Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 1)

October 26th, 2012

How the turtle project began…

Lands and Waters began working with Carlin Springs Elementary School last spring when we were asked to host an after-school program. Upon beginning our work to create a bog wetland habitat, we discovered…

Numerous Eastern Box Turtles were inhabiting the courtyard that was to be the site of our bog creation project. We had heard legends of the duckling eating bullfrogs, but these little scaly gems had crawled under our radar. We wondered how they were surviving in habitat that supplied so few food resources for them. Thus, we had a shift in focus to accommodate this unique teaching opportunity and to provide a better habitat for these magnificent little creatures.

Eastern box turtle populations are severely threatened, mostly due to habitat destruction and roadway casualties. We encourage citizens to create turtle-friendly habitat in their backyards and to rescue turtles when you see them trying to cross the road. They get their name because they are the only turtle that can completely “box” themselves in when threatened by predators. Thus, this defense mechanism may be great against foxes and raccoons, it is no match for those lumbering piles of steel and rubber that take us to the grocery store. So when you see a turtle crossing the road, be a good samaritan and kindly give her or him a lift safely to the other side — just make sure it is in the direction they were already heading!

Back to Carlin Springs — the turtles were not at all shy about accepting our offerings of fruits and vegetables.

We began enhancing the courtyard and creating a better habitat for eastern box turtles. We brought in some rich compost and leaf litter to amend the soil. Also large logs rescued from a fallen snag to decompose and provide habitat for insects, fungus, and other yummy turtle snacks.

Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum

A few large hollowed out logs are brought into the courtyard to provide a protective sanctuary for the turtles during the coming chilly winter months.

Members of the Carlin Springs Nature Club work in their courtyard to prepare the turtle hibernaculum. By combining leaf compost and shredded leaf litter students create rich soil that will retain moisture, conditions that are preferred by eastern box turtles. The mixture is then stuffed into the decomposing logs, which will also provide habitat for insects.

Although it is about the time for eastern box turtles in our area to begin nestling down for the winter, we still find a few of them wandering around the courtyard bog and chomping on selections from the platters of shredded vegetables and fruits we offer them. We often call it hibernation, that’s technically a process for mammal. Turtles and other reptiles “brumate,” when due to cold temperatures, the body metabolism slows down to use less energy — they are still awake during this time but become very sluggish.

However, an understandably grumpy turtle was very unhappy that we woke him! We made sure to tuck him into some rich soil and cover him with leaf litter so that he could quickly burrow himself back into the earth.

[   Go to Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 2)   ]


Anacostia Watershed Walk (Day 2)

October 25th, 2012

The second day of our “Follow the Water” program at Kimball Elementary School, funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This time Ms. Williams’ 5th grade class learned about their local watershed as they followed a stream to the Anacostia River.

And a hearty thank you to our volunteer leaders — Michelle, Bill, Kelly, Vessie and Nick!

Also, many thanks to the local Yes! Organic Market for donating lunches for our volunteer leaders!

Native Planting at Tyler ES with Living Classrooms

October 24th, 2012

In partnership with Living Classroom of the National Capital Region, Jeanette and Kris work to create a sponge garden at Tyler Elementary School. In an area receiving runoff from an asphalted playground, a stormwater snake is installed near a drain to help infiltrate and filter water. Working with the second graders, the area was mulched and planted with grey sedge. There is still much work to do and many plants to be installed, but we are off to a great start!

Anacostia Watershed Walk (Day 1)

October 23rd, 2012

The first day of our newly developed “Follow the Water” program, where students of Ephraim Kimball Elementary School learn about the ecological health and conservation issues associated with their local watershed as they follow a nearby stream to the Anacostia River. This educational program was funded by a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On day one, Ms. Brummell’s 5th grade class was the first to make the journey.

Students listen to Sean as he gives a short presentation summarizing watershed basics and the watershed address of Kimball students.

Identifying beautiful — yet problematic — non-native, invasive plants. A student holds a specimen of porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), originally from Asia. This aggressive plant climbs over vegetation, strangling out native plants and monopolizing habitat.

Where does city rain go? Storm drains line the streets along our walk, the litter, road pollution and illegal dumping that flows into them leads straight to the Anacostia River. Students ask why they are not covered to prevent trash from going in, but the unfortunate choice is pollution in the river or flooding.

Exploring a rain garden

Joyous faces as onlookers watch their fellow students burn some energy and run down a hill slope.

An unloved stream

Yes! Organic Market generously donated lunches for our volunteer leaders. Thank you, Yes!

Thank you! And a hearty thanks to our volunteer leaders — Michelle, Cindy, Vessie, and Jose! We could not have done it without you.

Kimball ES: Stormwater Campus Tour and Water Quality Testing

As part of their “Follow the Water” program stormwater educational program, Ms. Burmell and Ms. William’s 5th grade classes learn how to monitor water quality.

Students set up a kick net to find macroinvertebrates, which are studied to measure the health of streams.

Students sort through the leaf litter and detritus on their nets to find macroinvertebrates. Once they are gathered and identified, they are returned to the stream.

Water testing for temperature, turbidity, oxygen, sediment, nitrate and phosphate

Bullfrog tadpole from Fort Dupont stream in the Anacostia watershed

Thanks to the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District for their assistance!

Thank you to the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, whose generous support made this program possible!

Creating a Bog at Daniels Run ES

On October 5th, 2012

Our bog creation project at Daniels Run Elementary School was funded by a watershed grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The site was a problem area adjacent to a playground with a compacted clay foundation. After a rain event, water collected here and stood for numerous days. Lands and Waters and Daniels Run decided this was an excellent opportunity to create a bog-type wetland using stormwater runoff, turning a problematic area into an ecosystem that students can study.

Our first step was to create a berm that would deflect the water from the foundation of the nearby trailer.

Building blocks: our hardworking team member Phillip uses precast concrete blocks and re-purposes them to create a wall.

Phillip them creates a gentle slop away from the wall with the existing clay that was in the area.

DR Bog

The students of Daniels Run, eager to lend a hand, skirted recess time to help us compact the clay slope.

Students help us move soil

Here we see the bog at work after a rain event! The berm is effectively draining water more quickly than before. Phase one is completed.

Next, we must evcavate out in a basin shaped pool, place in exploratory structures to encourage student engagement (while protecting protecting flora and fauna), amend excavated clay by mixing it with composted leaf mulch, and create a ponding area of no more than 4 inches. Finally, we will plant with native riparian herbaceous plants — our favorites are swamp milkweed, cardinal flower, turtlehead, joe pyeweed, and great blue lobelia. Whew, there is still much to do! But we’re off to a wonderful start.

Creating a Vernal Pool at Daniels Run ES: Breaking Ground (Part 1)

For a project funded by a generous National Fish and Wildlife grant, we begin breaking ground on a series of stormwater projects at Daniels Run Elementary in Fairfax, Virginia.

Day 1: September 29th, 2012

Breaking ground on a vernal pool construction project!

Something tells me this isn’t the first time we’ve lost Kris down a hole…

Kris pulled out a few volunteers that eagerly inhabited the hole that was used to check the soil profile and test percolation. I guess they are impatiently awaiting their new home! We relocated a few pickerel frogs (Lithobates palustris) to a nearby constructed wetland that was part of an earlier schoolyard greening project.

Relocating natives — we work to find new homes for the goldenrod and chestnut oaks that were at the site of our vernal pool creation project.

All in a days work! Digging out a vernal pool by hand (aka people-power) requires a lot of physical labor.

Day 2: September 30th, 2012

[  Creating a Vernal Pool at Daniels Run ES (Part 2)  ]

Vegetable Garden Fall Planting and Biodiversity Tour at Kimball ES

Fall Vegetable Garden Planting

This semester, Kimball’s second grade students are focusing on plants. Joined by volunteers from the Washington Center, the Lands and Waters team helped engage students and reinforce their classroom lessons by leading a fall planting in their schoolyard vegetable garden.

The soil has been weeded and rich leaf compost has been turned in, now the students line-up and prepare to plant! Close observation of lettuce seeds reveal creative descriptors from the students — “raindrops” and “bugs” fill tiny palms.

Finally, each student gets a turn to gently scratch their seeds into the soil.

Kimball ES Community Forest: Schoolyard Biodiversity Explorations

While exploring the Kimball Community Forest, students roll over logs to reveal the abundance of life beneath them. Surveying their schoolyard biodiversity as discovery-based learning helps to teach students to explore and analyze the world around them.

Through the trees — there are many taboos associated with the woods. Learning to love the “wild” is sometimes a re-learning process, especially for children more familiar with an urban jungle.

Volunteers from the Washington Center

Garden Surprises and Teachable Moments

While preparing the garden beds for planting, we find a monarch caterpillar voraciously munching on honeyvine leaves (Ampelamus albidus). Closer inspection revealed numerous caterpillars stealthy camouflaged among the vines.

We gathered them up, planning to rear them back at the office. Only 1% of the monarch eggs laid make it to become butterflies, so they need all the help they can get! A cozy home in captivity, lazily munching on milkweed leaves, greatly reduces the threats of parasitism and predators.

Our caterpillars will transform into one of these magnificent butterflies! Then they will make their long, obstacle-filled migration to Mexico, on those fierce yet fragile wings.

[Update — All eight of our caterpillars successfully emerged from their chrysalis! They were then released to begin their long journey south. Sadly, one monarch’s wings did not develop properly and she was not releasable. As luck would have it, she’ll live out her days in Christine’s apartment, slurping down boxes of apple juice.]

Monarch caterpillars are collected and kept in a box for temporary safe-keeping. They provide a delightful “teachable moment” in which students learn about life cycles and migrations. One of those wonderfully impromptu lessons we embrace as environmental educators.

Lanier MS: Eco-Club Begins!

Three years ago, Lands and Waters partnered with Lanier Middle School to create a living classroom in their turf-dominated courtyard. The objective was to create a forested area to provide habitat for organisms that would use the vernal pool ecosystem, such as amphibians and invertebrates. We wanted to create examples of ecosystems — a bog, plantings representative of upland woodland forest, a riparian area, a meadow, a vernal pool, a pollinator garden and finally a vegetable garden was added last spring by the hardworking members of the Eco-club.

The courtyard is opened to all disciplines but the Eco-club is at the heart of the maintaining and enhancing courtyard. Lanier’s Eco-club meets twice a week this year — primary activities evolve around the courtyard and the school’s recycling program.

This year projects:

  • Creating a circulating stream powered by solar energy and designed by Dr. Desouza’s students (Techonolgy and Engineering teacher)
  • Fall plantings in the vegetable garden culminating in a salad day and “Real Cost of Food” educational program about the environmental, ethical and health impacts of the global food system
  • Installing a small-scale indoor composting system so students can observe decomposition
  • Creation of a field guide to catalogue and monitor the species found at Lanier as our greening projects mature and provide better habitat to local flora and fauna
  • Monitoring vernal pool organisms
  • Raising fairy shrimp in the classroom

Eco-club students investigate the vernal pool habitat in their courtyard.

Water samples collected from the vernal pool to test for water quality parameters and macroinvertebrates.

Eco-club students use microscopes to look for macroinvertebrates and other microscopic life forms.

Teamwork! Students working together to load and haul fresh gravel for the dry-bed stream.

Students help to put in a low area that runs through the courtyard to conduct water to two internal drains.

Ms. Alam, science teacher and Eco-club leader, picks the last of the summer tomatoes before they are killed by frost.

September plantings of radish come to harvest.