Gulf Branch Nature Center

Gulf Branch Nature Center We offer environmental education programs for all age groups. Free & open to the public 6 days a week, with live animals, Native American exhibits, & more! Social Media Policy: https://www.arlingtonva.us/terms-conditions/#policy
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Set in a wooded stream valley, Gulf Branch Natural Area preserves and protects wildlife habitat while serving as an educational resource for the public. As a sanctuary in an urbanized setting, there's always something new to see! The Nature Center, staffed by friendly naturalists, houses exhibits about local natural and cultural history including live animals, an observation bee hive, and the permanent exhibit 'The Woodland Indians of Arlington.' Outside, visitors may explore wooded trails, the stream, the pond, or the 3/4 mile trail to the Potomac River. Also located at the park are the Robert Walker log house and a working forge operated by the Blacksmith's Guild of the Potomac. All of our programs and events can be found in our quarterly publication, The Snag. Come in and pick-up a copy or access it on-line: http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/ParksRecreation/scripts/nature/TheSnag.aspx

Everyone's looking for a warm spot on a cold day.You can often find insects in weather one might think is too cool for t...
04/17/2020

Everyone's looking for a warm spot on a cold day.

You can often find insects in weather one might think is too cool for their liking. Often it's a sunny day, and the sun's radiance warms them enough to be active despite the cool temperature. Some require a lot of heat energy because they move their body parts so rapidly, like dragonflies who have very rapid wing beats.

So, it was surprising to find this Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) out today. Hummingbird Clearwings are day-flying moths that feed on long or deep-throated flowers. Their wingbeats are a rapid blur, and their manner of flying can make them easy to mistake for a hummingbird, hence the name.

The other surprise was seeing it land. They are busy pollinators, moving from flower to flower. I had never seen one stand still before.

04/13/2020

Eastern Red-backed Salamander. This species is abundant in spring. They live under logs, rocks and other debris in the forest. Even though the name implies a red back, not all individuals have the red stripe. You can see that this is a dark or “lead-back” individual. Even individuals with the stripe don’t always have a red stripe, as sometimes the stripe may appear orange, yellow or even white.
https://www.instagram.com/p/B-7Ol0Vjksy/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

While walking the grounds last week I spotted the smallest Jack-in-the-pulpit I have ever seen. The whole spathe was no ...
04/13/2020

While walking the grounds last week I spotted the smallest Jack-in-the-pulpit I have ever seen. The whole spathe was no larger than 5 inches tall. This plant is likely to produce only male flowers due to it's small size. As this perennial grows larger over the years, it will change from producing male flowers to female flowers that will then bear fruit. This is called dichogamy.

Eastern Cottontails are our local rabbit species. Rabbits have long been associated with spring and spring festivals. Sp...
04/12/2020

Eastern Cottontails are our local rabbit species.

Rabbits have long been associated with spring and spring festivals. Spring is a time of rebirth, and rabbits are masters at reproduction. Cottontail breeding season runs from late February through September, although most young are born between March and July. Gestation lasts for 30 days, and the female often mates again immediately after giving birth. She can have 3-7 litters a year.

Why so quickly? Rabbits have a high mortality rate. Only 20% of adults survive into the next year. They are the preferred prey for Red Fox and Bobcat. Nest success is also low. The high reproductive rate is needed to offset the low survival rates. Even with these low survival rates, a male and female cottontail could produce 25 rabbits in a year.

04/07/2020
Duel in Arlington!

April 8th marks the anniversary of Henry Clay and John Randolph duel in 1826 that took place in Arlington.

Join Park Historian John McNair on a virtual tour of Arlington to commemorate the anniversary of the Duel of Henry Clay and John Randolph in 1826.

Christmas Fern fiddleheads.This perennial fern has a role in soil conservation and erosion prevention. As fronds grow an...
04/06/2020

Christmas Fern fiddleheads.

This perennial fern has a role in soil conservation and erosion prevention. As fronds grow and die each year, a covering mass forms on the surface of the soil. This dense mass can be a stabilizing force, lessening or even preventing erosion especially on steep slopes.

Eastern Phoebes are one of the earliest flycatchers to return in spring. Flycatchers are birds that catch flying insects...
04/04/2020

Eastern Phoebes are one of the earliest flycatchers to return in spring. Flycatchers are birds that catch flying insects from a perch, flying out quickly to catch the insect and then returning to the same perch - a very distinctive behavior. The phoebe also flicks its tail often while perched, and both behaviors can help identify it.

This phoebe is one of a pair that were looking at a nesting location on the back of the nature center this morning.

04/03/2020
Rat Snake feeding, part 2.

This is the second video today. Be sure to watch the first video, and then come back.

Part 2 – Where capturing and subduing the prey were very different from the Water Snake’s method (see video on 4/2), once the prey is subdued the Rat Snake swallows it in the same way.

The upper and lower jaw on each side are extended together. Doing this in unison, alternately on each side, the snake slowly guides its prey head-first into its throat to be swallowed. This video gives you a much clearer view of this process.

04/03/2020
Rat Snake feeding, part 1.

Today’s video is in two parts.

Part 1 - Let’s compare the Eastern Rat Snake’s method of eating with the Water Snake from yesterday’s video.

In this first video you will see the Rat Snake capture its prey. After biting the mouse, the snake immediately wraps its prey to secure it. Where the Water Snake catches its prey and swallows it alive, rat snakes constrict their prey to subdue and suffocate before swallowing.

While we feed the snakes mice that are already dead, the snake’s instincts still tell it to hold the prey and squeeze. After waiting an appropriate amount of time for the prey to succumb, the rat snake will begin to swallow the mouse.

For the swallowing, check out today's second video, Part 2.

04/02/2020
Water Snake Feeding

Our Northern Water Snake having its meal today. These snakes have sharp teeth that are adapted for securely holding slippery prey such as fish or small amphibians. Their prey is swallowed while still alive.

If you look closely at the 30-second mark, you will notice the snake begins to arrange the fish in its mouth so it can swallow it head first. Snakes lack any sort of limbs, which many other animals find very helpful in holding and positioning prey in their mouth. Instead, they do all the work with their teeth and the bones of their skull. Sharp teeth hold their prey while they position it in their mouth. The upper and lower jaw on each side can be extended together. By doing this in unison, alternately on each side, they can arrange their food to point head-first down their throat and then slowly maneuver it into their throat. These movements are possible because most of the bones in a snake’s skull are loosely connected to the braincase, allowing much distortion and stretching.

Check back in tomorrow to see how one of our other snakes feeds with a different method.

Gulf Branch Nature Center's cover photo
04/02/2020

Gulf Branch Nature Center's cover photo

If you look closely while hiking at Gulf Branch, you might find Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) along the tra...
03/29/2020

If you look closely while hiking at Gulf Branch, you might find Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) along the trail. Like other spring ephemerals, it grows early to take advantage of high nutrient levels in the soil and full sunlight from a leaf-free canopy. these perennials often form small colonies. One thought on the origin of its name is that the mottled coloring of the leaves resembles the coloring of a brook trout.

03/28/2020

Our Yellow-bellied Slider shows the advantage of having nostrils on the tip of one’s nose. If the turtle wanted to, it need only stick the tip of its nose above the water surface to catch a breath. Then it could return to the depths, leaving barely a ripple. Barely an inch more of extension if it wants to look around above the surface.

03/27/2020
Crayfish Legs

Our crayfish made an appearance this morning, giving quite a show of its many appendages – and giving us a chance to learn some big, new words!

Crayfish are decapods, crustaceans with ten main legs. In the video you can see the main walking legs, called pereiopods. The first pair of pereiopods end in large claws (chela), and are called chelipeds.

The “tail” of a crayfish is its abdomen. The small appendages you see beating under its abdomen are the pleopods, also called swimmerets. These appendages can be used to determine gender – the pleopods of females are uniform in shape, while in males the first pair are modified for fertilization and appear larger and more solid. Females use their swimmerets to hold their clutch of eggs. Both genders utilize these appendages for their characteristic escape method – a rapid, backward scooting produced by abdominal flexing. It even has its own name – caridoid escape reaction. (Worth a Google😊)

03/24/2020

Stuck inside? Then the parks are coming to you!
Join park staff on this trip across the western tip of Arlington in search of the DC Boundary Stones.
To learn more about the Boundary Stones and where they can be found in Arlington, visit us at https://projects.arlingtonva.us/projects/boundary-markers/.

We enjoyed seeing these Rock People that some visitors made near the Gulf Branch stream over the weekend.
03/24/2020

We enjoyed seeing these Rock People that some visitors made near the Gulf Branch stream over the weekend.

Something light today. We have many birds in various stages of their nesting behaviors, with more (migrants) on the way.
03/22/2020

Something light today. We have many birds in various stages of their nesting behaviors, with more (migrants) on the way.

New comic: Instinct is weird.
http://www.birdandmoon.com/comic/instinct-is-weird/
The bird is a female Yellow Warbler, one of my favorites! It lays 4-5 eggs.

This is a great article about the importance of understanding the difference between non-native honeybees and our native...
03/21/2020
'Bee-washing' hurts bees and misleads consumers

This is a great article about the importance of understanding the difference between non-native honeybees and our native species of bees, and how helping our native bees, that are environmentally important, is just as important as helping honeybees, that are economically important. https://theconversation.com/bee-washing-hurts-bees-and-misleads-consumers-131188

'Bee-washing,' marketing claims that purport to help bees, can diminish the important distinction between a honey bee and native bee.

If you have managed to get some outdoor time anywhere along the trails in Arlington, you may have seen and almost defini...
03/21/2020

If you have managed to get some outdoor time anywhere along the trails in Arlington, you may have seen and almost definitely have heard Carolina Wrens. These small, reddish-brown birds have a white throat and eyebrow.

They can also be quite loud. Rapid-fire bursts of scolding, chattering or rasping can often make a hiker feel like they have committed some personal wrong against the birds. What you are hearing are bird calls, and they are different from songs.

Bird songs are used by males to advertise territory and attract a mate. Calls are usually less musical and complex. They are often communication between individuals, and in this case serve as a warning or attempt at intimidating or driving away a potential intruder or predator.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is an early spring wildflower you can look for in the park. It gets its vivid name fr...
03/19/2020

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is an early spring wildflower you can look for in the park. It gets its vivid name from the color of its sap, which is a bright orange color. Sanguinaria, its genus name, is from the Latin word sanguinarius which means “bloody.”

This wildflower is an early ephemeral, blooming before the trees leaf out to take full advantage of available sunlight. It doesn’t stay in bloom for long. Bloodroot attracts flies and bees, but they do not find nectar only pollen. Mining bees come to Bloodroot for the pollen, and they are the most effective pollinators.

You can find Bloodroot in a couple spots in Gulf Branch Natural Area – along the driveway in to the nature center, and along the trail to the Potomac River, east of the Nelson St. stairs. Their presence is a tribute to invasive plant removal projects that have cleared the way for native wildflowers to return.

PLEASE DO OT PICK THEM. Without pollination, these natives cannot produce seeds to reproduce.

COMING SOON!The Fort C.F. Smith Park Visitor Center is updating its displays! Be on the lookout for more updates as we p...
03/18/2020

COMING SOON!
The Fort C.F. Smith Park Visitor Center is updating its displays! Be on the lookout for more updates as we prepare our museum for its eventual reopening. See you at the fort!

03/18/2020

Couldn't resist a closer look at the wood frog tadpoles hatching out in the vernal pool, while counting salamander egg masses. Most of the eggs haven't hatched, but they on getting started.

It's a beautiful spring day, but even the wildlife is in self quarantine!
03/17/2020

It's a beautiful spring day, but even the wildlife is in self quarantine!

Looking for outdoor activities?  We will post a new idea every day on our front porch.  Today - it's scavenger hunts!  C...
03/17/2020

Looking for outdoor activities? We will post a new idea every day on our front porch. Today - it's scavenger hunts! Come use one of ours, or better yet, create your own. Have your kids make one, then take a pic and challenge other families to complete it!

Arlington County Parks and Recreation
03/14/2020

Arlington County Parks and Recreation

Parks & Recreation Temporary Closures due to COVID-19.

Learn more: http://bit.ly/2w3szGV

Black Vultures seem to really enjoy perching on the cell tower and the adjacent trees near the on-ramp to northbound Gle...
03/05/2020

Black Vultures seem to really enjoy perching on the cell tower and the adjacent trees near the on-ramp to northbound Glebe Road from Military Road, especially first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. Their featherless head helps these scavengers stay clean while feeding on dead animals, but the lack of insulation can be a disadvantage in the winter.

Gulf Branch Nature Center's cover photo
03/04/2020

Gulf Branch Nature Center's cover photo

Sad to be taking down all the awesome Valentine's folks made for our critters.  We're sure they love you back - even if ...
02/27/2020

Sad to be taking down all the awesome Valentine's folks made for our critters. We're sure they love you back - even if our tsundere crayfish would never admit it.. Thanks to everyone who made one!

Did our crayfish die? Nope - it just molted. Arthropods - insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, crustaceans, etc. - n...
02/22/2020

Did our crayfish die? Nope - it just molted. Arthropods - insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, crustaceans, etc. - need to shed their exoskeleton as they grow. Our crayfish molted its old exoskeleton, and is now a little bit bigger!

Trying to catch some shut eye before the night shift.
02/21/2020

Trying to catch some shut eye before the night shift.

Many thanks to everyone who posted some Valentine’s love for our critters!
02/19/2020

Many thanks to everyone who posted some Valentine’s love for our critters!

02/12/2020

Today’s Wood Frog chorus.

And once the frogs show up, the predators follow.
02/11/2020

And once the frogs show up, the predators follow.

They're back! Wood Frogs have returned to our pond for their annual "very-early-spring" courtship. So far we have only s...
02/11/2020

They're back! Wood Frogs have returned to our pond for their annual "very-early-spring" courtship. So far we have only seen males, and they haven't started calling.

We were not the only ones enjoying the warm, sunny weather at the beginning of this week...
02/06/2020

We were not the only ones enjoying the warm, sunny weather at the beginning of this week...

We found this little Wood Frog in our basement this afternoon. Someone was trying to get a jump on the warm weather...
02/05/2020

We found this little Wood Frog in our basement this afternoon. Someone was trying to get a jump on the warm weather...

Our Barred Owl had a visitor today...
01/31/2020

Our Barred Owl had a visitor today...

Despite the cold, life in our pond goes on.
01/30/2020

Despite the cold, life in our pond goes on.

Address

3608 Military Rd
Arlington, VA
22207

Opening Hours

Tuesday 10:00 - 17:00
Wednesday 10:00 - 17:00
Thursday 10:00 - 17:00
Friday 10:00 - 17:00
Saturday 10:00 - 17:00
Sunday 13:00 - 17:00

Telephone

(703) 228-3403

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Comments

Does Gulf Branch have any Earth Day events planned? I wanna put together a list of volunteer activities to share with my high school Bio students over at Yorktown.
Please tell us more details about your upcoming Bat Fest.