Sangha Stewards Applications Open Now!

Image courtesy of Earth Sangha

Sangha Stewards Application here.

Earth Sangha is excited to announce that they’re opening applications for their Sangha Steward program! The Sangha Stewards is a way for volunteers looking for more independent and technical work to join them at their nursery, field sites, and office to help them manage more complex tasks and receive extra training.

Sangha Stewards will be invited to work more closely with their staff and to join their monthly staff training sessions (they’ll have snacks!). Days and times are more flexible and they’re looking to work with their Stewards to develop their skills and what sort of work they’re most interested in.

They have four categories for Sangha Stewards:

Nursery and Propagation: While they already do a lot of potting up, they frequently have species that need a little bit more detailed care: perhaps it’s a tray with mixed species, maybe they have delicate seedlings that need to be teased apart, or they need someone with a keen eye and a steady hand to remove weeds among rare or sensitive native plants. Or maybe you just want to relax and help them hand water through the summer. This is work that can be done independently or as part of our regular volunteer days.

Building and Infrastructure: They always have a backlog of maintenance and construction tasks at the nursery, whether it’s adjusting irrigation lines or helping them build more oak and hickory rodent exclosures. If you’re handy with tools, they could use the help here!

Invasives and Field Sites: The invasives never sleep, so they could use an extra set of eyes and hands out at some of their field sites. This could mean checking sites periodically for Early Detection Rapid Response species or even doing a little bit of independent pulling or helping them lead volunteers at their field days. They’ll make sure to familiarize you with their sites and train you on the species and areas they’re looking to target. Keeping invasive vines off their Habitat Refuges will be one of their top priorities.

Office: For those of you who would rather be inside, they do need periodic help at their office. It may not be as frequent as the other categories, but printing labels and helping them organize their Acorn newsletter mailings would be a big help!

If you’re interested in joining, they’ve put together a Google Form you can fill out (see link above) and Michaelanne will be in touch soon. (If you have any questions, please see the volunteer page of our website or email Michaelanne at [email protected].) As they’re beginning this program, they’re going to limit the number of spots; as they grow, if folks are interested, they can open up this opportunity to more people.

Submit Your Best Bird Photos to the 2024 Audubon Photography Awards, deadline February 28th

Photo: Green-winged Teals, James Fatemi/Audubon Photography Awards

The 2024 Audubon Photography Awards is now accepting photographs until February 28. This prestigious contest attracts photographers from around the country to compete for 9 prizes. Winning photographs will be published in Audubon’s Magazine and on their website. We have wonderful natural resources here in Virginia and some very talented photographers! We hope you will submit your best photos for consideration. In the last two years we have had two high school students from Northern Virginia win Honorable Mention. This year’s Youth Prize is a free ticket to Hog Island’s Audubon Camp for Teens. Enter your photos here or see the full rules here. Check out some tips and tricks to photograph birds here. Need some inspiration? View the top 100 photos from last year’s contest here.

The Magic of Winter Trees: Making a Deeper Connection

Photo: Plant NOVA Natives/Plant NOVA Trees

Article by Cindy Speas, Fairfax County Tree Commission

Winter is a lovely time to get to know your trees better. Many folks spend some of the colder days of January and February planning their spring gardens, winter sowing, or putting in nursery orders for spring delivery of native plants. Dreams of warmer days are lovely, but if you have trees in your yard or a nearby park, winter might also be the time to learn how to appreciate and protect their incredible beauty.

When our trees are bare of leaves, you can visualize more clearly their beautiful shapes, identify some species characteristics and assess their health status. There are several local organizations that provide winter educational hikes or webinars to examine and learn about our forests, including Nature ForwardVirginia Native Plant Society – Potowmack Chapter, Capital Nature, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, Prince William Conservation Alliance, and others.

If you haven’t taken a long walk or hike in the winter before, it’s time to bundle up and head out on the trail. Even if you aren’t an experienced birder, it’s often easier at this time of year to observe hawks, owls, or other raptors at work. Smaller birds can be spotted searching tree bark or leaf litter for insects and berries, and mammals often make a long-distance appearance as they look for food. Native evergreens or the lovely marcescent (persistent) leaves on oaks and beeches provide beautiful color among the gray tree trunks. While you may not want to linger for contemplation, if you walk gently, there is a type of forest bathing you can experience surrounded by the still, silent trees in the chilly air. One of the loveliest things you can see in a winter forest is found by looking up to the sky:  it is in this season that you can see how the tree canopy develops—trees grow side-by-side leaving a path around each canopy’s branches so that sunlight may reach down to the forest floor. This is called canopy shyness. While more common in rain forests, these fascinating patterns of sky and crown branching can sometimes be seen in groupings of the same tree species, and are spectacular to observe.

For those that love to undertake vigorous outdoor work in the winter, now is the time to protect our trees by starting to pull, dig, or hack and squirt the invasives in your yard or to volunteer for similar ongoing activities in your community. With the exception of a few native evergreens, almost all the large swaths of green you see in your neighborhood and along the roads are invasive, non-native plants—from Wintergreen to Vinca, to English Ivy, from Privet to non-native Holly species, to Bamboo. You can find organizations with volunteer opportunities on the Plant NOVA Trees website. Invasive plants displace the tree seedlings that are essential for our future forests, and some of them directly kill the larger trees.

So, if you want to learn about trees, to more closely observe nature, to find quiet time for spiritual reflection, or to vigorously get rid of tree enemies, winter is a magical time to spend outside in the stillness and beauty of the forest.


CE – Blue Bird Trail at River Farm, March 7th

New on-line CE opportunity for FMN.

When: Thursday evening, March 7th at 7pm.
How long: Approximately 1 hour
Description: Eastern Bluebirds were once as common as robins in Northern Virginia until the early 20th century when introduced species, habitat loss and pesticides caused alarming population declines. Join in to learn how this lovely species has made a heartening comeback and how Fairfax Master Naturalists are helping at Washington’s River Farm.

Presenter: FMN Susan Farmer is a longtime Blue Bird nesting box monitor at Huntley Meadows and a member of Virginia Blue Bird Society. She is the FMN liaison for the FMN-AHS partnership and recently organized the installation of 8 nesting boxes at River Farm. An article on that installation may be found in this newsletter.

This is an FMN only CE session and registration is required via Better Impact (BI) by 5 March.

To register:
1. Login to BI and click on your ‘Opportunities’ tab.
2. Select ‘Opportunity Calendar’ from the pull-down list.
3. Find event in the displayed calendar and click on it to see event details.
4. To sign up, click on the ‘Sign Up’ box in the lower right. This automatically signs you up and puts the event on your personal calendar.
5. To claim 1 CE hour: please use “All Continuing Education -> FMN All other Chapter Training”, as the Approved Org.

6. The Zoom session link will be sent to all who register by 5 March. The email will be sent to the email of record in BI. The session will be recorded.

River Farm Blue Bird Boxes and a Ha-Ha.

January 13, 2024 – FMN was able to kick-off the stewardship activity to replace and monitor the Blue Bird Boxes at River Farm.

FMN Susan Farmer with Bob Farmer

Susan Farmer is the FMN coordinator for service and citizen science activities at River Farm. When the American Horticultural Society (AHS) notified her that the donated boxes were in, she organized FMN volunteers to help Jack, the River Farm groundskeeper, with installation. Eight boxes were replaced and ten sad boxes were removed and salvaged for parts.

The long-term plan is to officially monitor and maintain the boxes. To officially monitor and report hours to the Virginia Blue Bird Society requires training, so Susan is arranging that for early March. Susan is also creating a presentation for an FMN CE program. Along with general history of bluebird trails and how they have helped bring back the bluebird, she will discuss specifics on the River Farm opportunity.

Parts in the cart for 8 boxes – photo Jerry Nissley

As an aside to this … notice the Ha-Ha Wall (or saut de loup) behind the chain in the river view photo. You don’t see it? That is precisely the intended illusion. These walls are a feature developed by the French in the 1600s. Chateaus and estates would incorporate Ha-Has in landscape design to prevent access to a garden by, for example, grazing livestock, without obstructing pastoral views. I’ve seen these now at Gunston Hall, Mount Vernon, and here. River Farm was once owned by George Washington.

Crude illustration of a Ha-Ha -graphic by WikiMedia Commons

For the garden design enthusiasts among us … the name Ha-Ha was first used in print in Dezallier d’Argenville’s 1709 book, The Theory and Practice of Gardening. He explains that the name derives from the exclamation of surprise viewers would make on recognizing the optical illusion.

Mount Vernon incorporates Ha-Has on its grounds as part of the landscaping for the mansion built by George Washington’s father, Augustine Washington. President Thomas Jefferson built a Ha-Ha at the southern end of the South Lawn of the White House, which was an eight-foot wall with a sunken ditch meant to keep the livestock from grazing in his garden. Yes, livestock used to graze the White House lawns.

A Ha-Ha view – photo Jerry Nissley

A 21st-century use of a Ha-Ha is at the Washington Monument to minimize the visual impact of security measures. After 9/11 and another unrelated terror threat at the monument, authorities put up jersey walls to prevent motor vehicles from approaching the monument. The temporary barriers were later replaced with a new Ha-Ha, a low 30 inch granite stone wall that incorporated lighting and doubled as a seating bench. It received the 2005 Park/Landscape Award of Merit.

FMNs Kristin, Susan, Donna, Sarah, Jerry, Monica, and Paul – photo Jerry Nissley

But I digress … we had a great winter’s day start to this wonderful stewardship opportunity at River Farm. Thank you to the 7 FMN that helped Jack on installation-day. We look forward to working with other volunteers and staff to learn more about River Farm and grow this partnership in 2024.

FMN CE – Woodcock Night Hike at Huntley Meadows

What: FMN CE Evening Woodcock Walk for Virginia Master Naturalists
When: on Friday, March 8th from 5:30-7pm
Where: Huntley Meadows Park – South Kings Hwy entrance
Meet at in the parking lot.
How long: Approximately 2 hours.
Group limit: 15 individuals

Take an evening stroll with a park naturalist through the forest to one of the park’s largest meadows. Listen for the call of the male woodcock and hopefully see his amazing courtship dance and flight. Bring a flashlight. Approximately 1.5 mile walk on uneven terrain. Canceled if rain. Meet at the South Kings Highway entrance to the park.

To register:
1. Login to BI and click on your ‘Opportunities’ tab.
2. Select ‘Opportunity Calendar’ from the pull-down list.
3. Find event in the displayed calendar and click on it to display event details.
4. To sign up, Click on the ‘Sign Up’ box in the lower right. This automatically signs you up and puts the event on your calendar.
5. To claim 2 CE hours: use All Continuing Education -> FMN All other Chapter Training

Cover photo courtesy of FCPA

Enrollment for 2024 Fairfax Tree Steward (FTS)Training Class Open!

Photo: Courtesy of the Fairfax Tree Stewards (FTS)

From Brenda Frank, President

Join the 2024 Fairfax Tree Steward (FTS) training class. Apply here:   See information about the training here: Current FTS Tree Stewards may audit the classes at no cost for continuing education. The program will accept 20 applicants in order of submission. Enrollment closes on February 26, 2024.

The training program will begin on February 27, 2024. Trainees will be required to attend all 10 sessions and field work of approximately 1½ hours each. Make-ups will be accepted for two sessions. All of program instructors are experienced certified arborists. A detailed syllabus will be available soon.

The first and last sessions will be “live,” at a location central to all trainees. The other sessions will be on Zoom and recorded to enable makeup and review. Field sessions on pruning, tree ID, tree selection, and tree diagnostics will be on weekends interspersed among the class sessions.

Become a Fairfax Tree Steward. Sign up today!  

Fairfax Master Naturalists Donate to Mason Neck State Park

Article and photo by Sarah Mayhew

As part of FMN Chapter Project at Mason Neck State Park, FMN budgeted funds in 2023 to assist the Park maintain its pollinator gardens.  The Park requested that we use the funds to purchase equipment that will assist with that mission.  We delivered a gorilla garden cart, a Stihl battery-operated weed whacker and a battery-operated hedge clipper to the Park on January 7, 2024.  Shown with the equipment are Chief Ranger, Visitor Services Jaime Leeuwrik (also our Chapter’s Co-Advisor) with Ranger Alex Dullea accepting our donation.

Our Chapter Project has been dormant but will soon resume activity.  If you are interested in designing informational signs, please join us.  Contact Sarah Mayhew for details ([email protected] with MNSP in the subject line).

We will soon begin garden workdays.  Since we are joined by volunteers from the Friends of Mason Neck State Park, our sign up for these workdays will be via a Sign Up Genius link.  It will be posted to the Google Group with workdays expected to begin in early March.  For more information, contact Sarah as above.

Native Plants of Freshwater Tidal Communities, March 3

Photo of Wild Rice by Mr. Nelson DeBarros

Sunday, March 3, 2023
3:00 PM

No registration is required.
This is an in-person program (no remote option).

Join this presentation on the native plants of Northern Virginia’s freshwater tidal marshes by Nelson DeBarros, a vegetation ecologist with the Fairfax County Park Authority.  The talk will cover several area marshes and their plants, like wild rice, spatterdock and cattails.

The meeting is in person at the Huntley Meadows Visitor Center, 3701 Lockheed Boulevard, Alexandria (Fairfax County) (

The cosponsors of the program are Plant NOVA Natives, Northern Virginia Trout Unlimited, Virginia Native Plant Society, Potowmack Chapter, Friends of Little Hunting Creek, Friends of Accotink Creek and the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park.

Know Your Natives: Deer Tolerance, webinar February 21st

Photo: PennState Extension

Thursday, February 21, 2024
7 – 8 pm
Registration required.

The Penn State Master Gardeners of Westmoreland County presents an informational session on deer-tolerant native plants in the Know Your Natives series. Deer can be both majestic and challenging visitors to our gardens. In this webinar, we’ll explore native plants that have evolved strategies to withstand deer browsing, providing you with valuable insights into creating a garden that thrives even in the company of these troublesome herbivores.

Attend this hour-long webinar to explore gardening methods for coexisting with local deer, understanding plant factors that deter them, and identifying deer-tolerant species for a diverse, beautiful garden.