Branching Out Winter 23-24

Page 1

Walker Nature Center



• Calendar 4 • Kids’ Corner: Bearly Awake 6 • Holiday Fest 8

Nature Notes How to Bear the Winter DECEMBER By Pam Findley

By Susan Sims

• • • •

The leaves have fallen, and the air is spongy with a winter chill. The soft drift of snow blankets the forests surrounding Reston. Frosted rain chips away at exposed bark and dormant land. There is a crunch of footsteps in the woods. The scratch of claws gathering a bed of leaves. Then the chuff of a bear echoes as it prepares its warm den for winter. Yes, we have bears.

Goldfinches are active. American Holly have red berries. Small mammals have winter coats. December 21 – Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year. Christmas Fern and Running Cedar are evergreen.

JANUARY • • • • •

American Witchhazel blooms. American Robins forage in flocks. Eastern Gray Squirrels begin to breed. Sweetgum trees drop spiky, round seed pods. January 6 – Full moon known as the Wolf or Old Moon.

FEBRUARY • • • •

Marginal Woodfern is evergreen. Pine Siskins may be seen at feeders. February 5—Full moon known as the Snow or Hunger Moon. Listen for fox yelps as mating season begins.

Black Bears feature extensively in Native American history as a protector and healer. A bear named Winnipeg, who resided at the London Zoo, inspired the story of Winnie the Pooh, and the U. S. Forest Service cultivated the persona of Smokey Bear as a reminder to act responsibly and prevent forest fires. As we move into winter, our native Black Bears will be preparing for the coming cold and nestling in to welcome the spring with vigor.

Black Bears are crepuscular creatures that are most active at dawn and dusk. They are omnivorous and primarily consume berries, sedges and insects. They’ll also eat fish, carrion and small mammals. They can smell food up to two miles away which may attract them to pet food and human garbage. Black Bears live up to 30 years and are solitary except for a female raising cubs or occasionally a pair of yearling siblings. Black Bears are usually shy and will flee from loud noises. Sometimes, Reston has a bear visitor who inevitably makes the news. In the case of this past summer, the visiting bear was likely a youngling headed out on his own. The cubs will typically stay with their mother for about a year and a half before heading off into adulthood.

Continued on page 2

The Bearable Weight of Being

Black Bears have been found in various habitats including wetlands, forests and suburban areas of Fairfax County, even Reston. Ursus americanus is the only type of bear in Virginia. They range from four to seven feet long from nose to tail with rounded ears, dark fur and nonretractable claws. Female bears, called sows, weigh 90 to 250 pounds with males weighing 130 up to 500 lbs. They are the smallest bear in North America even though that size may seem large.

Winter | 23-24 |


How to Bear the Winter continued from page 1

11450 Glade Drive, Reston, VA 20191 Dawn to dusk, enjoy year-round access to trails, restrooms and free parking.

Easy food sources may attract them to suburban or urban areas for a short time. Male bears travel up to 95 miles in a year seeking a new home range, which can vary from 10 to 290 square miles.

Bear Necessities


Black Bears have fascinating adaptations that help them survive. They are equipped with prehensile lips that help them pluck fruit from plants and curved claws for climbing trees to access seeds and leaves. Bears have plantigrade feet allowing them to stand up on their hind legs to improve their sight or hearing in certain scenarios.



72 acres of forested land, a picnic pavilion, demonstration gardens, educational signage, a fire ring, two streams, a pond, a Little Free Library, the entrance to 44-acre Lake Audubon and our education building, known as Nature House.


Mon. & Wed.-Fri. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed Tuesdays Saturday 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Sunday 1– 4 p.m.


Dec. 24 Christmas Eve Dec. 25 Christmas Dec. 31 New Year’s Eve Jan. 1 New Year’s Day Jan. 15 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Feb. 19 Presidents’ Day

The most likely adaptation that most have heard of is hibernation. However, the Black Bear doesn’t truly hibernate in Virginia. Because they won’t enter a state of torpor, it’s not considered true hibernation. Bears will eat up to 20 hours a day before finally settling in for the winter. Denning will generally last until March or April when the weather warms. Mating takes place in the summer and sows give birth to one to four cubs in January or February while in their dens. Baby bears are born blind and covered in fine fur. Bears in Virginia typically den in large hollow trees, though they will also opt for timber piles, rocky cavities lined in leaves and the ubiquitous drainpipe.

Good News Bears

Black Bears are a true conservation success story in Virginia. Habitat loss and overhunting reduced the population of bears in the state to an estimated 1,000 in 1900. Through reforestation and Department of Wildlife Resources management plans, the population has grown to an estimated 17,000 throughout the state. Reston is not only a biophilic city it’s also a Tree City USA, recognized for its commitment to forested lands and proper management. This also means that residents may be living close to bear ranges which increases the likelihood of seeing a bear. Not to worry! With proper planning, bears and people can coexist. There are simple actions a resident can take to diminish the likelihood of a bear overstaying its welcome. Keep pet food indoors, remove bird feeders if they are attracting bears, and keep garbage in a secure trash can or inside a shed if possible. Accessibility to human food often spells trouble for a hungry bear. If a bear is frequenting your property, report it to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. DWR manages all bear calls and will be able to assist. @restonnature @walkernaturecenter Groups: Please call ahead to arrange your visit. Branching Out is a quarterly publication of the Walker Nature Center (WNC), owned and operated by Reston Association. The mission of WNC is to foster an environmental stewardship ethic in the community. It is named after Reston’s first Open Space and Nature Center Director, Vernon J. Walker.

Branching Out is printed on 100 percent recycled paper using soy ink. It is produced using 100 percent wind power. Please recycle.


Another concern among bears is sarcoptic mange. This condition is caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei which burrows into the bear’s skin and causes hair loss, scabs and severe itching. Bears will often suffer from poor body condition and crusted face and ears. Anyone who sees a bear with mange should report it to the DWR Wildlife Conflict Help Line at 855-571-9003. Their flexibility, adaptability and impressive stature in the mammalian kingdom have long inspired humans, giving way to iconic examples in stories and culture. Black Bears epitomize strength, beauty and wonder, living in a balance with nature’s provisions. As you enjoy the 55 miles of trails in Reston and Walker Nature Center’s 72 acres remember to give a nod to the Black Bear and know that spring is coming.

WINTER BIRD CLASS-AN INTRODUCTION Learn the basics of bird identification and how to look and listen for the common birds of Reston. Discover the major groups of birds and the best places to watch for them. Discuss a variety of bird guides, and take home a Checklist of Birds of Reston. Learn how to use eBird and support Reston’s biodiversity projects. Register by Jan. 2. 106201205 Thu Adults

1/4 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm Free

WINTER BIRD COUNT Join us for a half-day annual bird count throughout Reston’s natural areas. Meet local bird experts, learn tips on identification and have fun while helping obtain important information about our feathered friends. Results will be shared electronically after the count. Register by January 3. 106201205 Sat Adults

1/6 7:00 am – 12:00 pm Free

CALLING ALL SHUTTERBUGS Send us your best photographs of nature in Reston’s winter. Photos should be taken in the winter of 2023-24. Entries due by Friday, February 23.

Please and Thank You By Ken Rosenthal With the leaves turning and the growing season coming to an end, I am reminded to be sure and thank the members of the Reston Garden Club (RGC) for their many efforts around the center. Members donate their time, energy and flowers to creating beautiful floral arrangements that are on display at the front desk. They also create seasonal mantel creations, like the wonderful pumpkin piece currently on our mantel that will be perfect for our Halloween event. RGC Members are the delightful volunteers who greeted you, helped you find your flowers and confirmed your order was correct at the Fall Native Tree and Shrub Sale – and at the spring sale, too. Finally, they are always a big help on our grounds, and this year was no exception. Several volunteers helped us clean up the gardens at the end of the season, with weeding, tidying up, and pulling of invasives like stiltgrass. They even have a section of their newsletter just for happenings at the nature center! There are several upcoming opportunities to volunteer at the nature center. We will be holding our annual Holiday Fest at Nature House on Sunday, December 3, from 1-4 pm. We are always looking for volunteers to help us spread some holiday cheer. On Saturday, January 6, we will be holding our annual Winter Bird Count. We are happy to have expert and novice birders help us with the count. You can get an early start on learning your birds with our Bird Class the evening of January 4.

Thanks to our donors and sponsors: Two winners will be chosen, one in the adult category (18 & up), and one in the youth category. Please include your name, age, phone number and email with your entry and if you give us permission to display your entry. Send entries (.JPEG, .jpg or .png form) to

Julie & Charlie Bond and the Reston Garden Club for the seasonal container gardens, delightful mantel creations, and the lovely floral arrangements at the Welcome Desk.

Thanks to our volunteers:

Sheila Anders; Joanne & David Bauer; Lisa Belt; Julie & Charlie Bond; Martha Garcia Brooks; William Burks; Devo Burto; Bill Burton; Ellen Douglas; Jody Douglas; Robin Duska; John Eppler; June Ferrara; Linda Fuller; Martha Furniss; Barbara Heubner; Joan Kenney; Sharon McHugh; Barbara Paolucci; Sara Piper; Jim Seret; Edda Sigurdardottir; JoAnn Staub; Bonnie Stauber; Brenda van Doorn; Verna Webb; Joanne Williams Brenda Wulff; Connie Yost.


Register online with WebTrac

All programs will be held at the Walker Nature Center, 11450 Glade Drive, unless otherwise noted. Refunds are available with two weeks’ notice or if we cancel for any reason. Activities may be canceled due to severe weather, severe weather warnings or low enrollment. Children must be accompanied by an adult.



Start your holiday decorating by making a festive wreath for your home. All supplies provided. When registering, please indicate the number of people in your party and how many wreaths you would like to make. Register by Nov. 30. 406011012 12/2 Sat 10:30 am - 12:00 pm Or 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm All Ages $30/wreath RA members, $35/wreath Non-members HOLIDAY FEST Sun See ad on page 8.



Where do animals stay on a cold and snowy day? Snuggle in for story time and listen to Jan Brett’s classic book. Make a mitten craft. Weather permitting, bundle up and take a walk to search for animal homes. Reservations required by Dec. 2. 406121008 Tue 12/5 10:00 am -11:00 am Or Sat 12/9                   10:30 am- 11:30 am Ages 3-5 $7/RA Member, $9/Non-member WINTER GREENS

Although most of the leaves have fallen off the trees, there are still many things that remain green in the winter. Make an evergreen “wreath” and smell the scent of pine. Take a short walk through the woods and look for some winter greens. Register by Dec. 8. 406111001 Mon 12/11 10:00 am - 11:00 am OR Tue 12/12 10:00 am - 11:00 am Ages 18-35 months $8/RA Member, $10/Non-member




Bring a little glow to your winter. Learn where wax comes from and discover how candles are made. Dip a pair of candles and decorate a pillar candle with natural materials. Keep your candles or give them as gifts. All supplies provided. Register by Dec. 11.

Woodpeckers search the trees for food, even during winter. Learn about woodpeckers and other birds that peck on trees. Take a short hike to look for their homes and make a fun craft. Register by Jan. 5.

406131012 Thu Ages 6-12

12/14 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm $12/RA member, $16/Non-member



Try your hand at making a set of adorable woodland critters out of natural materials. These charming, little animals make delightful decorations and gifts. All materials provided. Register by Dec. 13. 406131012 Sat Ages 5-12

12/16 10:30 am - 11:30 am $10/RA Member, $12/Non-member


Do you ever wish you could leave town for the winter and go some place warm? Enjoy a fun puppet show adapted from a Sioux legend about how turtle tried to do just that. After the show, learn about turtles and meet a real one up close. Register by Dec. 24. 406101011 Thu Or Ages 3-8

106111001 Mon 1/8 10:00 am - 11:00 am OR Tue 1/9 10:00 am - 11:00 am Ages 18-35 months$8/RA Member, $10/Non-member

12/28 10:00 am - 10:45 am 11:15 am - 12:00 pm $7/RA Member, $9/Non-member


Crisp nights can be the perfect time to enjoy a woodland hike. Look and listen for nocturnal animals. Gaze at stars and look at the moon through binoculars. Register by Jan. 16. 106011008 Fri Ages 5-Adult

1/19 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm $6/RA Member, $8/Non-member


Learn about the different types of owls that call Reston home. Listen to their calls and learn about their interesting features. Touch real feathers and search for owls in the forest. Create an owl to take home. Register by Jan. 17. 106121008 Sat 1/20 10:30 am -11:30 am Or Tue 1/23                    10:00 am - 11:00 am Ages 3-5 $7/RA Member, $9/Non-member STEAM- WILD ABOUT WILDLIFE



WINTER BIRD COUNT Sat See ad on page 3


Learn about the interesting reptiles, mammals, birds and amphibians that live in Reston. Meet a live reptile up close and learn about their unique adaptations. Match skulls and furs. Create animal tracks with clay. Use microscopes to observe the unique details of feathers, fur and more. Register for this drop-off program by Jan. 23. 106131015 Fri Ages 6-12

1/26 10:00 am - 12:00 pm $9/RA Member, $11/Non-member




Fight the chill of winter and warm your soul with these short films that shed new light on environmental topics. Co-presented by Friends of Reston. Register by Jan. 24.

Parents, enjoy an evening out while your children have a fun-filled night at the nature center. Kids: Play nature games and go on a night hike (weather permitting). Enjoy a pizza dinner and make a fun dessert. Create your own nocturnal creature out of clay. Finish the night watching excerpts from some of our favorite nature programs. Drop off begins at 5:45 p.m. Reservations required by Feb. 6.

Have you seen bird boxes and wondered what goes on inside? Discover which birds nest in boxes and learn about their life cycles. Find out how you can help cavity-nesting birds like bluebirds by installing and maintaining a box in your yard or by volunteering in RA’s bird box monitoring program. Register by Feb. 13.

106201051 Fri Adults

1/26 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm Free, $5 suggested donation


Learn how owls catch their prey and what an owl pellet is. Unravel the contents of an owl pellet for a hootin’ good time. Register by Jan. 25. 106011008 Sun Ages 5 – Adult

1/28 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm $7/RA Member, $9/Non-member



Join local photographer John Eppler to learn how to photograph wildlife in your backyard. Discuss setting up your backyard to attract wildlife. Learn about what equipment and settings to use. Then, go outside to apply what you have learned. Be sure to bring your camera. Register by Feb. 1. 106201006 Sun Adults

2/4 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm $10/RA Member, $15/Non-member


Groundhogs get a lot of attention in February. Learn more about these curious creatures and find out what they are really doing in the winter. Make a groundhog craft, then go on a nature walk and look for shadows. Register by Feb. 3. 106111001 Mon 2/5 10:00 am - 11:00 am OR Tue 2/6 10:00 am - 11:00 am Ages 18-35 months $8/RA Member, $10/Non-member

106131010 Fri 2/9 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm Ages 5 to 12 $15/RA Member, $20/Non-member LOVE BUGS

Around Valentine’s Day, love is in the air! Learn about insects and animals that boast beautiful red and pink colors. Can you spot them on the trails? Make an adorable craft to take home and enjoy a special Valentine’s Day treat. Register by Feb. 7 106121008 Sat 2/10 OR Tue 2/13 Ages 3-5

10:30 am - 11:30 am 10:00 am -11:00 am $8/RA Member, $10/Non-member


Explore Occoquan Bay in search of winter waterfowl and sparrows. The refuge's grasslands, freshwater tidal marshes, and bottomland forests are also home to many interesting year-round residents. There will be approximately 2-3 miles of walking on gently rolling, unpaved surfaces. Register by Feb. 10. 106201007 Tue Adults

2/13 9:00 am -3:00 pm $35/RA Member, $45/Non-member

106011060 Thu All Ages

2/15 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm Free


Meet live raptors up close, including an owl and a hawk. Learn where these birds of prey live, what they eat, where they nest and how they raise their young. How do they adapt to our cold, wet winters and prepare for spring? Presented by Secret Garden Birds and Bees. Register by Feb. 15. 106011008 Sun All Ages

2/18 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm $9/RA members, $11/Non-members


Animals are all around, but we don’t always see them. Discover the clues that animals leave behind. Learn how to tell the fox’s footprint from a raccoon’s. Make a track bandanna, and go on a hike to look for signs of wildlife. Register by Feb. 21. 106011008 Sat All Ages

2/24 10:30 am - 12:00 pm $7/RA Member, $9/Non-member


Registration requested by Feb. 23. 106201002 Sun Adults

2/25 8:00 am - 11:00 am Free


Bear Puppet Craft Materials Paper lunch bag

Instructions: 1. Cut out ears from black or brown paper and glue on top of bag.

Black and brown construction paper

2. Paint legs, mouth and nose on bag.

Glue stick and scissors

3. Cut out black nose and glue on bag.

Brown, black and white paint

4. Glue on googly eyes or make eyes out of paper.

Googly eyes (or black and white paper)

5. Put your hand in the bag and use as a puppet.

Bearly Awake By Earl the Squirrel (with help from Kelly Michienzi) Hey there, young nature explorers! Did you know that black bears are sometimes seen in Reston? They may look scary because of their size, but black bears are gentle giants who enjoy their forest home as much as I do. Their shaggy fur can be black, brown or cinnamon in color. Despite their large size of around 300 pounds, they are amazingly fast. A black bear can climb 100 feet up a tree in 30 seconds and run up to 35 miles per hour! Bears have one of the best senses of smell of all animals. They use their noses to find food, other bears, and to keep their young safe from predators. Speaking of food, black bears are omnivores, eating a variety of things including insects, fruits, plants, nuts, live and dead animals. In the fall season they feast on acorns, gaining up to 100 pounds of extra weight in a few weeks. Turns out I have something in common with bears-we both love acorns.


Help the bear find her way into her den.

I stay active all winter long here in Reston, digging up the acorns I buried during the fall months. Black bears are very sleepy during the winter. They enter their dens before the onset of winter and will spend most of the season in a deep sleep. In Virginia, their dens are typically made in hollow trees lined with a layer of leaves. Bears aren’t true hibernators because they wake up during the winter season if something disturbs them and may sometimes wander before going back to sleep. Bears don’t eat or drink during this time. Bear cubs are born in the winter den as adorable fluffballs and depend on their mother for food and protection for around 2 years. Once spring arrives, the hungry bears awaken and start searching for food. Cubs are very playful and love to tumble around just like you might with your siblings or friends. Living with black bears teaches us squirrels and other animals how to be respectful, cautious and kind to all forest friends. How can humans live peacefully with bears? If you know a bear is wandering nearby, remove bird feeders for a few weeks until the bear has moved on. Often, bears are just passing through Reston in search of a new home. Make sure your trash is stored in secure trash cans and don’t leave pet or human food outside. Never approach a bear and give them plenty of space. If you do come across a black bear, make some noise and slowly back away. They usually aren’t interested in people and will wander off. Happy trails, young explorers.


Kids’ Corner

From the Vault: A New Equation By Abby Stocking

Our “From the Vault” series allows us an opportunity to dive back into some Nature Center history. In this edition, we travel back to November, 1970, when the American Forests magazine ran an article about the “new town” of Reston and the formation of the Nature Center. The article was entitled, “A New Equation: Nature Center = Community Involvement” and was written by Lyn K. Daniels. These excerpts highlight the vision that Vernon J. Walker, Reston’s first Open Space and Nature Center Director, had for creating the Nature Center as well as the challenges they faced in the early days. “An attractively designed pamphlet issued by Walker’s office describes the Nature Center as ‘a center for environmental education and management.’ Although a 70-acre area has been designated as ‘Nature Center’ on the town’s master plan, and permanent office quarters will probably be provided at some future date, the Nature Center and the 7,400-acre environment of Reston are really one and the same. Contrary to what the name implies, the Center is really program not place. The confusion inherent in the name is a reflection of the challenging, but creative, confusion which results when an open-ended idea is allowed to develop in response to the demands and needs of a new town and an equally new population.” “The environment of Reston offers far more opportunities than most suburban areas, but as the Nature Center’s literature states: ‘Few people have experienced owning land in common with hundreds of others… If the concept of open space planning is to achieve viability, a land ethic must be developed which will guide people to use and manage this land with respect and intelligence.’ The Nature Center goal of teaching people how ‘to use, not abuse, open space’ is especially challenging because it must embrace such a diversity of people.” “The common land planning of Reston and the educational guidance offered by the Nature Center for the use and care of this land present a unique opportunity for one community to have a better urban environment. If there were more active interest on the part of professionals in programs of urban conservation and in community environmental education, the experience of Reston might be less unique.” These excerpts help paint the picture about the environmental stewardship on which this community of Reston was based. Over 50 years later, this still rings true. The Nature Center continues to be more about program than place and we see the outdoors as our true classroom. Along with our counterparts in the Natural Resources and Watersheds departments, we aim to teach people to use, not abuse, these open spaces. Reston may face many of the same challenges as other urban areas across the country, but we still believe we have a better urban environment through the preservation of our open spaces and the community’s commitment to maintaining them. It is hard to say where our community would be without the likes of Vern Walker and his trailblazing work in establishing a community land ethic. The Nature Center is proud to now bear his name in our title and to carry on the work he was so passionate about.

7 Walker Nature Center 11450 Glade Drive Reston, Virginia 20191


Sunday, December 3 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm Walker Nature Center All Ages $10 RA MEMBERS $15 NON-MEMBERS

Pre-registration required. Register everyone in your group (adults and children) by November 30. Catch the holiday spirit. Enjoy: § Live holiday music by MSE Productions § Hot cocoa § Gingerbread Creations Contest § Ornament-making and reindeer games § Winter Storybook Trail and Woodland Tomte Trail § Nature Center gift items for sale § Photos with our mascots Earl the Squirrel and Myrtle the Turtle For more information, call 703-476-9689 and press 3, or email

Winter 18/19 Winter Volume| Twenty 23-24 |

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