Canoe/Kayak clean up, Sept. 28th

Belle Haven Marina
George Washington Memorial Pkwy, Alexandria, VA 22307
Saturday, 28 September 2019
10am – 3pm

Thanks to funding from TransUrban ExpressLanes Community Grant program Northern Virginia Conservation Trust will be holding a second Canoe/Kayak Cleanup this year!

This time they will be launching from Belle Haven Marina and will provide a free lunch for our volunteers at Belle Haven Park afterwards!

This will be a great time to both do your part to clean up our waterways and also to make some new friends!

Click here to register!

RVA Environmental Film Festival Seeking Virginia Filmmakers

Contact: Scott Burger
Email: [email protected]; Phone: 804.714.5444
Deadline 31 December 2019

Richmond, VA – The 10th RVA Environmental Film Festival is now accepting entries for the upcoming 2020 Virginia Environmental Film Contest.  This contest was initiated during the 2013 RVA Environmental Film Festival, and it is once again offering prize money to aspiring film producers from around the state for their submissions now through December 31, 2019.  The selected entries will be shown Sunday, February 9, 2020 at the Byrd Theater in Richmond.  Prizes, including the $1,000 grand prize, will be awarded that day. 
“The RVA Environmental Film Festival documentary contest is so important, unlike anything in Richmond.  It provides a platform to share new work and it encourages future storytelling”  – Melissa Lesh, former RVA Environmental Film Festival Contest winner.
  The RVA EFF Committee considers this film contest one of the main features of the festival.  “We think the contest is important as a way to connect with not just our local natural environment, but also our Virginia film community,” says Scott Burger, one of the festival’s founders.  We want to challenge local filmmakers to bring new perspectives and ideas.”

Entries can be submitted via the online site or by sending DVD with fee, press kit, and contact information to Scott Burger, 612 S. Laurel Street, Richmond, VA 23220-6514.  Filmmakers should be sure to review the contest rules on the site:

The RVA Environmental Film Festival was founded in 2011 and is modeled after the 2008”s Big Picture Festival and other metropolitan environmental film festivals.  The mission is to showcase films that raise awareness of environmental issues relative to all residents of our planet.  Many of the films are new releases and area premiers.  The 2020 RVA Environmental Film Festival is scheduled for early February 2020 at venues in the greater Richmond community.  Admission to the festival is free and open to the public due to generous community sponsors.  More information on the festival can be found at

Behavior-centered design for the environment training

Rare Center for Behavior and the Environment
1310 N. Courthouse Road, Suite 110, Arlington, VA, 22201
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 703.522.5070

October 16 & 17, 2019
9:00 am–5:00 pm

Register now

Want the key to unlocking greater impact from your environmental programs?

Environmental and conservation organizations have deep expertise in the natural sciences. But if human behavior is the biggest threat to the environment, we need a better understanding of what motivates people. Join Rare for an interactive behavior-centered design training, and gain tools and techniques for moving people toward more sustainable behaviors.

What is Behavior-Centered Design (BCD)?

A process that blends insights from the behavioral sciences and approaches from design thinking to build breakthrough solutions to environmental challenges.

Who is this training for?

• Conservation and environmental practitioners

• Program designers and policy staff

• Sustainability professionals

Why would a BCD training help you?

• Behavior is at the root of both conservation problems and solutions

• Strategies that incorporate human behavior can achieve larger and lasting impact

• BCD holds the potential for unlocking fundraising opportunities

• It provides a step-by-step process for identifying target behaviors and developing strategies       to achieve them

What will I leave the training with?

• Applicable skills and easy-to-use tools

• Hands-on experience with a behavior-centered design process

• A tutorial on Rare’s behavior change toolkit

• A  membership in a learning network of practitioners


When is a jewel not a gem?

Jerry Nissley

When is a jewel not a gem? When it’s a weed—at least that’s what I thought at first. Alas, the common jewelweed.

So what, then? Jewelweed is a common widespread plant that occurs in most moist, semi-shady areas throughout northern and eastern North America. Some people may call it an invasive native plant. So why take the time to write about it? Well, here’s what happened to me one day this summer, which may be an all too familiar occurrence for you as well. 

Photo 1, by Jerry Nissley

Friends and family know I recently completed the VMN program and frequently send me pictures of plants or animals to identify. Does that happen to you too? But no worries—I love the challenge. So one day a friend sends a single, iPhone picture depicting a lovely specimen she found of what she thinks is a yellow lady slipper. “Please confirm?” she asks. 

I know only enough to know it does not look like one of the three lady slippers known to grow in Northern Virginia. So I send the picture to Martha Garcia, a fellow VMN who happened to present her wonderful FMN final class project on Lady Slippers, from which I learned that Lady Slippers are orchids. Martha did not believe it to be a lady slipper, but the picture looked enough like an orchid that she was interested in additional photos. 

“Yay,” I say—an opportunity for “field work”! I grab my SLR and tripod to hunt down the suspect at the obscure Kirk Park in Alexandria. Of course, I am looking for something of magnificent splendor tucked beside a log but nothing like that do I find.  Eventually my eyes refocus with a wider aperture and catch glimpse of little orange dots on a bushy vine by the side of the path (see Photo 1).  The flowers are not even an inch across, they are tiny, and they are on a bush. Alas, my chance at fame and fortune melted away with the summer heat after realizing I was not about to discover a new orchid. Ha, of course not—why would I even think that?

Photo 2, by Jerry Nissley

However, upon returning home (and to reality), I reviewed the photos, looked up information, and discovered the plant to be a jewelweed, a.k.a. touch-me-not or orange balsam. It soothes poison ivy rash, the seeds explode into the air when touched, hummingbirds are the primary pollinator, it has the face of an orchid (sort of), and the leaves shimmer under water—what is not to like?  I found the so-what factor, and why I came to consider it a hidden gem after all follows.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

It often forms dense, pure stands in floodplain forests and around the forested edges of marshes and bogs. Jewelweed also colonizes disturbed habitats such as ditches and road cuts. It can be an aggressive competitor in its favored habitats, and is one of the few native North American plants that has been shown to compete successfully against garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a non-native invasive weed that threatens many eastern North American forests.

 Jewelweed is an herbaceous plant that grows 3 to 5 feet tall and blooms from late spring to early fall. The flowers are orange (sometimes blood orange or rarely yellow) with a three-lobed corolla; one of the calyx lobes is colored similarly to the corolla and forms a hooked conical spur at the back of the flower (see Photo 2). Plants may also produce non-showy cleistogamous flowers, which do not require cross-pollination. The principal advantage of cleistogamy (closed flowers) is that it requires fewer plant resources to produce seeds than chasmogamy (open flowers), because development of petals, nectar and large amounts of pollen is not required. This efficiency makes cleistogamy particularly useful for seed production on unfavorable sites or in adverse conditions. Impatiens capensis has been observed to produce only cleistogamous flowers after being severely damaged by grazing. 

Photo 3, by Jerry Nissley

The round stems are smooth and succulent, semi-ranslucent, with swollen or darkened nodes on some plants. The leaves are alternate and simple and have teeth on the margins. The seed pods have five valves which coil back rapidly to eject the seeds in a process called explosive dehiscence. This reaction is where the name ‘touch-me-not’ comes from; in mature seed pods, dehiscence can easily be triggered with a light touch. The leaves appear to be silver-blue or ‘jeweled’ when held underwater or in morning dew (see Photo 3), which is possibly where the jewelweed name comes from. 

 Nectar spurs are tubular elongations of petals and sepals of certain flowers that usually contain nectar (see Photo 4). Flowers of Impatiens capensis have these nectar spurs. Nectar spurs are thought to have played a role in plant-pollinator coevolution. Curvature angles of nectar spurs of Impatiens capensis are variable. Research shows this angle varies from 0 degrees to 270 degrees. The angle of the nectar spur is very important in the pollination of the flower and in determining

the most efficient pollinator. Hummingbirds are major pollinators. They remove more pollen per visit from flowers with curved nectar spurs than with perpendicular nectar spurs. Ruby-Throated hummingbirds are not the only pollinators of Impatiens capensis. The flowers attract long-tongued bees, including bumblebees and honeybees. Swallowtail butterflies are occasional visitors. Sometimes bumblebees will steal nectar by chewing holes near the spur of the flower. Various smaller insects (e.g., Syrphid flies and ants) will visit the same holes to steal nectar. The caterpillars of several moths feed on the foliage, including Euchlaena obtusaria (Obtuse Euchlaena), Spilosoma latipennis (Pink-Legged Tiger Moth), Trichodezia albovittata (White-Striped Black), and Xanthorhoe lacustrata (Toothed Brown Carpet). Seeds are eaten by birds and mice and White-Tailed Deer browse on the foliage. Photo 5 shows an ant taking a morning sip of nectar.

Figure 4. Photo by Jerry Nissley

Figure 5. Photo by Jerry Nissley

Along with other species of jewelweed, the juice of the leaves and stems is a traditional Native
Peoples remedy for skin rashes, including poison ivy. The effectiveness of its use to prevent the development of a rash after short-term exposure to poison ivy has been supported by peer-reviewed study and is likely due to the plant containing saponins. These studies also found that some individuals have sensitivity to jewelweed which can cause a more severe rash. To treat a rash, gather some of the whole jewelweed plant and macerate well until it becomes wet in your hands. Apply the wet plant matter to the rash area directly. Leave on and repeat applications as needed. Jewelweed helps counterbalance the oils in poison ivy. It has also been used as an agent to promote blood flow, for post-childbirth, joint pain, bruises and swelling, and athlete’s foot. 

As an aside, most saponins, which readily dissolve in water, are poisonous to fish. Therefore, in ethnobotany, they are primarily known for their use by indigenous people in obtaining aquatic food sources. Cultures throughout the world have used fish-killing plants, mostly those containing saponins, for fishing. Although now prohibited by law, fish-poison plants are still widely used by indigenous tribes in Guyana. Many of California’s Native People tribes traditionally used soaproot, (genus Chlorogalum) and/or the root of various yucca species, which contain saponin, as a fish poison. They would pulverize the roots, mixing in water to create foam and then add the suds to a stream. This would kill, or incapacitate, the fish, which could be gathered easily from the surface of the water.

Jewelweed makes a lovely addition to native plant gardens that are located in moist, partially shaded areas. Not only are the flowers aesthetically pleasing, so are the hummingbirds, bumblebees, and butterflies that are attracted to the flowers. Jewelweed can be used to fill in empty spaces in the garden that might otherwise be taken over by non-native weeds. Jewelweed can be propagated easily by direct sowing of fresh seed in early fall. Once established, a patch of jewelweed will maintain itself through annual seed production.

So there you have it. Once again, something that may have gone unnoticed because of its diminutive size or under-appreciated because it’s “just another woodland weed,” indeed turns out to be a resource for native insects, animals, and humans. But who would have known? I had to become aware, get out there, take a look, and do my homework to understand the intricacies of everything jewelweed. At the risk of sounding corny, moments like this are my reward for getting involved with the VMN program. I may have never taken the time to discover the importance of this tiny jewel of the forest. So maybe it was a new discovery after all, if perhaps only for me. How many more ‘new discoveries’ are out there?


Virginia Waterways Cleanup Events for Fall 2019

YOU can make a difference!

Various dates and locations

On the 25th anniversary of this clean-up, be one of over the 104,000 volunteers who have, in that time, helped keep our beloved rivers and beaches clean. 

Since 1995, Clean Virginia Waterways, located at Longwood University, has organized the annual “International Coastal Cleanup in Virginia.” Volunteers pick up litter AND collect valuable data that are used by local and state governments to address litter.

The following is from Katie Register, Executive Director of Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University (with slight editing):

We know you care about our environment, so please do three little things:

1. Pick a cleanup (or two!) and volunteer for a few hours. You will FEEL GREAT when you see the contribution you have made to cleaner water.

2. Encourage your friends, family, and everyone else to participate in this annual statewide volunteer effort to remove litter and debris.

3. “Like” Clean Virginia Waterways on Facebook. There, you can share photos from your cleanup, and get information about worldwide efforts to keep waste and litter out of our oceans.

AND every time you pick up a piece of litter, you can record it using the smartphone app “CleanSwell” by the Ocean Conservancy. This helps us collect valuable data about the types of litter out there…and helps us form litter prevention strategies. Thank you!


Are you a leader? If so, please lead a cleanup! Learn how HERE. Clean Virginia Waterways will send you supplies.

Please join the effort in September and/or October! Cleaner rivers and oceans depend on us. Check it out and register for one near you (move down to see locations):

If you have questions, contact Katie Register, 434-395-2602, [email protected]

Out with the sun, in with the moon

Jerry Nissley

That’s the unofficial mantra for the twilight kayak tour at Mason Neck State Park (MNSP).  A group departs in time to revel in the golden hour of the setting sun and returns after dark by the moon’s guiding light. The park schedules twilight tours two evenings a month, June through October, to coincide with the full moon, with an additional “evening” tour scheduled once a month that does not necessarily coincide with the full moon. The park offers Saturday morning tours as well. The approved service description for all kayak tours at MNSP is detailed in FMN service category E410.

Photo by Jerry Nissley

A typical tour group consists of between 10 to 12 people in kayaks or canoes, which are accompanied by a lead guide and a sweeper. All guides have been skill certified by a qualified Virginia State Park instructor. The objectives of any guided tour at MNSP are to introduce paddlers to the various plants and animals found at the park and to the conservational, historical and cultural significance of the Mason Neck Peninsula (MNP).

Photo by Jerry Nissley

Guides are trained up in each of the above objective topics prior to leading a tour. The guides may include culture from as early as 1608, when Captain John Smith sailed up the Potomac and encountered the Dogue and the Taux Native Peoples on and around the MNP. Farmers, fishers and hunters, these tribes were part of the Algonquian-speaking Federation and built permanent long house villages along the Potomac River in counties that include Fairfax, Prince George, and Prince William. Records show that Miompse (now Mason Neck) may have been Taux capital known as Tauxenent. 

Colonial history includes times that saw the peninsula’s namesake, George Mason and his extended family, take virtual control of the area. George Mason’s home, Gunston Hall (1759) and the remains of his eldest son’s home built on Mason’s Lexington Plantation (1783) are still located on MNP. It is well documented that at one time George Mason’s family operated nearly 25 fish catching/processing facilities on the Potomac from what is now Prince William County, north into waters that are now in Washington, D.C. 

Photo by Jerry Nissley

Equally as important as the culture and history of MNP is understanding why the state park was established and how the natural resources found in and around are preserved. MNSP (est. 1965) and the conjoined Elizabeth Hartwell National Wildlife Refuge (est. 1969) were established for the conservation of the American Bald Eagle and supporting habitat. In 2017, 40 nesting pairs were counted on MNP alone. There is also an active great blue heron rookery with approximately 125 nests near the northern interior of the park. Numerous ospreys may be seen diving for fish each evening and great egrets frequently contrast the falling night with their bright white feathers. 

A typical 2.5-hour tour consists of outfitting the paddlers with gear, “kayak 101” instruction, and the round trip tour through Belmont Bay and the adjoining Kane’s Creek. As mentioned, the tour is timed to catch the setting sun and still have enough light so the group can see what the guides are talking about early in the tour. Paddling out we talk history and culture and point out birds such as osprey (Pandion haliaetus), bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), great egrets (Ardea alba), great blue herons (Ardea herodias), belted king fishers (Megaceryle alcyon), and red winged black birds (Agelaius phoeniceus) to name a few. Critters, too, like beaver, turtles, raccoons, deer, and snakes, are common. 

Photo by Jerry Nissley

About mid-tour, we stop to point out several of the aquatic plants that adorn the shore as the calm vail of dusk settles over the marsh. Spatterdock (Nuphar advena), pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), wild rice (Zizania aquatic), arrow arum (Peltandra virginica), swamp rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), and cattail (Typha latifolia) are abundant. 

Fun facts: Pickerel weed is such an efficient biological filter of polluted water in natural wetlands that it is used in constructed wetlands. Spatterdock has long been used in traditional medicine. Studies show that its root juice may be applied directly for skin for irritations, and the root and seeds may be eaten together for stomach conditions. Native wild rice and cattail were valuable food sources for native peoples. Wild rice found on the Potomac tidal tributaries was boiled and eaten or ground into a powder. The entire cattail plant was used—rhizomes are edible, the long, linear leaves were used for weaving mats and baskets, and the sausage-shaped spike (actually a dense aggregate of female flowers and seeds) was used to kindle fires and to stuff bedding. 

Once we enter the far reaches of Kane’s Creek, the quiet solitude of darkness is interrupted only by the chorus of frogs, the flight of dragonflies, and the distant hoot of an owl. We stopped one evening to listen to the grand frog chorus and I literally had to paddle closer to a kayaker to hear the question being asked.

Returning by moonlight is priceless. The herons and egrets have roosted for the night so I try to stay quiet and enjoy the rustling swish of shoreline trees, an occasional deer or raccoon drinking at water’s edge, the splash and churn of spawning snakehead or carp. One time a bass flopped into and out of a kayak as the fish leapt for and missed a flying insect. No worries though—just another cool story for someone to tell at the office on Monday.

The lead guide and sweeper now turn on small safety lights as the group glides back through the evening. The return leg is always the least eventful for me but the most positive. The cool darkness seems to wrap her arms around me and imbue a sense of tranquility within. It encourages inner reflection, a release from the agitation of the six o’clock news and the complexity that daily life may bring on. 

As we continue across glass like water of Kane’s Creek, we are bid adieu by the joyful noise of frogs, cicadas, and katydids in three-part harmony no less. Once back, we rack and stack the boats and call it night—and we are all better off somehow for the experience. Each guest is unique so during their night on the water, each guest makes unique connections with Mason Neck and its inhabitants that they will not soon forget.

Background on MNP 

Some of the informational material guides use to prepare is supplied by the park but most of the written material I learned from was prepared by fellow VMN and guide, Tom Blackburn. His material encouraged me to do my own follow-on research and learn additional details. Tom has volunteered at MNSP for many years and compiled a wealth of park and habitat information that he readily shares with the 10 or so guides each year. A big thank you goes out to Tom for his continued mentoring.

Photo by Jerry Nissley

Two thirds of Mason Neck peninsula, roughly 5000 acres, is protected area managed by four jurisdictions: Virginia State Parks (MNSP), Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (Pohick Park), U.S. Department of Interior-Bureau of Land Management (Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Elizabeth Hartwell National Wildlife Refuge) managed as part of the Potomac River National Wildlife Resources Complex.

The Fairfax County peninsula is shaped by Belmont Bay to the south, Potomac River to the east, with Gunston Bay and Pohick Bay bordering the north.

MNSP is a stellar example of the natural and recreational areas maintained by our great state of Virginia. Volunteer opportunities abound at the park and FMN members have indeed been involved in several areas—shore line clean-ups, invasive species removal, Eagle Festival, and of course guides to name a few. MNP consists of unique habitats (woodland and wetland) and was the site of a spring 2019 FMN program field trip. It appears to be a fall 2019 site as well. 

Rita Peralta, VMN and senior interpreter at Riverbend Park, was able to share her time with us and presented the wetlands portion in the Elizabeth Hartwell NWR section of the peninsula. The dendrology portion of the field trip was given in the MNSP section and was led by Jim McGlone, Chapter Advisor for the Fairfax Chapter of VMN and an Urban Forest Conservationist with the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Volunteer at Riverbend’s Native American Festival, Sept 7

Join Riverbend at this year’s Virginia Native American Festival held at Riverbend Park in Great Falls, VA, on Saturday, September 7, 10-4. Admission is $8 online, $10 at the gate. Volunteers receive free admission to the festival.

To volunteer, register here, by September 1.

You can sign-up for a shift directly. Valerie Espinosa will contact you about station assignments soon, but feel free to let her know if you have any questions or are volunteering with a group. Riverbend is  providing a shuttle from Colvin Run Mill again this year.

About the Native American Festival 

Celebrate the culture & history of the first people of Virginia. The festival includes eight American Indian tribes from Virginia, including the Rappahannock dancers and drummers. Enjoy hands-on activities and live demonstrations that include American Indian storytelling, shooting bow and arrows, throwing spears and making stone tools. Help build a dugout canoe, and visit a marketplace of American Indian crafts, pottery and jewelry. $8 online, $10 at the gate.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Valeria at [email protected] or call 703-759-9018.

Review aquatic ecology publications for VMN

Virginia Cooperative Extension has a 2009 publication series set to expire, “Sustaining America’s Aquatic Biodiversity”. VMN uses publications in this series as part of the VMN curriculum, particularly for the Aquatic Ecology and Management topic. To renew these publications so that they do not expire, they need to review them to make sure the information is still accurate, links still work, etc.

What You’ll Do

They are seeking volunteers (just one or two per publication) to review twelve publications. Each publication is typically just 4-8 pages long, with illustrations. They are all written for a layperson audience, and you do not need to be a professional biologist to review them. You will be asked to:

  1. Read through the publication to check for any information that may no longer be accurate. Most of the text is general and likely still correct. Things that may have changed are likely number-based facts.
  2. Using reliable sources, find updated information to replace anything that is no longer accurate. For example, if the publication lists the number of federally endangered salamander species, you would want to do further research with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see if that number is still correct.
  3. Look at the illustrations and confirm that the drawings and pictures are labeled correctly.
  4. Correct any typos found in the publication.
  5. Test any internet links provided and make sure they work. Update the URLs as needed.
  6. Handwrite your edits directly (and neatly!) on a printed copy of the publication. Then, either scan and email the revised version back to me, or snailmail me the printed version.
  7. Communicate with Michelle Prysby if questions come up along the way.
  8. Complete all your edits and send them back by October 23.

You will be recognized in the acknowledgements of the revised publication once it is updated in the Virginia Cooperative Extension publications system online.

They are looking for reviewers for the following publications

  1. What is Aquatic Biodiversity and Why Is It Important?
  2. Why is Aquatic Biodiversity Declining?
  3. Aquatic Habitats: Homes for Aquatic Animals
  4. Freshwater Mussel Biodiversity and Conservation
  5. Crayfish Biodiversity and Conservation
  6. Freshwater Fish Biodiversity and Conservation
  7. Selected Freshwater Fish Families
  8. Frog Biodiversity and Conservation
  9. Salamander Biodiversity and Conservation
  10. Turtle Biodiversity and Conservation
  11. Freshwater Snail Biodiversity and Conservation
  12. Aquatic Insect Biodiversity and Conservation

To volunteer

Please contact Michelle Prysby by September 15 and let her know which of the twelve publications you would be willing to review. She will send out the final assignments shortly after that date, and you’ll have approximately one month to complete your review. Depending on the volunteer response, she will try to assign volunteers to just one or two publications, unless someone really has a lot of time on their hands!

Upcoming programs at the gorgeous Clifton Institute

Six exciting programs are coming up at The Clifton Institute:

Creatures of the Night

Walk with A Naturalist

Bugscaping: Regenerative Landscaping for the 21st Century

Colors of Clifton: Preserving the Palette of Autumn

Mindful Naturalists: Nature Yoga

Nature Journaling with Joyce Andrew


Some are free, some have a small fee, all require registration.