It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Wait, no, it’s actually a bird! And you can learn more about it by attending birding classes throughout the Northern Virginia Region.
Birding, also known as bird-watching, has an active following in the area, as there are several parks and other nature spots to choose from. Interested? Continue reading to find out more about upcoming birding events happening this summer.
Sunday Morning Bird Walks Every Sunday, 8 a.m. Friends of Dyke Marsh hosts a bird walk every Sunday morning at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. Walks are led by birders with years of experience, and the walks are open to all levels. // George Washington Memorial Parkway, Alexandria; free
Birding for Beginners July 28, 8-11 a.m. Enhance your knowledge of local bird species with this introductory program at Huntley Meadows Park. You’ll learn basic identification skills at an indoor discussion, and then will get the chance to try out your new talent with bird-watching in the park. // 3701 Lockheed Blvd., Alexandria; $12
Bles Park Bird Walk Aug. 17, 8-11 a.m. Leader Jean Tatalias will walk participants through Bles Park for a morning bird walk. The terrain is easy, and participants will get to look at birds along the marsh and woods’ edge. // 44380 Bles Park Drive, Ashburn; free
Morning Guided Bird Walk Aug. 19, 8-11 a.m. Watch the early fall migration of bird species in the Northern Virginia area on a Morning Guided Bird Walk with Colt Gregory. You’ll see birds that use the woods, field and ponds of the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. // 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna; $2.50-$5
Raptors of the East Coast Region Sept. 26, 7-9 p.m. Join the Audubon Society’s Northern Virginia chapter for Stacia Novy’s presentation on birds of prey. Novy has been involved with wildlife conservation projects for over 30 years and is on the board of directors for Save the Prairie Society. She will discuss flight characteristics, identification and migration patters of East Coast raptor species. // National Wildlife Federation: 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston; $50 members, $60 non-members
The phone at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has been buzzing off the hook, according to Elaine Lidholm, the office’s director of communications.
She has yielded dozens of phone calls that have streamed in since the June 17 public announcement of the return of the Beehive Distribution Program, a government-funded project that offers free beekeeping equipment to residents across the state.
“This is one of those rare opportunities where there’s actually good news,” Lidholm says.
Not to mention the announcement was made at the beginning of one of the office’s busiest weeks of the year, Virginia Pollinator Week (June 17 to 23), where VDACS was responsible for using the week-long campaign to spread awareness about the state’s pollinators and educating residents of the impact they have on everyday life. (Although, Lidholm says, they do that year-round).
Now, Virginia residents are eager to get involved.
Starting on July 1, the VDACS will begin taking applications for the beehive program in hopes of creating a win-win situation: create more knowledgeable bee advocates and beekeepers (with no initial financial investment), and ideally, the state will have stronger pollinator populations in upcoming years.
The office is set to receive $125,000 from the General Assembly, which it will use to buy proper startup equipment and materials for budding beekeepers across the state, then distribute to accepted applicants in the fall.
The idea to make beekeeping more accessible wasn’t new, but the process was. It’s now in its second year thanks to its popularity in 2018.
“We used to do a reimbursement grant for residents to start their own hives, but it dawned on us the buying power of getting so much equipment,” Lidholm says. “We get a significant price reduction and can have them delivered free to people’s homes.”
That way, according to Lidholm, the program can have a wider reach with hopefully higher success rates.
The problem is that there are so many individuals who would like to participate that the office must have requirements, even though previous experience with beekeeping is not one of them.
If someone is interested in applying for their own beehives through the program, applications will only be permitted to Virginia residents, ages 18 years or older, and they must commit to raising the hives in Virginia. The applicant must also allow regular inspections of the hives from local and state volunteers to ensure the bees are healthy and well taken care of.
But the office knows the initiative can’t be that simple.
It can’t just give out beehive equipment, cross its fingers and hope for the best, especially after the program’s announcement was aligned with disappointing findings out of a recent survey by the Bee Informed Partnership, which reported that U.S. beekeepers lost nearly 40% of their honeybee colonies during the last winter.
That’s why VDACS is looking to the many active beekeeping associations across the state for help.
“They are so willing to mentor and educate others,” Lidholm says. “They are an extension of our program on a volunteer basis, and we are grateful for their input.”
Just ask Fred Hollen, the first master beekeeper of the Virginia State Beekeepers Association and beekeeping instructor at Blue Ridge Community College, about his experience with beekeeping. He lost his first hive, and now he’s been raising bees since the early 1990s.
His first steps to success after getting the proper equipment?
“Get a mentor, and read every book you can on the subject,” Hollen says. “You want to know what you’re doing.”
Luckily, when chosen for the program, according to Lidholm, applicants receive a beekeeping guide to get them on the right track. “Some of them are starting from zero,” Linholm says. And Virginia has several dozen beekeeping associations spread out through each region that are willing to help those interested.
It’s OK to be a novice, but it can still be dangerous. According to Hollen, it comes down to not only knowing bee behavior, but also your own behavior. Interested beekeepers and pollinator advocates need to know the importance of protective behaviors rather than reactive ones (like your initial instincts to flee from them or swat at them—those should be avoided).
“Keep [the hives] away from pesticides (or simply don’t use them at all), prevent them from overcrowding their space and do everything you can to avoid a swarm,” Hollen says.
Otherwise with high hopes, this project hopes to do more than just simply help people raise bees, it hopes to reach the public through knowledge that the office is willing to provide to whomever is interested.
Getting to know the basics of helping, rather than hurting, vulnerable pollinator species that are quintessential to Virginia’s agriculture and overall plant health is just the beginning of creating a more positive outlook for the future.
“People need to know the basics,” Lidholm says. For example, when asked the primary goal of bees, Lidholm says, most people will say to make honey. But that’s actually a side effect of their real job, which is pollination, and directly impacts all crops and plant species (especially those such as apples, watermelon, squash and berries that grow across the state). “So, we want to use this time [in the spotlight] to educate consumers about how to protect pollinators overall, how to attract them to your yard safely, and about all of the benefits they provide to our state.”
Lidholm continues, “One out of every three bites of food on a person’s plate each day is made possible because of a pollinator,” and Virginia farmers rely heavily on the pollinator’s activity and support. Agriculture is the state’s largest private industry with an economic impact of $91 billion.
That’s why VDACS is so passionate about being the go-to source for information on the importance of pollinators in Virginia. It wants everyone to know that the types of flowers you plant, the pesticides you use and the more knowledge you have, all greatly influence the state’s pollinators (ranging from the birds to the bees).
“There is just pure amazement [in beekeeping],” Hollen says. “[I believe] you can’t get familiar with bees, know and understand how they operate or see how they interact with each other without feeling the presence of a divine power.”
To learn more about VDACS Beehive Distribution Program, visit vdacs.virginia.gov. For a lengthy list of local beekeepers associations across the state of Virginia, visit virginiabeepers.org.
The climate change lobby has been assuring us for years – decades, really – that we are all on the brink of certain death because of global warming or cooling or climate change or whatever the term du jour is at the time. In the ’80s actor Ted Danson campaigned against global cooling, saying we had 20 years to shift course or succumb to the new ice age. Al Gore told us the inconvenient truth of our impending death way back in 2006. In California, former Governor Jerry Brown told his residents that the summer fire season was only going to get worse and worse thanks to global warming. And of course who can forget Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ constant, dire warnings that we only have a mere dozen years left on this planet?
Glacier National Park in M0ntana has been warning about the coming apocalypse by posting signs around the park that say “Gone by 2020”, referring to fears that the glaciers were receding more rapidly than normal and would eventually melt completely, leading to other natural disasters.
However, nature has a way of surprising us. In recent years the glaciers have actually begun expanding again, and park officials have been subtly removing the grim signage and language from their brochures, say visitors from Lysander Spooner University who regularly visit the park.
Officials at Glacier National Park (GNP) have begun quietly removing and altering signs and government literature which told visitors that the Park’s glaciers were all expected to disappear by either 2020 or 2030.
In recent years the National Park Service prominently featured brochures, signs and films which boldly proclaimed that all glaciers at GNP were melting away rapidly. But now officials at GNP seem to be scrambling to hide or replace their previous hysterical claims while avoiding any notice to the public that the claims were inaccurate. Teams from Lysander Spooner University visiting the Park each September have noted that GNP’s most famous glaciers such as the Grinnell Glacier and the Jackson Glacier appear to have been growing—not shrinking—since about 2010. (The Jackson Glacier—easily seen from the Going-To-The-Sun Highway—may have grown as much as 25% or more over the past decade.)
Visitor Roger Roots detailed the changes, noting that they hadn’t completely scrapped the signage but rather subtly changed the language from saying the glaciers would disappear by 2020 to saying they would be gone in “future generations”.
Independent blog Wattsupwiththat.com claims that national parks often use deceptive marketing to make it appear as though certain areas of the park are deteriorating due to climate change, but it isn’t always necessarily true.
Almost everywhere, the Park’s specific claims of impending glacier disappearance have been replaced with more nuanced messaging indicating that everyone agrees that the glaciers are melting. Some signs indicate that glacial melt is “accelerating.”
A common trick used by the National Park Service at GNP is to display old black-and-white photos of glaciers from bygone years (say, “1922”) next to photos of the same glaciers taken in more recent years showing the glaciers much diminished (say, “2006”). Anyone familiar with glaciers in the northern Rockies knows that glaciers tend to grow for nine months each winter and melt for three months each summer. Thus, such photo displays without precise calendar dates may be highly deceptive.
Last year the Park Service quietly removed its two large steel trash cans at the Many Glacier Hotel which depicted “before and after” engravings of the Grinnell Glacier in 1910 and 2009. The steel carvings indicated that the Glacier had shrunk significantly between the two dates. But a viral video published on Wattsupwiththat.com showed that the Grinnell Glacier appears to be slightly larger than in 2009.
The ‘gone by 2020’ claims were repeated in the New York Times, National Geographic, and other international news sources. But no mainstream news outlet has done any meaningful reporting regarding the apparent stabilization and recovery of the glaciers in GNP over the past decade. Even local Montana news sources such as The Missoulian, Billings Gazette and Bozeman Daily Chronicle have remained utterly silent regarding this story.
Perhaps the lesson here is that while we should always be good and grateful stewards of our environment, we are really very small compared to nature. We have very little control over our planet and certainly not enough to be rolling back the rights of freedoms of individuals to “fix” a problem that we don’t even really understand.
Northern Virginia is home to a number of National Parks—and this April you can celebrate their beauty during National Park Week (April 20-28). The annual event is celebrated to commemorate when President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service on August 25, 1916. More than 100 years later, there are hundreds of parks across the country. On Saturday, April 20, all entrance fees are waived, but that’s just the beginning. Read on and mark your calendar for these fun events at our local national parks!
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts
Backstage Tour of the Filene Center April 20 and 23
If you live in NoVA, you’ve likely been to Wolf Trap, but have you ever stood on the stage? This Ranger-led tour offers a behind-the-scenes look at the professional stage. You’ll get insights on what it takes to stage a show at NoVA’s most famous theater and see where the marquis performers get ready before they take the stage. // 1551 Trap Road
Junior Ranger Day April 20
For your little ones who love the arts, head over to Wolf Trap for a Junior Ranger Day that showcases what it’s like to be a ranger at a park that’s also a performing arts venue. Look for family-friendly activities throughout the day and earn a Junior Ranger badge. // 1551 Trap Road
Manassas National Battlefield Park
Junior Ranger Day April 28, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Bring your littlest National Park-enthusiasts to learn more about what it takes to be a park ranger. Kids who explore the park and complete the Junior Ranger booklet along the way will receive a special handout. Plus, crafts and family-friendly activities will round out the day. // 6511 Sudley Road, Manssas
Prince William Forest Park
Find Your Park Day! April 20 and April 27, 9 a.m.
A Park Ranger will lead a 45-minute hike on this picturesque park’s forest trail. Learn about the park’s history (it played an interesting role in the Great Depression) and culture, and explore its flora and fauna. // 18170 Park Entrance Road, Triangle
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