Friday, May 15, 2009

From Animal Planet to Lubber Run

Turns out the host of the old Animal Planet show “Backyard Habitat,” who appears regularly on national TV, is a resident of the Columbia Forest neighborhood in south Arlington. The author of “Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife,” checked out Buckingham’s backyard, Lubber Run Park, on Wednesday. Although a resident of Arlington for about a decade, it was his first time in this park, and he was pleased with what he saw.

David Mizejewski in Lubber Run Park, Wednesday. (Click to enlarge the image.)

“Urban natural areas have a different sort of stressors on them,” David Mizejewski said. The impermeable roofs, roads, driveways and parking lots in the area send a lot of water into storm drains which empty into streams like Lubber Run. But overall the streams in Arlington are OK, he said.

“We do have such a great, green infrastructure in Arlington,” he said.

The county supports a program to protect Lubber Run from invasive plant species. The county has three nature centers inside its borders, staffed by professional naturalists. It says a lot about the county government and the citizens who support these, he said.

“You just don’t see that in a lot of other places,” he said. (Gulf Branch Nature Center was saved in the county largely through citizen activism when the county budget was approved just weeks ago.)

Strolling in jeans and flip-flops, he stopped near the rest room building and looked to the hillside that rises behind it. He noticed how much undergrowth the park has, and attributed part of that to the few deer in the county. He said that hillside was the perfect habitat for the mountain laurel that grows there. With the old growth trees, mountain laurel and the oak seedlings sprouting through the dark, leaf-strewn soil, he said,

“We could be in the Shenandoah.”

The mountain laurel on the hillside is one sign of a rather healthy park. (Click to enlarge the image.)

Lubber Run might not have the invertebrate life—snails and crayfish—of a truly healthy stream, but it does support dace, those minnow-like fish, in the deeper pools of the stream. The streambed is gravelly, rather than silty, which allows plants to grow and fish to spawn.

A pair of mallards was eating and resting in the stream. Near his house, he said, on Four-Mile Run, he has seen kingfishers and great blue herons which means they must be finding something to eat.

“On the whole, these urban ecosystems are in pretty good shape,” he said.

His show which ran a couple seasons, (and can be purchased on DVD) was a “Trading Spaces” sort of show for the backyard. It focused on making-over backyards to attract wildlife. Landowners, however, must recognize the limits to this: they have to plant native plants to attract native animals and insects.


These eastern tent caterpillars are not invasive, but are good for the ecosystem. (Click to enlarge the image.)

“You need bugs for birds,” he said.

Take the eastern tent caterpillar. It is not invasive, nor is it bad for area trees. It feeds off plants in the rose family, which include a number of fruit trees, such as the black cherry Mr. Mizejewski found in the park, a nice web of caterpillars stuck to the “Y” of a branch.

They might look ugly and leave a few holey leaves in their wakes, but they might also attact the yellow-billed cuckoo. Those birds like the fuzzy bugs.



An employee of the National Wildlife Federation in Reston, he is promoting their new “Be Out There” program which encourages families to spend more time in nature in order to grow healthier and appreciate nature more. He also has a new blog on the Animal Planet site called “Animal Oddities.”

Mr. Mizejewski is not against bringing home wildlife from t he park; his old show often made habitats for critters like pollywogs. But practice “catch-and-release” he said, returning the animals to the place where they were found, and do not keep animals captive too long.

“Parks are hugely valuable,” Mr. Mizejewski said. “They are the community’s backyard.” Parents can teach their children to be respectful of the parks. “It’s for everybody, including the wild animals, including the streams.”




Related sites…
  • NWF's "Be Out There" program.
  • Animal Planet's "Animal Oddities" blog.
  • Animal Planet's Backyard Habitat

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