Sunday, November 22, 2015

This field trip rocks!

Article & pix by Charlotte Hubbard:

This field trip rocks!
We kept cracking up!!
No bones about it…
The 11/21/15 trip to Solite Quarry in Eden, NC was a great learning experience for both BRFAL chapter Virginia Master Naturalists and trainees from the SW Virginia VMN’s. Fran, Geoff, Kathy, Rich and Charlotte braved the frosty morning to explore with the Martinsville VMN Chapter. We were led by Dr. Alex Hastings, Assistant Curator of Paleontology from the VMNH. Alex had to adapt the trip on the fly because of a miscommunication with quarry staff, but we were able to get a taste of fossil hunting and great information about the site. The Triassic Period conditions at this place were those of a stagnant lake, perfect for lush plant growth, lots of insects and some interesting small lizards that would glide in to catch the bugs. The slate left behind after 225 million years yields many trace fossils of plants, insects, primitive clams and some reptiles.
With hammers and putty knives we split the layers of slate like treasure hunters, sure that the next tap would reveal an ancient creature. Many of the items we found were ordinary in the fossil world, but with our help the Museum now has three new fossils for their collection: bones of a small reptile and two branching plants Alex hopes to be able to identify.

Here are a few photos to showing how much fun we had.

200 million year old dinosaur footprint
 Dr, Alex 'splainin' to us
 The Orth's checking slate
 The BRFAL Queens, Charlotte & Kathy
 Old man Brager chipping slate

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Catalpa speciosa, a big leafed tree!

Thanks to Charlotte Hubbard's writing and photography skill we have a very interesting post:

I spent a recent frosty weekend in Bath County when night time temperatures dipped to the 20’s for the first time. As I stepped out for my morning reconnoiter, I heard a rushing sound, almost a clattering. It was far too loud and close to be the riffles of the Cowpasture River that pools at the front of the cabin. The source of the sound was glowing in the first sunbeams at the base of a steep ridge: a large catalpa tree (Catalpa speciosa, commonly known as the northern catalpa). The caterpillars that visit this tree are highly prized for fishing bait, hence its home by our favorite fishing hole. The ornamental tree is naturalized to Virginia, not native but too slow growing to be considered invasive. To learn more see .
The catalpa’s salad-plate-sized green leaves were clattering to the ground. They had frozen in the overnight chill and without any apparent preparation, released from the tree in unison. In the space of 90 minutes, the full grown tree was bare.
I was amazed at the process and it made me appreciate even more our native hard woods that have evolved a complex and beautiful deciduous process that gives the trees (and us) a little more time to adjust to the thought of the winter ahead.

Here are some before, during and after photos.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Monarch Butterfly Project at Boones Mill Elementary

The Boones Mill Elementary (BME) School holds a Junior Master Naturalist (JMN) Program during after school hours for fourth and fifth graders conducted by teachers Ms. Flora and Ms. Keenum.  Meg and Rich Brager are advisors from the Blue Ridge Foothills and Lakes chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists and assist with the program. This year the selected program concerns preservation of monarch butterflies.  Monarch butterfly populations have recently dropped precipitously due in large part to loss of milkweed due to crop spraying.  Monarchs rely solely on milkweed to propagate.   

We began this project in order to do our small part to help this situation and more importantly to imbue knowledge and love of nature to our younger generation.  Each meeting with the JMN’s teaches a different aspect of the monarch life cycle.  This week we worked in the dirt to provide improved habitat for monarchs.  In order to plant everything we wanted to we needed to add one additional raised bed garden in addition to the two existing raised beds at BME.  This raised bed was financed by and built by the Skelton 4H Center supervised by Amber Wilson.  Our thanks go out to them.

So what did we accomplish in our 1-3/4 hour allotted time slot?  Well actually a great deal.  We weeded the existing gardens, pruned existing plants and worked up the soil for easy planting.  Then we made a grid with string on the new garden with each grid spot labeled in matrix fashion.  In the new garden we planted both seeds and potted plants, one type in each grid spot and carefully recorded what was planted in each spot so the students can make periodic observations on how each plant is doing.  In addition, more plants were planted in existing beds.

To say the least, the students were exited to work in the dirt wearing gardening gloves and using various garden implements.  To date, our monarch butterfly project has been successful and rewarding.  We will look forward to continue this project through the fall, winter and spring. 

In addition to our thanks to the 4H Center, we also thank the Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) for proving funding for this project.  The SMLA realizes that nature education for our youth will provide our future leaders with the knowledge and foresight they need to protect the lake community well into the future.

The Panther Symposium

On October 10th, in the Panther Den of Ferrum College, four distinguished scientist and writers gathered to discuss The Panther Symposium.  Featured were Chris, Bolgiano, writer and Environmental Activist.  Dr. Marcella Kelly, Associate Professor, department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech. Dr. Bill McShea, Research Scientist, Smithsonian Zoological Park. Dr. Jim Parkhust, Associate Professor , Department Fish and Wildlife, Conservation , at Virginia Tech.  Dr. Todd S. Fredericksen, Associate Professor of Forestry and Wildlife welcomed everyone and introduced the speakers. 

Public lands offer the best opportunity to preserver our environment for our wildlife to exist.  We have some wonderful preserves in Virginia and West Virginia.  The Wilderness Act has been enforced in 24 areas.  When cougars are trapped or caught on camera, out of 1000 photos, you might get one picture. We do have predators on the move which can bring benefits and threats.  We have had sightings of cougar but usually it is one at a time and it could be a young male. They can move up to 30 - 40 miles a day. One such animal was traced with DNA back to South Dakota. 

What would the impact be if a cougar population came back to native Virginia?  They weigh about 100 pounds and are fast and are predators of deer and bobcat.  It would impact livestock, hunters and our ecosystem.   

Very few attacks have been reported since the late 1800s although there have been a few.  Today joggers, bikers and runners need to be aware that now bear can be attacked to fast movers.  We will have to wait to see the impact on cougars if they return to the eastern United States and to Viriginia.  So far this has not been verified by by scientist doing studies with trappings using photography and other signs of inhabitants such as tracks and other signs of these awesome animals, creating a mix of fact and folklore. We will have to be on the watch for future. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Medical Concerns with Certain Spiders

It's good t be wary and educated to what we see.   This is a good article from Virginia Tech. I think I know something until I reread and reeducate myself to many facts.