Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Environmental Studies on the Piedmont visits the Zoo

Part of our mission is to connect people to the natural world and all of the wonderful learning that occurs there.   Last weekend, we were invited to present at Conservation Science Day at the National Zoo. This was a fun day where we were able to get the word out about our programs and provide some interesting information to the public about a variety of topics including: creating habitats for salamanders, monitoring migrating birds, conducting annual butterfly counts, learning Native American values for the natural world and where to go to get a good education in conservation!

While there, Over a thousand people from all walks of life came through the great apes house and visited us despite the rain that day.  Environmental Studies volunteers and students from the Integrative Studies program at George Mason including Melissa Fuerst, Nikki Jawadian and Kelsey Heath represented New Century College proudly.  

Melissa showed off her research on our phenomenally successful, created vernal pool.   The spotted and Jefferson salamanders, as well as wood frogs and tree frogs continue to do very well up there!

Nikki and Kelly worked with kids to teach them about what we learn from banding birds.   Those that completed a puzzle were awarded with a band themselves!   This was a great hit and wonderful opportunity for both students to work with children as they study to become teachers.

Nanette Mickle presented her new work on purple martins and the fascinating journeys they make migrating back and forth from Brazil.   Everyone left with the desire to set up purple martin houses at their homes!

Anaya and Kathy Barrera talked with children about respect for the natural world and Native American values, encouraging everyone to get outside for a little while every day!

Some of the high school students received information about the Smithsonian Mason Semester and other courses offered through the Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation.   There is no better way to become a conservation biologist than through our program at Mason!

Overall, we were happy for the opportunity to interact with the public and let them know what is going on at Environmental Studies on the Piedmont and Mason.  As we pass the fall equinox and head toward shorter days our education programs and bird banding are in full swing!    Thanks for tuning in and coming to see us on the field station!


Monday, May 5, 2014

Bird Migration in Full Swing, Join us for Give Local Piedmont tomorrow

It is that wonderful time of year when the sounds and sights of the migrating passerines enlighten the spring!   Students of nature awareness are overwhelmed with the new set of vocalizations, and those with a long time nature kinship anticipate the arrival of friends who departed in the fall.   For the last several years, my journal heralds the arrival of rose breasted grossbeaks at the feeder.  Yesterday a lone male arrived again, just to stay a while.   I wanted to have a conversation about his winter journey, but he seemed too exhausted to reveal much.  Today he is off again, to the mountains, to the north...  There is something settling about this birds stopover on our feeder.   Another year is complete....

Join us tomorrow for AM birding at 7:00 and again late in the afternoon.   As part of our fundraising efforts with Give Local Piedmont, we will be out looking and listening to many of the arrivals.   Orchard orioles arrived this past week, and the regulars are here.  We will likely get 40 species by the house without having to walk too far.   Be sure to check out the website for all of our events on the field station tomorrow and don't forget to make a donation!  There is a $100,000 cost share that can potentially double your donations made tomorrow!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Spring has Sprung!

The George Mason students are wrapping up the semester with end of the year projects.  Dr. Nord's soils class (Geol 306) was out doing surveys on the field station, and we really appreciate their efforts.  For the students,  it is so much more meaningful to collect data that can help with the planning of new projects.  They analyzed soils in areas where we may have future projects in vegetable crop production, for new vernal pools, for improved habitat for turkeys and to help find old wetlands.  Good practical stuff all around.  Kind of reminds me of days at UC Davis when we fixed tractors with bailing wire to keep things going.   Good job everyone!   And a new group of members for our field station family.

 Last weekend, we had a wonderful public night out with the amphibians.  The American toad eggs were still breeding and laying eggs, although some have already hatched in the wetlands.  The Jefferson salamanders were just starting to hatch in the vernal pools.  Once again, it looks like the springtime success of the ridgetop vernal pool is very high, with well over 1000 amphibians using it this year (calculated from wood frog and salamander egg masses).    It is still a good time of the year to listen for frogs and toads.   To learn more check out

After a cold evening in the field observing amphibians, we had a spontaneous tea tasting with oolongs from China.   We are going to do this more often!

To wrap up the emergence of spring, the migratory birds are in their peak right now!  I am listening to an orchard oriole that just arrived today, and watching two newly arrived ruby throated hummingbirds on the feeder (time to get them up if you have not done so!).   And flying ants are emerging for a new generation!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Volunteer thanks!

Earth day is a time to thank volunteers that do so much for Environmental Studies, and as spring emerges the efforts of all our volunteers are shining through all over the field station.   Now we are moving into the May 6 Give Local, Give Piedmont.   This 24 hour local fundraising event will bring awareness to local non-profits and be the largest fundraising event of the year for local non-profits.
We will have events on the field station, including bird watching in the morning and evening!  Stay tuned!

Students from the sustainability floor at Mason have joined us twice this year, helping with the work required to restore vernal pools and helping keep the driveway in order!   You can help too by stopping by the field station on May 6 or contributing online during this 24 hour fundraising event.

Friday, April 18, 2014

March in like a lion, and well, out like a lion...

On March 16, the song of the woodfrogs was still ringing from the vernal pools, this adult was heading out of the very cold water.  That evening we had a near record low of 32 degrees.


The wood frog is a master of "freezing point depression" and will convert large amounts of glycogen from the liver to glucose as a solute into the blood when temperatures get dangerously cold.  This lowers the freezing point below 32 degrees and helps remove water from cells where ice crystal formation would cause damage.  This is not an uncommon system in the natural world, and helps explain why many creatures are able to survive extreme winter conditions.

The next day, March 17, we had another significant snow and temperatures around 27 degrees.   The vernal pools remained relatively quiet, with wood frog eggs being the first laid and few salamanders migrating to the pools.

The Workshop:
March 22 was our vernal pool workshop this year.   Mike Hayslett joined us again for for a public program, covering the basics of vernal pool function and their importance for our amphibians.  The wood frogs were the stars of the show! We also discussed crayfish, a potential invasive species problem.   In this case, Orconectes limosus, our native crayfish lives happily in limited numbers in out wetlands.  Look out for the rusty crayfish (Oronectes rusticus), native to the Ohio valley, in your wetlands.  It has many dark spots along the side. and out competes our native crayfish.   The photo here is of limosus, they are here in relatively small numbers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

An Evening with Woodcocks (Saturday March 16)

On Saturday evening about 20 of us had a wonderful time watching the woodcocks perform their timeless display in the fields behind the farmhouse.   Our good friends, Michael Kieffer and Bull Run Conservancy members joined us for this annual event.  It was a perfect evening with mild temperatures and a clear sky.  For some, it was the first time witnessing this age old right of spring.

Source: Birds of North America Online
On Saturday, the "peent" call of the males started precisely at 7:41 PM, with full "sky dance" displays
following for half an hour.  There were four males displaying in our immediate vicinity.  Likely, they will continue to display at dawn and dusk for the next few weeks.

Last night (Monday) after plowing the road, I watched a male set up his singing ground in the open road, taking advantage of what seemed to be the only place to sing due to deep snow on the fields.  He seemed surprised to immediately attract a female and quickly started to utter his "tuku"sound.  He propped his wings up and forward and marched toward her twisting slightly back and forth as he approached.  The curious female slowly moved away, only mildly interested, and commenced probing the snow cover as if looking for something to eat.   This went on for a few minutes at which point the male abruptly gave up his pursuit, ran back to his preferred singing site and let out loud  "peent" calls to try to attract a more suitable female.   The female left the area, and soon the male was off on his "sky dance" once again.

wrapping up after seeing the display
If you missed our event last Saturday, we will be going out again this coming Saturday evening just after 7:00 PM again from the farmhouse.   Let us know if you would like to join in!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Winter storm Vulcan paid us a visit last night as we set out into the woods to find migrating Jefferson and Spotted salamanders.  We have one of the southeastern most populations of Jefferson salamanders (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), and keep an eye on them as they are outnumbered by Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) that have a larger range throughout the east coast.

A male Jefferson Salamander at the C1 vernal pool March 13, 2014
Each year we watch for the first cold, rainy night between mid February and early March when the salamanders leave their underground habitat (thus the name "mole" salamanders) and move to vernal pools to breed.  The males typically arrive first, followed a few nights later by females.  Most years on the field station, the Jefferson Salamanders seem to arrive first but the Spotted Salamanders arrive in larger numbers shortly behind.  Today, only Jefferson egg masses were present, although male Spotted Salamanders were in the vernal pools.

newly laid Jefferson Salamander egg masses (March 13)

 The other exciting amphibian visitor this time of year in the vernal pools are the spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) who started their calling this week, and the wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus).  There were about 100 wood frog egg masses early this morning in the ridgetop vernal pool.  They were under about 1 cm of ice on top of the pool, this might be a tough year for survival of these newly developing embryos.

Newly laid Wood Frog eggs in the Ridgetop vernal pool (today)
A very cold Wood Frog
The weather continues to be below freezing tonight, so the ice cover on the pools will continue through tomorrow.   It is amazing how tenacious these frogs and salamanders are in their struggle for life.   When one gets to know them, you can't help but respect them!

The soil temperature was near freezing early this morning at pool C1