Tag Archives: Birds

Keeping Fairfax County Blue

2013 was a good year for native, cavity-nesting birds of Fairfax.

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Births of animals at Frying Pan Farm Park are publicized and celebrated, but not all of the births in the park take place in the barn. There are Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) hatchings in nest boxes around the park, and sometimes the newborns are known only to the staff and volunteers who monitor those boxes.

There weren’t a lot of them around during the Great Depression. Bluebirds weren’t common in the 1930s.  The usual problems — habitat loss and the introduction of non-native competition –depressed their population. The European starling and the English house sparrow, both aggressive species, competed with bluebirds for nesting cavities.

But people liked them, even crooned about them. Dame Vera Lynn sang about bluebirds over “The White Cliffs of Dover” in 1942. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” with the line “Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder,” won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Original Song. “Bluebird of Happiness,” recorded in 1945 by tenor Jan Peerce, was a worldwide hit.

More empirical, but just as romantic at the time, were bluebird enthusiasts. These folks installed and monitored nest boxes, and bluebirds recovered. We still use nest boxes, romantics that we are, to support the Eastern bluebird population in Fairfax County.

You can see bluebirds at Frying Pan year round, often near the park’s upper horse ring or the stormwater pond.  During the spring and summer, they nest in cavities in trees and in the nest boxes.  The small size of the entrance hole in the park’s 13 bluebird nest boxes keeps out the larger starling, and the monitors remove house sparrow nests to discourage them from using the boxes.  The starlings and house sparrows still nest at the park in the farm yard.  The bluebird boxes welcome all native species and are used by tree swallows, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, house wrens and others.  You can learn more about the boxes and how they work by finding the display box along Frying Pan’s wagon ride path near the visitor’s center.

The bluebird monitors keeping an eye on those flirting birds in the boxes are park staff and volunteers with the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS), a 17-year-old non-profit that promotes bluebirds and other native cavity nesters. Information about bluebirds, their nesting habits and how the monitoring program works is on the organization’s website. VBS is working to establish a statewide network of bluebird trails. Here’s what they learned by keeping count last year.

In 2013, 29 bluebirds and 19 tree swallows were born and fledged from the Frying Pan boxes.  July’s hot weather seemed to discourage the birds, which may be why this total of 48 birds was down a bit from the two previous years (56 birds each in 2011 and 2012).  The numbers fluctuate naturally, and the drop in 2013 is not a concern. It’s still a nice total, and it’s still fun to look for the bluebirds when you visit the park.

The number of bluebirds fledged in 2013 in monitored nests across Northern Virginia was up 2.2 percent from 2012. That’s 3,603 birds successfully raised from 56 monitored nests. In 2012, monitors logged 3,523 birds fledged on 49 trails, up from the 2,974 birds fledged on 47 trails reported in 2011 data. The numbers recorded by the monitors annually since 2000 are on the VBS web page.

Frying Pan is not alone among Fairfax County Park Authority sites hosting bluebirds. Burke Lake, Cub Run, Eakin, Ellanor C. Lawrence, Greendale, Lake Fairfax, Langley Fork, Laurel Hill, Nottoway, Oak Marr, Riverbend, and South Run are some of the Park Authority sites that host bluebird boxes.  Another is Huntley Meadows (HMP), whose monitors track nesting box results in the park and at the adjacent Coast Guard Station (CGS). HMP has 27 boxes, 20 of which are paired to permit Eastern bluebirds and tree swallows to nest side by side, reducing competition within those species. Eastern bluebirds and tree swallows forage differently and do not compete for the same prey base.

Two paired boxes are located behind the observation tower on the south side of Huntley Meadows, and the others sit near the hike/bike trail on the northwest side of the park. The CGS hosts five boxes that overlook a well-kept lawn in contrast to the park boxes, which are located in open but typically overgrown meadows. All boxes are equipped with predator guards as prescribed by the Virginia Bluebird Society.

The VBS trains and organizes volunteers to monitor the nest boxes. If you are interested in becoming a monitor, contact VBS president Carmen Bishop. Many of the trails in Fairfax County are monitored by teams of four people, and there is a need for volunteers.

A reminder: it is important that people not open the boxes unless they are a trained monitor. Opening a box that holds nestlings age 13 days or older might cause them to fledge prematurely. Monitors keep records, so they know when and which boxes to avoid opening. The birds generally are pretty tolerant of monitor visits, but not endlessly so. Too much disturbance can discourage them from nesting. For visitors not part of the monitoring program, watch but don’t touch. Enjoy a walk along a bluebird trail, and enjoy the results of the monitors who are trying to keep Fairfax County blue.

Author Carmen Bishop is the president of the Virginia Bluebird Society and a former Fairfax County Park Authority employee. Co-author David Ochs is the Park Authority’s Manager of Stewardship Communications.

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.

Wetland Restoration Project Starts to Sing!

The wetland restoration project at Huntley Meadows Park is nearly complete.

The wetland restoration project at Huntley Meadows Park is nearly complete.

After 22 years of planning, three environmental engineering firms, numerous design drafts, and more than 60 public meetings, it’s hard to believe that the Huntley Meadows Wetland Restoration Project is just days from completion. As Fairfax County Park Authority  staff struggle with the challenges of directing contractors, managing finances, unpredictable weather and inevitable construction delays, the park’s wildlife have decided to ignore all these silly human issues and literally dive into the project.

First, a little context

Raising and then managing the wetland’s water levels in order to maintain a hemi-marsh full of biodiversity is the project’s primary goal. The wetland has been slowly, steadily losing depth for several decades because of silt and cattail spread. It lost almost a foot of depth since the 1980s. That’s one-third of its water, since it was never more than about three feet deep.

The restoration design has three main aspects — creating an earthen dam with a vinyl center to regain that lost foot of depth, installing pipes to create seasonally fluctuating water levels (essential for maintaining a healthy hemi-marsh), and excavating several deeper pools to create refuge for wetland wildlife during summer droughts and winter freezes. As an added plus, the project doubles the wetland’s boundaries, seasonally flooding surrounding forest to create additional swampland and vernal pools. Combined, those events restore a paradise for wildlife and wildlife watchers.

At least that was the idea. But would it work? Would 22 years of planning pay off? Would park wildlife agree with and adopt the design, or would we end up with a beautiful but empty wetland as animals high-tailed it for other parks not full of excavating bulldozers, 20-person construction crews and enough silt-fence to surround a small country? I’ve been telling people that three years was a good amount of time to wait until we saw real results. It turned out all the wetland needed was seven days of rain.

Seven days, not three years

Remember back in mid-October when it rained non-stop for a week? Well, the construction was far from complete, but the dam and pipes were finished. So we were able to raise the water level back to its 1986 levels plus an additional 10 inches. Wetland boundaries expanded, areas were submerged that had been dry for 30 years, and then we waited, watched, and listened. As park staff struggled with submerged trails and a small section of boardwalk that flirted with the idea of floating away, wildlife chose to ignore these mundane issues and had a ball.

Huntley’s resource manager, Dave Lawlor, and I were walking the trails to determine which sections to raise when we heard what sounded like the roar of a low plane moving towards us over the flooded wetland. The roar got louder, Dave and I had to shout to hear ourselves, but when we looked around — no plane in sight. Then we realized the deafening sound moving like a wave across the wetland was the largest chorus of southern leopard frogs we’d ever heard. One male frog starts to croak, cackle and gargle, his neighbor feels competitive and tries to outdo him, his neighbor does the same, and in seconds the sound wave rolls across 40 acres of wetland, echoing into the surrounding forest. The extreme volume was due to the increased wetland footprint. This was the largest the wetland had been in over 30 years, creating an enormous stage for one of Northern Virginia’s least common frogs and one of the species we had hoped to help with this project. “Build it and they will come” and sing.

Photo by Ed Eder

Southern leopard frogs, one of the least common frog species in Northern Virginia, are already benefitting from the expanded wetland.

The return of the birds

Wonderfully, and thankfully for an anxiously waiting park manager, southern leopard frogs were not the only wildlife that adopted and utilized the restored wetland. One morning as I joined Charles Smith, FCPA’s lead naturalist and resource protection manager, to inspect the project, we heard a warbled, bouncy bird call coming from the edge of a recently excavated habitat pool. “Purple finch? Goldfinch? No, I think it’s a winter wren!” A tiny, mouse-like bird that flits down from New England to spend its winters hiding in the moist thickets of the mid-Atlantic had its head thrown back and was singing its heart out from a wildlife brush shelter constructed only days before.

Unfortunately, a few hundred trees had to come down in order to create the new dam, pipes and pools. Our goal was to use all of those trees on-site as habitat enhancements (brush shelters, sunning logs for turtles, underwater breeding habitat for crayfish, etc.), and winter wrens were one of the species we were hoping to attract.

That same morning we heard several belted kingfishers throwing their rattling cries across the wetland, diving for fishy snacks in the newly excavated pools, and over the last few weeks numerous ducks have appeared to feed, court and mate in the expanded wetland. Northern shovelers, northern pintails, green-winged teal, and American black ducks are just a few of the winter waterfowl species now in the wetland, visiting from their summer homes in Canada and our upper Midwest.

None of the species I’ve mentioned so far, from frogs to ducks, are new to Huntley, but their numbers appear to have increased this fall/winter because of the larger wetland and historic water depth. Our goal was never to attract new species, but rather to return the marshland wildlife back to their 1980s numbers, and to convince rails, bitterns and grebes to nest here again as they did several decades ago. Will king rails and pied-billed grebes build nests and give birth again to new generations next spring and summer? We’ll see or, more accurately, we’ll listen.

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Mike Rollband, president and owner of Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc., discusses the wetland restoration project.

Author Kevin Munroe is the site manager at Huntley Meadows Park. See more photos of the project on Flickr.

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.

The Wild Side of Frying Pan Farm Park

A Great Blue Heron stalks its prey at Frying Pan Farm Park.

A Great Blue Heron stalks its prey at Frying Pan Farm Park.

Among the parade of rolling strollers, excited kindergarteners and working farm staff, a patron visiting Frying Pan Farm Park could find themselves bombarded by truly “wild” animals. The culprits are acrobatic Aves, known far and wide as gymnasts of the air.

As a budding naturalist, I chased jobs and toured across the country. I naturalized in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Tennessee and now Virginia. It can be challenging to leave a lovely place and adjust to the next; however I never acquaint myself to new surroundings alone. When acclimating to unfamiliar areas, I simply look for old friends: northern cardinal, blue jay, or Carolina wren. At Frying Pan, I find familiarity in a new land. Each morning, before the bevies of elementary schoolchildren disembark from their buses, I take to the woods for a period of calm discovery amid the park’s wild inhabitants.

A tree swallow rests on a bluebird nesting box at Frying Pan Farm Park.

A tree swallow rests on a bluebird nesting box at Frying Pan Farm Park.

The wild side of Frying Pan is quite diverse for a relatively small natural area. Out in the grassy field, I often observe both tree and barn swallows carving the sky. It is fantastic to watch the way they veer swiftly and precisely. These daring creatures rely on their well-adapted wing and tail shapes to snatch unsuspecting insects out of the air. The field also offers opportunities to watch incoming turkey vultures glide on air pockets while they sniff out their next meal.

The forest provides habitat for a variety of birds and animals.

The forest provides habitat for a variety of birds and animals.

Past the fields lies a wide strip of forest dominated by hickory and oak. As I walk, I find trees of varying height and girth indicating a healthy and maturing second growth forest. The area includes larger grandfather trees, short saplings, and standing dead trees or snags. When left standing, the snags provide inviting opportunities for a variety of woodpeckers. As the trees decompose, insects begin to devour the nutrients in the wood. Woodpeckers drill their heads, bill first, into trees creating cavities to slurp out insects with their long, barbed tongues. Several types of warblers, flycatchers and thrushes also reside in the woods.

Most recently, I explored the wetlands to the east of the park. In an effort to compile a well-rounded list of birds, I knew I’d need to find some type of waterfowl. With hopeful anticipation, I headed out in search of some kind of duck. Instead, I was delighted to find a large great blue heron standing stiff-legged and motionless in the middle of the first pond. It is amazing how still and patient they can be while on the hunt. I think I can learn something from this great blue bird. In addition, I found a pair of green herons displaying similar behavior and throngs of red-winged blackbirds.

A green heron perches above the wetland.

A green heron perches above the wetland.

I encourage, even challenge, you to take a step away from the predictable bustling of farm enthusiasts and drift into the untamed.  Search for your neighbors, too: the sparrow, the mockingbirds. See what you can discover. There is so much to see.

Author Patrick McNamara is a staff interpreter at Frying Pan Farm Park.

Construction Begins On The Huntley Meadows Wetlands Restoration Project

UPDATE: July 17, 2013 

It really hasn’t been so bad, those bulldozers and big yellow machines out in the wetlands. There’s still a lot for you to see. There’s still a lot to do, but the potential rewards are big.The remodeling of the Huntley Meadows wetlands continues this summer.  There’s a major step in the project coming soon.  Construction of the berm in the wetlands is expected to begin in late July or early August. The earthen and vinyl sheet piling berm will allow park staff to raise the water levels in the wetland approximately two feet. That will reclaim water depth that has been lost to silt. The silt comes from erosion and construction associated with upstream suburban development.

The berm is part of a restoration of the park’s central wetland, a restoration that has brought construction equipment to the area. That equipment will be visible in the park’s natural areas for a few more months, however the reconstruction means that in the long term the park will continue to have a functioning, healthy and diverse wetland capable of supporting locally rare plants and animals. In short, you’ll see more cool stuff.

The berm will work hand-in-hand with a water control structure comprised of pipes and slide gates. Staff can use those gates to raise and lower water levels as the seasons pass. The fluctuating water levels will help maintain a healthy wetland for decades and will return biodiversity to Huntley Meadow’s wetlands.

This part of the project was planned for mid-summer to limit the pestering of animals during their reproductive seasons. That keeps the babies safe. In addition, staff and volunteers have removed hundreds of reptiles, amphibians and native plants from areas where digging will take place and shuttled them to other, safer spots in the park.

We expect the water control structure to be completed by September. The project as a whole is on track for completion in November or December. Some cleanup tasks may last until March 2014.

There will be temporary trail closures in parts of the park until the project’s completion. The hike-bike trail off the South Kings Highway entrance is closed. However, the boardwalk and the observation tower are open, so come on out to Huntley Meadows park and watch the changes as the wetlands gets healthier over the coming months.

Got questions? A lot of answers are on the Wetland Restoration Project web page.  Or, give the park a call at 703-768-2525 and speak with Kevin Munroe or Kathleen Lowe.

MARCH 20, 2013

This is going to be great when it’s done, and well worth the wait.

A project has begun to restore the central wetland at Huntley Meadows Park.

A project has begun to restore the central wetland at Huntley Meadows Park.

To be honest, you might be surprised when you see a bulldozer sitting in the Huntley Meadows wetlands. Park staff understands, yet we know there is a rewarding and bigger surprise in the near future. You’re going to see a renewed and healthy wetland with a wider variety of wildlife. Consider the remodeling of a room or front yard. It’s a shock and can be distressing during the process, but the end results make it worthwhile.

That’s what we have in Huntley Meadows Park. There’s a problem, and we’re going to fix it so that the area retains its healthy wetland. We’ve got to go through some discomfort to get to those rewarding results.

Over the past couple of decades, silt and debris have been slowly, steadily filling the central wetland at Huntley Meadows Park. Some of that is natural, and some of it is suburban living. If we let this combination of natural and suburban run-off have its way, pretty soon the wetland will become woodland or meadow. Normally that would be okay, and the Park Authority’s naturalists would be all in favor of letting the park evolve into a forest or grassland. However, there’s another issue.

Huntley Meadows Park has the largest non-tidal wetland in Northern Virginia. There’s nothing else like it in Fairfax County, and it’s incredibly valuable as a wetland to wildlife, to water quality and to visiting county residents, including students, scientists and nature-lovers. So after more than 20 years of tracking the changes, wide-ranging discussions about ethics, beliefs, goals, missions, values and options, and more than 60 meetings, the Park Authority Board considered all comments and decided to restore the wetlands to the condition of its prime years in the 1970s and 1980s.

A healthy hemi-marsh provides habitat for a diverse variety of wildlife.

A healthy hemi-marsh provides habitat for a diverse variety of wildlife.

That’s where the bulldozer comes in. It’s going to take heavy equipment to get the job done. We’re going to do several things that will bring excellent results to the wetland. First, our construction team, supervised by park staff and environmental engineers, will get their beaver on and construct a berm that will hold back water. They’ll install pipes as part of a water control structure that will rest out of sight under water and be used to manage the water levels. Lastly, they’ll provide numerous brush shelters and logs as habitat for wildlife and create five deeper pools. As a result, the wetland will spread into parts of the surrounding forest, and hemi-marsh plant communities will be managed by changing water levels as needed and by varying the water depths. The end result will be diverse year-round wildlife habitat.

A water control system will allow park staff to maintain a consistent water depth.

A water control system will allow park staff to maintain the seasonally fluctuating water levels of a healthy hemi-marsh.

And one more result. Fairfax County residents will get to see the Huntley Meadows wetland return to the regionally significant area that was one of the most productive and diverse non-tidal wetlands in the mid-Atlantic area. It will hopefully again be an attractive home for species that are rare in this region; species such as American Bittern, Least Bittern, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, King Rail, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Moorhen and a long list of reptiles and amphibians.

A healthy hemi-marsh is perfect habitat or the King Rail and other waterfowl.

A healthy hemi-marsh is perfect habitat or the King Rail and other species of waterfowl.

If you’ve only seen the Huntley Meadows wetland of the past decade, you’re in for a surprise. Once it returns to its hemi-marsh, or emergent marsh, condition there will be more water and more wildlife in the wetland. We think you’ll like it a lot, and it will create unique and exemplary education opportunities.

We’re taking these steps and managing the wetland to ensure that Huntley Meadows Park continues to host a functioning, healthy and diverse wetland that will be home to locally rare plants and animals on a consistent, long-term basis.

Construction starts in April, and the project is scheduled for completion in December. Although the visitor center, surrounding trails, boardwalk and observation tower will all remain open, the Hike-Bike Trail (off South Kings Hwy) will be closed for months at a time. This three million dollar project is funded by park bonds and grants.

Got questions? A lot of answers are on the Wetland Restoration Project web page.  Or, give the park a call at 703-768-2525 and speak with Kevin Munroe or Kathleen Lowe.

Written by Dave Ochs, manager, Stewardship Communications, Resource Management Division

What To Feed Birds When Your Kid Is Allergic To Nuts

Nuts.  An excellent food for birds.  Not so excellent for people with an allergy.

BirdfeederBird feeders are a great way to learn basics about common local birds and provide life to your yard in the winter. A bird feeder is a great family activity that can take you into nature right in your own backyard. Nothing is more fun than sitting inside your house with a cup of hot cocoa while watching birds visit your backyard feeders.

One time after a bird program, I was approached by a family who said they loved feeding birds but their child had an extreme nut allergy. This had never entered my mind, but it seems to be more common each year.

I am often asked now what families can feed birds when they have kids who are allergic to nuts. Pretty much everything offered for bird feeding has some type of nut in it.

The solution is animal fat.

As a kid, my father would talk to the meat guy at the grocery store and ask for some animal fat. The meat guy would appear with a small package of white strips. He seemed very happy to get rid of it. The animal fat wound up in black wire suet cages that were hung for the birds. The birds loved it, and it has no nuts.

So, feed the birds. Talk to the meat guy at your favorite grocery store. Ask for strips of animal fat. Just ignore his puzzled look when you ask.

DSC_0783Author Tony Bulmer is a naturalist, historian and the senior interpreter at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. ECLP has Barred Owl Campfires, classes on bird banding and a Bird Study Merit Badge class coming soon.