Monday, January 31, 2011

Calendar: Night Creatures (Feb. 5)

You lookin' at me?
Photo credit: pm107uk
Regardless of what Punxatawney Phil does this week, the days are getting longer. So while it's still getting dark early, you may want to take advantage of programs looking for creatures that are more active at night -- by summer, you won't see them until several hours later. This Saturday evening at 5:30, for example, you might see:

Flying squirrels. Programs at both the Audubon Naturalist Society in Silver Spring ($17-$24) and Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington ($5) will look for these adorable critters.

Owls. At the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, there will be a walk to look and listen for these night hunters (free).

Registration is required for all of these programs. And there are lots more -- for daytime and nighttime -- on our calendar!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Snow Photos

Some of my favorites from the Flickr pool from the last couple of days...Did you enjoy the snow? Lose any branches? See any animal tracks?

dc thundersnow
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

Just getting started
Photo credit: @jbtaylor

Photo credit: erin m

Photo credit: ehpien

Crack of thundersnow? No, impact of a giant branch that almost smashed our car!
Photo credit: curiouslee

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How Cold Is Too Cold To Play Outside?

A friend recently passed along a petition noting that many Montgomery County public schools keep elementary school children indoors when the temperature is 32 degrees or below. I'm sure there's some temperature below which it's not reasonable to have outside recess. But is that temperature really 32 degrees?

In my quick check of recess policies that are online, there are lots of school districts that require a coat below something around 50 degrees, and a hat and gloves below 32 degrees. They don't move recess indoors until it gets even colder: 20 degrees in some districts, or even zero in some places. What do you think the cutoff should be?

Here's a link to the petition calling for 30 minutes a day of active, outdoor recess in Montgomery County -- even below 32 degrees.

Snow in South Park (3)
Try telling these kids 32 degrees is too cold to play.
Photo credit: kamshots

Monday, January 24, 2011

Calendar: Tapping Trees and Predicting the End of Winter (Jan 28-29)

Collecting Maple Sap
Photo credit: Chiot's Run
The sap is starting to run in the maples. It's time to start tapping! (Read our post on maple syrup.) That's as sure a sign as anything that the end of winter can't be too far off. But if you want to celebrate in another way, Groundhog Day is coming up on Feb 2. Our local Nature Centers will celebrate both.

Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton and Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville both have maple-tapping programs on Saturday morning. Brookside repeats its two programs on Sunday. Registration required.

To celebrate an early Groundhog Day, head over to Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon or Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale on Sunday. According to their program descriptions, Hidden Oaks is going with people in groundhog costumes; Frying Pan Farm features a real groundhog burrow. Registration required.

As always, there are lots more events and hikes on our calendar.

Friday, January 21, 2011

LOOK FOR: Footprints in the Snow

Winter is the time of year here in the mid-Atlantic where things become more visible: the lay of the land, the structures of the trees, and the tracks of mammals and birds.

Fox tracks crossing the Northwest Branch
When I was a kid, we had invisible markers that we could use to write a secret message a piece of paper. The only way to reveal the message was using another special marker that when you drew over what was scribbled, the message became visible.

A light coat of snow accomplishes a similar phenomenon. All around us, creatures are moving about making invisible marks. Many are secretive, shying away from humans or making their rounds in the early morning. When I take a walk in the woods, I have no clue that a fox uses the same path during its early morning hunts. But, the snow reveals it all. You can even tell when the fox was walking, trotting, or running by the pattern its prints leave in the snow.

So, get out before the snow gets too trampled and follow a trail. All will be revealed!

Here are some different tracks that you may encounter in the snow. Once you learn them, you can find them year-round in muddy areas along streams or puddles.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Calendar: Trees & Friends (Jan. 22-23)

There are a couple of opportunities this weekend to learn more about trees:

It's a beautiful world despite what you've heard
Photo credit: AshtonPal
Winter Tree ID. On Saturday at Jug Bay, join the Maryland Native Plant Society for a beginner-oriented class with a focus on twigs, buds, and bark. Park entrance fee of $5 register online before January 20 or by phone at 410-741-9330.

Tree Essentials. On Sunday at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Richard Murray is giving a class billed as "everything you always wanted to know about trees, but were afraid to ask." We went on a tree walk with him in December and it was really informative and well-pitched for people at many different levels. $10; registration required.

Flying squirrels spend almost all of their time in trees, gliding from one tree to another rather than running across the ground like their grey squirrel cousins. Several nature centers in the area are successful in getting them to come to feeders in the evening (they're nocturnal). This weekend, you can check them out at Long Branch on Saturday and Hidden Oaks on Sunday.

As always, there are lots of hikes and other activities on our calendar.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Tomorrow morning, before it gets up to 40 degrees and the world turns into a mud pie, head out to your favorite body of water and check out the ice.

Here are some pictures from a hike today at Scott's Run. Other good spots to check out: Rock Creek Park, Great Falls, Turkey Run, the Northwest Branch...what's your favorite spot when the world is frozen?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Nature Centers in the DC Area

When the weather is rough, but you don't want it to keep you at home all weekend, it might be a perfect time to find a nature center near you and explore nature indoors -- especially if you have kids. The extent of the exhibits varies widely from center to center, but you're likely to find live turtles and/or snakes as well as hands-on activities. Most centers have naturalists available to answer questions and lead programs; some even offer birthday parties!

The map below shows 18 nature centers in the DC metro area. Click on a marker for more information -- or see below for a printable list. We could use your help, though: we haven't been to all of these centers. If you've been to one, we'd love to hear what you thought about it.

View Nature Centers in the DC Area in a larger map

Monday, January 10, 2011

Calendar: MLK Day of Service (Jan 17)

More and more people are observing Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday as a day of service. Our calendar for next Monday is full of opportunities to volunteer outside, removing invasive plants or otherwise sprucing up local parks. Links are to the announcements for each event.

A big armload of English Ivy from a previous ACE cleanup.
Photo credit: cliff1066™
Pope Branch Park - a wide variety of organizations will join together to clean up this tributary of the Anacostia. Meet at M Place and Fairlawn Avenue SE at 9:00 am (on-site registration begins at 8:30 am); the event goes until 1:00.
Rock Creek Park - Friends of Rock Creek's Environment will be working to remove English ivy from trees in Rock Creek Park.  Meet near the  Kalmia Street Bridge at intersection of East Beach and Portal Rds NW at 9:00 am; the event goes until noon.

Lake Needwood - The lake has been partially drained for maintenance, so volunteers will be pulling trash out of areas that are usually submerged. Meet in the parking lot at 6700 Needwood Road at 10:00 am; event goes until 1:00.
Turkey Branch - Friends of Rock Creek's Environment will be doing a cleanup along this tributary of Rock Creek. Meet on the Matthew Henson hiker-biker trail where it passes under Connecticut Ave. (between Aspen Hill and Randolph Rd) at 9:00 am; the event goes until noon.
Woodend Sanctuary - Join the Audubon Naturalist Society and others as they work to remove invasive plants and mulch trails. Meet at 8940 Jones Mill Road at 9:30 am. Event goes until 11:30. Advance registration is requested.

Four Mile Run - Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment will be cleaning up Columbia Pike and Four Mile Run.  Meet at Arlington Mill Community Center, 4975 Columbia Pike, at 10:00 am; the event goes until noon. Advance registration is requested.

As always, check our full calendar for more activities next weekend!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Things to Look For in January

The days are ever so slowly getting longer, but spring is still long away. And yet, there are still plenty of things to look for outside.

>> What have you been noticing in nature this winter? Leave a comment below.

Umbilicaria mammulata
Rock Tripe by Paul J. Morris
Among wild edibles, rock tripe is not prized or even particularly appetizing...actually, it's pretty cardboardy. But as a survival food, it's been used for centuries. And even if you don't want to eat them, lichens are a pretty amazing phenomenon.

DC Squirrel
Squirrel by Vicki's Pics
January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day. We know you know squirrels when you see them, but do you know them when you hear them? Listen to these chirps and you may realize some of the birds you thought you'd been hearing were actually rodents.

Pine cones
Hemlock cones by DaveSF
Eastern Hemlocks are rare in our area due to our climate (they prefer the mountains), and becoming rarer due to an imported insect known as the wooly adelgid. It's worth seeking out these "redwoods of the East" while you still can. And winter's an easy time to do it, since they're evergreen.