Monthly Archives: May 2015

A Refreshing View

People love to experience nature in everyday life. Whether it’s reading, relaxing, exercising, eating, or sleeping, normal human activities are more enjoyable in the outdoors, or with a view of nature. One activity, or task as its often seen, is often overlooked, however. It is something that most humans do multiple times a day. It is not a choice, but an unavoidable duty in everyday life. What is interesting about this activity is that it has been so shamed by humanity that we force its occurrence into dark, stale corners of our buildings. In fact, it so embarrassing that even writing this blog post about it feels inappropriate. Society has attempted to hide it in dim, depressing rooms with no natural light, no greenery, and no view of the outdoors or any nature at all. We are being depraved of nature’s pleasure in an activity that we must undertake multiple times a day.

Using the restroom.

You cannot deny that there is a significant lack of interaction with nature and the outdoors in this chore. However, there is a glimmer of hope for biophilic restrooms. Just walk up the stairs of the Special Collections Library at UVa and head into to men’s restroom. There, in the furthest stall from the door, you will find my favorite spot to enjoy nature on grounds.

Here’s the picture.


Upon entering this stall, you can’t help but take delight at the abundance of greenery. It’s not everyday that a restroom displays beautiful vegetation in close proximity to where we do our business. The second thing that I am struck by here is the natural sunlight. Instead of the typical dim, yellow lighting that does nothing but further any sense of depression, the Special Collections Library restroom offers rich, beautiful sunlight that subconsciously (or consciously) brightens your mood. While the greenery and natural light are wonderful, this spot on Grounds would not be so incredibly unique if it did not offer something more.

Let’s get a little closer and take a look at the eye-level view.



Here, in the midst of our daily routine, one that is normally filled with blank stares at an IPhone screen or a dirty floor, we get to witness the wondrous Grounds of UVa. Nature is in full-force – vibrant green grass, budding bushes, and plenty of gorgeous trees. From this spot I have witnessed birds singing, squirrels playing, and students running late to class. It is a wonderful window into the buzzing university life.

While I cannot attest to the women’s restroom, I strongly recommend a bathroom break on the second floor of the Special Collections Library if you are a male. Enjoy!

Post by Asher Noble

Is there a way to create bat sight seeing in Charlottesvile? Following suit of Austin, TX

In downtown Austin, Texas the Congress Avenue has become known for bat flights where each evening from spring through fall, Mexican free-tailed bats can be spotted emerging at sunset. Austin has taken the idea of bats as being foreign creatures and created an entertainment and destination event.  The Lady Bird Lake made renovations to make home for the bats in Austin under the bridge. People travel to come see the bats as people bring blankets and enjoy the viewing experience fun for all ages.

The annual Bat Fest in August marks the celebration of the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerging from under the bridge at dusk, live music, arts and crafts, food vendors, and bat related activities. By calling attention to the species they no longer become a nuisance in the city but a must see attraction.

Can Charlottesville use Austin as an example to create a festival for relaying information about the bats in the area? The festival in Austin brings attention to the importance of bats as it also brings the community together. Events like this help connect us to species such as bats that often are misconceptualized. Bats are one of the most threatened mammals on earth as many of the species are threatened with extinction it is important to highlight their contributions to the environment.  Through the festival, Charlottesville can highlight the 17 bat species in Virginia, the dangers that bats are currently facing, and how citizens can become involved with bat awareness and safety efforts.

Back in 2002 there was a batch watch at Beaver Creek Park in Ivy lead by a biology professor at the University of Virginia. People attended to watch the bat sightings using a bat detector with the reasoning being that bats have a low regard and needed to be drawn attention to the positives they bring to the community. The idea of the festival held in Charlottesville is to bring recognition to the bat species in the area so that residents gain appreciation. By hosting an event with live music, food, and signs displaying information on the bat species that migrate through the area Charlottesville residents and university students can come together to appreciate bats and their contributions to the community.


“Congress Avenue Bridge.” Congress Avenue Bridge. Ed. Andrew Walker. Bat Conservation International, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Germanotta, Tony. “Inside UVA.” Bats Sing to University Researcher. Inside UVA Online, 2002. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Post by Caroline Mann


UVA’s Nature Trail Shortcut

A somewhat unknown spot for nature observation lies on the steep, tree-covered hill that separates the portion of University Ave near the beach volleyball and tennis courts from the A-School. For students looking for a walk through nature or a shortcut from the library to the A-School, this brief trail is ideal.



The path starts at the bottom of the hill at the crosswalk near the parking spaces behind Alderman. The beginning of the path travels parallel to the street and has a very slight slope. During this first part of the walk, you can observe the way nature meets the sidewalk while looking out over the view. The trees are thinner and further apart in the portion between the trail and the sidewalk, so it is easy to watch the people walking and playing tennis and the cars buzzing by below. If you look a little further out, you can even see a clear view of the mountains peeking out over Mem Gym and the libraries.



The trail suddenly gets much steeper as it weaves through various types of large trees, vines, bushes, and the occasional patch of periwinkle flowers. There is a patch of orange clay that has worn away to create a very steep walkway to cut away from the main path and head upwards to the A-School. Tree branches hang over the shortcut and provide more shade.





From here to Carrs Hill Road, the trail remains steep but manageable. The trees are closer together and in the fall or spring when the trees have leaves, this area is mostly protected from the sun. The views of University Ave are limited and you are more surrounded by dense nature that you were in the first part of the trail. At the end of this hill, you emerge onto Carrs Hill Road and can look behind you to see the rows of massive trees framing the view of the mountains and filtering light through to the road. This path serves as a quick but heavy dose of nature in the middle of your daily walk around Grounds from building to building.




View from Carrs Hill Rd

Post by Audrey Hughes

Research Goals and Strategies

As we begin our research we have decided to study the nighttime bird activity and calls around grounds through a set of simple comparisons of site, consisting of altitude, tree coverage, and time of night. We have chosen two sites; the first, on top of Observatory Hill, at a high altitude with a relatively large amount of tree coverage, and the second at the bottom of the UVa Arts grounds, at one of the lowest altitudes on grounds with relatively little tree coverage.  Both sites feature building structures, but relatively low pedestrian traffic, and as a control we will be recording on nights with good weather and low amounts of cloud cover.

Our recordings will take place during the second week of April, for 2 hours just after sunset and another two hours between 2am and 4am, just before dawn. According the Monticello Bird Club, a local birding organization our group has just begun communicating with, the birds should be especially active during this time, as the primary spring migration takes place from April 15 to May 15. Also, the birds begin feeding and are most active in the early hours of the morning, especially on Observatory Hill, which is one of the Monticello Bird Clubs recommended birding sites, and where over 15 species of warblers and vireos can often be seen be seen feeding (Klotz, 2).

At this time our research is primarily focused on the amount of bird sounds heard during each time period, as this quantity corresponds to overall nighttime bird activity. However, later we would be interested to compare the activity of different bird species during these times, but we are not yet sure how capable our recording devise and computer programs are of differentiating between the sounds of different species. This information could be interesting because there is some evidence that the amount of birds as well as overall diversity of species has been decreasing in the Charlottesville area since the 1990’s (Hogg 2). The eastern Whip-poor-will, the common nighthawk, and the short eared owl are three nocturnal bird species that have been flagged by the Southern Appalachian Bird Conservancy, and Atlantic Coast Joint Venture (Watson 96).

Works Cited

Klotz, Ken, and Dave Hogg. “Observatory Mountain.” A Birder’s Guide to Charlottesville, Virginia and Vicinity. Charlottesville: Monticello Bird Club, 2003. 1-2. Print.

Watson, Keith. “Night Birds.” The Piedmont Bird Conservation Region (BCR 29) Implementation Plan. 1st ed. Vol. 1. Sevierville: ACJV, 2014. 92. Print.

Post by Christine Bauk, Second Year, Architecture

The Gardens

As temperatures finally reach the 70s, my friends extend invites to eat lunch together or catch up on readings outside, particularly on the Lawn or the steps of the Amphitheater. Although I agree these spots are great places to mingle and people watch – whilst soaking in some much needed Vitamin D – I actually prefer the less-crowded and more shaded garden spaces that border TJ’s more popular and bustling Lawn.
Enclosed by artfully designed serpentine-like brick walls, these Gardens function as spaces for study, picnicking, reading and simply enjoying the flora. These small biomes are particularly beautiful during the springtime, when the tulips and flowering trees are in bloom. White benches welcome hungry readers and rectangular plots of grass draw in the occasional picnic blanket. The Gardens provide a sort of privacy, not offered on the Lawn – the tall brick walls and fair amount of tree cover form a tranquil atmosphere that is hard to find in such a central university location.
Although spring is my favorite time to enjoy the natural beauty of the Gardens, I also remember – as a first year – taking in their splendor the morning after a snow storm. My friend and I explored the untouched landscapes, entering through the Garden gates and creating the first footprints in the untouched snowcover. We threw snowballs and watched as the dogwoods glittered in the sunlight, the typically bare December landscape dazzling in its new winter coat.
The photographs I included depict a recent stroll home through the Gardens and feature the plethora of flowering plants that make the spaces that much more appealing.

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Post by Elizabeth Knipp 


In the days leading up to my trip to Dell Pond, I began to take notice of the bird songs I heard throughout the day. Much to my surprise, I almost always heard birds singing in the background. This was shocking to me. I expected to hear a lot of birds in the morning but still in the afternoon and evening I was hearing things. This made me sad to realize how much I don’t notice around me everyday. I wonder what other things in nature I am constantly overlooking. It made me wonder if the birds suddenly stopped singing, would people notice or not?

I ended up going to Dell Pond on Wednesday April 8th around 5 o’clock in the evening. I figured I would try to get use out of my good camera and capture some pictures of the birds along with the sounds from the recorder. I didn’t expect to get such clear recordings and great pictures.

While looking at the pictures, I became very interested in trying to identify the birds. My grandmother was an avid bird watcher who could identify almost every bird. I, on the other hand, could probably only identify a duck, crow, and maybe a cardinal. To help with identifying, I downloaded the iBird app, which was super easy to use and very helpful. All together, I was able to see 5 species of birds and capture good pictures of 4 of them! I saw American Robins, white crowned sparrows, a red-winged blackbird, a cardinal, and ducks (which I think are mallards but not sure).

When I heard a sound from a bird, I would try to find the bird making the noise. This proved to be much harder than expected because birds often blend in to their surroundings, there’s more than one bird, and there’s multiple sounds at once. It was definitely easier to spot the birds now than it would be in the summer when trees are in full bloom because they can’t hide behind leaves now.

The one bird I was able to correctly find and also listen to the sound was the red-winged blackbird. Dark clouds had rolled in and it became a lot quieter among many of the birds. I then heard this loud screech and saw a black bird in the tree. It was really cool to watch the bird make the sound rather than just hear it. I got so close I was able to see him open his mouth.

Red Winged Blackbird 1 

Recording: 150408_007

There was a lot of Robins at Dell Pond. I spotted this one because it flew into the air, hit another one and then they both swan dived straight into the ground. It was a really bizarre sight and I’m not sure exactly what I witnessed.

American Robin 2

I placed the recorder on the ground for a little while I walked around and took pictures. When I went back to pick up the recorder, there was about 10 baby white-crowned sparrows hopping around it. These birds blended so well into the background I could only spot them by their movement.

White crowned sparrow 2 copy 

Recording: 150408_004

The easiest birds to spot were the ducks. I’m not sure exactly what kind they are but I am thinking some kind of mallard. I normally don’t think of ducks when I think of birds because I think of birds as the tiny things that fly around in trees. I never actually heard these birds making a sound while I was at Dell Pond (unless I just didn’t notice).

Ducks 1

Another cool thing I wanted to share was this nest that I found. I was hoping either eggs or baby birds would be in it but it’s still cool to see. Maybe this was the nest of the baby white-crowned sparrows I saw hopping around the recorder.


All together I probably saw close to 30 birds and gained a greater appreciation for the birds in our community. I’m really glad I did this project and I can say I honestly enjoyed my time at Dell Pond.

Recording: 150408_003


Post by Sydney Rubin

Ant Food Trials

After a long winter the sun came out from its hiding place at last and along with it brought the nature back to life. It’s officially spring time and the trees are blooming with beautiful flowers, birds are singing their songs all around Grounds and the hard workers of the underground world, ants are waking up.

With the warm weather on Sunday, it was the perfect opportunity for us as the ants team to get out and observe some ants. Jenny and I were packed with food and ready to start our experiment at the Architecture School right in front of the Fine Arts Café. As it has been stated in the earlier blog posts the aim of this experiment is to see what kinds of foods ants are attracted to and how different settings (man-made vs. natural) affect their behaviors.


With a gourmet selection of foods such as Cheezits, apples, olive oil, Sour Patch Kids and chocolate chip cookies we start preparing the food for our little customers.


Inspired from Amy Savage’s talk in our class, we decided to create two stations: one being on the grass under a tree, the other one being on the brick path in between the tables and chairs of the Fine Arts Café. To our luck the spot that we set our foods under the tree had two ant nests right next to each other!


Our station on the grass had two ant nests right in the middle of it.


Our station that was on the brick path.

Expectations and Findings:

We chose to set up all the foods that we had around the nests as shown to minimize the differences in distance between each. Then we waited for ants to show up! We expected to see that the grass station would get more ants in total and that apple slices and the olive oil would get the most attention in both stations. Here’s what we found after 2 hours:

  •  Out of all the foods that we had, chocolate chip cookies got the first place, while Cheezits and apples followed being in the second and third places respectively.
  • Brick path station got 1-2 ants in total while the grass station had tens of ants on various different foods.
  • We saw that the ants were struggling with bigger food such as the apple slices versus Cheezits crumbs.


Chocolate chip cookies were the favorite.


Some of the ants really enjoyed Cheezit crumbs.

 Explanation of findings:

There is a few explanations for why our expectations did not meet the reality. First of all, like it was stated above, our apple slices were not appropriate for ants to easily pick up and transport. My guess is that the apple slices initially got more attention than the cookies or the Cheezits; however, when unable to pick up bits easily off of the slices, the ants picked the easier to transport options of cookies and Cheezits. Although the cookies were not crumbled, they are softer than the apples and thus easier to break in to pieces.

We used leaves as holders for our olive oil samples. Although ants love oils according to Amy Savage our samples did not really attract a lot of ants. We saw that a couple of ants were dead in the oil that leaked out of the leaf. The leaf could have also absorbed most of the oil making it impossible for ants to eat it.

The different ant counts between the stations can be simply explained by the distance and level. Our brick station was at a lower level than the grass setting, away from the nests and was harder for our little friends to get to. My guess is that only a few ants stopped by in passing at the brick station and therefore we did not really observe any of them on the food.


I really enjoyed this experience as a whole. I have come to realize how we forget about all the different species that are living above, on and below the ground. We are surrounded by nature all the time and all we have to do is realize and appreciate it. It is a reminder that even the smallest things such as how we design our food or landscape may affect our little friends in the biggest ways.

Post by E. Berke Tezcan, Civil & Environmental Engineering ‘16

Special Collections Library Green Rooftop: Observation and Potential Improvements

Everyday, hundreds of students walk across the courtyard on McCormick road in front of Alderman Library and the Library of Special Collections. Brick walkways crisscross between lush, green shapes of grass lawn and upraised sections with planted flowers and groomed shrubbery. Deceivingly, this courtyard is a functioning green-roof, on the top of the special collection library.

The upraised planters include a large rectangular window surrounded by short plants, herbs, and flowers. Plants in these must have short roots and have the ability to thrive in space-limited environments. Each planter has several sprinklers, and includes several species of plants within each cement oval.


Figure 1: A ceiling window from the interior of the library.

The design of the green roof not only offers green space for the public and exterior aesthetics of the building, but also creates an ideal space for studying. The study rooms underground are quiet, with little to no noise from traffic on McCormick road. The grass above actively cools and sound proofs the library below. Natural light from the ceiling windows illuminates the study rooms and reduces dependency for harsh, florescent lights for reading. From our visit last week, the atmosphere of the students was calm and focused, unlike the stress-intensive environment of the study areas in Clemons library just next door. Although the space is underground with limited visual of nature, it is still a considerable “biophilic” space, as the atmosphere is created by the nature growing around (and above) it.



Figure 2: Large shrubbery occupies the area near the entrance of the building.

One improvement to the space could be to label the species in the planters, or offer public participation for planting in the space. In front of the entrance, larger shrubbery and plants requiring mulch occupy the space, with benches for sitting along the edges and adjacent to the sidewalk. One could imagine plaques here that identify shrubs and plants around the benches and the herbs in sights view from the front of the building.

Although weight and plant-specific conditions must be considered, the large planters have the capacity for large plants and flowers, and is a potential area for high biodiversity; an ecological oasis in the middle of monotonous grass fields. A project for an environmental planning class, perhaps, could be to design the ideal courtyard planter that improves the space within the limitations of the roof.



Figure 3: The planters contain an upraised ceiling window as well as several small shrubs and short plants.

The cement planters provide a good environment for an herb garden and could be used for plants that are either aromatically or orally pleasing. Mint and rosemary, for example, could further contribute to a positive, academic environment, emitting soothing aromas. These areas receive plenty of sunlight for herbs, which would require limited maintenance and grow easily in open areas.

Post by Liz Helm

Life in Soils Above Ground

Typically, people connote soil with the ground.  When thinking about soil and plant life, everyone always seems to look downwards at their feet.  As we go further into the twenty first century, this image is going to be changing as people are going to have to look up to find soil.  Yes, there will always be soil at our feet, but now there is a huge push towards green roofs, or gardens on top of buildings.  As urbanization continues to increase, so will the growth of urban gardens on rooftops.  As this change occurs, one question will be how this soil above ground is different from that below our feet?

To some, the idea of a green roof may be a newer or foreign concept, but here in Charlottesville, they are very present.  In the University of Virginia community itself, there are green roofs popping up on the newer buildings.  In 2012, the University made it a goal to receive a Green Seal Certification by combing advanced technology with environmentally conscious practices.  The green roofs popping up around grounds are part of this initiative.


Rouss Hall Green Roof

Our initial plan was to take observations and soil measurements at the green roof on top of the new school of commerce building, Rouss Hall.  The layout of this green roof is a grid of 4 by 4 plastic panels deep enough to plant sedum in between each one.  The soil and sedum plants help serve as a layer of insulation for the building by absorbing heat and also protecting from the cold.  The choice of soil and sedum plants also holds waterfall to release it slowly and prevent flooding.


Green Roof on Ruth Caplin Theater

We later decided on using the green roof on the Ruth Caplin Theater to observe the soil.  This garden is a green roof hidden in plain sight.  The ground has a very thin layer of soil covered in a thin layer of gravel.  This helps to absorb water.  Around the outer edges of the garden are rosemary plants, while in the middle were a variety of sedum plants.  This garden is separated by pathways, so the public can easily walk around it.  Building this green roof was part of the initiative for helping UVA gain its Green Seal Certification.


Gravel Soil and Sedum Plants on Ruth Caplin Theater



Gravel on Ruth Caplin Theater Green Roof

The common factor between both roofs was the gravel combination with the soil and the use of sedum plants.  Sedum plants can be both low growing or grow tall.  The low growing sedum plants only grow to be a few inches off of the ground and are usually planted in rock gardens.  High growing sedum grow to be a couple of feet tall and are usually used as a border between flowers.  These sedum plants are so common on the rooftops because they are low maintenance and do not require frequent watering.  They also do not need shade and can be in direct sunlight. Another benefit, is sedum plants attract butterflies.  The low maintenance of these plants and ability for them to form the basis of a garden community explain why they are so common as the main plants used in green rooftops.

As urbanization and the push to be more sustainable increases, green roofs will become more common.  Green roofs will become more familiar and we will become more acquainted with the idea of sedum plants and gravel soil as we look up to the gardens, rather than down.


Post by Danielle Danzing



Our bio-ground project is taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia in the surrounding areas of the University of Virginia. The main focus behind this project is to find and identify the type of microorganisms that inhabit the areas where students, faculty and visitors frequently travel by. In order to do so, our group has been divided into subgroups destined to take samples in the different means of transportation present at UVA, which range from samples in car and bicycle and bus tires, and even the shoes used for walking to class. When discussing about biophilic cities/locations usually the factors discussed tend to be visually identifiable (i.e parks and rooftops), however microorganisms and smaller living organisms are also affected by the eco-friendliness of every location. The goal behind this study is to identify the type of eukaryotic organisms that the inhabitants in UVA come into contact with on a regular basis.

Once the samples have been collected the macroscopic survey will be ready to begin. In order to asses the different samples, petri dishes, vials, pipettes and other lab materials will all be tools of assistance to utilize for better comprehension and overall procedure in the lab. Each one in the group will be responsible to portray to the rest of the team members with their findings in each sample. To do so, we will be drawing whatever is observed through the microscopic view. For the drawings it is key to use a well functioning pencil and a collection of color pencils to better portray shades or variations in coloring, as seen Figure 1.


Figure 1. A Drawing of a Bacteria Cell. maxresdefault.jpg



Figure 2. Examples of Drawings of Microinvertebrates.

The drawings will be done in the lab, and then the group will work together to have a cohesive understanding of the drawings. We envision the most challenging part of the process will be to identify the individual organisms, but an accurate portrayal will be key to surpass this stage in the methods. The drawings will then be compared and analyzed as a group to get an accurate identification of every individual.

Once the individuals have been identified, it will be time to start the written report and the possible conclusions that could be reflected from our findings. Our ultimate goal is, that with the proper identification, we will be able to know which species of micro invertebrates are more commonly seen, and how these species might be affecting the city we live in.  Micro invertebrates are usually forgotten by the inhabitants of every city, even though they undeniably form a part of our every day life, and this is what this study is aiming to stop.

Post by Felipe Gomez