Piedmont Prairie Field Trip August 20

Photo courtesy of Clifton Institute

Saturday, August 20, 2022

9:00 am – 12:00 pm

Leopold’s Preserve

16290 Thoroughfare Rd, Broad Run, VA


During this field trip, Executive Director Bert Harris will lead a walk through a mega-diverse prairie, highlighting some of the special species that are found there and discussing the conservation and restoration of this important habitat. Participants will meet at Leopold’s Preserve and then carpool to the site.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center – Redux

All photos by Jerry Nissley

The day I visited the newly renovated Hidden Oaks Nature Center (HONC) the primary parking lot was full so I drove around to the secondary lot, which only added about 75 yards to my walk to the Nature Center. Had the primary lot not been full I would have missed the delightful new Storybook Trail. The trail provides stations along the way that tell a story about two friends – a chipmunk and a squirrel, with pictures and paragraphs. The flip side of the station signs provide fun facts about the critters.

New pond area

In a way, this concept incapsulates what the park is all about. HONC creatively makes everything a learning experience without overtly stating, ‘Now children, this is an educational experience, blah, blah, blah”. All the children I saw were having fun and deeply engaged with whatever activity they were involved with. While I was there, according to their identical multi-colored t-shirts, two summer camp groups were visiting. One in the outside learning center and another experiencing the indoor facilities. Outside a younger group was being read a story fully supported with visual aids; I saw a fox and a squirrel in a frenzied action sequence controlled by the puppeteer all approved by chortles and guffaws of children.
Inside a preteen group was immersed in viewing several terrariums and aquariums housing different Virginia native reptiles, amphibians, insects, and fish.

Inside critter room with day camp group

Hidden Oaks Nature Center is nestled inside the 52-acre Annandale District Park. You’ll find live animal displays, exhibits, a pond, creeks, ADA compliant woodland trails, gardens, play areas, a rain garden and a resource library. In 2019 artisan Andrew Mallon was commissioned to carve a wildlife tree sculpture utilizing the 10’ high tree stump left after a poplar tree was struck by lightning right outside of the Nature Center. The fabulous carvings creatively depict 11 animals native to the park.

Closeup of new pond

The $2.1 million expansion to the Nature Center provides new rooms to host community events, freshly designed creature displays, bilingual reading corner, and ADA compliant restrooms. Improvements to the park grounds include a short interpretive nature trail, updated outside creative play area, ‘The Nature Playce’, and a newly designed pond. The formal grand opening was held last weekend, 16 July 2022, with much fanfare, speeches, Bolivian dancers, ribbon cutting, and fun activities for all.

New pond resident

Sure, HONC may be geared towards the children’s learning experience but I didn’t want the storybook to end.

For more park info and a Flickr review of the grand opening check out the following link. Once on the park site, scroll down for the Flickr show.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center

Late Summer Wildflower Walk, September 10th

Photo: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Saturday, September 10, 2022
1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
38.775154, -77.798197


Come and see the fields at their best! The fields called Lower and Upper Woodcock are unplanted and naturally dominated by native plants. Participants will look for Gray Goldenrod, Slender Lespedeza, Green Milkweed, Field Thistle, Upland Ironweed, Elliott’s Bluestem and Little Bluestem in the drier areas, and Great Blue Lobelia, New York Ironweed, and Indiangrass in the moister areas. Executive Director Bert Harris will lead this walk through one of the most interesting habitats and teach participants about Piedmont prairies and how to identify grassland plants.


Creatures of the Night, September 10th

Image courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Saturday, September 10, 2022
7:30 pm – 9:00 pm


The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
38.775154, -77.798197


Join Clifton Institute Executive Director Bert Harris to look and listen for creatures of the night! Participants will start by listening to the evening chorus of cicadas and birds. A gentle walk through fields and woods is also planned to look for nocturnal animals. Late summer is an ideal time to observe several species of katydids and crickets. Participants will also look for beavers, reptiles and amphibians, and other animals. Back at the farmhouse, it will be interesting to see what kinds of moths and beetles are attracted by black lights.


The Annual Virginia Geological Research Symposium

Feature photo:  At the 2019 Virginia Geological Field Conference, our excursion group investigated the landslide damage of Hurricane Camille in Nelson County. After 50 years this mountainside is still stripped to its bedrock from the floods and landslides caused by the hurricane.

Article and photo by FMN Stephen Tzikas

The annual Virginia Geological Research Symposium is an event I enjoy attending. It is typically held in April and is approved for the FMN Better Impact continuing education requirement. It is presented at a professional level and is a conference from which one can acquire valuable knowledge if working in the associated engineering and science fields. Moreover, because it is Virginia centric and geology related, it’s a great learning venture for Virginia master naturalists.

The last couple of years the symposium was held virtually, but it normally meets in Charlottesville. It is free and hosted by Virginia Energy, Geology and Mineral Resources. This organization serves as Virginia’s geological survey. The last symposium was held on April 21, 2022. At this symposium, the U.S. Geological Survey gave a couple presentations related to the 2011 Mineral, Virginia 5.7 magnitude earthquake felt over a wide area including Fairfax County (something most of us will remember). The quake was further discussed in the context of the more recent 2020 Sparta, North Carolina 5.1 magnitude earthquake. Other presentations given by the U.S. Geological Survey included Earth MRI geophysical datasets along the fall-line in SE Virginia and NE North Carolina, and the origin of Carolina Bays in the Coastal Plain of Virginia.

The College of William and Mary had several presenters too. Topics included:

  • Age and origin of the Albemarle-Nelson mafic-ultramafic complex in the eastern Blue Ridge.
  • Structural geology and geochronology of the Shores Melange in the Piedmont.
  • Geology of the Schuyler 7.5-minute quadrangle in central Virginia and understanding Iapetan rifting, sedimentation, and magmatism.
  • Petrology, structure, and geochronology of the Oakville metavolcanic sequence and the implications for the provenance of the Smith River Allochthon.

Of particular interest to me was the landslide hazard mapping in western Albemarle and Nelson Counties by Virginia Energy. I once attended a geologic field trip to Nelson County, the location hit hard by Hurricane Camille in 1969 through the devastating flooding and landslides caused by the hurricane. Another interesting topic was on geologic storage potential in Virginia, also by Virginia Energy.

James Madison University and Radford University students made presentations too.

It is worth exploring the Virginia Energy website at https://www.energy.virginia.gov/. The website features such links as “Ask a Geologist” and information on the geology and mineral resources of Virginia at https://www.energy.virginia.gov/geology/geologymineralresources.shtml.

This symposium is a wonderful resource among many available for geology enthusiasts in Fairfax County. Others include are:

  • The Northern Virginia Mineral Club: https://www.novamineralclub.org/
  • The Annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show at George Mason University
  • NVCC 1-day 1-credit excursions (Field Studies in Geology under GOL-135)
  • The Virginia Geological Field Conference (also with counterparts in PA, NJ, and NY)https://vgfc.blogs.wm.edu/


Dragonfly Biology and Identification, August 4th & 6th

Photo: Banded Pennant by FMN Don Coram

Classroom presentation: Thursday, August 4, 2022
7-8:30 pm
Field trip: Saturday, August 6, 2022
9:45 am-1 pm
Register by email to [email protected] or by telephone 703-476-9689 ext. 5
Walker Nature Center
11450 Glade Dr., Reston, VA

Join FMN Don Coram, instructor, for a course on dragonflies covering their beauty, physiology, behavior, ecological role, and identification. The course includes a classroom presentation followed by a field trip to identify and count dragonflies in Reston. The count is part of an ongoing data collection effort that began in 2009. Although they do count and record the dragonflies that they observe, most of the participants are still learning about dragonflies, and the count is more of an educational field trip than a scientific wildlife survey.

Natural Filters in the Anacostia River: The Recovery of an Urban Waterway, webinar August 16th

Photo: Eric T. Gunther, Anacostia River near Kingman Island

Tuesday, August 16, 2022
7-8 pm
Register here.

For more than three decades, the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) has been working on recovering the Anacostia River’s ecosystems, especially its natural filters. After decades of restoration, education, and advocacy AWS is seeing a great recovery of the biodiversity of the aquatic ecosystems in the Anacostia River.

Jorge Bogantes Montero, Natural Resources Specialist for AWS, will present a virtual tour of the river and speak about the recovery of this once-neglected urban waterway in the nation’s capital. An in-person field trip and boat ride will take place on Saturday, August 20, 2022 for 20 participants.

Free Trees for Communities

Article and photo by Plant NOVA Natives

As community associations around Northern Virginia ramp up their native tree planting efforts, they are looking around to find ways to make it affordable. Burke Centre resident Craig Willett has solved that problem for his neighbors: all they have to do is fill out a simple form to get a free tree. A member of Burke Centre Conservancy’s volunteer Open Space Committee, Craig has organized a system both for private property and for common land. On private land, residents pick up seedlings from Craig’s house and plant them themselves. On common land, the Trustees of the various clusters put in a request, and Craig and his colleagues will install trees or shrubs either to replace ones that have died or to reforest open areas. You can see him pictured here with fellow volunteer Mike Hathaway, in red.

Trees grow slowly, and they also die slowly. Many neighborhoods around Northern Virginia have been losing their canopy coverage, bit by bit, so that once pleasantly shaded yards and streets where neighbors and children could gather are gradually becoming intolerable as our summer temperatures rise. Communities that wish to reverse this trend are most likely to succeed if they build a long-term routine for tree care and tree replacement into their master plans. Where there is no community association, residents will need to step forward to help each other make a plan.

Burke Centre Conservancy obtains its tree seedlings from Fairfax ReLeaf, a non-profit organization of volunteers who plant and preserve native trees on public and common lands in Northern Virginia. Individual landowners may also request seedlings from Fairfax ReLeaf.

Any community in Fairfax County that owns open space may also apply for free trees from the Fairfax Tree Preservation and Planting Fund. It is not necessary to be a 501(c)3 organization to apply as long as the open space is commonly owned. This is a solid funding source for organizations that want to plant either seedlings or larger trees. The application process looks a little intimidating at first glance because of the long list of requirements, but in fact the required steps are all ones that any organization would take anyway when planting trees.

Programs for obtaining free native trees are also available to communities in Arlington and Falls Church. And although not free, there are numerous ways to obtain native trees for a very low price. For example, the Virginia Department of Forestry sells tree and shrub seedlings for $2.00 apiece for orders of ten or more. Our local native plant garden centers all sell medium-sized trees in containers at reasonable prices. Those trees may look a little small when first planted, but they will rapidly catch up to trees that were planted when larger, since older trees suffer more transplant shock. Two wholesalers of larger trees offer their trees at wholesale cost to people who are organizing community plantings. Links to all these programs can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website.

Since 2018, Burke Centre Conservancy has planted over 600 bare root seedlings, which is in keeping with the nature-centered philosophy of this community with its extensive network of trails through the woods. More details about their process can be found on this web page.

Knowledgeable Bluebird Monitors Sought to Help Staff the Virginia Bluebird Society’s Educational Table, August 6th – 7th

Photo: Virginia Bluebird Society

When: Saturday, August 6, 10am-7pm and Sunday, August 7, 10am-4pm
It would be best to have 2 people per shift; suggested shifts are:
Shift 1: Saturday 10am -1pm
Shift 2: Saturday 1pm – 4pm
Shift 3: Saturday 4pm – 7pm
Shift 4: Sunday 10am – 1pm
Shift 5: Sunday 1pm – 4pm

Where: Fairfax County 4-H Fair and Carnival https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/frying-pan-park/4-h-fair
Rides, games, food, animal exhibits!
Frying Pan Farm Park
2709 West Ox Road
Herndon, VA 20171

Contact: Glenys Mulholland [email protected] for more information or if you are interested in volunteering.


  • Answer questions from the public about bluebirds, monitoring, or trails.
  • Hand out VBS informational materials.
  • Help kids with crafts or educational games (materials will be provided).
  • Park supplies 6 ft. table, 2 chairs, and a tent.
  • Covid-19 guidance at the time of the Fair will be followed.

Record service hours under Birds – C034: Bluebird Trails — VA Bluebird Society.

FMN CE Hike: Herp Hunt on June 26th

Article and photos by FMN Barbara Saffir except as noted

Orange turtles, slinky snakes, and shy salamanders were the highlight and delight of FMN’s first-ever continuing education “Herp Hunt” hike on June 26, 2022.

Identifying Fowler’s toad

Pickerel frog, photo Bob Macke

Thirteen enthusiastic FMNers (including some board members) attended the three-hour hike at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, including FMN event coordinator, Barbara Saffir, who co-led the hike with two experts (and an assistant expert) from the Virginia Herpetological Society.

Caroline Seitz led one group, taking the “high road” through the hilly park, so to speak.  She’s VHS’s education chair.  VHS’s Mark Khosravi, a science teacher who was recently quoted in the Washington Post discussing venomous copperheads, and his assistant led his hikers on the lower trail.  Both groups “herped” upland wooded areas and lower stretches along the Bull Run stream.

Among their discoveries were: SNAKES (a small ring-necked snake, a queen snake that repeatedly posed in the stream, adult and immature

Ring-necked snake

northern watersnakes, and an eastern worm snake); TURTLES (several male and female woodland box turtles, a red-bellied slider turtle, a painted turtle, and broken turtle eggs); FROGS/TOADS (pickerel frog, adult and baby green frogs, baby wood frog, and Fowler’s toads); and SALAMANDERS/SKINKS (a red-spotted newt, a northern two-lined salamander, a long-tailed salamander, and five-lined skinks).

Woodland box turtle

FMNers even learned how to differentiate male from female box turtles and American toads from Fowler’s toads.  A five-lined skink hopped aboard board member Amy Stulman, who handled the opportunity with a smile. Debbie McDonald spied the first herp of the day on Seitz’s hike, a precious woodland box turtle. We learned to report box turtle sightings to VHS online.




Co-leader Caroline Seitz shows us a juvenile Northern Watersnake

Queen snake practically performed for us for a while