Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bluebirds Rule! (at least for one day)

Last Saturday was a good day if you are a bluebird!  That’s because the first learning event in a planned bi-quarterly series was held at Kathy and Brent Scott’s workshop with some 20 members of the BRFAL community, and the focus was learning about bluebirds and building birdhouses for the bluebirds.  And we’re not talking any old birdhouse, nooo…..these houses had special snake guards to prevent the climbing types (like blacksnakes) from getting up to the house, and special wire mesh critter guards to keep other predators (typically raccoons) from reaching in and grabbing up a handful of babies.  The houses all had ventilation slots and a fold-out side door to allow for fledgling monitoring as well.  Finally, mounting poles and hardware were supplied so that the houses could be set at the proper height and distance from forest cover to maximize potential bluebird usage.  With 15 bluebird houses made, everyone had productive, very fun and educating day! 

Special thanks go to chapter member Dick Hendrix for providing box designs and an informative lecture about bluebird habits and habitat and to chapter VP Wayne Barnes for setting up the event.  And finally, a very special thanks to chapter member Kathy Scott and to her husband Brent for acquiring all the needed materials and pre-cutting and pre-drilling the designs.  Very impressive!  Mine are up and ready for inhabitants!

Happy Birdhouse Owners!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Great Day with the Girl Scouts

A special request came in from our friend and Project Assistant from the Virginia Master Naturalists, Tiffany Brown.  In addition to her duties as VMN Project Assistant, she is also a mom and a Girl Scout Leader.  Tiff, as we call her, had made arrangements for her Girl Scout troop from Christiansburg to spend 2 nights at the    W. E. Skelton 4H Center at Smith Mountain Lake.  There would be about 22 girls.

Since the BRFAL chapter had worked closely with Tiff before, she called on us to see if we could help out with some nature related activities for the girls for Saturday afternoon.  Of course, no problem for our willing BRFAL team!  We quickly gathered our team of experts.  We decided we would do some slithery snake training, a nature hike, and then some sweet honey bee training and followed up by flittering Monarch butterfly training. 

Our snake team, consisting of the Fredericksen family, Nell, Todd and Neil assisted by Steve Johnston, arrived with 4 cloth bags that seemed to be alive.  Well they were alive.  Each bag had a live snake inside.  The tension among the girls mounted but Nell quickly soothed them with snake facts that quickly allayed their fears.  Before the snake training was over virtually all the girls at least touched the snakes and several allowed the snakes to wrap around their arms or necks!

Then we needed to burn off some tension and went out some fresh air and a nature hike lead by our resident tree expert Kathy Scott.  Kathy taught the girls how to identify trees in the winter time when leaves are down and how to identify poison ivy (hairy) vines from grape vines and honeysuckle vines.  She told them about “snags” which are dead trees in the forest and why they are beneficial to the life cycle of many forest creatures.

So now back inside for honey bee training by Kathy Scott and Monarch training by Meg and Rich Brager.  The girls learned how the honey bees make their honey and how it is harvested.  Everyone got to taste some honey. They also got to see the protective suit that bee folks use to avoid being stung and one lucky girl got to try it on.

The girls then learned about the life cycle of Monarch butterflies including the egg always laid on milkweed, the 5 stage caterpillar “instar” process, the pupa phase and finally the butterfly phase.  Each girl was given some milkweed seeds and instructions to plant their own milkweed.  They were then told about the multi-thousand mile migration that the Monarchs do.  We then went outside to do out own “mini-migration”.  Each girl was given a Monarch replica and instead of migrating 2200 miles (the distance from the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico to the 4H center), we measured out 2200 inches or about 183 feet.  Needless to say, our migration was much faster with much more laughter than the actual Monarch migration.

As the training session ended the girls gave us BRFAL members a rousing “THANK YOU” which was very much appreciated.  A good time was had by all.
Lunch with the girls


Nature walk with Kathy

Monarch mini-migration

Friday, January 26, 2018

Our Fun Day with Barbed Wire!

I’ll bet you didn’t think you can have fun with barbed wire, did you?  Ah, but we did.  Of course our warped sense of fun might be different than yours.  Our crack team of Virginia Master Naturalists (Kathy, Charlotte, Rick, Warren, Glen, Paul, Geoff and me (Rich)) met at Bald Knob Natural Area Preserve (NAP) in Rocky Mount on a brisk but sunny January morning.  We met Ryan Klopf, Mountain Region Steward, Department of Conservation & Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage and his two henchmen, Wes and Colin.  Our purpose was to clean up an old fence row of barbed wire and other wire fencing that could cause harm to the wildlife living on the NAP.

But first, a little background about Bald Knob NAP.  It is the newest NAP in Virginia.  The site is called a Piedmont mafic barren where exposed rocks resist weathering and have unusual chemical properties, making them and their derived soils different from typical Piedmont sites.  Due to the soil make-up, the NAP is home to the very rare Piedmont fameflower (Phemeranthus piedmontanus) has only been documented at a handful of sites in the world.  Ryan explained that the mafic rock in Rocky Mount was originally formed due to volcanic activity.  The original lava was then compressed into a very hard rock that erodes very slowly.  The rock is estimated to be about a billion years old and was formed when the Atlantic Ocean was forming for the first time.

After our arrival we were given wire cutting tools and 5 gallon buckets and a lecture to be careful with the barbed wire.  Then we headed uphill, snipped and folded barbed wire into the buckets, carried it downhill and deposited the barbed wire in large containers and then repeated several times.  What originally felt like a brisk morning turned to sweat and sore muscles.  And no one cut themselves on the barbed wire!  For a bunch of old codgers, we dun good.
Bald Knob NAP

The gang is all here

Mafic Rock

Barbed wire grown through middle of tree

The fruits of our labor

Piedmont fameflower

Friday, January 5, 2018

BRFAL Virginia Master Naturalist Chapter Reaches 10 Year anniversary

 The Blue Ridge, Foothills and Lakes (BRFAL) local chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists (29 chapters strong across the state) recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary.  The 100% volunteer organization has logged some 290 8-hour days each year in pursuit of its mission of providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas centralized around Smith Mountain Lake.  Work is accomplished by the dedicated volunteers creating and pursuing local projects that support the mission, many in concert with the seven Virginia agencies that sponsor all state chapters.  Some key projects out of the 30 that have been created are: ECO camp where many school aged children get the benefit of an outdoor, hands on, interactive fun educational experience with nature, supporting chestnut restoration in the Blue Ridge by helping to plant and then monitor over a 1000 trees across the area, native grass restoration and bluebird monitoring projects at the Booker T. Washington National Monument, Smithsonian eMammal wildlife camera trapping at Carvins Cove, K-12 youth day camp support at the Claytor Nature Center, Save our Streams water quality monitoring sponsored by the Smith Mountain Lake Association in all the areas main tributaries and site clean-up at the recently created Bald Knob Natural Area Preserve in Rocky Mount, site of the rare Piedmont flameflower.  The chapter also hosted the Master Naturalist Statewide Conference in 2016, bringing over 200 visitors to the W. E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center.  BFRAL founding president and the longest-lived continuous member, Guy Buford says, “Helping to create BRFAL and participate in the Virginia Master Naturalist program has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.”  BRFAL will hold training classes for new members in late winter and early spring.  If you are interested, visit their website at .

Extra tasty cake provided by outgoing BRFAL President Kathy Scott

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Tsar of BRFAL

The Blue Ridge Foothills and Lakes Chapter (BRFAL) of the Virginia Master Naturalists is extremely lucky to have our own Tsar.  Who is it and how can it be?  He is Guy Bufford and he is 87 years old and still an active and certified Virginia Master Naturalist.  I believe he may be the oldest VMN in the state.  If you know differently, please let us know.

So how did Guy become our Tsar?  Jean Borgman, who is one of our early BRFAL members, recounts the story as follows:

“One of the things I remember is from when the chapter was forming. The Local Coordinating Committee (that's what you’re called when you start a chapter) had many meetings and tasks to perform. Guy became our leader in the process. He was wonderful at leading the numerous discussions and keeping us on task. As the time came for us to move on to chapter status we were coming up with people to fill the positions in the new group. Guy said we should find a president when Carl said we weren't going to let Guy leave and  that he would be "Tsar for life". In fact the group unanimously approved Guy as Tsar and as you know he did become our first president.”

Over his years as BRFAL member Guy has accumulated nearly 1400 project hours and almost 200 advanced training hours.  In 2017 he has over 55 project hours and 9 advanced training hours.  Not bad for someone 87 years young.

My favorite anecdote about Guy is way back when he was only 83 or so.  The BRFAL group went on a hike at the DeHart Botanical Gardens.  Don’t let the name botanical garden fool you.  This is a beautiful but rugged setting that starts at the top.  Then you hike down, down, down to a waterfall and then back up, up, up.  Near the bottom I could tell that Guy was getting a little wobbly, so we stopped for some electrolytes and a short break.  Guy was carrying a small backpack and since I only had a fanny pack, I offered to carry Guy’s pack for the journey upward, which I did.  The hike upward seemed never ending, but Guy never missed a beat on the way up.  I was then known as Guys porter!  My wife Meg remembers that she was ready to drop in her tracks on the hike but was too embarrassed to do so since Guy could keep going.

Although Guy recently lost his wonderful wife Margaret, he remains active with us, attending meetings and doing project work.  I am attaching some pictures of Guy for you to enjoy.  Guy is truly an inspiration to us all and remains as our BRFAL Tsar.

Rich Brager

                              Guy with backpack & Guy without backpack!

                         Youngest (Neil Fredriksen) & Oldest (Guy Buford) BRFAL Members   

Guy digging in at Natural Grass Restoration Project

                     Guy carrying 6x6 at Grassy Hill NAP with Charlotte Hubbard