The Tree Trimming Scammers

Article by Cindy Speas, Chair of the Fairfax County Tree Commission

The doorbell rings, and at your door is a young man who says, “Hello, I was driving by and noticed your trees need some pruning. I’ve been working at your neighbor’s house, and thought I’d stop and offer you the same deal!”

It must be spring. We often hear about telephone or online financial scams, but what about the “woodchucks” or tree scammers that arrive at your door? These are seasonal workers, usually untrained, uncertified, and unlicensed.  Beware! They come bearing disaster for our trees, as well as our wallets.

Last spring Fairfax County posted a great article about the tree trimming scam. One police officer is quoted as saying this is “one of the most pervasive criminal problems this county is facing right now.” It happens in all seasons, of course, when trucks drive by looking for accessibility ramps or seniors working in their yards, or in spring seeking “unkempt” yards. So, if you have a yard full of native plants and little lawn, and you wait for just the right time after winter to clean up your beds, you could be a target.

These folks are not arborists and may remove living wood or, at worst, “top” your healthy tree. When the growing end of every tree limb or branch is lopped off, the tree can lose as much as 75% of its leaves, which provide a majority of the tree’s food. When a tree is weakened by less food and water, it becomes vulnerable to insect, sun and wind damage. These stresses mean that the tree may not survive the butchering. When you see a lot of fast growing shoots where major limbs were cut, that is a major sign of stress and poor health. Many municipalities and counties have great resources for resisting this fraudulent behavior. Here’s one from Fairfax County: It’s one thing to spend—or even overspend­—on taking out a dead limb, but quite another to fall for the “just let us prune your trees and everything will be fine” pitch. And don’t forget, untrained workers may use spikes on their boots because they are not taught the best practices of a reputable tree care specialist. This is highly damaging to the health of your trees.

Our trees are critical to our quality of life, and to the economic value of our homes, but they are threatened by “woodchucks.” Become informed about tree care—a good arborist can be as valuable to the life of your tree as a good electrician or plumber is to the life of your home. It is worth taking the time to find out if these solicitors are licensed and insured, certified in their area of expertise, and have good recommendations. Compare and weigh the costs and benefits of particular work that you know you need—don’t take the cheapest and easiest course of action. Be a good consumer and do the research. Just say NO to the door-to-door solicitor and yes only to the company YOU call that has good reviews, an arborist on staff, and free initial consultations.

Beware! Your beautiful trees are counting on you to speak for them and protect them.


Build a Mini Bird Sanctuary

Article by Plant NOVA Natives

Photo: Common Grackle by Paula Sullivan

The best sanctuaries for birds are undisturbed expanses of forests and meadows. Anyone can see that those are rapidly disappearing in Northern Virginia, and where they remain, they are rapidly shrinking below the size needed for many bird species. Those in charge of any patch of land can help some of these birds by adding plants to expand the habitat value of nearby parks and natural areas.

The partnering organizations that together make up Plant NOVA Natives are inviting individuals and communities to participate in a “Bird Sanctuary Planting Weekend,” October 25-28. People will be installing native canopy trees and understory plants all on the same weekend, all across the region, in a big celebration of trees and the natural world. In Fairfax County, the first twenty faith communities to apply will receive a free “mini bird sanctuary” – a native canopy tree and two native shrubs – assuming they have an appropriate location, as confirmed by volunteers who will be doing site visits to help the communities evaluate their properties for opportunities to improve habitat.

What does it take to provide sanctuary for birds? The first requirement is that the plants be native to the local ecosystem. This is because the diet of baby birds consists primarily of caterpillars, and most caterpillars can only eat the plants with which they evolved. By far the biggest source of food for caterpillars is the leaves of large native shade trees, by virtue of their immense canopy compared to smaller plants. The second requirement is to provide food for the adults. Adult birds also require caterpillars and other bugs for protein. They also need the seeds and fruits from the smaller native trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers that are tailor-made for their nutritional needs (unlike those of many non-native plants.) Different bird species feed and nest at different heights from the ground, so native plants are needed at all levels. You may notice, for example, the preference of sparrows and robins for the ground layer, bluebirds for the shrubs, bluejays higher still, and woodpeckers in the canopy. (The fact that some birds require the lower levels is the reason why it is so imperative to keep cats indoors.)

Another reason to install native plants at the ground layer Is that many of those caterpillars feeding up in the trees spend part of their life cycles sheltering on the ground. They cannot find the habitat they need in mounds of mulch, not to mention in lawns where they get chopped up by lawn mowers. What does provide shelter is native perennials and dead leaves.  So once you have your trees and shrubs in place, you can have the fun of exploring the numerous native groundcover options, gradually expanding the landing pad out to the drip line as the trees grow.

Volunteers Needed: Habitat Restoration Project at Occoquan Bay NWR, April 20th

Photo: Courtesy of ASNV, Garlic Mustard

Saturday, April 20, 2024
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Occoquan Bay NWR
14050 Dawson Beach Road
Woodbridge, VA, 22191

This program is part of the Stretch Our Parks initiative, in partnership with the staff of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

On Saturday, April 20, help remove invasive garlic mustard from a meadow in the refuge. Volunteers will partner with Refuge staff, Audubon volunteers and neighbors to make more space in the meadow for native grasses that birds love!

Garlic mustard’s roots release chemicals that alter the important underground network of fungi that connect nutrients between native plants, inhibiting the growth of important native species. Luckily it can be easily removed – but there is a lot of it! Learn more about Garlic mustard here.

No experience necessary! The staff will show you how to identify and remove Garlic mustard. Trash bags will be provided. The area may be muddy so please bring rain boots or waterproof shoes, and gardening gloves if you have them.

Meet at the Central Parking Lot, not at the Visitor Information Center lot. Registration recommended but not required, please feel free to bring a friend!

Birding By Ear for Beginners with Colt Gregory, April 23rd

Photo: Carolina Wren, David Smith/Audubon Photography Awards

Tuesday, April 23, 2024
7:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Virtual Seminar
ASNV Member ticket: $10 (Non-member ticket: $20)

Registration required!

Did you know you don’t even need binoculars to explore the big world of birds? Often it is faster and easier to identify a bird by its song – if you know how to bird by ear. In this program, Colt Gregory will:

  • explain the many benefits of birding by ear

  • introduce some of the most common birds by their songs and calls

  • share resources and apps to help you practice and improve your birding by ear skills.

This program is intended for beginning birders but may be a helpful refresher for more experienced birders. This program welcomes children aged 10+ if they are accompanied by a participating adult.

Colt Gregory is a member of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, Northern Virginia Bird Club, and Arlington Regional Master Naturalists, serving on ARMN’s Training Committee. Colt co-leads the weekly Sunday bird walks at Great Falls National Park and leads several routes in regional Christmas Bird Counts. He enjoys hiking, camping, and birding during both. He believes that Audubon programs provide a better understanding of the relationships among plants, animals, and the environment while giving us all opportunities to volunteer, educate, and learn.

Colt will lead an optional field trip in northern Virginia on Saturday, April 27, 2024, at 8:00 AM for up to 15 local Birding by Ear participants. The fee is $30 per person. Click here to register for the field trip. The field trip is first come, first served, and there will be a waitlist. The field trip will be in Great Falls, VA. The exact location will be shared only with field trip registrants.

Volunteers Needed for Earth Day Fairfax 2024, April 20th

Image: Wonder Wagon, courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

Saturday, April 20, 2024
Various shifts
Sully Historic Site
3650 Historic Sully Way, Chantilly

Sign up here.

Join Fairfax County’s largest official Earth Day Event! Earth Day Fairfax is a day-long extravaganza featuring workshops, vendors, and activities to help us improve our environment and health. The event attracts nearly 5,000 people from across Fairfax County. Volunteers are needed to fill shifts in a variety of capacities.  Possibilities include set up and take down, and attendants for nature activities, the stage, the ice rink, and the golf station.  There’s something for everyone.

This is a fabulous volunteer opportunity for service hours and making a difference in your community.

Earth Day Fairfax, April 20th

Image:  Fairfax County Park Authority

Saturday, April 20, 2024
10am – 4pm
Sully Historic Site
3650 Historic Sully Way, Chantilly
Free admission, parking $10 per car

Discover the world around you with hands-on activities, games, entertainment and fun at Earth Day 2024. See the inaugural Wonder Wagon, Fairfax County Park Authority’s Mobile Nature Center! Enjoy outdoor discovery activities, interactive nature exhibites, furry farm friends, food trucks, earth-friendly vendors craft beer garden, obstacle course, live music and entertainment, FREE giveaways, Sully Historic House tours, meet WUSA9 Meteorologist Topper Shunt and the ECO9 Broadcast Truck. Learn more here.

City Nature Challenge, April 26th – 29th

Image:, Washington DC metro area

Friday, April 26 – Monday April 29, 2024 take photos of wild plants and animals

Tuesday, April 30 – Sunday, April 5, 2024 identification of what was found

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!

Annual Fairfax County Spring Watershed Cleanup, Several Dates in April

Photo: Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority Clean up


Registration for the annual Fairfax County Spring Watershed Cleanup in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Fairfax County Park Authority is now available at  This year’s cleanup will take place over several dates at over 20 Fairfax County Park locations. Nearly 600 volunteers are needed to help clean up plastic bottles, cans and other debris.

Registration for the 2024 cleanups is now open. Please spread the word!

Event capacity is limited. Please follow instructions about registering in groups in the detail section of the registration pages. You can view a list of all park locations, dates, times, and number of volunteers needed here and below. Locations that still need quite a few volunteers are highlighted in yellow.

Saturday, April 6

Friday, April 12

Saturday, April 13

Cub Run Stream Valley Park Cleanup Locations:

Sunday, April 14

Saturday, April 20

Saturday, April 27

Sunday, April 28

A confirmation email with additional details will be sent to registered volunteers about 3-5 days before the scheduled cleanup. If you have questions between now and then, please let Brynna Strand ([email protected]) know. If the sites reach capacity, you are encouraged to find additional opportunities to volunteer and connect with nature at:

Thank you for your support of our local waterways!

Brynna Strand
Volunteer Coordinator
[email protected]
+1 540 255 5717 (Mobile)

The Nature Conservancy In Virginia
652 Peter Jefferson Pkwy
Ste 190
Charlottesville VA, 22911 U.S.A.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens Seeks Volunteers

Photo courtesy of Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, VA has long had a native plant collection. This collection plays an important role in educating students and the general public about regional native plant conservation. During the last few years, the native plant collection did not receive the attention it needs to thrive. Keith Tomlinson, former long-time manager of Meadowlark and the driving force behind the native plant collection, recently initiated an effort to reinvigorate the collection and is looking for volunteers to help.

Activities will include invasives removal, mulching trails and plantings. Volunteer days will likely be on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning March 5th. For more information, see Meadowlark’s Facebook page or reach out to Keith at [email protected].

The Hidden Worlds Within Ice Sheets and Glaciers, March 19th

Photo: Mouth of the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska (Richard Moore, CC-3.0-BY-SA)

Tuesday, March 19, 2024
7 pm
Sign up on Zoom to watch live or on-demand

The world’s ice sheets and glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates. Meanwhile, one of our best tools to quantify what’s happening beneath the surface remains largely untapped. Geophysicist Dustin Schroeder specializes in ice-penetrating radar: a powerful technique for studying ice sheets and glaciers on Earth and other planetary bodies. In this webinar, he will explore the hidden interiors of ice sheets through radar images and radar sounding data. When brought to their full potential, these tools can help us zero in on some of the most urgent questions surrounding Earth’s ice sheets and glaciers: How do they flow? What controls their behavior, evolution, and stability? And how will they impact sea level rise?

View more SERC Life on a Sustainable Planet webinars