Newsletter

The cicadas are about to take over the world, or at least much of the East Coast, including Fairfax County.

After biding their time for the past 17 years, Brood X could start emerging in full force as soon as today (Monday), according to the first-ever cicada forecast by The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.

From animals digging for a snack to holes in the earth made by cicada nymphs burrowing up from their underground lairs, signs of the insects’ impending arrival have become more plentiful in recent weeks. In fact, a few bugs have already been spotted, summoned out of their exoskeletons early by the rapidly warming weather.

The prospect of millions of winged insects crawling out of the ground might convince some people to stay inside until July, but as Fairfax County Park Authority naturalist and education and outreach manager Tammy Schwab told Tysons Reporter in March, cicadas are harmless — even edible.

In addition, while some annual cicadas pop up every year, the once-every-other-decade appearances of the periodical variety are natural phenomena unique to the U.S., a product of the creatures’ unusually long life cycles.

Fairfax County has been doing its part to turn anxiety over Brood X into excitement, inviting community members to a game of Cicada Stroll Bingo and highlighting the environmental benefits of cicadas.

How are you planning to greet Brood X? Are you ready to embrace the swarm, or does the idea of stepping outside in the next two months fill you with dread?

Photo courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority

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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Monday (April 26)

  • Vienna Police Station Construction Update — 7 p.m. at former Faith Baptist Church (301 Center Street S) — This monthly status update on the construction of the Vienna police station is open to the public to hear the recent construction news and ask questions. The event will be held in person at the temporary police station.
  • Overcome Your Fear of Cicadapocalypse — 1-2 p.m. & 2:45-3:45 p.m. at Hidden Oaks Nature Center (7701 Royce Street) — Considering locking yourself in your house while the cicadas are out? Naturalists at the Hidden Oaks Nature Center are hoping to calm your fears with an outdoor fact versus fiction information session. Register online for $7 per person.

Tuesday (April 27)

Wednesday (April 28)

  • (the) Unruly Theatre Project’s Virtual Improv Show (Online) — 7 p.m. — The McLean Community Center’s teen improv group is putting on its latest virtual performance. Registration is open up to two hours before the show. The Zoom link and password will be emailed to those who register. For more information, contact [email protected].
  • Jane Austen Discussion Group (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — The Jane Austen Discussion Group will be discussing “Evelina” by Fanny Burney, who was one of Austen’s greatest influences. For more information or to request the Zoom link, email Marshall Webster at [email protected].
  • Spring2ACTion Fundraiser (Online) — The Virginia Wildlife Rescue League has its 11th annual Spring2ACTion fundraiser to support Northern Virginia wildlife. Last year’s event raised $8,831, the nonprofit’s best year yet, so this year’s goal is $9,850. Early giving started April 14, but the last 24-hour push ends at 11:59 p.m. on April 28. Donations will go to help take care of rescued animals until they can be released back into the wild.

Friday (April 30)

  • Father-Daughter Silent Disco Dance — 7-8:30 p.m. at the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Ave.) — Join the McLean Community Center for the Father-Daughter Dance! This year’s event will be a little different due to COVID-19. The dance will be in the MCC parking lot, and it will be a silent disco with DJ BigCourt. The $25-per-person tickets include headphones with one of three family-friendly music genres, snack bags, and glow products.

Saturday (May 1)

Photo courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority

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Starting next week, Fairfax County will join hundreds of cities across the world in documenting local wildlife for the annual City Nature Challenge.

The Fairfax County Park Authority will participate in the challenge this year as part of the Washington Metro area’s team, which includes 14 Northern Virginia counties, five counties in Maryland, D.C., and Jefferson County, West Virginia.

“The ultimate goal of the challenge is to get citizens outside observing nature,” Tammy Schwab, FCPA manager of education and outreach for the resource parks, said. “We love to know folks are enjoying the parks  as that is why we are working hard to preserve these natural resources. We want to share them for the enjoyment and health of the citizens.”

Started in 2016 as a competition initially just between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the City Nature Challenge has evolved into a global event where participants race to find the most plant and animal species in their environment.

Last year’s contest yielded 32,000 species from more than 815,000 observations, according to the City Nature Challenge website.

Organized by the California Academy of Sciences and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, this year’s competition will begin on April 30 at 12:01 a.m. local time and conclude on May 3 at 11:59 p.m.

Participants can upload their findings to the free iNaturalist app, and the specimen will be identified through crowdsourcing. Results will be announced on May 10.

Schwab says that, as a zoologist, she enjoys getting to review and identify the many species sent in during the challenge.

“There are lots of side benefits for the parks as the data collected in the parks can help us improve our resource management efforts, and we get to work with partners across the region like the Fairfax Master Naturalist,” Schwab said.

As part of this year’s challenge, the Fairfax County Park Authority will help local Girls Scout troops get involved. Schwab will host a free online program tonight (Wednesday) from 7 to 8 p.m. for scout leaders who want their troops to participate in the City Nature Challenge.

More information on how to sign up, opportunities to volunteer, and other contest information can be found on the FCPA and City Nature Challenge websites.

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If the prospect of trillions of cicadas emerging from the earth fills you with excitement, Fairfax County’s official tourism organization has just the game for you.

Visit Fairfax has introduced a Cicada Stroll Bingo card where participants can mark off squares when they take photos of a cicada at certain locations for a chance to win insect-inspired prizes.

“While some may view the arrival of the Brood X cicadas as a nuisance, we here at Visit Fairfax choose to look at it as an exceptional opportunity for visitors and residents to witness one of Earth’s most remarkable natural occurrences – and have fun at the same time!” Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar wrote in the press release.

Suggested sites to spot cicadas range from pieces of public art like the murals at the Mosaic District to the Sully Historic Site in Chantilly. Other boxes to check include county hiking trails, shopping centers, a brewery or winery, near water, and at a restaurant (hopefully, not on your food).

Anyone who fills out two squares in their bingo card, plus the traditional “free” square in the center, can upload the card and accompanying photos for a chance to get a Cicada Care package with items like a custom cicada facemask.

Winners will be announced in May, and some of the best photos will be featured on the county’s blog and social media.

Cicada Stroll Bingo Card (Photo courtesy of Visit Fairfax)

The Cicada Bingo Card was conceived as a way to showcase “road trip travel” and encourage folks to visit outdoor county attractions safely in a “quirky kind of way,” Visit Fairfax spokesperson Ali Morris says.

She adds that this is also another way to encourage residents to visit and support their favorite local business as they recover from an extremely rough last year.

The D.C. region is expected to be the epicenter for the emergence of Brood X, a brood of cicadas that emerge only every 17 years. They spend their larva years underground, which is anywhere from two to 17 years, chowing down on tree roots.

There could be millions of them buzzing around in the area in the early summer. They’re extremely loud, thanks to the sound that the males produce by rubbing their legs together to attract potential mating partners.

While they are also big as far as insects go, they’re completely harmless. In fact, their long life cycles and the fact that they are so numerous are really their only defense mechanisms from predators.

The Brood X cicadas are expected to hit peak emergence in Northern Virginia in late May through early June. While they’ll be visible and audible everywhere, parks and other natural settings will be the best place to see and hear them.

They are also edible, to an extent.

“A few are not likely to hurt pets but too many could cause digestive issues,” Fairfax County Park Authority naturalist Tammy Schwab told Tysons Reporter last month. “They are edible by people if you’re brave enough to try it.”

Photo courtesy Visit Fairfax

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Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts launched an immersive, GPS-enabled public art exhibit today that aims to merge the musical and natural worlds.

Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK is a soundscape experience designed by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid to enhance the experience of walking through Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

“As winter melts into spring, I find myself at long last filled with optimism,” Reid said. “Re-framing parks musically has been a wonderful challenge, and Wolf Trap is a perfect setting for this piece.”

Guests can access Reid’s music, which was composed specifically for Wolf Trap’s landscape, through a free app that triggers different soundscapes as they move along the mile-long route through the trails and woods around the national park. There are also musical “Easter eggs” hidden around the park for guests to find on their walk.

Performed by musicians in the SOUNDWALK Ensemble, including Reid on a synthesizer, the music changes based on the path and pace that each individual takes, so no two experiences are the same.

Wolf Trap Foundation President and CEO Arvind Manocha says the nonprofit co-commissioned the project to welcome patrons back to Wolf Trap “for their first musical experience in over a year.”

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we wanted to give our community a special opportunity to experience the beauty of music and nature in a safe and socially distanced manner and to re-engage with Wolf Trap as we, with the National Park Service, celebrate the coming of summer,” Manocha said.

SOUNDWALK was also commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and The Mann Center for the Performing Arts in association with The Fairmount Park Conservancy and Britt Festival Orchestra.

Wolf Trap partnered with the National Park Service and Visit Fairfax, Fairfax County’s official tourism organization, for the project and received some local funding from the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

The installation will be open to the public for free from sunrise to sunset through Sept. 6.

Wolf Trap National Park will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Filene Center this year, but plans for the upcoming summer season have not been announced yet. Live, in-person performances have been on hold since spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though the park has offered some virtual shows throughout the past year.

Photo via Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts/Facebook

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Forget the Tidal Basin. Fairfax County has a few prime cherry blossom-viewing sites of its own.

This includes Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Reston’s Van Gogh Bridge, and along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

The blooming, pink-tinged flowers have long served as a symbolic announcement of spring’s arrival in the D.C. area, but the sight might be especially welcome this year after a winter that proved challenging for reasons only partly related to the weather.

“It [always] gets quite busy here this time of the year,” Meadowlark park specialist Jeff Hill said. “But this year, there’s a slight edge of frenziness to it.”

Run by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks), Meadowlark is home to at least 60 to 80 cherry trees, a number of which are the same species as the ones at the Tidal Basin (Yoshino). The oldest ones were planted back in the late 1980s, while other cherry trees were planted more recently over the past several years.

Hill says that, particularly in the last four or five years, the trees have grown “exponentially in popularity.”

They are scattered throughout the 95-acre property, but mostly concentrated near the Visitor’s Center and down by the lakes.

According to Hill, the ones closer to the Visitor’s Center are already in bloom and are nearing their peak. The trees by the lakes just started to open earlier this week, so those blossoms should be nearing peak bloom as well by this weekend.

However, the recent cold weather could majorly impact them.

“Anything that’s in full bloom right now, will probably be affected the hardest,” Hill said. “Not only is it cold, they’ve been calling for pretty significant winds.”

However, he says that, since they haven’t fully opened up yet, the trees by the lakes “maybe able to skirt by” and remain on schedule to bloom come this weekend.

In terms of care, the staff at Meadowlark rarely interfere with the cherry trees aside from periodic pruning, monitoring for insects and fungi, and mulching.

“We try to leave things to be as natural as possible,” Hill says.

With the gardens expected to be very busy this weekend, Hill recommends visiting during the week if possible. Capacity limits are in effect, but since the grounds are so large, crowds should be minimized if people spread out.

“With the Tidal Basin so busy and popular, people are just looking for an alternative site,” Hill said. “[Meadowlark] is a great place because you have the water, you have the cherry trees…everything you need for a cherry blossom-style festival.”

As for the cherry trees near Van Gogh Bridge at Lake Anne in Reston, one is owned by the Waterview Cluster and the others by the Washington Plaza Cluster Organization.

Those trees date back to at least the early 1980s, according to the Reston Association, which does not own the trees, but occasionally prunes them to keep pathways clear.

The Van Gogh bridge was built in 1965 to link the Waterview and Washington Plaza clusters. It was designed by William Roehl, who also designed the nearby Swing.

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The cicadas are coming.

17 years after their last appearance, swarms of cicadas known collectively as periodical cicada Brood X are preparing to stage a sequel this spring, with the D.C. area as the epicenter of a natural phenomenon that will encompass 15 states across the eastern and midwestern U.S.

Tammy Schwab, a naturalist and education and outreach manager for the Fairfax County Park Authority, says the insects are expected to emerge in the county around the middle of May, when the ground temperature reaches about 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cicadas are special because of their extremely long life cycle,” Schwab told Tysons Reporter by email. “Cicadas spend 2-17 years as a larva underground feeding on the roots of trees.  Most other insects have much shorter life spans.”

According to the National Wildlife Federation, adult periodical cicadas are black with orange underneath. They are just over an inch in length and boast clear, “membranous,” black-veined wings that span three inches across.

These cicadas are different from annual cicadas, which live underground for two to five years before emerging as adults, typically between May and September. Because their life cycles aren’t as closely synchronized as periodical cicadas, some annual cicadas appear every year.

Fairfax County last saw Brood X — one of 15 periodical cicada broods in the U.S. — at the scale anticipated this spring in 2004, but a handful of the insects were spotted locally in 2017.

“As part of the cicada survival strategy some of each brood can emerge between 1 and 4 years early in case some catastrophe were to destroy all the cicadas in a given emergence,” Schwab explained.

In comparison, Schwab says “millions” of cicadas could blanket the D.C. region this year, though the numbers could vary across different areas depending on how much land development has occurred over the past 17 years.

Both adult and larval cicadas depend on trees for food, so they tend to be more prevalent in forested areas. However, people in more developed residential neighborhoods might notice them sooner, since the ground warms more quickly in open spaces than in the woods, according to Schwab.

She says the loss of tree cover to development “will definitely decrease populations,” but reforestation prior to an emergence could result in an increase. Fairfax County had stream bank stabilization projects at Snakeden Branch in Reston, Difficult Run in Oakton, Accotink Creek, and Cinnamon Creek in the Wolf Trap area in 2003, the year before Brood X’s last emergence.

“It would be very interesting to see if these project areas had any effect on the population,” Schwab said.

While the appearance of millions of loud, winged insects may sound alarming, cicadas are harmless for humans. The most notable impact will be on newly planted trees, which can be damaged by cicada egg laying.

Schwab advises residents to wait until the fall before planting new trees or utilize insect netting to protect their branches.

She also says people should watch what their pets are eating.

“A few are not likely to hurt pets but too many could cause digestive issues,” Schwab said. “They are edible by people if you’re are brave enough to try it.”

Photo courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority

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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Monday (Feb. 22)

  • Doktor Kaboom! “Look Out! Science is Coming!” (Online) — 4 p.m. — Doktor Kaboom is a comedian with a passion for science. DC Theatre Scene says he’s “better than Bill Nye.” He will be performing a family-friendly show today, including three demonstrations of experiments that viewers can do with him. Go to the McLean Community Center website to register and find the supplies list for the experiments.

Tuesday (Feb. 23)

  • Waterfowl at Burke Lake Park — 10-11 a.m. at Burke Lake Park (7315 Ox Rd.) — Burke Lake Park is hosting a search for winter waterfowl. Park staff will run a program taking participants around the lake in search of creatures such as loons, lesser scaups and ring-necked ducks. The registration fee for this event is $8 per person.
  • Climate Planning Meeting on Energy (Online) — 7 p.m. — Fairfax County will hold a public meeting of presentations and discussion on energy issues related to the Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan, or CECAP. Experts from the consulting firm ICF will be facilitating and presenting at this meeting.

Thursday (Feb. 25)

  • Online Book Discussion (Online) — 1-2 p.m. — The staff of Patrick Henry Public Library in Vienna will lead an online discussion about the novel “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones. Register in advance through the link above to reserve a spot for the event.
  • Drawing Animal Eyes — 7-9 p.m. at Annandale District Park (7701 Royce St.) — The Hidden Oaks Nature Center is hosting an event for participants ages 16 and up to learn how to draw animal eyes. Participants will have the option of using pencils, colored pencils and watercolors to create their masterpiece. The cost is $15 per person and masks and social distancing will be required.

Friday (Feb. 26)

  • BRAWS Presents: Mardi Bras (Online) — 8-9 p.m. — BRAWS (Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters) is hosting a fundraiser to support women and girls gain access to items such as pads, tampons, and underwear. The Vienna-based nonprofit says the need for these products has tripled over the last year, making funding more critical than ever. The event is free, but advance registration is required too receive a link, and people can support the cause by becoming a sponsor, participating in the silent auction, or purchasing a raffle ticket.
  • A Taste of California (Online) — 6:30-7:45 p.m. — A virtual wine tasting hosted by Vienna Vinter’s owner, Victor Mendez, will feature three wines from Mendez’s winery in California. Register by contacting Vienna Vinter at 703- 242-9463 or [email protected] The $75 or $120 fee includes access to the zoom link for the tasting and two or three bottles of wine, and 20% of the proceeds will be donated when customers mention the Shepherd’s Center
  • Family Fun Trivia Night (Online) — 7-9 p.m. — The McLean Community Center is hosting a family-friendly, virtual trivia night. Registration is required and the price is $5 per team. There will be prizes for the winning teams.

Saturday (Feb. 27)

  • Book Club (Online) — 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. — The McLean Community Center is hosting the first in a series of book club meetings. They will meet monthly and move through multiple genres. The group is free, but interested participants should register on the McLean Community Center website.

Sunday (Feb. 28)

  • 1st Look Series (Online) — 2 p.m. — 1st Stage in Tysons will live-stream excerpts of shows that it has commissioned from solo artists in its new “1st Look” series. The first installment will feature work by Jasmin Cardenas and James J. Johnson that explores, respectively, the experiences of low-wage and undocumented factory workers and Black fatherhood. The previews will be followed by discussions with the playwrights. Attendees should register in advance for the free Zoom event.

Photo via Danielle Brigida/Flickr

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