The Mysterious History of Native Grasslands in the Virginia Piedmont, April 16th

Image courtesy of the Clifton Institute

When:  Saturday April 16 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Where: This program will take place at a grassland on Raccoon Ford Road, south of Culpeper.

Cost: $8 – $10

Piedmont grasslands are the most diverse plant communities in the state of Virginia. These prairies are also home to declining birds and insects and a number of rare plants. Grasslands in our region require frequent fires, mowing, or grazing to prevent them from turning into forests. Therefore there is an active debate about how prairies were maintained historically, how extensive they were, and how long they have been present in northern Virginia. Join grassland expert Devin Floyd from the Center for Urban Habitats to learn all about these special habitats and their history. This will be an outdoor event that will take place at one of Virginia’s most diverse grasslands.

Click here for more information and registration.

Earth Sangha Wild Plant Nursery Workdays

Photo: Earth Sangha

Starting March 6th, every Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday
10am – 1pm
6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield VA
Click here to register and volunteer.

Help the Earth Sangha Team get the Wild Plant Nursery ready for Spring propagation. They have a variety of tasks they need help with, including making basic repairs, winter weeding, preparing pots, and light construction. Please dress for the weather, wear sturdy shoes, and bring your own water.  If you arrive late, please call Sarah at 580-583-8065.

Americana Drive Cleanup, February 21st

Photo:  John Cameron on

Monday, February 21, 2022
10 am – 1 pm
All along Americana Drive, Annandale
Learn more and sign up here.

Get your brain wet! Join Friends of Accotink Creek, Fairfax County Restoration Project, and neighbors to get trash out of this site of chronic illegal dumping. Be prepared to get tired and dirty!

Citizen science in natural resources: How volunteers are making a difference, webinar February 17th

Photo:  Stream monitoring by Dianna Bridges, VMN New River Valley Chapter

Thursday, February 17, 2022
Noon – 1:15 pm
Pre-registration required here.

Citizen science is the involvement of people who are not professional scientists in real forms of scientific study. Through the Virginia Master Naturalist program, citizen scientists are making important contributions to natural resources research and conservation, greatly increasing the capacity of professional scientists and land managers. Join Michelle Prysby, Director of the Virginia Master Naturalist program, to explore examples of impactful citizen science and to learn how you can get involved in citizen science, regardless of your background.

Michelle Prysby is the Director of the Virginia Master Naturalist program and an Extension faculty member in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech.

Please note that this webinar is being hosted by Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment’s Advancement Team as part of their monthly Lunch and Learn Series for alumni and any others interested in joining.

View recordings for this and past webinars: VMN Continuing Education Webinar page.

Audubon Afternoon: The Evolution of Birds with Douglas Futuyma, webinar March 27th

Photo courtesy of Douglas Futuyma

Sunday, March 27, 2022
3:00 – 4:00 PM
FREE, but registration is required

We all learned that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago – but now we know that they are still with us today. Join Douglas Futuyma, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, for an Audubon Society of Northern Virginia presentation on how birds evolved and continue to evolve. How did birds become so diverse, and spread throughout the world? Why are many of them so brightly colored? Join us to learn the answers to these questions and more. Youth 14+ who are interested in science and animals may enjoy this presentation.

Douglas J. Futuyma recently published, “How Birds Evolve.” In this multifaceted book, Futuyma examines how birds evolved from nonavian dinosaurs and reveals what we can learn from the “family tree” of birds. He looks at the ways natural selection enables different forms of the same species to persist, and discusses how adaptation by natural selection accounts for the diverse life histories of birds and the rich variety of avian parenting styles, mating displays, and cooperative behaviors. He also explains why some parts of the planet have so many more species than others, and asks what an evolutionary perspective brings to urgent questions about bird extinction and habitat destruction. Along the way, Futuyma provides an insider’s view on how biologists practice evolutionary science, from studying the fossil record to comparing DNA sequences among and within species.

Growing Bird Food: New Research about Native Hydrangeas, webinar March 10th

Photo: Sam Hoadley

Thursday, March 10, 2022
7 – 8 pm
Fee: $10
Register here.

If you love birds, help them by growing native plants in your yard. Birds cannot live on birdseed alone, but also need to eat native insects – which need native plants for food and shelter.

Join Audubon Society of Northern Virginia for a presentation by Sam Hoadley from the Mt. Cuba Center, a nonprofit dedicated to preservation and conservation of native plant species of the Piedmont ecoregion. Sam will take us on a deep dive into Mt. Cuba Center’s newly released Hydrangea arborescens evaluation results. After just completing a five year trial, the results are in on which Hydrangea species received top marks from a garden perspective and which species and cultivars tallied the most pollinator visits. Included will be tips for successful cultivation and care of wild hydrangea in your home landscape, and where you can purchase plants to get started.

Sam Hoadley is the Manager of Horticultural Research at Mt. Cuba Center where he evaluates native plant species, old and new cultivars, and hybrids in the Trial Garden. Sam earned his degree in Sustainable Landscape Horticulture from the University of Vermont.

Bird Habitats on College Campuses

George Mason University Pond, Fairfax

Article and photos by FMN Stephen Tzikas

We have anchors in life that allow us to perceive familiar surroundings through all sorts of lenses. These anchors could be our home town, places we lived and worked, or other important times in our lives such as education and residency on a college campus. I visit my alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), annually, and I am always amazed what new interesting “discoveries” I make, that have always been there but were hidden in front of my eyes. As a young student there, my motivations and goals were different. When I am back visiting, I can now enjoy this lovely campus of interest through the perspective of geology, history, performing arts, architecture, guest lectures, public events, nature, and so on. That applied interest allows me to segue those “discoveries” to my local environment. My interest in birds, for example, encouraged me to think about the types of birds on the RPI campus, and voila, ebird listed a whole universe of birds I never knew existed there. It didn’t take me long to connect that thought to what might exist at GMU or Northern Virginia Community College locations in Fairfax County that I frequently visit.

Idyllic spot at Northern Virginia Community College, Loudoun Campus

I think most people don’t normally think of college campuses as birding locations, but they offer some outstanding benefits. For campuses located in suburbia and the countryside, efforts are usually made to make a campus peaceful, safe, and intellectually stimulating. Campuses can be vibrant places with trade shows and performing art events. One can also find sophisticated laboratories with halls of learning containing displays of historical instruments and specimens, and research posters displayed on the walls. College campuses are usually highly manicured and integrated with nature.

A college campus can be both quiet and full of noises, and not just those of student parties. There are the noises of nature, to quote Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight.” While I was unaware of a birding club during my student days, many universities are now interacting with organizations that cater to avian interests. For example, there is Audubon on Campus, where students can become campus ambassadors and establish a campus chapter. The National Wildlife Federation has a State of the Campus Environment report card, helping to improve unique student learning experiences to gain skills necessary for sustaining the health of our environment.

The application, iNaturalist, will usually list extensive inventories of wildlife on campuses, including birds, but also other animals and plants. College campuses are typically ADA compliant and may or may not offer disabled parking privileges free-of-charge without a permit. It’s best to check with the educational institution as policies vary and because college parking spaces can sometimes be difficult to find. Although campuses might not have a bird trail per se, they do offer an attractive setting for those who may have an association with one or more colleges, or just love being around academic institutions. I am not the only one who thinks so. These links will provide the latest bird sightings at GMU and the NVCC campuses:

So why not make a day of birding at a college campus? College Campuses often add value to the hosting town, and if a campus could not fill your entire need, their towns usually offer great restaurants, entertainment, and shops of interest.