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          There's nothing like a splash of color to get you out of the winter doldrums, and one of the most glorious displays of spring color begins about this time each year when birds migrate north to their summer homes. "The eastern phoebe is the first to arrive," said naturalist Tony Bulmer.

"They'll show up in February and are among the first signs that spring is coming. It gives you hope that warmer weather is on the way."

Shortly after that, the songbirds, with their brightly colored plumage of gold, red and blue herald their arrival for spring. "The warblers are the prettiest and the largest group," Bulmer said. There's the prothonotary warbler, "It looks like a canary," and the oven bird, "Its nest looks like a little oven on the ground," and the blackburnian warbler, "It's black and orange and heads way up north." Bulmer said. "Last spring, we started to see the ground-nesting birds like the Kentucky warbler and the oven bird return to Ellanor C. Lawrence Park after a 15-year absence, which is pretty exciting." Bulmer says ground-nesting warblers need to have enough cover to feel safe, and there were so many deer in the park's woodland at one time, they ate everything growing on the ground. Deer management programs helped cull the herd, the forest floor's health was restored and the warblers returned home.

Bulmer's experience with birding dates back to his childhood. His father, Walter Bulmer, is a renowned ornithologist, and together father and son would look to the night sky for signs of spring.

"Most birds migrate at night by the stars and rest during the day in trees, and that's why we're able to see them," Bulmer said. "When I was growing up, my father and I would stand out on the deck on a full-moon night and count the birds as they fly by." By day, they would look to the trees for glimpses of winged wonders resting on their journey north. "One of the neatest birds to see that is hard to find is the scarlet tanager. They nest here and are very secretive and feed on the tops of trees. When the leaves come out, you hear them more than you see them."

Bulmer says birding is a great activity for families, and it's something you can do in your own backyard. If you're a beginner, Bulmer suggests signing up for a Fairfax County park program to learn birding basics. "Start with bird feeder birds," he advised. "Various types of seed attract different birds; suet attracts woodpeckers." Bulmer also suggests investing in a good bird book to help with identification and a decent pair of waterproof binoculars. "A lot of birds migrate at dawn and dusk, and binoculars help you see well if there's not much light," he said. To make the most of the season, be sure to start looking with the first signs of spring. Otherwise you'll miss some of the prettiest birds that are just passing through.

      Just before birds soar northward for the season, another harbinger of spring starts to emerge from the earth. Wildflowers usher in springtime by carpeting the woods with their colorful, breathtaking blooms that are sure to wow you during your seasonal walks. "It's one of the coolest things on the east coast and one of the largest biological movements in the world, and it all happens at once with this massive explosion of color," said naturalist Tony Bulmer at Ellanor C.Lawrence Park. "The plants are in the soil, and as soon as the sun gets warm enough, they have to shoot their flowers and get pollinated before the leaves on the trees come. Once the leaves are there, the sunlight is blocked and it's over. The flowers die off."

Skunk cabbage is usually the first to bloom. "It comes up in January and grows in wet, swampy areas," Bulmer said. "The fluid inside the plant is warm and can melt snow, and if you break the leaves, it smells like a skunk." Other seasonal varieties have more delicate names, like pink lady slippers, fairy spuds and trout lilies. "The down-under flowers, like the trout lily, are more sensitive to light and point down," Bulmer said. "You have to get on the ground to see the flowers." There are also the Virginia bluebells, May apples and Duchman's breeches, "They look like little sailor pants." Several species depict their name, like the papoose flower, which wraps its leaves around the seed pod and Jack-inthe- pulpit featuring a tiny, upright flower spike that looks like a tiny man standing in an old-fashioned, raised pulpit.

Nature makes them and you can see them in Fairfax County parks this spring. Bulmer says each park may feature different varieties depending on the environment, and naturalist-led wildflower walks are a great way to learn about various plants, their heritage and their fascinating role in the ecosystem.

Partnership Brings Rehab and Injury Prevention to Audrey Moore RECenter

Whether you want to prevent injuries or need physical therapy for an existing condition, both services are now available at Audrey MooreRECenter. It's all part of a new Park Authority partnership with INOVA Physical Therapy Center that gives people access to medicallybased rehabilitative and injury prevention services as well as community-based exercise programs all under one roof.

"This partnership gives people greater accessibility to physical therapy when they are injured," said Ben Igwe, one of two licensed physical therapists based at the RECenter. "A traditional physical therapy office has a lot smaller space, and here there's a gym, basketball courts, fitness room and a pool." Igwe says all are valuable tools in helping injured patrons get back into the game.

Injury Prevention

The RECenter facilities are also valuable opportunities to promote wellness through INOVA's Sportsmetrics injury prevention program. "As physical therapists, we see a lot of ACL and other knee injuries among young athletes," Igwe said. In Sportsmetrics, physical therapists analyze an athlete's movements to identify movement patterns and muscle weakness that could lead to injury. With this information, they teach specialized techniques and training exercises to develop and improve overall strength, agility, balance, flexibility and movement patterns. "We teach you how to properly cut, jump and land to decrease the risk of injury, and as a result, performance increases in vertical leap, agility and speed."

Golf Performance Plan

Golfers can also benefit from INOVA's Fit to a Tee program at Audrey Moore RECenter. Both Igwe and his colleague, Daren Moat, are Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Certified Instructors who are trained to help players produce the most efficient swing possible while decreasing risk of injury. "With a TPI golf screen, we evaluate movement patterns, related to types of motion required in golf, strengths and weaknesses, loss of motion and tailor exercises and conditioning recommendations for each individual," Igwe said. The goal of each personalized performance plan is to help each golfer obtain the most efficient swing possible based on his or her unique body type while increasing flexibility and mobility and reducing the risk of injury.

The Park Authority's new partnership with INOVA Physical Therapy Center is being piloted at Audrey Moore RECenter. It will be evaluated in one year for potential expansion to other Fairfax County RECenters.

Partnership Brings Rehab and Injury Prevention to Audrey Moore RECenter

Get Ready for Golf!

Get a jump on golf season with conditioning classes like Golf Fit or Yoga for Golfers, and avoid the traditional spring season muscle aches and pains that come after an idle winter.

Golf Fit is a weekly total-body conditioning class designed to improve a golfer's strength, flexibility and balance; key attributes of a successful game. Yoga forGolfers is a weekly class that focuses on limbering and lengthening muscles used to play golf while increasing strength and mobility, improving balance, rhythm and coordination, and building on the mind-body connection.

Both are winning conditioning strategies that will help improve your game and make for a smooth transition into spring golf season!

Relive History

Relive History through
Virginia Heritage Camp

What better way to learn about Virginia history than to experience it? At Virginia Heritage Camp, children get to explore the past from Native Americans to the Civil War and experience life in early Virginia with hands-on activities like churning butter, making crafts, cooking over a fire and drilling with a Civil War soldier.

Gavin Fortuno was among the first to sign up for the camp when it was introduced last summer at Sully Historic Site. "I want to take it again because it was so much fun and I learned a lot," said the 8-year-old Ashburn resident. "We took a rope and made a candle by dipping it in wax and then in water and then in wax again like the settlers did," he recalled.

"The water was there so the wax wouldn't burn you." He also remembers working with plants. "We got to feel and look at plants that the Native Americans used as medicines and learned that some are still used today, and we also made that smell stuff [sachet] out of plants. [My brother] Danny's stinked more than mine."

Fortuno remembers the camp fondly as if he were on summer vacation with friends. "We made bread in the kitchen at Robert E. Lee's uncle's house, and we made ice cream and played games with sticks and walked on stilts." He also learned that life in old Virginia wasn't all fun and games. He knows there was a great difference between life in the spacious main house and the tiny shelter out back. "We went in the little wooden house (slave quarter) and saw what food they got and how tight it was," he recalled.

Relive HistoryPerhaps the activity that left the greatest impression on Fortuno was drilling with a Civil War soldier and learning how the war changed life in Virginia. "We learned a lot about the Civil War," he said. "There was a soldier there and he had a sword and a gun and he fired it for us. He made us Civil War soldiers and gave us fake guns that made noise and taught us how to aim and shoot, but we didn't get swords." Now Fortuno has an appreciation for what it took to pass muster and survive during multiple chapters in Virginia history, and this summer he plans to return to begin the second chapter in the journal he wrote during last year's camp, "to remember Virginia heritage," he said.

Kids Have Fun Starting New at Golf

Change up your children's playtime routine by introducing them to SNAG – Starting New at Golf. SNAG uses modified equipment and terminology to help 5- to 8-year-old kids understand golf concepts in a fun and age appropriate way. "SNAG incorporates very large, oversized colorful clubs that really gets kids into the game," said Pinecrest Golf Course manager Sarah Oberther. "We use tennis balls and Velcro that makes the balls stick to a target, and that really gets the attention of the younger students."

Under the supervision of trained instructors, participants use equipment like launchers (clubs), rollers (putters), launch pads (tees) and more to understand the purpose of different equipment and game essentials. Surprise guests like "Target Man" help make learning fun. "Target man shows up in a Velcro suit with a bullseye on it, and kids take their best shot at him to see if their ball will stick to the target," Oberther said. "They love it."

Once children master SNAG, they can move up to the next of three levels – SNAG Targeting, which further develops skills with games involving target practice and scoring. When they're ready for the third level, SNAG Transitions, they swap their oversized clubs for regulation clubs and begin learning to play regulation golf. "At this age, some children progress more quickly than others, so some will repeat a class until they've mastered the skills before they transition to the next level," Oberther said. "By the time they're about 8-years-old, many are ready to progress to the Park Authority's Junior Golf Program."

Equipment is provided for all SNAG classes, and once children master the skills, they've learned a game they can play for life.

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