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Fall 2021

MF volunteers Enhance a Stormwater Pond next to a county LandmarkCharlie Grymes

Since 1929, a barn and two grain silos have been familiar landmarks to travelers along Nokesville Road (Rt. 28) in Manassas. Once the Thomasson dairy farm, the land now houses 2Silos Brewery, and across Discovery Blvd a large stormwater pond called, rather plainly, Innovation Pond 3.

photo: Prince William County Mapper

Master Naturalist volunteers and county staff put over 1,000 plants into Pond 3. On August 2 and 12, led by the County Arborist, Julia Flanagan, volunteers worked in 3-6 inch deep water, bending over in the hot sun to plant plugs underwater. We planted sedges, Lizards tail, Pickerelweed, and Eelgrass as we chatted and discussed stream and wetland ecology.

One of us discovered that 12 inch high boots are useless if you step into 13 inch deep holes in the bottom of the pond. Others discovered that swinging a sledgehammer, driving stakes into the bottom to support protective netting, requires eye-hand coordination that had faded over the years.

During the first planting, a flock of geese flew in quickly since aquatic plants are their favorite food. We added netting to protect the young seedlings until they can mature and survive grazing; at Pond 3, the geese will have to wait a year.

During the second planting, we discovered the bottom of one side of the pond was boot-sucking muck. The high-quality interns finished the planting, after volunteers called it a day.


In old development areas, including much of Manassas and Dale City, rainfall races directly across impervious surfaces to our local stream

s. The fast-flowing water erodes the dirt banks, carrying sediment and nutrients to the Chesapeake Bay. As part of the “Save the Bay” effort, Tidewater counties must capture the excessive flows of sediment. Starting in 1992 in Prince William County, stormwater ponds were dug at new developments.

In 2010, a Federal judge required that the streams flowing into the bay must go on a “pollution diet.” Just as people trying to lose weight limit the intake of calories, a Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) document defines how much sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorous can flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

The plants will extract phosphorus and nitrogen from the stormwater flowing from Innovation into Pond 3. Water leaving the pond will have lower levels of nutrients. As a result, Cannon Branch, Broad Run, Lake Jackson and the Occoquan River will be cleaner. And geese will be well fed, of course.

Until recently, stormwater ponds were designed just to manage the quantity but not the quality of stormwater reaching our creeks. Now Prince William County is retrofitting Pond 3 and other old ponds to do double duty, capturing nutrients and improving the quality of the water released downstream.

Charlie Grymes is a BTC instructor and board member

Most People Try to Avoid Ticks. Valerie Hulesman Went out of her way to Find Them

Once a month, from April 2018 to March 2019., Master Naturalist Valerie Huelsman walked through Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve questing for ticks. Most who spend time outdoors use tick repellent and wear suitable clothes because it seems inevitable that the creatures will find us, and their bites can transmit Lyme disease and other illnesses.

Turns out that there is not much data on ticks and their associated pathogens in Prince William County. So out of curiosity, Valerie decided to hunt for ticks along recreation areas at the Bull Run Preserve, near areas where people might come into contact with ticks. The project might yield insight on ticks' distribution, seasonality, preferred habitat and the rate pathogens infect ticks.

She collected on days with no rain and temperatures at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit (ticks, especially deer ticks, tend to be more active in warmer weather), dragging a 1 meter square, flannel “tick flag” to catch questing ticks at eight sites-- along paths, through grass, shrubs, thickets, and leaf litter in deciduous woods. All areas that might provide shelter and food for ticks and where people might wander. Every 30 seconds she checked the flags and collected any ticks she found.

At the end of the study, Valerie cataloged and the number and species of ticks collected plus the temperature and humidity on each collection trip.

Valerie found far fewer ticks that she expected although the species she collected met her expectations. Because of the low numbers, she couldn't test or do the statistical analysis for tick borne pathogens. Part of her data and conclusions follow:

Overall, ticks were far less abundant than anticipated at the beginning of this survey. To remain consistent and due to the limited amount of time available, any further modifications to the methods or transect types were not considered.… Increasing transect length is likely the best option to increase the quantity of total ticks found. Timing more intensive surveillance to coincide with expected tick phenology such as deer tick nymph activity in late spring to early summer is another option to increase surveillance of specific species and life stages. Collecting ticks from small to medium host animals, (such as birds or rodents) is an additional method to effectively calculate species phenology and pathogen presence, particularly for tick species less likely to be collected through dragging.

There are several factors which may have contributed to the relative low abundance of ticks encountered during this survey. 2018 was a record-breaking year for rain with the highest rain totals in recorded history for our area, with a relatively even distribution of rainfall without extreme weather events. While ticks require high humidity for survival, the unusual rainfall possibly could have influenced host behavior and subsequent prevalence of questing ticks. In addition to weather, studies assessing population fluctuations over a multi-year period also recognize host population dynamics and wildlife management can influence tick populations. These site specific ecosystem and management differences may also have led to fewer ticks found at BRMNAP than what is typically noted anecdotally in other areas of the county.

Valerie Huelsman is past Secretary and a 2022 Co-President

Hunting Herps at Huntley Meadows – Jenny Meyer

Guided by Capital Naturalist Alonso Abugattas, the 2021 Basic Training class visited Huntley Meadows Park on September 25 for a Herpetology field study. A popular birding and nature hotspot in southern Fairfax County, Huntley Meadows held a strong assortment of salamanders, snakes, frogs, toads, turtles, skinks, and a variety of interesting invertebrates and plants.

Taking advantage of the cool start to the day, which kept the ectothermic critters in a “chill” mood, the group found Green Frogs in the visitor center’s small pond. Green Treefrogs basked in the sun along the wetlands boardwalk, as well as Leopard Frogs and American Bullfrogs at the water’s edge or in the shallow areas. A chorus of Spring Peepers could be heard occasionally calling out their “Fall Echo” from the opposite shore.

Basking turtles included the Eastern Painted Turtle and the non-native Red-eared Slider, while several enormous Snapping Turtles floated near the surface. Snakes were more elusive, but Northern Watersnakes were seen at the water’s edge.

In the woods beyond the boardwalk, Alonso -- using his special permission from the park to search under logs -- demonstrated the preferred technique of turning over a log--pulling from the top and keeping the log between you and any irate creatures underneath that might be unhappy to be exposed. While most the logs hid only termites and beetles, the group found an Eastern Red-backed Salamander and two Marbled Salamanders, who quietly allowed photos before we returned them to their hiding spots.

Rounding out the reptiles, several skinks came out to bask as temperatures rose. Incidental invertebrate observations included Handsome Meadow Katydids, Two-lined Grasshoppers, a Monarch butterfly, a Red-spotted Purple butterfly, Common Whitetail dragonflies, Orb Weaver spiders, a nest full of emerging Nursery Web spiders, a Yellow Wooly Bear caterpillar, and an enormous Hercules Beetle grub. Monitor Tom Thaller also pointed out a charming family of Wood Ducks – two adult parents and at least four younger ducks.

Most flowering plants were done blooming, but we found Turtlehead and Jewelweed. Plants with conspicuous fruit included the Swamp Rose, Common Persimmon, and Mapleleaf Viburnum.

Monitor Eric Fagerholm welcomed three visitors from other Master Naturalist chapters and kept track of the group, which logged about three miles around the park. Everyone avoided falling into the water while taking photos and making room for the large number of birders and nature-loving park visitors crowding the boardwalk.

At the end of the trip, several trainees embarrassed Alonso, the semi-famous author of the Capital Naturalist blog and Facebook group, by asking him to autograph their copies of his reference guide, The Reptiles and Amphibians of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area.

-- Jenny Meyer is a member of the 2021 Basic Training Class

Botany Class at Conway Robinson – Charlie Grymes Welcome aboard to our new students!

Saturday, August 21st, marked the first field trip for our new VMN session. Our Botany class was held at Conway Robinson State Forest, led by Charlie Grymes and Claudia Thompson-Deahl. Thanks to monitors Mike Dow and Tim Chenault and also thanks to Eric Fagerholm, our designated "caboose,” we didn’t lose anyone. Conway Robinson was a great site for a botany class. It is 444 acres of mature and immature woodlands with a mix of pines and deciduous trees. There is a rich diversity of plants, including some rare plants. There are large oaks that are estimated to be over 250 years old. The site has streams, vernal pools and a rich history. If you don’t know what a vernal pool is, ask one of the students that attended! Charlie entertained and educated us with prepared question flash cards to keep us on our toes, which fostered several good discussions. The staff at the State Forest has managed the deer population so in turn, Conway has a healthy understory with lots of species for identification. We covered the many ways species are connected. Loblolly pine, several species of oaks, viburnums, ferns and ground covers were only a few of the many plants we observed. We discussed the importance of the wildlife habitat value of native plants. We also encountered invasive plants and covered the impact on our native forest. This class was designed to provide a foundation for future field trips and classes to explore and learn about Virginia’s natural environment. Much more good stuff to come!

The Merrimac Farm VMN Newsletter showcases projects of our chapter and members. If you'd like to share photos and experiences on your project, or have an idea for an article, email us at Editor-Tom Attanaro

Photos are sent by the authors unless otherwise credited


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