“The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World” By: Peter Wohlleben

(Greystone Books Ltd, 2016, 248 pages)

A book review by Mike Garth, Fairfax Master Naturalist

As an avid nature photographer, I have spent countless hours observing wildlife, waiting for the peak moment to capture a photograph. Through it all I’ve learned habits and behaviors and developed a deeper sense of appreciation for the moment-by-moment nature of the lives that animals lead and endure.

I’m not sure how I came across “The Inner Life of Animals” by Peter Wohlleben (a German forester). But I found the title intriguing as it resonated with my belief (greatly influenced by those countless hours of observation) that there is more going on in an animal’s daily existence than meets the eye.

Indeed, I found the book offers a captivating journey into the emotional and intellectual world of animals. Through colorful narration and anecdotes, Wohlleben reveals the incredible intelligence, emotional depth, and cognitive abilities shown by a wide variety of animal species. From the empathetic behavior of elephants mourning their deceased companions to the intricate communication among ravens, each chapter reveals the profound inner lives of animals that often go unnoticed. There’s grief, courage, and shame to name just a few.

Be aware that this book is not a scientific resource. It does offer some scientific findings and complex concepts that are skillfully blended to complement observations made by Wohlleben. This is one of the book’s greatest strengths, making the book readable for a general audience yet still satisfying those of us who want some science thrown in. The goal of the book, I believe, is to spark curiosity and provoke contemplation about the inner lives of animals and perhaps inspire a greater appreciation for the way that we are all connected in some way.

For a naturalist who appreciates studying and understanding the complexities of the natural world, this book can offer valuable knowledge and a deeper understanding of animal behavior.


What Makes a Species? Streamertail Hummingbirds with Dr. Caroline Judy, June 22nd

Photo: by Dr. Caroline Judy

Thursday, June 22, 2023
7:00 – 8:00 PM
Fee: $25 (For members $15)

Click here for Registration details.

Dr. Caroline Judy will present a program on June 22 on her work studying an unusual case of island speciation seen in Jamaican streamertail hummingbirds (Trochilus spp). Streamertail hummingbirds are closely-related hummingbirds that are distinguished on the basis of bill color, which is bright red in the Red-billed Streamertail and jet black in the Black-billed Streamertail. Historically, they have been treated as subspecies by the North American Classification and Nomenclature Committee. However, Dr. Judy found evidence for reproductive isolation that informed the committee’s recent decision to elevate streamertail hummingbirds to full species status. Dr. Judy also will discuss many aspects of streamertail biology that are common to all hummingbirds, and focus on the ultimate question – why are hummingbirds as a genus so rich in species?

Dr. Caroline Judy is a research associate in the Division of Birds, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Caroline is interested in how and why birds form new species.

Thanks, Thanks, Thanks – One More Successful Tabling Event

Photo taken by FMN Member, Donna Stauffer

The Friends of Mason Neck State Park held their 25th Annual Eagle Festival on Saturday, May 13.  The Fairfax Master Naturalists participated by hosting a table.  Once again, a group of committed FMN volunteers came together to share their enthusiasm, experience, and knowledge as nature stewards.  Attendees were drawn to their table to learn about the FMN training program, invasive plants, native plants, and the numerous nature-related volunteer programs available in the county.  FMN Outreach Committee Chair Jo Doumbia had a really thoughtful way of summing up the tabling event, ” In my view that is what it is all about, spreading and sharing our accumulated nature knowledge with society.”

For Jo and the other volunteers, this tabling event was a wonderful opportunity to connect and reconnect with one another. This special camaraderie develops whenever FMN volunteers come together to support outreach events.

Below are some great photos of the FMN volunteers at Eagle Fest 2023: 

Photo taken by FMN Member, Jo

Photo taken by FMN Member, Donna Stauffer

Photo taken by FMN Member, Jo



The 2023 Virginia Geologic Research Symposium

Feature photo:  Virginia Energy campus, offering impressive architectural style and good birding opportunities. My iPhone Merlin Bird ID found Pine Warblers, Northern Flickers, and Purple Finches among other more common birds.

Article and photos by FMN Stephen Tzikas

Student Posters for Presentation. This one shown is from our local GMU

The 2023 Virginia Geological Research Symposium had resumed with an in-person conference on April 21, after a couple years of pandemic virtual conferences. The 2023 meeting took place at Virginia Energy in Charlottesville, VA. This approved FMN training event brings professionals, students, and the interested public together.   Lectures are held at an undergraduate/graduated university level of knowledge. Geology is such a diverse topic, with appeal to many other types of scientists and engineers like myself.

This year’s agenda featured a diverse selection of topics of interest in Virginia. Technical Session 1 featured information on the heavy mineral sand abundance and mineralogy from paleo-placer and offshore deposits in Virginia. Such economic heavy minerals are of vital engineering importance to the United States as we transition to new technologies requiring new sources of rare earth elements.

Technical Session 2 included a stimulating lecture on the origin of nelsonite in the central Virginia Blue Ridge. Nelsonite is the Virginia State rock. Another lecture discussed preparing for the workforce, of special interest to the many students in attendance.

Nelsonite, the Virginia State Rock. The main building has hundreds of geologic specimens and instruments on display. Outside an impressive 49 large rock and mineral garden exists.

Technical Session 3 was another cross-over over session, similar to Technical Session 1, that had engineering appeal. Three lectures focused on groundwater and hydrology.

Tour of GMR Repositories and Collection. This is a one of a kind fascinating chance to see a unique geological collection.

Technical Session 4 included the investigation of lake sedimentary deposits for evidence of the 2011 earthquake in the central Virginia Seismic Zone. We all remember that earthquake.   Another lecture included geophysical mapping to improve wine quality. Who could not like that? The next time I am enjoying a glass of wine at a Virginia vineyard, I’ll be remembering all the soil science I learned from this lecture.

The Virginia Department of Energy, Geology and Mineral Resources (GMR) Program, is a world class organization, and I highly recommend attending their annual symposium if you are a professional, a student, or have an interest in geology which you would like to develop further.

NovaSci VMN Article

Cover Photo: FMN Jerry Nissley

Virginia Master Naturalists (VMN) attended a community event at the Kincora complex in Dulles on March 23rd 2023 to preview final plans for the Northern Virginia Science Center (NovaSci) project. 

FMN was then asked to contribute to the inaugural Northern Virginia Science Center’s newsletter to be published in the May 2023 timeframe to present an overview of  VMN / FMN.

The Virginia Master Naturalist (VMN) program is a community-based natural resources volunteer program. Virginia Master Naturalists are volunteer educators, citizen scientists, and stewards helping Virginia conserve and manage natural resources and public lands. The VMN program provides opportunities for people to learn about nature and become active resource stewards, citizen scientists, and educators. As of 2022, VMN is composed of 30 semi-autonomous, locally focused chapters. VMNs train for certification& then maintain that certification by participating in local projects as they sojourn through forests and fields, collect data in streams, beaches, and backyards – all the while continuing to learn and share our enthusiasm for Virginia’s bountiful and beautiful habitats. John Muir mused, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” So it is with a Virginia Master Naturalist.

VMN has four chapters surrounding the Northern Virginia science community – Arlington Regional chapter, Banshee Reeks chapter in Loudoun, Merrimac Farm Chapter in Prince William, and Fairfax Chapter centered in Fairfax County and Alexandria. Because of our shared mission and proximity, chapters frequently collaborate on projects that touch our borders.

To exemplify what a chapter does let us peek inside the Fairfax Chapter (FMN) – of which I am a member. We recruit, develop, and enable our members so they may contribute to natural resource and conservation projects tailored to our local community. Projects range from invasive plant management and litter cleanups to a myriad of educational and citizen science projects. We lead interpretive nature walks, educational programs, kayak tours, and advise homeowners on native plant landscaping to name a few.

When we are engaged in our personal endeavor in field, forest, mountain, river, wetland, or garden sanctuary we must bathe in the presence of wonder, keep close to Nature’s heart, and work hard not only with tools but with our imagination. Imagination that is evident in the vision of the NovaSci Center Foundation. For, “In the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” – William Blake.

FMN Citizen Science examples:

Accessible Trails in Mason Neck State Park

Photo: Courtesy of Friends of Mason Neck Park

Information on the accessibility of some of the trails in the park is now available. Birdability is a non-profit organization that works to ensure the birding community and the outdoors are welcoming, inclusive, safe and accessible for everybody. Birdability has partnered with the National Audubon Society to create a crowd-sourced map that describes in detail the accessibility features of birding locations throughout the United States. While the map was created with birdwatching in mind, the information about trails shown on the map is useful to anyone who has an interest in the accessibility of trails.  You can get information on the accessibility of the Wilson Spring Trail, the Dogue Trail, the High Point Trail and the Osprey Trail (shown on the Birdability website as the Beach Trail) in Mason Neck State Park, as well as trails all over the United States, here

Stream Monitoring, Citizen Science & Training Opportunities, May and June

Photo by FMN J. Quinn, Hidden Pond stream monitoring

Below is a list of the stream monitoring workshops and training opportunities located throughout the county:

Horsepen Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Wednesday, May 17, 4:00-6:30pm

Where: Horsepen Run Stream Valley Park, Herndon

This site has faced challenges in recent years including erosion and invasive bamboo. Join the NVSWCD as we monitor Horsepen Run to assess stream health and learn about the environmental impacts on this stream. Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.


Wolftrap Creek Monitoring Workshop

When: Saturday, May 20, 9:30am-12:00pm

Where: Wolftrap Creek Stream Valley Park, Vienna

This stream site is one of NVSWCD’s newer sites, with easy stream access and often used as a site for VASOS field certification workshops. Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.


Sugarland Creek Monitoring Workshop

When: Sunday, June 11, 9:30am-12:00pm

Where: Sugarland Run Stream Valley Park, Herndon

This stream site is known for the large number of Great Blue Herons that visit the site as well as a large number of crayfish found in our collection nets. Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.


Pohick Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Thursday, June 22, 4:00-6:30pm

Where: Pohick Creek Stream Valley Park, Springfield

This site along Pohick Creek runs adjacent to the Cross County Trail and features a family- and pet-friendly walking trail in addition to cool stream critters. Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.

More Training and Stream Monitoring Opportunities

Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NVSWCD) is very excited to contribute their stream data to state and national datasets. If you’d like to see data from all the NVSWCD regional stream monitoring team’s active sites, you can find NVSWCD organization on the Clean Water Hub.

Third Annual Dragonfly Count, June 25th

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Sunday, June 25, 2023
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Cost: Free

Registration is REQUIRED.

The Clifton Institue
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187

Join volunteers at the Clifton Institute for the third annual Dragonfly Count! The goals are to learn which species of dragonflies and damselflies are found in the area, to monitor changes in their populations, and to encourage everyone to learn more about Odonates. The map of the count circle is here. The circle includes a wide variety of aquatic habitats, including a sphagnum bog, fish-free marshes, lakes with abundant lily pads, and a variety of clean streams and rivers that range from tiny seeps all the way up to the Rappahannock River. This interesting area has not received as much study as nearby northern Virginia, but 72 species of dragonflies and damselflies have already been documented inside the circle. In 2022, volunteers found 55 species of dragonflies and damselflies, including Laura’s and Rapids Clubtails, Sphagnum Sprite, Appalachian Jewelwing, Amber-winged Spreading, Lilypad Forktail, and Turquoise Bluet. Who knows what else they will find this year! The circle will be divided into several areas, which teams of people will cover, similar to a Christmas Bird Count or NABA butterfly count. Organizers will let you know where to meet closer to the date. The count is open to people of all experience levels. They welcome dragonfly experts as well as anyone who is interested in learning about these fascinating insects.

This event is free but registration is required. Email Bert Harris ([email protected]) with any questions or if you would like to lead one of the teams. Please let Bert know if you live inside the count circle and you have a fish-free pond or marsh or a pond with lily pads or other emergent aquatic vegetation on your property that you would like to be included in the count. Organizers are partnering with the Fauquier County Parks and Recreation Department, Goose Creek Association, Virginia Outdoors Foundation, and White House Farm Foundation on this event.

Dragonfly Identification Workshop, June 17th

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Saturday, June 17, 2023
11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Cost: Free

Registration is REQUIRED.

The Clifton Institue
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187

Dragonflies and damselflies are some of the most mysterious and beautiful animals that live at the Clifton Institute, and June is the perfect time to search for them. This workshop will cover the basics of dragonfly identification and biology. Participants will then practice what they have learned by visiting lakes, streams, and fish-free vernal pools, each of which host distinct dragonfly communities. You are welcome to bring a lunch and eat on the picnic tables after the program.

Bobolink Walk, June 15th

Photo by Kathlin Simpkins

Thursday, June 15, 2023
7:30 – 9:00 am
Cost: Free

Registration is REQUIRED.

The Clifton Institue
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187

Join this visit to an active Bobolink nesting colony in partnership with the friends at Virginia Working Landscapes! Bobolinks are unique and beautiful birds that select hay fields for nesting. Sadly, they are declining as a result of nest losses from cutting the hay early in the summer. Participants should enjoy views of adults and fledglings and hear their wonderful song that is reminiscent of R2-D2. The private property we will visit still hosts these wonderful birds because the owners delay haying until the Bobolinks have finished nesting. You should also see a variety of other breeding birds such as Purple Martins, Grasshopper Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Blue Grosbeaks.