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.

Come to the Mason Neck State Park for Guided First Day Hikes, January 1st


Monday, January 1, 2024

Mason Neck State Park
7301 High Point Rd, Lorton, VA 22079


Join Park Staff on a guided hike this January 1. First Day Hikes are the perfect way to start the year! Each trail is unique, and the leaders will offer information about the park and its plants and animals along the way. The Visitor Center will be open for more hands on activities, and to warm up if needed!

9:30 am: Kane’s Creek to Eagle Spur trail. Roughly a 3.8 mile hike. Packed dirt trail with stairs and roots. Not wheelchair or stroller friendly.

11:30 am: Tundra Swan Hike at the Woodmarsh Trail at Elizabeth Hartwell Refuge.  Approximately 2.5 miles loop. Not wheelchair friendly, Limited space available for this hike only. Recommended for ages 8 and up. Registration is required. Register at

12:00 pm:Dogue Trail hike and roll. Wheelchair accessible. Approximately 0.85 miles, packed gravel trail.

3:00 pm: Family-friendly hike on Bay View Trail. Approximately 1.25 miles, with stops and hands on opportunities for adventure and exploration. Packed dirt surface trail with boardwalks and exposed roots.

The Friends will provide hot coffee and cocoa from 9:00 to 11:30 AM.

Admission and parking are free on January 1. 

Bench Dedication Honors McGlone

Photos and Article By FMN Susan Laume

A group of Fairfax Master Naturalists gathered on Saturday afternoon, December 2nd, to recognize the contributions of retired Virginia forester Dr. Jim McClone.  A bench was dedicated in his honor on a Mason Neck State Park trail, where McClone regularly took naturalists in training to learn tree identification.

Bench plaque expresses gratitude for McGlone’s many years of service to the FMN chapter

Recently retired in June, McGlone is credited with working to establish the Fairfax County chapter, serving as chapter advisor, and teaching dendrology to hundreds of Virginia Master Naturalists students.

Attending with his wife, who McGlone credits with steering him toward his long time career. McGlone also received the thanks of Officer Taylore Willis, representing the State Park. Following the remarks, McGlone again led a winter tree identification; perhaps proving his gum balls don’t yet fall far from his favorite Black Gum trees.

Fairfax Master Naturalists gather to recognize retired forester Jim McClone


Officer Taylore Willis makes remarks on behalf of Mason Neck State Park

McGlone and his wife, who he thanked during the dedication, look forward to spending retirement time together


Afternoon at the Smithsonian – Interpretive Tour of the Museum of Natural History

Photo by FMN Susan Martel, Geology section National Museum of Natural History with FMN Dr. John Kelmelis.

Tuesday, 5 Dec 2023
3:00 to 5:00PM (Tour is approximately 2 hours).
WhereNational Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.
Meet at the information desk in the rotunda beside Henry, the big elephant.
Group limit. 6 individuals

To register:

  1. Login to BI and click on your ‘Opportunities’ tab.
  2. Select ‘Opportunity Calendar’ from the pull-down list.
  3. Find the 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 CE hours: use All Continuing Education -> FMN All other Chapter Training

Bring paper and pencil to take notes if you desire. No recordings please.

FMN Dr. Kelmelis will guide an interpretive tour of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History relevant to Virginia Master Naturalists.  This tour will identify the relationship of some exhibits to the natural environment of Virginia including the geologic history, mineralogy, entomology, osteology, evolution, mammalogy, and many other topics.  Some of the take-aways will include an introduction of how the NMNH’s display collection can be used to enrich the naturalist’s understanding of science, the scientific method, and some techniques that are applicable to naturalists’ domain of interests; as well as some facts related to the natural condition and history of Virginia.

Come to Swanfall at Mason Neck State Park, December 3

Photo: Courtesy of Eagle Fest at Mason Neck State Park
Sunday, 03 Dec 2023
2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Gunston Hall’s Ann Mason Room,
10709 Gunston Road,
Lorton VA

Registration is required.

Get a start on the holiday celebrations with the Friends of Mason Neck State Park’s annual Swanfall event at Gunston Hall’s Ann
Mason Room, 10709 Gunston Road. The celebrations start at 2:00 with a great buffet of meats, cheeses, fruit, vegetables, and special desserts. At 2:45 PM the Friends’ own Randy Streufert will present a program on Bald Eagles.

Randy is an award-winning photographer who has presented several programs for the Friends. Bald Eagles nest in Mason Neck State Park and the adjacent Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge — the first wildlife refuge in the United States that was created specifically to protect Bald Eagle nesting areas. You can learn about these iconic birds and enjoy Randy’s stunning photographs.

Swanfall is open to everyone. Members can attend and bring one guest for $15 per person. Non-members can attend for $20 per
person. You can register for Swanfall 2023 here.


Discovering Bats in the Night Sky, October 1st

Article and Photos by FMN Laura Anderko

On October 1, 2023, FMN offered a hike to its members to learn about and view bats, with expert Deborah Hammerer. The group met at Dyke Marsh trail in Alexandria, VA to discover the many bats native to the area. Deb used a sonar detector to hear the bats echolocating as they hunt for insects. The group was not disappointed! We were treated to dozens of bats including Little brown bats and big brown bats. Adding to the suspense, a barred owl called out into the night while the bats were in flight, catching insects – these birds are hunters of bats….

Photo credit: FMN Laura Anderko, Bat Night 10/01/2023

Deborah offered insights and information about bats. Bats belong to a group of animals called Chiroptera (Kir-op-tera), which means “hand wing.” Bats are the only flying mammal. Using a bat puppet, she described how bats fly.  Deborah described a bat’s wing resembling a human hand — with a flexible skin membrane that extends between each long finger bone and many movable joints. This makes bats acrobatic in their flight, helping them catch insects. They also use echolocation – sending out waves of sound to locate insects during flight. Each night, bats can eat their body weight in insects, numbering in the thousands, reducing disease and helping farmers. Bats are important pollinators too – over 500 plant species rely on bats to pollinate their flowers including mango, banana, guava, and agave. Bats are incredible creatures!

The evening ended with a beautiful moonrise over the Potomac…

Photo credit: FMN Laura Anderko, Bat Night 10/01/2023

FMN Quarterly Chapter Meeting, Graduation, and Presentation by Award Winning Interpretive Manager and Naturalist Suzanne Holland: December 18 at 7:00 PM

Photo credit: Kim Young,  Southern Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys Volans)

Join us as Naturalist and award-winning Interpretive Manager Suzanne Holland presents on Southern Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys volans) – a native of Virginia. Flying squirrels are technically not fliers, but expert gliders, using the membrane between their ribs and ankles to glide. They can cover 150 feet in a single glide!  After the presentation, we will have an opportunity to observe flying squirrels from their feeding boxes.

Suzanne Holland has served Fairfax County residents for over 30 years and was honored by the County for her outstanding contributions when she retired in November 2022. Suzanne was among the first to broaden engagement to diverse communities and to train others about the importance of nature for children and families. She partnered with the Office for Children for over a decade of “teaching the teacher” programs, leading diverse county preschool teachers on methods of teaching about nature. In addition, as a member of the Mason District Task Force on Equity, Suzanne worked with Hidden Oaks Nature Center staff to create opportunities for equity programming for local Latino and Asian communities.

Suzanne Holland and Bob Dinse with Wildlife Tree Sculpture-Photo credit: Jerry Nissley

Among the many awards Suzanne earned over the 30 years at Hidden Oaks, she received the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) S.T.A.R.S. award for outstanding interpretive work, especially in her efforts to educate interpreters for the FCPA.  Other efforts include the creation of Nature Playce (a woodland play area near the Hidden Oaks Nature Center) and the development of monarch butterfly conservation stewardship programming.

Nature Playce (a woodland play area near the Hidden Oaks Nature Center)

Kim Young, FCPS Hidden Oaks’ senior interpreter, will join the presentation. Kim has led dozens of flying squirrel presentations for the Park Authority plus a program for the Friends of Dyke Marsh. She is a flying squirrel-whisperer and will share her recommendations of encouraging these charming creatures to visit your backyard feeding station and nesting boxes. We will be raffling off a flying squirrel feeding box after the presentation!

This event will include a potluck dinner: please feel free to bring a dish to share – appetizer, main dish, or dessert.

FMN members can record one CE hour under Continuing Education – FMN: Chapter Meeting Presentations.

Location: Hidden Oaks Nature Center, 7701 Royce Street, Annandale, VA 22003
Hidden Oaks Nature Center Location

Please note: The main parking lot is in Annandale Community Park at the Packard Center, 4022 Hummer Rd.
Upon entering the park from Hummer Road, take the right fork of the driveway and park in the back of the lot adjacent to the Packard Center. Look for the arch into the woods and follow the Storybook Trail to Hidden Oaks Nature Center. This walk is on an ADA- certified paved trail and is about 75 yards. Follow the adventures of woodland creatures as you weave through the woodland to the Nature Center.

More information about Hidden Oaks:

Leonid Meteor Shower Viewing Party, November 17th

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Friday, November 17, 2023
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Rd
Warrenton, VA 20187

Fee: FREE, but registration is required

Register here.

Every year the Leonids grace the skies with a shower of meteors. On this program you will take advantage of the long winter nights to look for meteors, as well as learn a few constellations and look at the stars through a telescope. There will be a bonfire for some warmth, but you may also want to bring a sleeping bag or blanket, warm drink, and something to recline on like a sleeping pad, poncho, or lawn chair. If Friday is too cloudy for stars, the backup date will be Saturday, November 18.

Cost: Free!

Age: Adults and children accompanied by an adult.

Bring: Please bring warm clothes and a sleeping bag, blanket, and something to lay back on if desired.

Weather policy:Date and time subject to change dependent on weather. Please check your email for updates on the morning of the event.

COVID-19 Information: This program will be entirely outdoors (an outside porta potty will be available). Please do not attend if you are experiencing or have experienced in the last two weeks any symptoms associated with COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath, etc.).

Registration is REQUIRED.

Cancellation policy:
If you register and can no longer attend this event, please let The Clifton Institute know as soon as possible so that they can open your spot to someone else.

By registering for this event, you are affirming that you have read and agree to The Clifton Institute liability release policy.

AHS – Projects and Partnerships

Article by FMN Susan Farmer

Fairfax Master Naturalists  chapter is partnering with the American Horticultural Society (AHS) at their River Farm location in Fairfax County. River Farm is a beautiful 27-acre property located along the George Washington Parkway overlooking the Potomac River that has been AHS headquarters since 1973. The River Farm location is one of George Washington’s original five farms.

AHS headquarters – photo Jerry Nissley

Members of Virginia Master Naturalists, Fairfax Chapter (FMN) will provide volunteers in support of AHS activities as well as promote awareness of AHS educational opportunities inline with the FMN mission.

To help celebrate their 50th year at River Farm, AHS initiated several new projects in 2023. With the help of volunteers, River Farm is replacing the old azalea garden with 2400 native plants, converting a large lawn into a native meadow, renewing all the bluebird boxes, building a greenhouse, and creating an accessible path through the wooded area to the riverfront. FMN will be working with other AHS volunteers and staff to fulfill their vision.

AHS Border garden – photo Jerry Nissley

FMN created three project codes to cover AHS Stewardship projects, Educational programs, and Citizen Science opportunities.

S275: Stewardship Projects at American Horticultural Society River Farm
E275: Educational Projects at American Horticultural Society River Farm
C275: Citizen Science Projects at American Horticultural Society River Farm

AHS formal garden – photo Jerry Nissley

Two opportunities on the top of their list for FMN are the removal of invasive vines to prep for native plantings and to re-establish their bluebird trail. The Invasive Vine Removal Program will be on consecutive Saturday mornings beginning October 7th. Help restructuring the bluebird trail and then subsequently monitoring the boxes will start very soon. FMN Susan Farmer has volunteered to be the FMN liaison for all projects at River Farm.

If you would like to get involved at this national showcase for gardening and horticultural practices along gorgeous river front property, please contact Susan at [email protected]

AHS HQ view from River side – photo Jerry Nissley

Image: Courtesy of Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District

Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District: Soil Your Undies Campaign

Article and Images Courtesy of The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District


Soil Your Undies Campaign

Soil Your Undies Challenge

The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District is challenging residents all across Fairfax County to bury a pair of cotton underwear as part of a campaign to promote soil health awareness. How does it work? Just bury a pair of cotton underwear and dig it back up after at least 60 days. It’s the quick and dirty way to test the microbial activity in your soil. The more the underwear is deteriorated, the healthier your soil!

Although you can use the Soil Your Undies Challenge to check your soil health at any time, the most microbial activity occurs during the warm summer months, making this an easy and fun addition to your summer break plans!

Soil Your Undies Challenge Steps

Join the Challenge!

Step 1: Look for a place where you want to study the health of the soil. Make sure you are only studying sites on your property or with the permission of the landowner.

Step 2: Bury a pair of white cotton undies (or any white cotton clothing item) 3 inches under the soil’s surface. Be sure to take a “before” photo.

Step 3: Don’t forget to mark your study site with a flag or other easily-identifiable marker!

Step 4: Wait at least 60 days (this is the hard part…)

Step 5: Locate your marked study site and dig up your cotton undies. Be sure to take an “after” photo.

Step 6: How healthy is your soil? Healthier soils have a lot of microbial activity, and the healthy fungi and bacteria in the soil will break down your cotton undies. The more degraded your undies are, the more microbial activity you have in your soil, and the healthier your soil is.

Step 7: Share the results of your citizen science project! Email your photos and any notes you may have to [email protected], and share your results with us on Facebook @nvswcd and on Instagram @NorthernVirginiaSWCD. We’ll be sharing our results with you, too!

About Soil Health

Healthy soil contains billions of microbes that consume organic material (in this case, cotton underwear). In fact, one teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microbes than there are people on the planet. In addition to chowing down on organic matter like cotton, they also help soil resist erosion, cycle nutrients, and store water.

As world population and food production demands rise, keeping our soil healthy and productive is of paramount importance. By farming using soil health principles and systems that include no-till, cover cropping, and diverse rotations, more and more farmers are increasing their soil’s organic matter and improving microbial activity. As a result, farmers are sequestering more carbon, increasing water infiltration, improving wildlife and pollinator habitat—all while harvesting better profits and often better yields. In backyards, healthy soil can promote the growth of a healthy lawn and landscaping, as well as help water infiltrate and prevent erosion.

You can improve soil health by following these four steps:

  1. Avoid soil disturbance wherever and whenever possible.
  2. Maximize soil cover with living plants and residue.
  3. Maximize biodiversity by growing a variety of plants and managed integration of livestock.
  4. Maximize living roots in the soil throughout the year.