Greg Zell/Arlington County
Most Arlingtonians go about their daily lives never realizing that we share these 26 square miles of real estate with a wide variety of wildlife.
Of course, while the photograph of a coyote at Potomac Overlook Regional Park made the news recently, many reading these words probably wrote that off as an aberrational natural intrusion into our well manicured community. Those who have read “Wildlife of Arlington,” however, cannot do so.
This July 2011 Arlington County publication uses as its baseline a surprising number of natural studies done in the County since the Civil War. It seems that as a result of the growth of the federal bureaucracy since that time, a large number of botanists, entomologists and naturalists came to work in Washington, DC.
Many scientific societies were formed and their members participated in nature outings in what is now Arlington County. More importantly, they documented what they observed. While 50 to 75 percent of the wildlife historically present in Arlington are gone or remain undocumented, a surprising number still remain with us.
For example, there have been two sightings of black bear in Arlington since 1977 and an adult river otter was killed on I-66 near the East Falls Church Metro Station in 2006. Red fox are abundant but gray fox are now locally rare. Northern copperhead populations are stable and two reported observations of skunk were “deemed credible.”
There are two spotted salamander breeding populations within the Gulf Branch and Long Branch Nature Areas and skinks have been found in Donaldson Run. And just this week I saw two eastern box turtles doing their best to procreate in a backyard near Wakefield High School.
Arlington’s skies are filled with life. Two state-rare dragonflies were documented in Cherry Valley Park near Washington-Lee High School. Moreover, any Arlington birder worth her salt can give you a laundry list of our resident birds and transitory migrants. Three species of bat are either common or abundant in Arlington.
Our plant life is even more impressive. Three wetland areas have been classified as state and/or globally-rare plant communities and we have 14 state-listed rare plants.
The Barcroft Magnolia Bog and the Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary are extraordinary County resources. Moreover, Arlington boasts at least five state-champion trees: river birch, buttonbush, spicebush, post oak and yellowwood.
So take a walk in our woods and introduce yourself to your neighbors in the natural world. You’ll be glad you did.