration form states that these were two of fewer than 15 one-room schoolhouses remaining in the county, and Forestville was notable in that it still stood on its original site.

The Grange was a national movement originally called the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry that started in 1867 with a man named Oliver Hudson Kelley. He established the first Grange in western New York as a political, educational and social organization for farmers. The Great Falls chapter was formed in 1920, and the hall was built nine years later in the center of town. This was the first grange hall built in Virginia, the first of five eventually built in Fairfax County, and the hall became the largest chapter in Virginia in 1956. During the rise of the movement, the Great Falls Grange became a lobbying force that brought roads, schools and social services to the area. The Grange also funded a new school and established a pulic library.

Think of the barn-raising scene in “Oklahoma,” where the community came together for a reason and turned the affair into a picnic, a meeting or a dance. Fairfax County was dairy farms when the Grange Hall was constructed in 1929 to be that community gathering place. The architecture reflects a style called Craftsman – a prominent porch supported by concrete pillars and wood shingling in the gables. The Hall actually sits on a raised foundation of terra cotta bricks, and two concrete staircases lead up to the front porch. Visitors enter a foyer that leads into a one-room auditorium with hardwood floors, built-in bookcases, an arched ceiling and a stage at one end. The basement is similar to the main floor but with dining facilities and a kitchen under the main floor’s stage. Grange Hall changed little over the years. Upon its placement in the National Register it still had its original wood floors, and its original plumbing was still functioning when it was placed on the Register. The original hardwood floors eventually were replaced because of fire damage.

Today, the area’s rolling hills, parkland and large lots help a visitor visualize the dairy farms of years past when Great Falls was the leading dairy production community in Virginia. In those days of dairy and farming, the Grange Hall rose to host meetings, religious ceremonies, ice cream socials, dances, spelling bees, debates, carnivals, and voting. The suburban lifestyle that spun out of the growth oozing from Washington replaced the farms and diminished the influence and need for the Grange. The building was sold to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1980, and the Park Authority acquired the Forestville Schoolhouse three years later.

The Grange and the Forestville Schoolhouse are still used today for meetings and social events.

The Fairfax County Park Authority obtained Forestville School in 1983 and the Great Falls Grange in 1980. They are in the 9800 block of Georgetown Pike (Route 193) in Great Falls. More information is on the Great Falls Grange website and on the Forestville Schoolhouse website.

As part of Preservation 50, visitors to the Fairfax County Government Center at 12000 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax can see an exhibit case in the building’s lobby. The exhibit, a partnership of the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ), showcases some of the 59 county properties and districts that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Park Authority and DPZ host two symposia this year on the impact of the National Historic Preservation Act on Fairfax County. The first, “Setting the Stage for Local Preservation,” will bring together historic preservation professionals who have played roles in the National Historic Preservation Act on a federal and/or state level. It will be held on April 16, 2016, at the James Lee Center, 2855 Annandale Road in Falls Church, Va. The second symposium will explore grassroots results of how the Act has affected local historic preservation.  The date and place of that fall symposium are not yet confirmed.

Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division.



Fun and Programming Expands at Lakefront Parks

But wait! There’s more!

We felt a little like a late night television commercial pitchman. We had three supremely popular parks that you’ve been visiting, and yet many people were missing much of what was there. Families were coming to Burke Lake for the train and carousel, to Lake Fairfax for The Water Mine, and to Lake Accotink for mini-golf and a carousel. Yet these parks have much more to offer, and we wanted you and other park visitors to know that. We also thought that educating folks about the care of resources that is required at these parks is important, too. So we came up with an idea that makes the parks more fun, more educational, and that includes taking care of our favorite parks.

The Park Authority’s three lakefront parks are like the chocolate chips in a cookie — large chunks of nature in the midst of a generally suburban county, and they are ideal platforms for teaching about the outdoors. Because teaching resource stewardship is one of the mandates of the Park Authority, the agency’s staff started looking for improved ways to do that using the built-in audience that already exists at the lakefront parks. So they came up with the perfect idea, and then they found the perfect person for that position.

Naturalist Tony Bulmer was plucked from Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and assigned the task of establishing high quality stewardship programs at our lakefront parks. He was free to build on whatever was already in the parks. For example, at Burke Lake that meant expanding existing birding programs to add classes that would take place on the tour boat that was already in the park.


Bulmer’s goal is to bring more nature programs to all of our lakefront gems. That means, along with the birding programs at Burke Lake Park, residents will have the opportunity to look for amphibians after dark, survey reptiles, and view bats feeding over the lake.


Three new educational programs that include conducting surveys of animals are allowing visitors to explore the worlds of reptiles, bats, and amphibians after dark. Fairfax County parks are closed at night except for fishermen on the water who launched at the Burke Lake state boat ramp. Bulmer wants to give participants in these new programs a chance to see what’s in the park in the dark.


The lakefront classes will center on natural resources that are specific to these lakefront parks.


There are plans for new winter programs as well, especially for adventurous individuals. Bulmer is planning an overnight backpack trek from South Run RECenter into woods adjacent to the RECenter and through the stream valley below the Burke Lake dam to the campground at Burke Lake Park. Class participants will spend a night winter-camping at Burke Lake, and then hike back to their cars at South Run the next day.

One of Bulmer’s programming goals is to teach you and other park users some little thing that will make your day/life/moment a little better, a little more knowledgeable, a little more fulfilled……..just a little bit better.


Bulmer’s long-term goal is stewardship education, ultimately providing visitors with a sense of their place in the natural world. He wants you and other park lovers who are already coming to the lakefront parks to view those parks in a new way – a way that includes taking care of these beautiful parks.


School and scout field trips are part of the new programming. Merit badges and Standards of Learning (SOL), the minimum expectations for students in Virginia public schools, were considered during the planning.


For more information on lakefront park programs, click the links.

Programs at Burke Lake

Programs at Lake Accotink

Programs at Lake Fairfax



Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.