Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ticks by Any Other Name

A fellow creek lover and volunteer, Ross, just sent a link to some awesome pieces about deer ticks which appeared on the New York Times blogs this month.

At first I almost deleted without reading it. Seems like a lot of tick related articles are of the Fox News local channel variety.... that is, they try to scare you about lyme disease and tell you to stay inside, with your head under a pillow where those nasty ticks can't find you.

But, Ross is a really smart, well-read nature lover, so I knew that the article he would send would likely be much more informative. So I went to the link and read all about the most recent ecological news regarding ticks. It is great to have all of this in one spot.

Did you know, for example, that they aren't calling them deer ticks anymore? And they have a very interesting relationship to deer but science is still trying to unravel their relationship to other animals.

Very good reading. Thanks, Ross.

Here's the link one more time:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

At the beach, some blithe sunshine

I went to the beach, and I had this thought:

It was the first time in a long time I was able to enjoy the view without thinking about what the hell was wrong with what I was seeing.

I don't know that much about the beach, environmentally.

Everytime I go, I learn more. We tend to hang out at the state parks, the national park beaches... the places where there might be a nature center, a touch tank, and a lot of sand dunes. (Also, mosquitoes, but oh well.)

Anyhow. This time around, I learned a heck of a lot about one of our favorite animals, the horseshoe crab. I learned, for example, that those crazy looking helmet-like creatures actually molt their shells like all other crabs. So all those times I found empty shells and thought the animal had died, I realize now I was just seeing the molted shell.

Also, I learned that loggerhead turtles like to eat the horseshoe crabs. Crunch, crunch.

What else? I learned that my daughter is really good at feeding them. It was fun to watch her take pieces of clam from a park naturalist, and then feed them to the crab, who used its claws to move the food to the center of its abdomen, where its mouth was located. And later when one washed up on the beach and a grown woman near by freaked out, it was great to watch my kids roll their eyes and know that they'd be the first ones to try to pick the thing up and put it back in the water. Horseshoe crabs don't sting anyway, said my son. That's not a stinger, it helps them swim better. He'd been listening while that naturalist was talking.

But while I was learning these and a million other things, I realized I was more relaxed than I had been in a long time. Maybe, I thought, it was the lack of knowledge. The beach is not where I am planted, it is only a place I love and visit sometimes. The not knowing... that is a luxury. I can look out the window at the plants as we drive by and not think about how many of them are invasive exotics. Or how many of the trees have beetle infestations.

Not that I think everything is great at the beach, environmentally speaking. And not that I think it is okay to go about blithely ignoring the problems.

I know that we are over fishing. We are eating the tigers of the sea, too high on the food chain. Things in the ocean are not happy. The water quality is bad, the erosion problems, worse.

But for a while, I can also enjoy the sunshine without knowing too much about what is actually there. I don't know the the details well enough to be thinking about it all the time. I can just enjoy being. Just being.

As a biologist friend of mine says, hiking at home has become one long thought about what is wrong in the woods. It is tiring.

I felt guilty in a way, thinking this at the beach. But I needed it. I came home and exulted at the ironweed, which went into full purple bloom in my garden during my absence. I came home recharged, ready to get out there and do more work. I came home and thought about where I am planted, and ready once again to help make it better. I came home and found butterflies, weeds, and berries forming on the bushes.

Today, I was thinking back to my beach vacation and I wondered if it was a bit like taking a vacation to a country where you don't speak the language. You remember to be polite, you try to be respectful, but when a fight breaks out between to strangers on the bus you don't know what they are arguing about so you can go on reading your paper in peace.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Water Quality Sampling Next Week

Mike Smith, the volunteer who takes care of water quality sampling along Sligo Creek sends the following message:

Our upper Sligo Creek monitoring team will be carrying out macroinvertebrate monitoring on Thursday July 16th starting at 6 p.m. We meet in Wheaton, at the first parking lot on Sligo Creek Parkway south of its intersection with University Boulevard. You can see a map of the meeting location at The site is monitored as part of the Audubon Naturalist Society's water quality program.

Numerous stream creatures such as damselflies, crane flies, scuds, and even mayflies have been found at this site since we began monitoring it in 2006.

See for a record of findings.

Please come out if you are interested. There is also a team monitoring a site in lower Sligo Creek since last year. For more information about that site check out

Monday, July 6, 2009

Thinking Before You Spray

After my most recent posting here about controlling invasive exotic plants, I was sent the following link to the West Virginia Extension Service's Integrated Pest Management pages. The links on wise and careful pesticide use are fantastic! Easy to read! Easy to understand! Very helpful! Funny graphics!

Check it out:

Read the Label First!

Before You Buy Pesticide

Help the Mountaineer Clean Up His Act

These would all be useful far outside the state of West Virginia.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Info on Invasive Plants and how to Control Them

A lot of new homeowners in the older suburbs of DC face a big problem. The yards have often been neglected for years, and invasive exotic plants have been allowed to take over.

One client of mine bought her house from its original owner, a WWII veteran and his wife. The couple had lived in their house since the 1950s, and lovingly tended it until finally they could not physically maintain it. What had once been a lovely garden full of azaleas, oak trees and impatiens quickly became a lot overrun with Japanese honeysuckle, mile-a-minute vines and multiflora rosebushes. When the older couple finally decided to downsize to an apartment, the yard was nothing but a viney jungle. My friend loved the house, but found the yard exasperating. Each time she tried to work on the vines, she found she could not tell the poison ivy from the mile a minute, and retreated into the house with frustration.

Another client and friend bought what formally been student housing. College students had rented out the little bungalow near the Metro for years, and the landlord's subsquent neglect of the yard during those decades had left nothing but honeysuckle, English ivy and tree of heaven. Although my friend dreamt of hosting wonderful barbeques and planting oak trees which would eventually shade his backyard, he felt overwhelmed by the vines and the seemingly insurmontable amount of foliage that needed to be removed before he could begin. "You can't even see out of the basement windows on most sides of the house," he said one afternoon. "I didn't even know those windows where there when we bought the place, because the vines covered everything."

For many new, young homeowners or people who have never had occasion to garden before, the problem is so daunting that they don't even know where to begin. They can't even identify the problem plants, and don't know how to control them. What's worse, some of their attempts at removal only make the invading plants grow stronger and more vigorous. Some plants respond well to surface removal. Others might need to be removed root and all. To those who can't tell the ivy from the porcelain berry, the situation can seem hopeless. As a result, the invaders continue to grow abated, going well beyond the boundaries of these yards and into parks and other public green spaces.

There are several great websites out there, however, which can help the average person tackle this problem effectively. I knew of a few myself, but a recent query of mine to the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council netted a host of even more resources. I've listed them below.

A List of Invasive Exotic Plant Fact Sheets and Info on how to Control Them Effectively

Invasive Plants of the Northeast: IPANE

These fact sheets are designed to distribute information about specific invasive plants that exist in the Northeastern United States.

The Global Invasive Species Team: GIST

A somewhat technical guide to controlling weeds.

Invasive Exotic Plants in PA List

From the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources, an easy to use list of the plants, their fact sheets, and methods of control. Most of these can also be found in Maryland, and most of the control methods would apply here, too.

**Plant Conservation Alliance’s Working Plant Group

This site has nationwide invasive plants list and excellent fact sheets, too. This one is set up like a round of Wanted posters from the Wild West, with the plants as the criminals. The photos are excellent, and the writing is great for non scientists. Easy to understand, and actually kind of fun to read. Good, easy to understand directions for controlling the plants, in spite of the rather technical sounding title of the site.

Invasive Alien Plant Species of Virginia

This is an advisory list published by the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation (VDCR) to inform land managers of potential risks associated with certain plant species known to exhibit invasive behavior in some situations. The species are ranked as highly invasive, moderately invasive or occasionally invasive.

US Forest Service Invasive Species Program

An online portal to Forest Service invasive species information and related management and research activities across the agency and with our many partners. This one goes beyond plants and includes insects and animal pests as well.

**Virginia Department of Forestry

Although some of the info here can be found in other VA websites, this site includes information that is forest specific. The control page is listed at: and is really good for those who might only know the common name of a plant. The control info and the identification info are on the same fact sheets, which makes it quick and easy for homeowners. As with the PA pages, most of these same plants occur in MD, too.

Nonnative Invasive Plants of Southern Forests:
A Field guide for Identification and Control

This entire book is free online, but you need a broadband connection to be able to download this rather sizable document. That said, the photos are excellent. The text is somewhat technical, but most homeowners should be able to navigate through it with relative ease. Control information is also here, but listed separately from the identification pages.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Day on the Chesapeake Bay

Yesterday we spent the day swimming, splashing, and exploring along the western shores of the Chesapeake Bay, along our favorite "beach" in Calvert County, MD. We found fossilized sharks' teeth, rejoiced at seeing some mysterious kind of tadpole swimming along side of us, put some jellyfish in a bucket so we could study them like we were contestants on Fear Factor.... it was a dreamy day that ended with ice cream and children asleep in the back seats, surrounded by halos of sandy hair and sticky with salt water and smiles.

I loved every minute of it, and so did our friends from Ireland, who have only been to the great estuary a few times before. At one point, the sky was so unreal and lovely with pink perfect clouds just above the sail boats on the watery horizon that my friend AT declared it was as if we were looking at the scenery backdrop of that Jim Carrey movie "The Truman Show."

Today, as I flicked on the computer, I read a news story entitled Sea Grass Losses Reveal a Global Crisis on Reuters, and realized that despite our fun yesterday we had seen very little in the way of bay grasses. We never see them, and yet I know we should see them all around. In fact, we should know their names almost as well as we know the names of the trees, the names of the flowers... their appearance should be as regular as the jellyfish's tentacles in the water around us while we explore. Our hands and feet should be slimy with them when we swim.

Something important is increasingly missing from the picture. Despite the idyllic day on the shores of that oh so special place we simply call the Bay, more and more is gone from the lovely scene each year.

My friend's daughter found one single, small oyster shell yesterday. She had no idea what it was. The shock of that is hard to swallow. Those shells should be everywhere, the shellfish themselves should number in the millions all around the Chesapeake Bay. But they don't. They are gone. That one lone shell is nothing but a ghost.

It is hard to love a place so much, and feel so small when you try to save it or protect it.