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Gobble, Gobble, Hiss, Hiss … What’s All That Struttin’ About?

TurkeyWhat comes to mind when you think about a Thanksgiving Turkey?

For many of us, it’s that puffed up, iridescent, brownish bird with its tail feather spread into a beautiful, full fan. While an iconic image, it’s the exception, not the rule. What we learned to draw in elementary school is a male turkey struttin’ his stuff to attract a mate and intimidate the competition. In addition to the visual display, they have a range of vocalizations including “gobbles,” “clucks,” “putts,” “purrs,” “yelps,” “cutts,” “whines,” “cackles,” and “kee-kees.” Some of those calls can carry for over a mile. Who knew?

When not showing off, the wild turkey is a long, sleek bird that patrols open woods feasting on nuts, seeds, fruit, bugs, worms and even small lizards. Yes, they are omnivorous. Alert, wily birds with great eyesight, they are always on the lookout and fly up into trees at night to roost out of the reach of predators. Usually walking about to look for food, they do fly well, relatively close to the ground, and for about 100 yards at a time.

Img0089Their domestic cousins retain the behaviors and calls but come in a wider range of plumage colors. Frying Pan Farm Park keeps two breeds that were common during the park’s historic period. Back in the 1930s and 40s, the Bourbon Red was the most popular commercial breed. A lovely bird with unique reddish plumage, its tail fan and flight feathers are a striking white. The name Bourbon comes from their area of origin, Bourbon County, Kentucky. The Slate or Blue Slate can have plumage ranging from white to black, but the hen at Frying Pan is a lovely, soft bluish grey. Turkey breeds also come in brown, black, and white. All the poultry you now purchase at stores have all white feathers, including the Broad Breasted White Turkey that dominates the U.S. turkey market.
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Visit the gobblers at Frying Pan Farm Park before or after Thanksgiving Day, as they will not end up in the frying pan. Closed on Thanksgiving Day, the farm is free to visit and open all other days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park grounds are open from sunrise to sunset.

Author Yvonne Johnson is the Site Manager at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, VA.

Backyard Birding All Winter Long

Bird-1A past survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that more than 50 million Americans watch birds. By considering the four elements emphasized in the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program — food, water, cover, and a place to raise young — you can be assured of a variety of birds to watch from the windows of your home. Some of your visitors will be just that — visiting birds passing through on long flights of migration. Others will become familiar, year-round residents.
Their needs aren’t so different from yours. Birds just define their desires a little differently.

FOOD

Bird feeders supplement natural food sources, though principally only seed-eaters — or, in winter months, suet-eaters — will use feeders. Place feeders at least eight feet from trees or other squirrel launching pads, or use free-standing poles with baffles. Feeders will be busiest from late October through the winter, and it is important to remember that late spring, when natural food supplies are still low, is a critical time to continue offering food.

 

Bird feeders can host bacteria and parasites that can spread disease through the wild bird population if the feeders are not regularly cleaned and sanitized. Many homeowners are concerned about attracting the “wrong element,” such as crows, starlings, squirrels or rats. Putting out a minimal amount of seed per day, using shelled seeds or certain types of seeds can alleviate the problem. Spillage and the aroma from discarded shells is often the cause of attracting unwanted creatures. Providing only water can bring in some birds, help them, and eliminate the nuisance animal issue.

WATER

Birds will happily drink or bathe in ponds, streams, ditches, puddles, or birdbaths. A birdbath should be set in a sunny clearing, ideally 15 feet from trees or shrubs where predators can lurk but with nearby branches to use as an escape route. Baths should be no more than 2-3 inches deep and should be rough-surfaced. Birds especially will be attracted to baths or pools with dripping or running water.

For the winter, when birds continue to need water, birdbath heaters are available, or you can break or melt the ice on baths or pools. Year-round, it is important that water is clean. Note that water additives that prevent ice from forming negatively affect birds’ feathers, which can prove deadly for them.

Bird 5SHELTER & A PLACE TO RAISE YOUNG

Birdhouses, nesting platforms, and winter roosting boxes can supplement garden plantings. Some 50 bird species will accept nest boxes, while about 35 will use them regularly. If you use birdhouses, remember that you will need to clean them out between broods and at the end of the nesting season.

Fairfax County Park Authority Nature Centers feature many birding programs and resources.

This blog was adapted from an article in the Park Authority’s ResOURces newsletter files.

More blogs about birds:
Winter is a Great Time for Birding
What to Feed Birds When Your Kid is Allergic to Nuts
What Do Animals Do During a Rainstorm?
Where Do Animals Go During A Snowstorm?
Walk on the Wild Side of Winter
The Value of Exhibit Animals at Nature Centers
Night Thief
The View from the Tower at Huntley Meadows
Keeping Fairfax County Blue
Woodpeckers

A Great Time for Larkspurs

Larkspur

Photo credit: Arizona State University Cooperative Extension

Spring in 2019 in Northern Virginia brought just the right amount of precipitation, and the air temperature warmed slowly and stayed in comfortable ranges for weeks. Consequently, spring flowers lasted for a long time, unlike years when the temperatures rise too quickly.

One plant that benefitted was Consolida ajacis, also known as rocket larkspur. At Green Spring Gardens, larkspur was a standout in garden beds, and we received many inquiries for the name of “that tall blue, purple, lavender … flowering plant out by the gazebo, in front of the glass house, by the traffic circle, etc.”

Consolida ajacis is an annual species, meaning it germinates from seed, grows, flowers, sets seed, and dies within one year. However, it self-sows so abundantly that crops can return year after year. New colonies also develop nearby because seed is transferred by wind, water, people and animals. Allow the flowers to go to seed, and you will have larkspurs year after year.

Consolida ajacis is native to Europe and Asia but was introduced to North America, perhaps by European settlers, and has naturalized in North America. It is grown as an ornamental plant in flower beds, as a cut flower and for drying. It’s not a plant commonly sold in pots in nurseries because it does not transplant well, however, seeds are available through catalogues.

Growing Consolida ajacis from seed is simple. Scatter fresh seed in a prepared flower bed in autumn, and lightly cover the scattered seed with a thin layer of soil or leaf mulch. Make sure the planting bed receives full sun and is moist but well drained. After sowing, lightly water the bed and let it be until spring when seedlings should start appearing. Seeds need darkness and the winter’s cold temperatures to germinate in spring. Once seedlings appear, gently thin them so the remaining seedlings have adequate space to grow. If you have a successful crop, simply let a few plants go to seed before removing them after they die in early summer. Most plants will brown out, die, and set seed in our area by mid-June.

Two species of larkspur are native to Virginia and, unlike Consolida ajacis, are perennials. The first, Delphinium tricorne, sometimes referred to as dwarf larkspur, is a spring ephemeral that breaks dormancy and flowers in early to mid-spring, then returns to dormancy when temperatures rise. It grows in woodlands where it takes advantage of spring sun before the tree canopy leafs out, but it still benefits from some shade. It has blue, sometimes white, and sometimes blue and white flowers, and it grows one to two feet in height. The second native species, Delphinium exaltatum, also known as tall larkspur, prefers full sun and blooms in summer. It can grow from 4 to 6 feet tall and has beautiful blue flowers. In hot, humid areas it does appreciate some afternoon shade.

Native larkspur can be purchased as potted plants or sometimes as dormant bare roots in autumn through specialty nurseries or online. All three species can be grown from seed.

Growing from seed starts in autumn. Seeds can be directly sown in garden beds, however, it may take a year or two for them to flower. It may be easier to care for the seedlings if the seed is sown outdoors in seed flats placed in a protected area or a cold frame. Protect seed flats from digging critters and downpours with a covering of mesh or screening material. Seeds also need the cold of winter to force germination. Once seedlings appear in spring and have developed true leaves, they can be transplanted into nursery pots or nursery beds.

All parts of all three species, including the seeds, are toxic if ingested. This makes them safe from deer and rabbit browsing, but keep them away from small children, pets and grazing livestock. It is best to wear gloves when handling all parts of the plants.

Author Alda Krinsman is the Garden Gate Plant Shop Coordinator at Green Spring Gardens.

Historic Green Spring and The Importance of a Name

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet….”

~ William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet, Act. II, Scene II

What’s in a name? A lot. It’s how others identify and refer to us, and it’s important to get names right — people’s names and place names.

Green Spring_109The Historic House at Green Spring Gardens and the land on which it stands have gone by many names. In their early days, both the land and the house were known by the owners’ names. In 1853, the property was advertised for sale as “the well known FARM known as Green Springs (formerly Moss’s Farm.)” This is the first known use of the Green Spring name. By 1859, the ‘s’ had been dropped, and it was listed as “The very desirable FARM known as GREEN SPRING.”

By the 1880s, the site was again referred to by its owner’s name and was identified in a 1924 auction announcement as “The Old Captain Beattie Farm.”

 

In the 1930s, the name reverted to Green Spring Farm, which stuck until 1970 when the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) acquired the property from Michael and Belinda Straight. The FCPA changed the name to Green Spring Farm Park to reflect its use as a recreational resource, however staff and volunteers received incessant questions from eager callers and perplexed visitors about farm animals!

By the late 1980s, the site’s horticultural mission was firmly established, so in 1991, “Farm” was changed to “Gardens.” In the early 2000s, the name Green Spring Gardens Park was further refined to the present-day Green Spring Gardens.

Green Spring_190510_0058The Historic House has changed names a few times, too. It’s been known as the “Old Moss House” and the “Beattie Residence.” In early sales advertisements, it’s described as the “Brick Dwelling House,” and an 1840 survey plat of Green Spring Farm identifies it as the “Mansion House.”

Michael Straight seems to have been the first to refer to the house as a “manor” — he sometimes referred to it as Weyanoke Manor, after the neighboring subdivision — and the name “Manor House” was adopted by the Park Authority in the 1970s. In 1995, the Fairfax County History Commission questioned the accuracy of the name, which was historically a European term and hadn’t been used in Virginia since the early 18th century. However, in the interest of continuity, the FCPA kept it.

In 2003, the current nomenclature was established. As the listing of Green Spring on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places was nearing completion, former site historian Sherrie Chapman announced a new all-embracing name for the historic portion of Green Spring, which included the house, the spring house, and the Beatrix Farrand landscape: “Historic Green Spring.” And, because the house was never, in its historic period, called the “Manor House,” it became the “Historic House.”

Sherrie understood the power of a name, that incorporating the word “historic” more clearly defines identity and accentuates the historical significance of the house and surrounding landscape to visitors.

Green Spring_180830_0171Places like Green Spring are never static, and their names often change to embody their histories, to differentiate them, and to convey their mission, relevance, and value.

So, what’s in a name? According to Juliet, not much. But names are important, and it behooves us to get them right. After all, a garden by any other name is not as sweet as Green Spring Gardens!

Author Debbie Waugh is the Historic House Coordinator.

Water Ex Offers A Powerful Cross Training Option

Water Ex 0513_0248If you’ve ever thought about water exercise, you probably thought of it in terms of injury rehab, physical therapy, or a social activity for retired ladies. It can, in fact, be all those things, and I admit that when I attended my first water exercise class, that is what I was expecting.

Wrong. I have never been more wrong.

Have you ever heard one of those stories about a mugger who mistook gray hair for a sign of vulnerability? You know, the ones that end with a mugger getting beaten with a handbag, because anyone who has been alive long enough to have gray hair probably doesn’t want to put up with any more foolishness? My first aquatic exercise class was the metaphorical equivalent of that experience. Although I’m a distance runner and have spent most of my adult life involved in fitness one way or another, it didn’t matter what exercise we were doing, or how many people around me made it look easy, I was doing it wrong.

Water Ex 0513_0424Now, I realize that “I was terrible, can’t wait to do it again” isn’t the criteria for everyone’s bucket list, but the things that made water exercise so challenging are also the things that made me fall in love with it. (I went to every water exercise class I could manage, and pursued instructor certification. You may consider that overkill, but I’ve always said that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, and it seems this was no exception.)

I happen to be a person who struggles with including cross training and recovery in my weekly plan. Cross training is often less fun than my preferred activity (mostly running) and feels like it takes time away from things I would rather be doing. And while I know that I cannot make progress without taking time for recovery, recovery days still very often leave me feeling restless and like I want to MOVE.

 

What water exercise has given me (after I mastered the basics and stopped flopping around like a cat in the bathtub) is a powerful cross training option that multi tasks; it boosts my recovery at the same time it boosts my training plan.

The reason for that is also the reason for the association between water exercise and rehab or therapy. The extreme accessibility of water exercise comes from the properties of the water — primarily buoyancy. That’s why you, if you’re like me, have associated it with programs for people with chronic pain, mobility issues, injuries, and other limiting factors.

What I didn’t know is that buoyancy also creates a need to stabilize yourself while the water lifts you, which activates the muscles in your core. This makes every water exercise a core exercise. That makes every water workout a two-fer — whatever muscles I am targeting plus core. Since poor core strength leads to poor form for every type of activity, and poor form leads to injuries, having a core component for every minute of my cross training was amazing.

Water Ex 0513_0086Another thing that makes water workouts so efficient is that the resistance comes from the water rather than from gravity — meaning that instead of having to do one exercise that isolates the biceps and one that isolates the triceps, I can do one exercise that works both. That leads to a more balanced workout in half the time.

But the real epiphany came when I realized that water workouts have so little impact on my joints. Exercising in deep water is “zero impact,” meaning the stress from hitting the ground is entirely absent. Exercise in shallow water ranges from 20% impact to 50% impact, meaning the stress from hitting the ground is greatly reduced. Adding one zero impact workout a week supercharged my weekly fitness plan. It made more room for things that just make me happy. I can run after flowers, or to pet all the dogs, or because a friend wants company. I can play tag with the kids. Help someone move. Whatever I need to make room for in my life is easier to fit in because I don’t have to plan as much recovery as I would if that workout was land based.

In other words, I’m able to exercise more and recover less. Some weeks I only use water workouts for my active recovery, and some weeks I use a more intense water workout to make up for miles I missed due to illness, weather, or schedule conflicts, and the payoff is reduced soreness and fatigue, even when I’m in a “loading” phase of progressively harder workouts each week. If that sounds good, all it takes to get started is a swimsuit and access to a pool.

Author Meghan Gray is a Red Cross WSI and a water exercise instructor certified by the Aquatic Exercise Association teaching at Mt Vernon REC Center.

Volunteering at a Farmers Market

2I’m a person who says good morning to everyone. On the dawn of a recent Friday, I said good morning nearly 500 times. I was at the Lewinsville Park Farmers Market in McLean, Virginia, where I had volunteered to be an attendance counter at the Fairfax County Park Authority’s celebration of National Farmers Market Week.

3When I first arrived, I walked around talking to vendors. Being a gardener, I was drawn to the herb grower. I spotted a lettuce leaf basil plant that excited me. The leaves were huge, bright green and fragrant. I purchased three plants and placed them by my chair as I counted. They were a conversation starter, and people were knowledgeable and eager to talk about growing herbs. As a Master Gardener, I can talk plants all day. I googled Lettuce Leaf Basil at home. I learned it’s a large leaf variety of Ocimum basilicum. That evening, my family enjoyed it wrapped around grilled salmon.

My counting chair was positioned at the market entrance. Here I was able to count visitors, watch three diverse political groups engage visitors, observe young families coming to the market, and chat with seniors who had the time and desire to talk. One older woman shared that she was a widow of 40 years and had come to buy one tomato, one peach and a bouquet of flowers. Another senior came with a list put together by her husband. She told me she’d been married 53 years, and that was way too long. I saw a young mom and dad dancing to the music of a performer while their three small children clapped and cheered.

1Fairfax County hosts ten Farmers Markets weekly Wednesday through Sunday from late spring through fall. The markets offer local fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, plants, honey, cut flowers, meat, dairy, eggs and more. They are overseen at Green Spring Gardens where I volunteer as an Extension Master Gardener.

The Lewinsville Market is one of the smallest of the Fairfax County markets due to space and parking limitations. What it lacks in size it makes up for with loyal shoppers, friendly vendors, quality products and fabulous music. During this National Farmers Market Week, the usual vendors were joined by McLean Community Center, Inova Hospital, local library staff, chefs holding healthy cooking demonstrations and people leading a variety of kids’ activities.

4The Park Authority staff were present and welcoming. They posted welcome signs, chalked hopscotch on the pavement, talked about healthy cooking and composting, and had friendly smiles for everyone. They introduced me to my first yellow watermelon, a yummy experience. I counted and ate simultaneously and found many people who also hadn’t seen yellow watermelons, and I was delighted that a number of people took one home. I learned afterwards that the flesh of watermelons turning yellow is a natural mutation. I enjoyed the sweeter honey-like flavor, and I discovered that there’s also a purple watermelon. I can’t wait to try that.

I love farmers markets and visit them everywhere I travel. Working one gave me a new perspective. Here’s what I learned:

• Volunteering is great fun.
• The Park Authority staff is awesome.
• Yellow watermelon is sweet and yummy.
• National Farmers Market Week welcomed many children.
• Saying good morning is not for everyone.
• There are many seniors lonely for conversation.
• The vendors work hard and put in early days.
• The volunteer market managers are conscientious.
• The quality of the produce is fabulous.
• A gardener like me can always find new cultivars.

If you haven’t yet visited your local Fairfax County Farmers Market, there’s still plenty of time. Most remain in operation till mid-November and even December.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Extension Master Gardener and a board member of the Friends of Green Spring.

Discovery Trail Booming in its Sixth Year

Discovery Trail_071619_0027The 2019 Discovery Trail came speeding into your summer. Speeding, because this year’s theme is transportation. Are you keeping pace?

We’re offering you a tour of parks and tons of fun plus a chance to bring home a prize package or a free bike after a trek along the Discovery Trail. Both children and adults are eligible to win.

This is Discovery Trail Map’s sixth summer of fun, and it gets bigger every year. Did we say fun? Read what Springfield’s Judy Szabo told us last summer: “We have LOVED the Discovery Trail Maps program this summer. It was so much fun and very exciting to go to new places.”

This year’s map, in a nod to the 50th anniversary of man’s first footprints on the moon, chronicles the history of transportation in Fairfax County. Different types of transportation are featured in each of the 12 select parks on the trail.

Here’s how it works:

  • Pick up a map at any staffed Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) location, any Fairfax County Public Library, any of the five Northern Virginia Spokes, Etc. locations, your Board of Supervisor’s office, or download one from www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/discovery-trail-map.Bicycle
  • Visit eight of the 12 featured parks and collect a sticker to place in the corresponding box on your map before September 3, 2019.
  • Redeem your map at Burke Lake Park, Green Spring Gardens or Frying Pan Farm Park for a prize packet that includes admission tickets for a round of mini golf, a carousel ride, a train ride, a tour boat ride, a pedal boat outing, camping, a wagon ride, a RECenter pass and a boat rental!
  • While you’re there, fill out a form to enter the drawing for one of four bicycles donated by Spokes, Etc. and Trek through the Fairfax County Park Foundation.

Still need convincing? Check out what the mother of one of last year’s bicycle winners said about the activity:

“It was seriously one of the best things we did this summer aside from our vacation. We discovered parks that we didn’t know existed. Had incredible time with family and friends. Discovered different animals, plants, habitats, and learned about them. Did things we haven’t done before like pedal boating. The reward at the end of the season completely exceeded our expectations and made all of us so happy because it continues the fun and we get to explore the other parks that we didn’t get a chance to go to. If you guys do this every summer, I’ll be singing its praises to all my mom friends for next summer!” -Rebecca Collegio, Falls Church

BL Sharon Clark_20190614_0071

Discovering fun at Burke Lake Park.

While at the parks this year, keep an eye out for a photo opportunity with our travelling astronaut and rocket. Snap a selfie with them and post it on Instagram with #FCPAmoonwalk for a chance to win one of several weekly prizes.

Participating sites are Burke Lake Park, Colvin Run Mill, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Frying Pan Farm Park, Green Spring Gardens, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Huntley Meadows Park, Lake Accotink Park, Lake Fairfax Park, Riverbend Park, and Sully Historic Site. Directions to each of the parks can be found on the Park Authority website and in Parktakes magazine.

The Discovery Trail Map is a great way for students to keep the knowledge flowing during summer months and for families to explore parks close to home. Pick up or download your Discovery Trail Map, explore your parks and win!