Save a Sapling: Pull Invasives

Photo:  Plant NOVA Trees

Article by Laura Handley

One of the most satisfying moments of invasive plant management comes when you pull the last vine off a struggling native sapling, freeing it to claim its full share of sunlight and grow without restraint.

Volunteers with Fairfax County’s Invasive Management Area (IMA) program get to do just that twice a month at Idylwood Park in Dunn Loring. In a series of workdays, primarily on Saturday mornings, these volunteers have worked to clear invasives from a meadow along the park’s driveway. A wide range of people have participated so far, from scout troops to high-school students seeking service hours to venerable Virginia Master Naturalists. Several have brought family or friends to chat with as they work, taking advantage of the chance to socialize outdoors.

According to Patricia Greenberg and Gloria Medina, the coordinators of the IMA program, several of the saplings the volunteers have uncovered (including black walnuts, multiple species of oaks, and a large Honey Locust) were planted by the park service in the late 2000s. But the area around the saplings was left unmowed and unmonitored, allowing invasive vines to creep in from adjacent areas. By the time the volunteers started working, those invasives dominated the meadow.

The volunteers’ first challenge was to clear a path to the trees, which were blocked not just by the invasives but also by Poison Ivy and thorn-covered blackberry canes (both of which are native plants but which were blocking the way). Next came the delicate operation of untangling the vines from the young trees’ branches. Any vines growing out of reach were left to hang on the trees, where they will eventually die and fall down on their own. The final challenge has been maintenance: keeping the vines from re-growing to cover the trees again. After repeatedly cutting them to the ground failed to do the trick, Greenberg and Medina joined site leader Laura Handley one morning this fall to apply herbicide to the vines’ stumps. This targeted application should hopefully finish off the vines (while leaving the surrounding vegetation unharmed).

The rescued trees are often oddly shaped, their crowns pulled sideways and their trunks wrapped with spiraling vine-scars. But as they grow, now free of obstructions, they should straighten up and fill out. And by rescuing existing trees rather than clear-cutting the area, the volunteers have given the meadow a ten-year head start on the process of returning to a mature forest.

Once the meadow is clear of invasives, the group plans to spread seeds for native wildflowers over the ground they’ve bared — that is, if any of the ground stays bare. In the two years they’ve been working on the site, several native species have reappeared or expanded their footprint, including Common Milkweed, Canada Goldenrod, Wingstem, Foxglove Beardtongue, and New England Aster. This robust layer of herbaceous plants will help keep invasives from returning to the site and will serve as food and habitat for many native insects, birds, and other critters–and as the saplings grow, they’ll start to do the same.

Winter is a great time to rescue trees, since it is easier to get at them and cold temperatures are good for working. The winter workdays for this site will soon be posted to the IMA program calendar, and similar volunteer events in locations throughout Northern Virginia can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website.


Photo: Courtesy of ASNV Savannah Sparrow, Jon Boeckenstedt/Audubon Photography Awards

Wednesday, February 15, 2023
7:00 – 8:00 PM

This is a virtual event

ASNV Members-$15.00 (Non-members $25.00)

Click here for registration details.

Sparrows can be difficult to identify. They are small birds that often skulk in the underbrush, and their plumage shows a very limited palette of colors. This class will help you to tell apart the sparrows you might see in Northern Virginia and to separate them from other small brown sparrow-like birds.

Bill Young is a writer who lives in Arlington. He is the co-creator (with Ashley Bradford) of the website, and he has taught numerous classes for ASNV.

Winter Animal Tracking with Ranger Emily Jones, January 24th

Photo: Courtesy of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, inset – Ranger Emily Jones

Tuesday, January 24, 2023
7:00 – 8:00 PM

Virtual Program

ASNV Members-$15.00 (Non-members $25.00)

Click here for registration details.

Winter is a great time to practice your detective skills. While many mammals are nocturnal, they do leave behind evidence of their activities such as footprints and scat. Join this informative webinar to learn how to identify tracks and scat of our common Virginia wildlife. Ranger Emily will also lead the class through some interactive tracking mysteries to help you practice your observation and naturalist skills. Do you have a photo of some mystery tracks? Email it to t[email protected] and iy may be covered during the presentation!


Emily Jones is a Natural Resource Specialist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ John H. Kerr Dam and Reservoir with over 2.5 years’ experience as an Outreach Park Ranger managing partnerships, coordinating the water safety program, and facilitating educational programs for groups of all ages with a range of topics including animal track ID, watersheds, hydropower, wildlife, forestry, and water safety. Emily also is a Virginia Master Naturalist with the Southern Piedmont Master Naturalist Chapter. By focusing on connecting people with nature Emily has been able to put her MA in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (American University and University for Peace), BS in Environmental Studies, and BA in Civic Innovation (Emory and Henry College) to good use. Over the years, Emily has garnered recognition as an outreach park ranger earning the 2021 South Atlantic Division (SAD) Water Safety Employee of the Year Award and multiple SAD Quarter Environmental Education Awards. When not working as a park ranger or volunteering as a Master Naturalist, Emily enjoys traveling with her friends, gardening, stand-up paddle boarding, and spending time with her cats.


Birding the Blue Ridge Center, January 28th

Photo: Luke High

Saturday, January 28, 2023
8:00 AM

Where: Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship Education Center; 11661 Harpers Ferry Road Purcellville, VA 20132 United States

Click here for Registration.

The Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship (BRCES) is a beautiful 900-acre preserve in northwestern Loudoun County. With its diverse wildlife habitats, including meadows, streams and heavily forested slopes, BRCES draws a wide variety of birds and other creatures. Join Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy on their monthly walk and see what’s there! Meet at the Education Center; bring binoculars if you have them. BRCES is located just north of Neersville at 11661 Harpers Ferry Road (Rte 671).

Ducks and Waterfowl Identification with Greg Butcher, February 2nd

Photo: Duck Box by FMN Jerry Nissley

Thursday, February 2, 2023
7:00 – 8:30 PM

Virtual Event

ASNV Members ($10.00 + $2.05 Fee)
Non-ASNV Members ($15.00 + $2.33 Fee)
Click here for Registration and Tickets.


Join Greg Butcher, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) board member and recently retired migratory species coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service International Programs, for an introduction to waterfowl identification. Get to know many of the species that winter in the open waters of our region. You’ll learn how to tell a Bufflehead from a Hooded Merganser, and, you’ll learn the features (and hear the call) of the beautiful Tundra Swans that winter in Northern Virginia. Strategies will include identification by shape and color pattern. After the presentation, you will have an opportunity to test your identification skills with a Kahoot!

This event will be helpful for those participating in the Winter Waterfowl Count on Feb 11-12 but is open to anyone who would like to know how to identify winter waterfowl!

There is an optional field trip for a limited number of participants , but we encourage you to do your own independent field trips to see winter waterfowl! Some good locations to see waterfowl in NoVa are Huntley Meadows, Dyke Marsh and Mason Neck State Park.

Winter Waterfowl Count, February 11th and 12th

Photo: Huntley Meadows ducks by FMN Ana Ka’ahanui

Saturday and Sunday, February 11-12, 2023
7:00 AM – 2:00 PM

Where: To be Announced
Members: FREE
Non-members: FREE

Registration required.

The Winter Waterfowl Count is a citizen science effort organized by Audubon Society of Northern Virginia to track data about winter waterfowl. This survey complements the Christmas Bird Count, and the data is shared openly with the public. When it started in 2008, ASNV volunteers covered the Potomac River from Algonkian Regional Park in Loudoun County to Quantico Marine Base in Prince William County, as well as many inland bodies of water. In 2020 ASNV expanded the survey by to include areas along the Potomac River in King George and Westmoreland Counties down to the mouth of the Potomac River where it empties into Chesapeake Bay. See the results from last year’s count here.

Although we expect many veterans from past years to return, we can always use new volunteers. Beginners are welcome but we strongly encourage them to attend the Duck and Waterfowl Identification webinar on February 2 and participate in the field trip on February 4. Each volunteer will be assigned to a team led by an experienced birder. Each team determines the start time, which will vary between 7 and 8:30am. End times may also vary depending on assigned survey locations.

This count is organized by Larry Cartwight. The deadline to register is Thursday, February 9 at 9:00 PM so that you can be assigned to a team in time for the count on Saturday morning.

Larry Cartwright is an avid birder and leads several avian related surveys in Northern Virginia. He lectures on birds and birding for the Lifetime Learning Institute at Northern Virginia Community College. His lecture topics have included the evolution of birds from feathered theropod dinosaurs and birding in the Alaskan tundra. Larry has received several awards from scientific and conservation organizations, including the Virginia Society of Ornithology’s Jackson M. Abbott Conservation Award for 2013.

For FMN’s: Record service hours under ASNV– C036: ASNV Waterfowl Count – Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.  Please include project details in the notes section when entering service hours.

Green Breakfast Events – Medicines from the Soil, presented by Dan Schwartz, Soil Scientist at NVSWCD, January 14th

Image: Courtesy of the NVSWCD

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Virtual Event

Did you know that many (if not most) of our medically important antibiotics are derived from soil organisms? With antibiotic-resistant “super bugs” becoming an increasingly common and worrying problem, researchers are digging through the soil again in the hopes of discovering the next blockbuster antibacterial. Please join us for the January Green Breakfast, Medicines from the Soil, with guest speaker Dan Schwartz to learn more about these exciting advances in soil science!

Dan Schwartz holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Maryland and Virginia Tech, respectively. Since 2003, Dan has worked as a soil scientist for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NVSWCD). His first years with the District were spent outdoors doing field work to update the Fairfax County soils map. Since then, his work responsibilities broadened to include outreach and education, technical consultation to county agencies, soil and stormwater research, erosion and drainage assistance to Fairfax County homeowners, and implementation of the District’s residential cost-share programs.

No registration is required, you can join the webinar here

Address questions to [email protected]

To receive updates about Green Breakfast speakers or join an upcoming virtual Green Breakfast, please register for the Green Breakfast newsletter. Please direct questions to NVSWCD.

You can view the Green Breakfast YouTube playlist here.

Geology of the Piedmont Driving Tour, February 25th

Image: Courtesy of the Clifton Institute

Saturday, February 25,2023
9:00 am – 4:00 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187

Cost: $30 ($25 for Friends of the Clifton Institute)

Registration is REQUIRED


Come dig a little deeper into Fauquier County (and beyond) in the 2nd annual Geology Tour guided by The Clifton Institute’s Habitat Specialist, Andrew Eberly! Hitch a ride on the edge of the North American plate as it sails across the globe and watch neighboring continents come crashing in then break free again as mountains and oceans rise and fall. Visit rocks over a billion years old, born when the continents were plantless deserts. Hear stories of buried volcanoes and look for clues written in everyday rocks about landscapes of the long distant past. The forests of Northern Virginia are hiding a rich and varied display of geologic forces. This is an opportunity to practice a new way of reading the landscape and glimpse what lies beneath the trees and soil. For those who attended last year, the tour will be visiting new sites this year. Participants will also be travelling by individual cars (with the opportunity to carpool) instead of by van. Please bring your own picnic lunch, but snacks, hot drinks, and plenty of rocks to smash open will be provided!

For more information and registration details please click here.

NVSWCD Seeking Spring 2023 Environmental Outreach Intern

Image: Courtesy of the NVSWCD

This spring internship position will support the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District’s (NVSWCD) award-winning spring outreach programs. NVSWCD programs reach thousands of people and have a deep impact on many youth and adults. The spring intern will support the volunteer stream monitoring and storm drain labeling programs, represent NVSWCD at outreach events and programs, participate in field trips and other youth education, and gain hands-on experience in the field of environmental science. In addition, the intern will support the development of outreach and informational material for delivery through social media (Facebook and Instagram), webinars, and printed material.

This part-time internship runs late-January through late-June, 20 hours per week. For more information on this role, please see the full position description. Interested applicants should email their resume, cover letter, and 2-3 references to [email protected] by Friday, January 13, 2023.