One Hundred Thousand Welcomes

Banner Photo courtesy NoVA Science Center

Adalene Spivy and Katie Jones opening presentation – photo Jerry Nissley

FMN attended a community event at the Kincora complex in Dulles on March 23rd to preview final plans for the Northern Virginia Science Center project. The event was designed to connect like minded organizations in and around NoVA that would have potential interest in the new science center. Attendees were presented with a beautifully done conceptual fly-through of the future facility. After the detailed video introduction, we were invited to the Jameson’s rooftop terrace for coffee, conversation, and unobstructed views of the very active heron rookery.

The Kincora community in Loudon County  is somewhat unique in and of itself. It is planned as an interactive, multi-use, nature-focused community that harmoniously interweaves residential dwellings with the surrounding natural environment. Within Kincora’s 424 acres is a 165 acre conservation area that encompasses a section of the Broad Run watershed. This conservation area includes green space for leisure outdoor activity, meandering trails, and the great blue heron rookery.

Understanding the heritage of the ninth century Irish palace named Kincora and the legacy of its ruler Brian Boru, lends insight into the vision for modern day Kincora. The Gaelic saying: Ceud Mìle Fàilte, means ‘One Hundred Thousand Welcomes’. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, you are welcome. Modern day Kincora has adopted this axiom as their theme for community planning. So it is written that Loudon County Kincora, “aims to create a place of unity where everyone will find their happy and peaceful spot, whether that’s running along one of the community’s many trails, sketching a landscape of Broad Run, or devouring a good book at a local café.”

Partial view of Heron Trail adjacent the rookery. – Photo Jerry Nissley

The Northern Virginia Science Center, which will be located on land donated by Kincora, is being developed through a public-private partnership including the Northern Virginia Science Center Foundation – a Northern Virginia based non-profit, the Science Museum of Virginia – an agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Loudoun County. With substantial public and private financial support from partners across the region, this project fulfills the long-held vision for a world-class, interactive, indoor/outdoor science center in NoVA. It is networked with the other Virginia science centers, so resource sharing is an advantage. The Center will feature five main exhibition galleries: Flow (fluid in motion), Helios (our solar system), Human (what makes us human), Habitat (how humans are part of nature), and Wonders (family interactive science).

Those dark spots in the sycamores are Heron nests – Photo Jerry Nissley

The adjacent Great Blue Heron rookery reportedly averages 50+ nests clustered among the mottled sycamore trees along Broad Run. From the rooftop observation deck of the Jameson, herons could be seen bringing in large to medium sized sticks required to repair nests from last season or complete new construction. Adult herons would squabble and squawk over the new lumber and occasionally one heron would purloin a branch from another for its own nest. A raucous construction site indeed. Spotting scopes or 800mm camera lens were not required to watch this atavistic behavior but were indeed helpful. Herons will forever remind me of pterodactyls. No chicks were seen at this time of the year. The eponymously named Blue Heron Trail winds its way through the preserved area near the rookery.

Rooftop gathering – photo courtesy NoVA Science Center

The event was widely attended by representatives from environmental, science, and conservation groups in NoVA. There was palatable anticipation in the air as all organizations look forward to the groundbreaking. The future science center shows so much potential to inspire STEM learning and to provide high-quality interactive experiences to learners of all ages.

Kudos go out as well to the enthusiastic and engaging Science Center management team. They made for a memorable event, with “one hundred thousand welcomes” of their own.

Oh – by the way, Kincora has a secret to reveal that I can neither confirm nor deny (wink) – ha, but fortunately you may read all about.


A few attendees brought the right tools – photo Jerry Nissley

List of organizations in attendance:

  • Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship
  • Fells Financial
  • Friends of Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve
  • Fairfax County Park Authority
  • George Mason University
  • Loudoun County Parks, Recreation and Community Services
  • Loudoun County Public Library
  • Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation
  • Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy
  • Loudoun Water
  • MSI Photo
  • National Weather Service
  • Northern Virginia Bird Club
  • Northern Virginia Science Center Foundation
  • Virginia Master Naturalists – Banshee Reeks Chapter
  • Virginia Master Naturalists – Fairfax Chapter

Fairfax County is expanding the Early Detection, Rapid Response (EDRR) Program

Photo: Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority, Wavyleaf Basket Grass

In an effort to combat newly arriving and not yet established invasive species, Fairfax is hoping to find
people willing to survey parks and map certain invasive species (and when practical remove them).
Surveyors would begin by joining workdays led by FCPA staff and experienced EDRR volunteers before
having the opportunity to go out on their own or in small groups to their local parks. Some of the species
currently being actively hunted are Wavyleaf Basket Grass, Incised Fumewort, Two horned water
chestnut and Leatherleaf Mahonia to name a few. The whole list is here:

You don’t need to be able to recognize all of them, generally a park survey just involves looking for 1 or
2 species that have been reported in an area and recording their presence on EDDMaps or iNaturalist.
Several work dates have been scheduled: From 1:00 to 3:00 on April 10, 11, 17 & 18 at locations to be

Contact: Jas Darby: [email protected] for more information.

To sign up for one of the dates use this link:

FMN’s can log hours under Citizen Science programs for FCPA [C109] if your time is spent mapping or under Invasive Plant Management [S108] for time spent removing invasive plants.

Five Myths about Trees

Article and photo (Sara Holtz) by Plant NOVA Natives

It’s no myth that trees hold a special place in our collective psyche. Trees play a prominent role in myths, often symbolizing life and rebirth. Unfortunately, some of the stories about them are just plain wrong.

1. Trees need big piles of mulch. Or perhaps we should call this The Myth of the Angry Volcano Gods, who are appeased by stuffing trees down their maws. It’s hard to know how this harmful practice got started, but we are seeing it everywhere. Trees should be planted with the top of their roots level to the ground, just as in nature. Mulch should never be allowed to touch the trunk, as it causes bark rot. Shredded mulch can form a barrier to water when it mats down, so arborist wood chips are preferred – assuming mulch is needed at all – and no more than 2-4 inches deep. The Fairfax County Tree Basics booklet, which you can download for free, shows proper tree planting and care practices and is available in multiple languages.

2. Tree wounds need dressing. Trees cannot heal the way we do after they are cut, which is one reason why topping a tree is such a bad idea. A broken limb should be trimmed back to just beyond the branch cuff then left alone to try to close over, which with luck it may accomplish before fungi set in. Painting tar on the surface just encourages rot.

3. All leaning trees are dangerous. It is normal for trees to grow toward the light. They reinforce their wood to make themselves stable. If you are worried that a tree may become hazardous, you can get an opinion from a consulting arborist who is certified by the International Society of Arborists (ISA) and who has no financial interest in cutting it down.

4. Trees litter. Well, trees do create leaf “litter”, but that’s an unfriendly word to use to describe feeding the soil and providing habitat for fireflies and wintering grounds for butterflies. The best thing you can do for a tree and the ecosystem is leave the leaves underneath where they fall. If you are afraid they will smother the grass, you can chop them up with a lawn mower so they at least add organic matter to the soil, a practice that is good for the trees and the grass (but hard on the critters).

5. One tree is as good as another. Not so! All trees can provide shade and capture stormwater, but only native trees support biodiversity. In fact, native trees are the very backbone of our local ecosystem, providing the majority of the leaves upon which our native caterpillars feed, which in turn provide the diet required by baby songbirds. In fact, not only do some non-native trees do nothing to feed the birds, they are actually invasive, taking over and destroying what is left of our remnant woods and starting to threaten our bigger forests as well. With few exceptions, there are native trees to serve any landscaping need. Find out all about them on the Plant NOVA Trees website.

Review of Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis

Article by FMN Marilyn Schroeder
Dan Schwartz, Soil Science and FMN Instructor extraordinaire, knew what he was talking about when he recommended Teaming with Microbes.  With a conversational style and lots of pictures, Teaming is the perfect naturalist guide to soil structure and the organisms living in it.  I couldn’t wait to read each succeeding chapter – Bacteria, Archaea, Fungi, Algae, Protozoa, Nematodes….  There’s so much I didn’t know about what’s happening under our feet – even after taking the wonderful Master Naturalist soils class and field trip.
But wait, there’s more!  The book’s subtitle is The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web.  The first half of the book lays the groundwork (ha,ha!) covering the science  – soil structure, chemistry, biology, microbiology…the whole ecosystem.  Then, for gardeners, the second half describes how to foster a healthy, active food web to nourish a bountiful garden.
Teaming with Microbes (Timber Press, 2010, 220 pages) is available in the Fairfax County Library.

Research and Monitoring of Macroinvertebrates

Feature photo: The Darrin Fresh Water Institute display. See for more information.

Article and photos by FMN Stephen Tzikas

On October 7, 2022, I had the opportunity to attend the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Research Showcase in Troy, NY at the Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D. Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS). It was an opportunity for RPI alumni and guests to experience first-hand the research that shapes and leads innovation on a global scale. I was particularly attracted to the display for the Jefferson Project of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute. The Jefferson Project at Lake George, a collaboration between RPI, IBM Research, and The FUND for Lake George, studies fresh water ecological systems to understand impacts of human activities and how to mitigate those effects. Research being conducted can be found here:

My career has been in environmental engineering and the modeling of resources.

Macroinvertebrate types at the Darrin display being reviewed by the author.

I also volunteer for Fairfax County macroinvertebrate monitoring. Hence, the display was a fascinating convergence of the three topics. While there, an alumna started discussing macroinvertebrate modeling to water parameters. I had not realized the enormous amount of research that was being conducted over the years on macroinvertebrates as it related to their importance for environmental monitoring.

Lake George is a source of clean drinking water, food, and recreation. It has an eco-system of macroinvertebrates. Thus, I had a new context for macroinvertebrate monitoring in Fairfax County. Tiny macroinvertebrates are

Darrin Fresh Water Institute table close-up.

essential for the complex food chain in Lake George. Clams, mussels, snails and some insect larvae consume algae and control its overgrowth. Amphipods and isopods, through their shredding activity (called detritus processing), are essential for recycling nutrients in the lake, and are a source of food for fish. Macroinvertebrates are generally sensitive to pollution, warming of the lake due to climate change, and disturbances from shoreline development. Researchers want to understand what environmental factors determine the spatial distribution of macroinvertebrates, the population dynamics of important species, and how human activity is affecting this ecosystem. This is important given that these species are indicators of water quality.

Researchers use a variety of tools to collect the macroinvertebrates and understand the complex food chain at Lake George. Researchers survey the physics, chemistry, and biology of Lake George and also conduct experiments to investigate how some invasive species of Lake George interact, and how they may be affecting the water quality of the lake.

Those who might be interested in the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District’s Volunteer Stream Monitoring should review this link:

Those interested in reading some recent macroinvertebrate research papers should review these references found on the Internet:

• Sci. Technol. 2019, 53, 10, 6025–6034, Modeling the Sensitivity of Aquatic Macroinvertebrates to Chemicals Using Traits, Van den Berg et al.

• Water, 16 September 2021, Sec. Water and Human Systems, Volume 3 – 2021, , Benthic Macroinvertebrates as Ecological Indicators: Their Sensitivity to the Water Quality and Human Disturbances in a Tropical River, Tampo et al.

• Journal of Freshwater Ecology, Volume 36, 2021, Development of a predictive model for benthic macroinvertebrates by using environmental variables for the biological assessment of Korean streams, Min and Kong.

Landscaping With A Conscience

Photos courtesy of Steph Johnson

I do not recall ever writing a success story about an FMN volunteer before their training class even graduates but there always seems to be a first time for everything.

VMN trainee (Fairfax Chapter) Stephanie Johnson was recently featured in a newsletter article published by the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. Steph is in the current Spring 2023 FMN class and is also a Master Gardener, a member of the Native Plant Society, a small business owner, conservationist, and landscape designer.

I know from speaking with her that she has a positive conviction for native landscaping and life in general, so her journey makes for a compelling story. I asked Steph if FMN could publish the link to her story and she replied, “I dont mind. It’s nice when the community unites to support the fight against invasives and the promotion of native habitat. It’s a tough fight solo.”


Want birds and butterflies? Plant native shrubs!

Photo: Courtesy Plant NOVA Natives/Plant NOVA Trees (Shrubby St. John’s Wort)

This month’s newsletter article to share from Plant NOVA Natives/Plant NOVA Trees

Want birds and butterflies?

Want birds and butterflies? Plant native shrubs! When it comes to the curb appeal of our houses and other buildings, the difference between starkly naked and softly clothed is the shrubs. What is a shrub, anyway? According to famous bird expert David Allen Sibley, “If you can walk under it, it’s a tree; if you have to walk around it, it’s a shrub.” Other than being multi-stemmed and relatively short, a shrub is pretty much the same as a tree and therefore provides the same environmental benefits, albeit to a smaller degree. And the difference between a native shrub and a non-native one is that the former will not only beautify a property but will turn it into a living landscape that supports the butterflies and birds.

Many people are looking at their yards and at public land and realizing that a lot of the space is being wasted. Turf grass has its advantages for certain purposes, such as providing a place to walk or play sports, but as a non-native plant, it does nothing for the ecosystem and requires a lot of input to maintain. Chipping away at the lawn with native shrubs can quickly cover the ground at a very low cost. Beyond the initial watering to get them established, they will require little or no maintenance from then on.

For small spaces, there are some native shrubs that naturally stay short, such as Shrubby Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum prolificum) with its bright yellow flowers. There are also smaller cultivars of larger shrubs, such as Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) with its red berries that persist into January until they finally soften up and become a food source for hungry birds. If you use shrubs whose ultimate height fits the space you have in mind, the yearly shearing task will be eliminated. These and many other native shrubs are described on the Plant NOVA Natives website, which also points to places to buy them.

Some native shrubs grow tall enough to provide shade and can be an alternative to a small flowering tree. Common Witch-hazel is an example of that. The twigs have been used for divining rods, and the leaves get cute bumps in the shape of a witch’s hat. This native shrub is also magical for the flowers that are revealed in November after the leaves have fallen off. Those bumps, by the way, are caused by the reaction of the plant to a chemical injected by a tiny insect, the Witch-hazel Cone Gall Aphid. The cone-shaped bumps provide food and shelter to the female aphids as they lay their eggs.

Native shrubs can fill in the spaces between trees. From an environmental perspective, this arrangement is ideal, providing shelter and food at multiple heights, something we have lost in many of our woods to excessive browsing by deer. (In fact, although “Nature’s first green is gold,” if you look into the woods of Northern Virginia right now, there is a suspicious amount of green, much of which is due to invasive species such as Multiflora Rose and Asian Bush Honeysuckle. The leaves of invasive plants often emerge earlier and persist later than those of our native shrubs.) In our own yards, we can take steps to protect plants from deer and to swap out invasive shrubs for native ones and thus help support our local ecosystem.

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) is collecting data on how many trees are planted in Northern Virginia as it works toward the goal of 600,000 by 2025. For this purpose, shrubs count as trees, so VDOF is encouraging everyone to report plantings of both. A reporting form can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website.

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Native Plant Sale, April 22nd

Photo: Courtesy of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy

Saturday, April 22, 2023
9:00am – 3:00pm

Main Visitor Parking Lot at Morven Park
17195 Southern Planter Ln
Leesburg, VA 20176 

It’s (always) time to go native!

Native plants add beauty and interest to your garden all year long and provide important habitat for wildlife. Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Native Plant Sale is the place to buy spring-blooming flowers, vines, trees, shrubs and ferns from four local native plant nurseries. The sale will be staffed by volunteers knowledgeable about native plants who can advise you on selecting natives for your garden.

In addition to selling plants, the Sale provides an opportunity to learn about some of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s programs. Our Wild Shop will be there with books, T shirts, mugs and other merchandise for sale. Community partners—including the Banshee Reeks Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists and Loudoun County Master Gardeners—will have booths at the sale, as well. We’ll also have TLC, a fertilizer and deer deterrent, to give away.

Find more information about the LWC Native Plant Sate at:




Friday April 28 – Monday May 1, 2023

Do you like observing nature? Make your observations count! The City Nature Challenge is an adventure in metropolitan areas worldwide to discover and identify wildlife. You will be looking for signs of life in parks, neighborhoods, and backyards to see what plants and animals share our environment. Join the City Nature Challenge and become a citizen scientist!

Everyone in the Washington DC metropolitan area with access to a camera and the internet can observe wildlife for the Challenge. Anyone worldwide can help with identifying your finds!

Please review this helpful Resource Sheet on the 2023 CNC for important resources and events!

Where: DC Metro Area City Nature Challenge – Area inside the bright green line on this map.

DC Metro Area City Nature Challenge – Area inside the bright green line on this map.



Drawing and Learning about Fossils at Hidden Oaks Nature Center, May 6th, 13th and 20th

Photo: Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

May 6, 13 and 20, 2023

Cost: $60.00 Sign-up through Fairfax County Park Authority
Class Code: L8Q.EJQH

7701 Royce Street
Annandale, VA, 22003

Sign-up through Fairfax County Park Authority Class Code: L8Q.EJQH

Fossils are fascinating!! Delve into the ancient world of plant, marine and dinosaur fossils by drawing fossils from the Hidden Oaks collection.  Learn how fossils form, go on a prehistoric-themed hike and try matching fossils to their ancient animal or plant. Your choice of ink pen, colored pencil, or watercolor can be used.