Summer Creatures of The Night, July 14

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Friday, July 14, 2023
7:30 – 9:30 pm
Cost: Free

Registration is REQUIRED.

The Clifton Institue
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187

Come join members of The Clifton Institute to look and listen for creatures of the night! Summer is an ideal time to observe several species of katydids, crickets, cicadas and birds. Participants will also look for beavers, reptiles and amphibians, and other animals! Back at the farmhouse attendees will see what kinds of moths and beetles are attracted with black lights. Hope to see you there!

Great News to Share About the FMN Chapter Project at Mason Neck State Park – Volunteers Are Still Needed

FMN Chapter Project update and photo from Sarah Mayhew, President, Fairfax Chapter Virginia Master Naturalists:

After three very busy workdays, the Mason Neck State Park Pollinator Gardens are looking great. Fairfax Master Naturalists, working with volunteers from the Friends of Mason Neck State Park, have weeded four flower beds around the Visitors Center building. They installed 50 plants into rock hard ground. Finally, the beds were aerated with garden forks and top dressed with a 5-inch-thick layer of compost.  June 17th marked the last scheduled workday. The volunteers cleaned out two of the rain barrels and sat up soaker hoses in two of the beds in front of the Visitors Center. A third rain barrel was examined to figure out why it wasn’t holding water.  Now, it is time to switch to a “maintenance” schedule. The project will need volunteer support on the second Saturday and the second Tuesday of each month.

The project also has a focus on the Meadow or Circle Garden, which is a fenced area in the middle of the road when you drive up to the Visitors’ Center. This garden has well-established sun-loving flowers, shrubs and trees. A volunteer from the Friends has been spreading arborist wood chips in this area for several weeks. There is a need to spread some compost around the established plants to give them a boost as well as a need to help the Friends finish spreading the wood chips.

Helpful tools for this work include shovels, pitch forks, and rakes to spread the compost and wood chips. If you have a wheelbarrow or cart, please bring it to carry the compost and wood chips short distances to the Meadow Garden. Seeing a finished flower bed at the end of two hours brings great satisfaction. PLEASE, come join us, and become a part of this wonderful FMN Chapter Project!  Sign up is easy; just click this link:

In addition to the regular workdays, volunteers from both organizations have watered every other day to keep the seedlings alive (there are slots on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and a weekend day). This is an easy job, as the hose is right in front of the Visitors’ Center and reaches to all the beds. The Friends have done most of the watering so far. FMN volunteers are needed to help support watering the beds during weeks in July and August. It would be best to have someone claim a slot for a month, this would give the volunteer time to become familiar with the gardens. However, feel free to volunteers as your schedule will allow.  Please contact Sarah Mayhew at [email protected] to volunteer for watering. When you volunteer you get free entrance into the park and can spend the rest of the day kayaking, hiking and birding. Or you can just sit, listen to the birds sing, read a good book, and admire the view across Belmont Bay. The park even provides rocking chairs!

Help Count Butterflies on July 1 at Occoquan Bay

Photo by Plant NOVA Natives, Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Saturday, July 1, 2023
8:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Occoquan Bay NWR,
13950 Dawson Beach Road
Woodbridge, VA, 22191

Participation is limited. To sign up, email Tina at [email protected].

Volunteers are needed for the upcoming North American Butterfly Association butterfly count at Occoquan Bay on July 1, starting at 8:00AM. No previous experience is required, and beginners will be grouped with more experienced volunteers. This is a great opportunity to learn more about local butterfly species, enjoy some lovely summer weather, and give back by volunteering.

Click here for more information.

Invasive Removal Grant Opportunity for Communities in Fairfax County

Photo: FMN Margaret Fisher, Trees being engulfed by invasive plants

The wooded common areas of community associations and places of worship are not only amenities for humans but also important elements of the infrastructure, cooling the environment and soaking up stormwater that otherwise causes downstream flooding. The woods are also home for many non-human neighbors. In times past, these areas would take care of themselves, but those days are past in Fairfax County. The trees are under numerous threats, but the invasive non-native tree-killing plants constitute one of the worst of them. Invasive plant removal and management can be achieved with dedicated leadership, expertise, long-term planning, and funding. This grant program is intended to help communities start that process and to provide some funding opportunity.

Audubon At Home mini-grants of $3,000 are available. Applications are due August 15. Learn more here.

My Ball Lightning Encounter

Feature photo: A long-term underground coal fire produces a surface manifestation (steam) in Centralia, PA (June 2001), adjacent to the St. Ignatius cemetery. This is located about 3 miles from the ball lightning observation site.

Article, photo and illustration by FMN Stephen Tzikas

One of the rarest events in nature a Master Naturalist might encounter is ball lightning. Ball lightning is typically a small luminous ball hovering and moving just above the ground around the time of thunderstorms. Variations can exist. I surmise I once witnessed it, and as a scientist I immediately began taking mental notes of it as I observed it. I was sky gazing with friends. On July 24, 1999, at 10:15 PM, I observed a strange object materialize in front of me (less than 20 feet away). It moved upward and

Illustration 1 by Author: My ball lightning encounter was in the shape of a whirling rod. Bushes are to the left of the abandoned road. Two streetlights are in the background with a concrete road barrier between them as it is a closed abandoned road.

forward (about half a foot), and dematerialized, in a short period of about 5 seconds or less. The object was a flamelike consistency and the same color as orange fire. It appeared 3 feet over the road pavement. The rotating bent-rod like shaped object had its long axis parallel to the ground, and was about 1 ½ – 2 feet in length, and 3 inches in width. It flickered slightly in color with a touch of yellow. My camera went dead when I tried to take a photograph of it.

It had just been raining that evening. The materialization and dematerialization of the plasma-like rod looked similar to the process in the original Star Trek TV series transporter to materialize and dematerialize. It was completely silent and I did not notice an odor associated with electrical activity (such as ozone). No heat generation was felt, nor did I experience any psychological effects.

I was in Mount Carmel, PA, on an abandoned road near the corner of Hillside Drive and S. Pine Street. The abandoned road extends from Hillside Drive to Rt. 61. It heads in the direction of the town of Centralia which had been abandoned due to an underground coal fire. My photograph of the fuming ground in Centralia is at the intersection of Locus Avenue (Rt. 61) and South Street (a pull off parking area adjacent to the St. Ignatius cemetery). My ball lightning observation was on a hill top, which might have some significance. Some of the reactive underground activity in Centralia could have driven the electric potential needed for the creation of the ball lighting to an uphill location such as where I was.

I’ve known people who have claimed to see similar activity, which in a broader classification not only includes ball lightning but other rare phenomena such as Earth lights and St. Elmo’s fire. One person was aware of such activity in the Hudson Valley of NY and kept alert for it during his sky gazing activities. He once photographed a floating ball shaped object with short tentacles. A trained observer will take care to eliminate common confounding objects such as illuminated insects and airborne dust that might reflect distant light sources, or be an artifact of the photographic instrument itself (flash or infrared beam). Nighttime photography and video recording, under different meteorological conditions and with different types of recording instruments, can have some interesting and unexpected effects. Another upstate NY observer told me that a faint ball lightning orb approached him and went through him. He noted a short “high sensation” similar to a strong “caffeine buzz.” He contended to have developed a skin rash from it.

Another person I knew in Leesburg, Virginia said he witnessed a small orb of ball lightning inside a home (a couple inches in diameter) that was moving toward him. He decided to touch it and the resulting shock left him unconscious for a couple minutes. Perhaps it came into the house unnoticed, as ball lightning is said to pass through glass windows easily. It can move with varying speeds but typically moves slowly such as the speed of a walking human.

According to some statistical investigations, ball lightning had been seen by 5% of the population of the Earth. I would have thought that 5% was quite a large number. But then again, since I have known a few people who have seen it, perhaps 5% is not unreasonable. Moreover, almost all of us have seen another spectacular type of atmospheric manifestation called the auroras. If you see ball lightning please take care and don’t be tempted to touch it. It is an electrical phenomenon that can electrocute you if it is of high enough voltage. The two people I knew were lucky to survive the bout of unconsciousness and the skin issue with their respective encounters. Since it is electrical it also has the ability to be attracted to you as if you were a lightning rod. Use some caution and maintain your distance. See the internet for images and videos of ball lightning that were recorded.



Celebrate National Moth Week! Workshop with Judy Gallagher, July 24

Photo: Io Moth by Judy Gallagher

Monday, July 24, 2023
7:00 – 8:00 PM

This is a Virtual meeting.

FREE, but registration is required

Join Judy Gallagher for a workshop on moths, to celebrate National Moth Week (NMW), July 22-30. Did you know that many adult moths eat nectar but others don’t eat at all as adults? “Moth-ers” of all ages and abilities are encouraged to join this workshop to help learn about, observe, and document moths in your backyards, parks, and neighborhoods. NMW offers everyone, everywhere a unique opportunity to become a citizen scientist and contribute scientific data about moths. Through partnership with major online biological data depositories, NMW participants around the globe can help map moth distribution and provide needed information on other aspects of their life history. Judy Gallagher is a member of the ASNV board, and, although she loves birding, she is most passionate about documenting insects and spiders and their behavior and environment through macro photography.

NABA Butterfly Count, July 22

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Saturday, July 22, 2023
9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Cost: Free

Registration is REQUIRED.

The Clifton Institue
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187

Every year community scientists help count the butterflies in 15-mile-diameter circles all around the country and contribute their data to the North American Butterfly Association. This summer The Clifton Institute will host their 28th annual butterfly count and celebrate their 21st year contributing data to NABA. Butterfly enthusiasts of all levels of experience are welcome! If you feel like you don’t know many butterflies, this is a great way to learn and it’s always helpful to have more eyes pointing out butterflies. Participants will be assigned to small teams, led by an experienced butterfly counter. Information about your team will be shared closer to the date. Each team will survey a variety of sites within the Institute’s count circle.  Unless your leader says otherwise, participants will meet at the Clifton Institute at 9:00 AM. Everyone will meet back at the Institute at 3:00 PM to tally the results over cold drinks (provided).

Butterfly Identification Workshop, July 7

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Friday, July 7, 2023
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Cost: Free

Registration is REQUIRED.

The Clifton Institue
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187

Come join members of The Clifton Institute to learn about butterfly identification and biology. Bert Harris will give a presentation on the identification of common butterflies in our area. Participants will then take a walk around the field station to look for butterflies (and perhaps some dragonflies as well.) All skill levels welcome!

Welcome Lightning Bugs! Fireflies! (Beetles who light up their bums) to Wolf Trap National Park, July 18th

Photo: “firefly 2010 06 09 092, Photinus pyralis” by Terry Priest is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Event Details

Use this link to register:…

Cover your flashlights and phone with red film. Red film with be available.

Nature will provide the fireflies and music, the symphony of the nocturnal creatures.

A talk about fireflies will be given by Alonso Abugattas, The Capital Naturalist, about all of their mystery and magic.

Link to talk:

Information about how to use artificial light at night responsibly will be provided. Artificial light at night prevents the fireflies from finding dates, to find mates to make little baby fireflies. Learn what you can do to protect them and save them from extinction.

Bring a chair, blanket, a dessert and a drink. Wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking on uneven ground. Come prepared to savor the night as Mother Nature designed it, in this treasure of Wolf Trap National Park. And most of all come to have fun dancing with the fireflies!

Event will proceed rain or shine.

More about fireflies: