From One Seed a Handful

It is always encouraging to hear of success stories from FMN volunteers. Then again it is also something special to hear from ‘friends of FMN’ just because they want to share a wonderful story with friends and like minded people and perhaps plant a seed for a future project.

Seed box on lower shelf.             Photo – Jerry Nissley

Such is the case, literally and figuratively, with Sally Berman a friend of FMN Janet Quinn and a volunteer at South Run Park in Fairfax County. Sally emailed Janet saying, “I always enjoy reading the newsletter FMN puts together.  So many great things are happening around the area!! I wanted to share a project we have started.”

Seed Library Reference sheet – courtesy of Sally Berman

She told about a team of dedicated South Run Park volunteers who brainstormed an idea they had while tending the gardens. “Why not start collecting seeds from the gardens to provide a sustainable local seed source?” Gardening is a wonderful time to germinate ideas, eh? Together with fellow volunteers Vick Maddox and Cheryl St. Amant the team started collecting seeds from the South Run plots as a means of sustaining the South Run gardens. As the collection grew they decided to spread the bounty.

Book Box Titles – courtesy of Sally Berman

The collection amassed quickly so they soon added a Free Little Seed Box to complement the existing Free Little Library Box that is adjacent the South Run playground.  The book box is a clever idea in itself. Many of the book titles reference a plant, flower, vegetable, or gardening topic of some sort. So the seed box conceptionally works well within the book box. There is also a long list of gardening infused children’s book titles posted along side the book box as shown in the cover photo.

Kid’s Garden across from the Book and Seed Box. Photo Jerry Nissley

The team also maintains the South Run ‘Native Knoll’ created a few years ago to showcase the use of native plantings in a public landscaping project.
If FMN volunteers would like to advise the team on the use of appropriate native plants for any of the sites or help care for the Knoll or gardens please contact Sally Berman at [email protected].

FMN volunteers may use service code: Parks – S109: FCPA Habitat and Parkland Management – – Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA)

“From one seed a whole handful …” J.M. Coetzee

Keep Our Wooded Areas Beautiful

Article and photo by Plant NOVA Natives/Plant NOVA Trees

If your community owns some wooded common land, or if you yourself own a wooded property, you may have noticed that the woods around here have been slowly changing, and not for the better. They may still look green, but the devil is in the details: much of that “green” is now made up of invasive non-native plants that damage the ecosystem and bring down the trees.

Natural wooded areas are a beautiful and invaluable resource for any landowner or community. Unlike most material assets, they appreciate over time. They capture stormwater and keep our basements from flooding. They provide soundproofing and a visual barrier between properties as well as a place for us to walk and enjoy nature. They block the wind and lower heating costs in the winter. And of course, they are the home to birds and other wondrous beings, who will need our help if their homes are not to completely disappear.

In the past, the woods managed themselves nicely. In present-day Northern Virginia, at least some care is needed to keep the woods from degrading, turning an asset into an increasingly expensive problem. It is wise to make a forest management plan that looks ahead for twenty or twenty-five years. You can do this on your own, or you can call in a consultant to help you evaluate the situation and map out solutions to any problems. Professional assistance is available, as are volunteers from various programs including Tree Stewards, Master Naturalists, and Audubon-at-Home ambassadors.

The two biggest threats to our woods are invasive non-native plants and browsing by deer. In many places, the deer have taken away everything except the mature trees and the invasive plants, not even leaving the seedlings that should be there to become the next generation of trees. Removing the invasives and protecting native plants from deer are the highest priority in most areas.

Some of our attempts to “improve” the woods may have the opposite effect. Woods do not need to be cleaned! The dead leaves and fallen trees are essential components of a healthy ecosystem. (Dumping extra leaves from your lawn damages that ecosystem, though.) Standing dead trees provide perches for birds of prey, nesting sites for songbirds, shelters for mammals, and food for thousands of species of insects. They are also becoming increasingly rare in our human-managed environment. Try to leave them standing, or if they pose a hazard, just cut off the top and leave as much as you can standing.

For information about how to manage your woods, and how to help your community develop a long-term plan, see the Plant NOVA Trees website.

FMN Annual Meeting, Elections and Graduation of Fall 2022 Class, December 12th

Monday, December 12, 2022
7 pm
Zoom (email [email protected] for link if you are not an FMN member)

We will be holding our Annual Meeting on Zoom, Monday, December 19th at 7 pm. We will be celebrating the graduation of the Fall 2022 Basic Training Class and have a short business meeting.

In addition, our own FMN Jerry Peters will speak on “Skolithos, Early Cambrian Fossils in Northern Virginia”. Skolithos linearis is a trace fossil (ichnofossil) that is the most common fossil found in Fairfax County. The animal that formed the fossils thrived in ocean beaches on the east side of the continent around 540 million years ago, about the time of the Cambrian revolution when all major animal phyla started appearing in the fossil record. Jerry will discuss the source of these fossils (Antietam formation outcropping on the western slopes of the Blue Ridge) and the several sinks (places they can be found today) in Fairfax County. He will also review key events in the 540 million years of geologic history that these fossils trace.

Jerry Peters is retired from a career as a consulting environmental scientist – conducting Environmental Impact Statements, municipal wastewater facilities planning, hazardous waste management, pollution prevention, hazardous waste site remediation and program guidance, etc. He has a Master’s degree from Virginia Tech in Environmental Science and Engineering (Water Resources) and a Bachelor of Arts degree, biology major, from University of Virginia. Jerry serves as an elected Director of the Northern Virginia Soil & Water Conservation District (NVSWCD), working with the organization for the past 13 years in a variety of positions. He also serves as the District representative to the Fairfax County Tree Commission and helped draft the 2019 Tree Action Plan. Jerry is also Founder of Green Fire, a non-profit to improve wildlife habitats in Fairfax County – and has been active in the Environment and Parks Committee of the Great Falls Citizen’s Association, leading a project to naturalize an oak grove in Great Falls Grange. Finally, many of us know Jerry from his work over many years for the Fairfax Master Naturalists. He helped start up Fairfax Master Naturalists in 2007 as a volunteer on the Coordinating Committee and served as Advanced Training chair. He was awarded Honorary FMN membership in 2007. In 2008 he completed the FMN Basic Training and became a regular member. He has been a member of the FMN Training Committee since 2007, instructing new Master Naturalists in Biogeography, Land Use, and Urban Systems.

Birding in a Winter Wonderland, December 7th

Photo:  FMN Lori Scheibe

Wednesday, December 7, 2022
7 – 8:30 pm
$25 member/$30 nonmember
Register here through Smithsonian Associates.

We all grow up with the knowledge that birds fly south for the winter, but while our neotropical summer breeders return to the tropics, many other species find their way to winter homes in temperate North America from their arctic breeding grounds. The majority of these birds are ducks, geese, and swans, but the seasonal visitors also include songbirds, shorebirds, and raptors. Winter is also a great time to observe rare vagrant birds that have flown out of range and need to refuel before continuing their journey.

Naturalist Matt Felperin shares valuable tips on how to the make the most of winter birding in the mid-Atlantic region. Learn why so many species stay here for the winter instead of flying further south and discover some new locations to observe our winter snowbirds—complete with detailed photos. You’ll be ready to put on your snow pants and parka and enjoy one of the most rewarding and magical times for birding.

Green Spring Gardens Seeks Field Trip Leaders

Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria VA

Sign up here.

The Youth and Family Education Program Coordinator at Green Spring Gardens is seeking volunteers to serve as teachers for school field trips visiting the Gardens. The field trips are two hours each and run through the school year. View the descriptions of the field trips here.

The confirmed schedule of 2022-2023 field trips is here to check the dates and to sign up. This is also where anyone can sign up to observe a field trip to show how it operates before committing to lead a station.

Questions? Contact Bailey Price at [email protected] or (703) 642-5173.

Triassic Rocks of Horsepen Run

Muscovite mica glitter is apparent in a rock sample from Horsepen Run.

Article and photos by FMN Stephen Tzikas

Part of the Horsepen Run watershed is located in the northwestern part of Fairfax County. Horsepen Run eventually drains into the Potomac River. The trail that follows the creek in the watershed is popular with county residents. A part of the creek is also one of the regular sites of biological stream monitoring, a volunteer citizen science program managed by the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. What a lot of people don’t know is that Horsepen Run is home to some interesting Triassic Period rocks, formed some 200 to 250 million years ago. A few years ago I participated in a geological field trip excursion as part of a NVCC 1-day 1-credit course that explored the geologic history of Mesozoic Era rift basin across the Manassas, Leesburg, and Haymarket areas. The excursion was specific to the Triassic and Jurassic Periods. Specific items of interest were the weathering of products; direction of transport; sediment structures; igneous rock textures and their cooling history, the rock cycle, and plate tectonics.

One of the sites investigated was the Dulles Access Road East “utility” off-road on the exit ramp for Rt. 28, at Horsepen Run. This site was the central point of a rift valley deep with sediments. Specifically, it was a lake bottom of red sediment. Some shale exists, breaking into sheets and fine grain. The rift was formed when the Earth

Horsepen Run creek at this location is composed of characteristic red rock: TRb Balls Bluff siltstone, both creek bottom and the adjacent 1-2 foot walls.

was pulled apart at the location. The rift valley is the linear shaped lowland between higher hilly and mountainous elevations created by the action of a geologic rift. Such valleys are likely to be filled with sedimentary deposits derived from the rift flanks and the surrounding areas. At this location the rock type contains Upper Triassic Balls Bluff Siltstone baked and thermally altered material. The red sediment at the location is obvious and contrasts with the appearance further upstream. The glitter found in the red rocks at this location are tiny fragments of mica.

In the Triassic Period, this site was tranquil and sediments came to rest. At the Horsepen Run area, bubbles on the surface of the sediment rock indicate a calcareous (calcium based) dissolved appearance where the red rock voids still have some calcium carbonate (scattered white tones on the rocks). Occasional storms brought water from outlying edges to the center and carried some coarser material. A storm deposit from the west could bring calcium carbonate from the Leesburg conglomerate. A storm deposit episode or event could last minutes to hours.

The lacustrine (lake) facies indicated an oxygen rich environment with red color clastic deposits, allowing the oxidation of the iron. This is facies evidence, referencing the look of rock to respect of environment. If there was no oxygen we would have found black shale. Low energy would have been required for the fine grain to come to rest. Fine grains could also be due to a deep environment, but here it was more likely a shallow one of 10-15 feet, where sediments could dry. This area was a cove of low energy closed lake basin water, subject to evaporation effects. Some “circle fossil” burrow tubes also exist in the fine grain clays. Burrowing organisms lived here causing bioturbation. More evidence of the oxygen rich condition is that the taphonomic conditions were not ideal for preservation, as oxygen rich area deaths led to scavenging and organic breakdown. The terraced layers at the site alternated between siltstone and claystone, caused by changes of energy due to rainfall and climate. Higher energy means more shallow depth silt: wave energy takes away clay silt by the beach. If the climate was a little dryer, the lake would shrink, alternating between shallow and deeper cycles. These climatic cycles were tied to the Milankovitch cycles of variations in the Earth’s eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession.

You also might find some of the glittery red rocks in the surrounding area near Horsepen Run. Recently I visited the EatLoco Farmers Market at One Loudoun near Dulles airport. Between the parking lot and the vendor stalls is a strip of ground, part grassy and part flat thin red rock chips, not unlike what is found at the Horsepen Run site.

Earth Sangha Nursery Workdays in November

Photo:  Earth Sangha

Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays
9 am – Noon
6100 Cloud Dr, Springfield, VA 22150
Sign up here.

Help the Earth Sangha team with fall season tasks. They need help with potting, weeding, sowing seeds and winterizing. They’ll provide tools and gloves. Please dress for the weather, wear sturdy shoes, and bring your own water. If you arrive late, please call Sarah at 580-583-8065.

Fairfax County Park Authority, Dark Skies’ Webpage

Photo/Image: Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority


Light Pollution is defined by the International Dark Sky Association as the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light which can have serious environmental consequences for humans, wildlife, and our climate. It’s caused by the excessive and inefficient use of artificial light at night.

This webpage provides detailed information on a variety of topics related to light pollution.

A sample of the site’s contents are listed below:

Please take some time to browse through this very informative and comprehensive website,

McLean Gears Up for Dark Sky Celebration, November 12th

Photo: Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022
6:30pm – 8:30pm

Lewinsville Historic House
1659 Chain Bridge Road
McLean, Virginia 22101

Register here.


Dark skies are the natural state of nature. Over time, humans have increased the amount of light shining into the sky all night long. This excessive light has robbed us of the glimpse of our stars and endangered the natural world around us. We can have dark skies again if we learn to control light pollution with responsible outdoor lighting practices.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is partnering with the McLean Citizens Association, Dark Sky Friends and the Analemma Society to host a celebration of the importance of dark skies.

Come to the historic house in Lewinsville Park on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, to learn about the importance of dark skies in your community. The free event will have hands-on activities and educational opportunities about how to protect the night sky. Learn about nighttime wildlife and constellations. Come experience the night with us and enjoy a small campfire and cocoa. The event runs from 6:30 until 8:30 p.m.

There is no cost to the “Dark Sky Celebration” program, and registration is not required but is encouraged. By signing up, we can notify you in case of inclement weather. The rain date is the following day on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022.

To learn more about the importance of dark skies, visit the Dark Skies webpage.

State of the Birds 2022 in Northern Virginia, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia

Photo: Chimney Swifts, Gen Cvengros, Audubon Photography Awards

Following a 2019 report that we have lost 3 billion birds in 50 years in the United States and Canada, the national State of the Birds Report 2022 (released on October 12, 2022) shows that birds are declining in every habitat except wetlands, where 30+ years of conservation investment have paid off.

To see the national report, visit

Here in northern Virginia, we have also lost many birds. Urban and suburban areas pose special threats to birds, including habitat loss, window and other collisions, and the spread of invasive species, including plants, insect pests, and outdoor cats.

In the face of these losses, there are many things we can do to promote bird conservation. ASNV’s Audubon at Home program advises homeowners on replacing invasive plants with natives. In addition, we advise park managers on how to manage parks for breeding birds, especially grasslands and meadows that support declining species such as Eastern Meadowlarks and American Kestrels.

The new State of the Birds report identifies 90 species that have declined more than 50% in the past 50 years. Of those species, five breed in northern Virginia and should be a special focus of conservation efforts here:

  • Chimney Swift – You can help ASNV protect swifts by letting us know if you have breeding swifts or a fall roosting congregation.
  • Wood Thrush and Red-headed Woodpecker – These birds need healthy forests to breed successfully.
  • Prairie Warbler – This is a species that needs overgrown meadows with Eastern red cedars.
  • King Rail – This a secretive wetland bird that often breeds in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and occasionally in other wetlands nearby.

In addition to these five, our region supports important populations of migrating birds in spring and fall. These birds use small parks and even backyards while traveling on their perilous journeys, so everything we do to improve our local environment can make a big difference!

Audubon Society of Northern Virginia