Tag Archives: Amphibians

Something Old, Something New

New Nature Programs Planned at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park

This is no time to get lost in nostalgia. True, December holidays are a time of tradition, and Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECLP) is reaching back to its past by continuing its annual holiday festivities, such as Holidays at Walney Farm. But staff has eyes peering ahead to the future.

Snow-covered holly berries

Snow-covered holly berries

New programs are coming in the new year, and with them come opportunities for you to spend time outdoors, to imagine the past in the very place where history happened, and to become a park steward. Stewards are caretakers and adventurers, seeking knowledge and understanding, new and special relationships. Many people visit Ellanor C. Lawrence Park each day and enjoy its natural beauty as they walk or jog. Some seek a connection and would heartily agree with Ellanor Lawrence, one of the park’s greatest stewards, that this place “seems to have a kind of living spirit that needs the kind of love you and I have for it.”

Interpretative programs are an important and fun means to developing that special connection with stewardship. William Carr, the high school graduate who taught the first class on outdoor education at Columbia University, wrote, “Not having an interpreter in a park is like inviting a guest to your house, opening the door, and disappearing.” Programs reveal the amazing web of life that exists within the park’s many habitats and allow voices from the past to speak once again. They provide opportunities for learning, inspire curiosity, and engender a sense of wonder that we often leave only to children to enjoy. In a program with an interpreter you can uncover millipedes that smell like almond cookies, stroke the smooth, cool skin of a live snake, or try a taste of hard times washed down with sweet potato coffee.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

January provides an opportunity for you to learn how you affect a forest and how that forest shapes your life. It may not be obvious, but we live in a forest biome. How we treat that land, whether it is our parkland or our own backyard, has lasting impact. The new programs start with a January expedition to see Winter Birds at Mason Neck. You’ll join naturalists Michael Gregory and Megan Tolosa in exploring the Great Marsh Trail at the Elizabeth Hartwell Wildlife Refuge. By the end of this trek, you’ll have an understanding of the ways in which ECLP, the river, its winter birds and you are all connected. Families and dedicated birders both will fit well in this program.

February rolls out the Forest Treasure Campfire. Bundle up and hear the crackle of fire-licked logs while learning how trees helped to build our nation, figuratively and literally. You can bet the guides will bring along s’mores.

By March, it’s time to get down and get your hands dirty. Uncover the diversity of soil organisms and the crucial role that invertebrates play in keeping forests healthy at the new Life in the Leaf Litter program. Then, wash the dirt off your hands because you may want to return to the park for some Confederate cake and sweet potato coffee.  That’s part of another new program in March. Hard Times, Difficult Choices will take a look at the struggles and critical choices made by some of the people who lived and worked at Walney, the Machen family farm that once encompassed Ellanor C. Lawrence Park.

RAC debuts in March when spring critters are shifting out of winter patterns. The Reptile and Amphibian Club is for kids 6 to 15 years old. Award-winning naturalist Hayley Ake guides them through a one-hour adventure with snakes, lizards, salamanders, turtles and frogs. RAC will join ECLP’s already-established Bird Watching Club as a regular, once-a-month gathering at the park.

Along with spring showers, April will produce ECLP’s first Wild Bird Spring Camp (registration begins February 14). Kids will be able to spend the week of April 14 through 18 searching the park’s diverse habitats to discover and identify species that reside in the park or that may be passing through on their spring migrations. Naturalist Megan Tolosa will keep the week lively with her enthusiasm and her love of birds.

So set aside the nostalgia, plan a new adventure this year, attend some programs and become a park steward. Who knows where that will take you: park contributor? Advocate? Volunteer? Spend time in your parks this spring and discover a new you.

For information more information on programs at ECLP, visit their web page. Information about nature programs throughout the park system also is online.

Author Cheryl-Ann Repetti is a naturalist at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in western Fairfax County.

View From The Tower

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“That’s Awesome!”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard these words on the viewing tower at Huntley Meadows Park. Usually they come from a pre-teen, but many adults have exclaimed it when they get their first close look in a spotting scope at a great blue heron or a hooded merganser with 10 ducklings. 

It’s what I said when I made my first visit to the park almost 20 years ago.

I was with a friend who decided to take a hike in a neighborhood park in Alexandria.  I thought it was a woodland trail leading to a creek.  Not far down the path the trees opened, surrendering to a large wetland stuffed with life and crossed by a boardwalk allowing close observation. Echoing sounds of red-winged blackbirds filled the air.  I saw at least a dozen egrets as well as birds I had never seen before — king rails and green herons, and more reptiles and amphibians than I had ever witnessed at one time, all within a hand’s reach of the boardwalk.  I didn’t think an environment like this existed in this area, especially within five miles of the beltway.  Needless to say, I was fascinated. 

I had already completed school with a communications degree, and I had a small knowledge of biology.  Biology classes gave me nightmares during school, but my knowledge of nature grew through the purchase of used books containing basic information and photographs of the birds and reptiles I was seeing on my continuing visits to the park.  I would still struggle if I took a biology class today, but I have learned quite a bit since that time.  For example, I thought egrets were only in Florida and eagles were only in Alaska. They’re both at Huntley Meadows.

My fascination with the park led me to a small volunteer role in an activity called, “View from the Tower.”  I take the spotting scope from the Huntley Meadows Nature Center and stand on the wetlands tower for a couple hours giving visitors a closer view of the wetland inhabitants.  I feel bad for the other volunteers stuck inside the visitor center while I’m out witnessing the action. Sometimes I lose track of time and struggle getting back to the nature center before it closes. 

I am still only an average birder.  The birds I know best are those I’ve captured in photography.  The only bird log I keep is Lightroom.  To help me with my birding skills, I never volunteer on the tower without my worn copy of “The National Geographic Guide to Birds of North America.”  The visitors I try to make the biggest impression upon are people who are somewhat naive to wetlands the way I was on my first visit.  I hope to spark their interest in nature the way mine was ignited when I first visited the park. 

I have met, learned and shared with many wonderful people over the years on the tower, and some are close friends.  I have also witnessed many incredible things with visitors, whether it is an osprey hovering in the air and then diving straight into the water and coming back up with a fish, or someone seeing a bald eagle for the first time.  Even on slow days, I enjoy my time on the tower in the wetland surroundings.

I have always had a strong interest in photography, however due to a lack of specific subjects of interest, it was not in focus. My visits to Huntley Meadows Park quickly provided that subject of interest, and merging these two passions brought my photography into focus. Now I am a serious wildlife and nature photographer — not a professional by any means, because I spend money instead of make money.  But living my passions is rewarding in my life.

Author Curtis Gibbens is a volunteer at Huntley Meadows Park. His first photography exhibit is on display in the Norma Hoffman Visitor Center during July and August. The exhibit consists mostly of wildlife on the East Coast.  The photographs were taken at Huntley Meadows, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Shenandoah National Park, and in the Carolinas. Curtis will be at the park for a meet and greet on Saturday, July 6 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. Or, you can catch him on some weekends at the tower.