Tag Archives: Hidden Pond Nature Center

Volunteering At Hidden Pond – Not Just For Kids Anymore

Volunteers enjoy the dynamic environment at Hidden Pond Nature Center.

Volunteers enjoy the dynamic environment at Hidden Pond Nature Center.

New Year’s resolutions are usually intended to help us be “better” people in the New Year.  But often they are punishing in some way, and so are abandoned before winter is over. However, you can make a painless resolution that doesn’t involve restricting calories or creating sweat. And you can make it now, just as others are breaking their promises.

Give a little of your time to make a difference in your community and the environment. If you resolve to volunteer, we’ll arrange a schedule to fit your schedule, teach you new, fun things about nature (or maybe you’ll teach us) and help you connect with other volunteers.

Hidden Pond Nature Center has hosted a vibrant and vital volunteer program for youth for years.  A few wonderful adult volunteers have helped along the way with administrative tasks, nature programs and other special projects.  We would like to spread the joy in 2013 to include more adults.  There are opportunities to fit every personality, and training will be provided.

Are you a people person?  Maybe you would like to volunteer at the front desk of the nature center.  You could expand your knowledge of nature without getting dirty or facing the weather.  Handling animals is optional in this position.  You would greet visitors and answer questions about the animals and park programs. 

Another great position for a people and nature lover would be as a nature program assistant, helping staff with programs.  Many of these programs are for children and would involve learning to handle the animals.  Have you dreamed of holding an exquisite Green Tree Frog in the palm of your hand?  This might be for you.

Maybe you consider working with the public a bit like one of those punishing resolutions.  Then you could volunteer for any of numerous other important activities at the park, including animal care, native plant gardening, invasive plant removal, trail maintenance, or naturalist surveys.

If you would like to talk with someone about volunteering at Hidden Pond, please contact Carmen Bishop, or ask for an adult volunteer application form at the nature center.

Make it a Happy New Year beyond January 1!

By Carmen Bishop, Hidden Pond Nature Center

Treasures in Silence at Hidden Pond

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Sometimes the easiest way to observe nature is to stay put and let nature come to you.  You might relax on a park bench and notice a frog flip into a pond, or pause during a walk (I like to schedule my pauses for the uphill sections) to quietly let a deer browse ever closer.  You learn that good things come to those who wait. 

Staying put also is one way to survey wildlife. 

The annual Northern Virginia Bird Survey, hosted for 18 years by the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, employs this method for counting all the birds that can be heard or seen. Surveyors stand for five minutes at specific points located 250 meters apart.  The yearly June survey identifies the breeding birds in our area.  Is it probable that some birds are missed by this method?  Yes, but it nevertheless provides a good snapshot of what’s around. 

Taking part in the survey is also a good exercise in attention span.  Try it. Go outside, be quiet, and see how many birds, butterflies or frogs or whatever you choose you can count in five minutes.  I have found in conducting these surveys that I have a three-minute attention span, because I invariably look at my watch after three minutes.

This year, I surveyed birds at six points at Hidden Pond Nature Center and along the Pohick Stream on June 30. These are the 36 species I recorded: 

Cedar Waxwing

Great Blue Heron (not breeding)
Red-shouldered Hawk
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift (fly over)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue Jay
American Crow (fly over)
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Northern Parula
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle (fly over)
American Goldfinch

Now it’s your turn. Here’s another opportunity for a few peaceful moments outdoors. Grab a book or download an app about bird identification or bird calls. Head out to a nearby park. There are over 400 of them in the county. Stand still. Five minutes. Okay, three. Listen. Look.

Turned into a nice day, didn’t it?

By Carmen Bishop, Hidden Pond Nature Center

Lawn Runoff Fuels Duckweed Problem at Hidden Pond

Along with neighbors who enjoy hiking tranquil trails and families who bring their children to play on the playground at Hidden Pond Park, over 50,000 people visit the nature center each year. Many of them venture to the pond to see the frogs, turtles, and other aquatic life. Children participate in netting programs where they learn about insect larvae, damselflies, and diving beetles by scooping them out of the water. But the popular pond in Springfield has a problem, and Manager Jim Pomeroy is reaching out to neighbors for help. 

Duckweed grows on the surface of Hidden Pond.

Each summer a thick, unsightly mat of duckweed spreads across the surface of the pond. This floating layer of green inhibits the nature center’s ability to use the pond as an educational resource, and its unattractive appearance may have an adverse effect on visitation during the summer months. To combat the annual duckweed scourge, Pomeroy, with financial assistance from the Friends of Hidden Pond, has mailed letters to over 500 households in the neighborhoods surrounding the park to explain the problem and offer a solution.

“Duckweed is a very real problem, and I intend to make a dent in it through education and awareness,” said Pomeroy, who welcomes calls and visits to discuss the issue. “We want to take care of an important educational resource and, hopefully, this outreach helps our neighbors become better acquainted with us and they come enjoy the park,” he continued.

Duckweed is a small, floating plant with a single root that dangles beneath the surface. It provides food for fish, waterfowl, and other aquatic life and naturally occurs on most ponds. But given the right conditions it can take over by forming dense colonies which effectively block sunlight from reaching submerged aquatic plants. As the vegetation is snuffed out, the entire pond habitat suffers. Aquatic animals and fish lose their food source and shelter, and the pond’s reduced oxygen levels make it difficult to support life.

According to Natural Resource Specialist Kristen Sinclair, “Duckweed responds really well to bursts of fertilizer. It acts almost like an algal bloom and does very well in shallow, stagnant water.” This is where Pomeroy thinks neighbors can make a difference. In developed areas, like the neighborhoods surrounding the park, one of the major contributors to excess nutrients in waterways comes directly from lawn runoff.  When it rains, fertilizer not taken up by turf is carried down storm drains and into streams, rivers, and ponds. “If residents were to fertilize in an environmentally way, it would have an effect,” he said.

Soil test kits help homeowners choose the correct about of fertilizer for their lawns.

In his letter to the neighbors Pomeroy suggests a solution to limiting over-fertilizing and preventing under-fertilizing. Residents can learn exactly what their lawns need by testing the soil with a simple kit available at the nature center and at all Fairfax County public libraries. The kits have instructions on how to collect a sample and where to mail it for analysis. The fee for a routine analysis is $10, and recommendations are usually generated within three working days. Pomeroy points out that homeowners and homeowners associations that rely on lawn care services may request soil testing and ask that they be conservative in what they apply. Taking a simple soil test may save neighbors money on fertilizer, will certainly benefit the environment, could help alleviate Hidden Pond’s duckweed problem.

The duckweed problem isn’t a new one at Hidden Pond, but it’s one Pomeroy has seen grow measurably worse during his 30-year tenure as manager. Pomeroy and his staff have tried different ways to control duckweed over the years, but nothing has been able to stop its spread. A common method for removing duckweed is to simply rake the pond’s surface in the same way leaves are raked in the fall. “We tried paddling around in a jon boat and scooping it out, but it grows faster than we can possibly remove it,” Pomeroy said. A notch was cut into the wooden flashing to allow more duckweed to exit the pond during rain events, but it wasn’t effective. In 2009, an aerator was installed to stir up the water column and force oxygen into the deeper areas. This tactic helped, but it just wasn’t enough.

Children use nets to explore Hidden Pond.

Applying aquatic herbicides has been suggested since it seems to work well for golf course ponds. However, these chemicals are not very selective and will kill virtually all submerged aquatic vegetation, such as various arums, buttonbush, and water lilies. “Because we use the pond as an educational resource, we have plants in the pond we want to keep. That ties our hands as far as using herbicides. The whole system would be lost,” explains Pomeroy.

New methods of adding various enzymes and aerobic bacteria to digest decaying plant matter which would deprive duckweed of nutrients have yet to be proven safe and effective. “It’s a very tough problem, especially in older, woodland ponds where leaves continuously fall into the water,” said Pomeroy. “We encourage a lot of vegetation along the shore to take up excess nutrients,” he added. Pomeroy and staff have also planted cattails and other aquatic vegetation in a small pool above the pond designed to capture sediment, pollutants, and excess nutrients.

Of course, weather plays a big role in the health of the pond. If the area receives adequate rain throughout the summer, the pond is constantly refreshed and the duckweed can’t flourish. Conversely, during prolonged periods of drought the problem is much worse. So until the results of the soil tests are returned, a wet summer may be the only deterrent to duckweed’s return.

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer