Sign up to be trained as an Audubon at Home Ambassador

Are you a bird lover who wants to create habitat to attract birds to your or your neighbors’ yards?  Are you a native plant lover?  Are you intrigued by observing wildlife in your own yard?  Do you lament the prevalence of English ivy, and sterile, conventional landscapes and lawns in Fairfax County suburbs?

If so, this is the gig for you!  Sign up to be trained as an Audubon at Home Ambassador and help transform the landscape of Northern Virginia, one yard at a time.

A training/orientation session will be offered Saturday, April 1, at the National Fish and Wildlife Federation headquarters at 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston, from 10 a.m. to 1.  Bring a bag lunch.

Please email Betsy Martin at by Tuesday Feb. 26th if you’d like to sign up. 

Audubon at Home Ambassadors visit properties and provide advice to homeowners on what natives to plant, what invasives to remove, and how to improve wildlife habitat in peoples’ backyards.  We certify properties as Wildlife Sanctuaries when homeowners adopt Best Habitat Practices, and when beneficial Sanctuary Species actually show up and use the yard. (Our motto is, “Let the animals decide.”)  You can learn more about the Audubon at Home program at .

On April 1, Betsy Martin (Fairfax County Audubon at Home Coordinator) will give a presentation on the program and its philosophy, the role of Ambassador, and resources that will help you research and advise clients on native plants and habitat improvements.

After lunch, Charles Smith of Fairfax County Stormwater Planning Division will lead a walk on the beautiful and natural NFWF grounds, showing trainees how to read a landscape, what to look for when assessing its habitat value, and how to think about creating wildlife habitat.

Audubon at Home is an approved FMN service project.  You will receive 3 hours of Continuing Education credit for attending this training session and service credit for each home visit.

Review of The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions, by Peter Brannen

Reviewed by Tami Sheiffer

Studying mass extinction events from tens or hundreds of millions of years ago shows us that life on Earth is both precarious and resilient. In The Ends of the World, science writer Peter Brannen vividly describes the five past mass extinction events: End-Ordovician, Late Devonian, End-Permian, End-Triassic, and End-Cretaceous, and the lessons we can learn from them. This book offers something of interest to anyone interested in natural history, paleontology, geology, climatology, ecology, or evolution.

Brannen paints vivid pictures of life and destruction eons ago, interwoven with his personal tales of travel around the country talking with scientists and visiting paleontological sites. You can preview Brannen’s writing in one of his science articles, like this one titled “A Climate Catastrophe Paved the Way for the Dinosaurs’ Reign,” published in The Atlantic. Occasionally, Brannen’s storytelling risks anthropomorphism, as when he describes the first fish to walk on land in the Devonian as “bold explorers” and “brave pioneers.” However, Brannen’s engaging writing makes this book enjoyable reading for a broad audience.

By studying the causes of past mass extinctions, we find that most were caused by climate change. The Earth’s climate has changed naturally in the past, but drastic changes were violent and caused massive destruction. Life is ultimately resilient, and, eventually, surviving species evolved to repopulate a new Earth, but life after the extinction looked very different from life before. In the most deadly mass extinction, the End-Permian event, nearly all life was wiped out. This extinction event was caused in part by volcanic activity in the Siberian Traps burning underground coal basins and releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Our present day fossil fuel activity has a similar effect of releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but at an even faster rate than in the end-Permian extinction. The overarching theme of the book is that  past mass extinctions can teach us lessons for the present, as we find ourselves in the midst of a sixth mass extinction. This time, human activity is the cause of the extinction–beginning tens of thousands of years ago with the loss of megafauna like marsupial lions, giant kangaroos, woolly mammoths, mastodons, and giant ground sloths due to hunting, and continuing today due to habitat loss and human-induced climate change. This book is ultimately a cautionary tale: learn from the past so we can avoid a catastrophe on the same scale today. 

On March 20, 2019, Peter Brannen will be speaking at an event at the Library of Congress called “Climate Change, Nature, and the Writer’s Eye”, along with distinguished authors Annie Proulx and Amitav Ghosh. The authors will discuss environmental change and a writer’s responsibility to the issue. This event is approved for FMN continuing education credit. The event is free but registration is required. 

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

Turning the tide on plastic waste

The Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge, a key component of National Geographic and Sky Ocean Ventures’ partnership to reduce plastic waste, asks problem solvers from around the globe to develop novel solutions to tackle the world’s plastic waste crisis.

More than 9 million tons of plastic waste end up in our oceans each year, and without interventions, this number is expected to almost double to 17 million tons per year by 2025. The Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge will focus on three strategic ways to address this growing crisis: designing alternatives to single-use plastic, identifying opportunities for industries to address plastic waste throughout supply chains, and effectively communicating the need for action through data visualization.

Teams will compete for aggregate prize purses of up to $500,000, and qualified participating teams may have the opportunity to receive a minimum of $1 million in aggregate investment from Sky Ocean Ventures.

Find out more and apply

Participate in CaterpillarsCount! this spring

Learn about the Fairfax Master Naturalist citizen science project, CaterpillarsCount! (Service code C254 if you’re an FMNer), including the results from last year and plans to continue the project this year. 

FMN efforts are part of a larger study to determine whether seasonal activity of plants, insects, and birds are all responding synchronously to climate change. 

CaterpillarsCount! is part of a National Science Foundation-funded study with University of North Carolina, Georgetown University, and University of Connecticut as lead universities.  Additional volunteers are needed to continue to collect data this year during spring and summer. 

Guest presenters: Elise Larsen, PhD, Georgetown University and Don Coram, PhD, Fairfax Master Naturalist. 

Location:  Walker Nature Center, Reston, VA. 

Date and time:   April 23, 7:00 – 8:00 pm.

The presentation counts toward FMN continuing education credits

Nature photography on the National Mall: Birds, Butterflies, & Tarantulas

The group, led by Barbara Saffir, nature photographer and author, will meet at the FDR Memorial book store/visitor center on the Tidal Basin on Sunday, 24 February 2019 at 8 am, approximately. Then they’ll hike about 4ish miles total — with lots of stops — first along the Tidal Basin looking for snazzy-looking wintering ducks & then onto Constitution Gardens on the National Mall for more ducks and other birds. Perhaps they’ll even stumble upon an albino squirrel, a red fox, or other capital critter. Afterward, our “adults-only” group will head to the Smithsonian’s National Museum for Natural History for its live insect zoo and live butterfly exhibit. The museum opens at 10 am and you need to BUY IN ADVANCE your own individual butterfly tickets for 10:30 am ($7 to $7.50) . The tarantula feeding is at 11:30 a.m. Butterfly tickets are here:

If they aren’t tuckered out by then, they can optionally stop for lunch at the National Gallery of Art’s Pavilion Cafe by the ice skating rink.

Snow/ice cancels entire event. Rain just cancels the hike but they’ll still go to the Smithsonian and then to the indoor U.S. Botanical Garden.

Parking on Ohio Drive should be plentiful at 8 am. National Park Service may have installed meters, as threatened, so read the meters carefully to see if parking is free. Closest Metro is Smithsonian.

You might want to bring both short and long camera lenses. Also, it is 80° and humid inside the butterfly exhibit. They will be in the museum for about a half hour before we enter that room, but you might want to bring a bag to prevent condensation on your camera before or after.

Register here.

Sign up for Belvedere Elementary School’s Eco-Day

Stacey Evers, VMN and Environmental Educator, is looking for master naturalists to present environmental programs to students at Belvedere Elementary School on Thursday, June 6, 2019, as part of their annual Eco-Day. Belvedere is at Columbia Pike and Sleepy Hollow Road in the Bailey’s Crossroads/east Annandale part of Fairfax County and is very close to Arlington. Your preparation time and actual service would apply toward service hours.

Please contact Stacey soonest to engage:

703-346-8530 |

During Eco-Day, grade levels pre-K-5 will circulate through stations of hands-on activities from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. However, they can accommodate a smaller window of time if needed and would welcome one-time presentations and activities such as hikes and surveys that require specific start and end times. The programs could be as simple as sharing a skull or shell collection, identifying insects with students in the pollinator gardens, or sharing activities related to bird beak adaptations. They are also interested in activities that incorporate art or other disciplines beyond science.

You will receive beverages, lunch, and a table and canopy if you need them. That said, presentations/activities must involve hands-on learning or inquiry and not be static displays.

How Recycling Works in Fairfax County, Feb 12th

Thompson Center

6090 Kingstowne Village Parkway, Alexandria, VA 22315

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

7:30 pm

Join Fairfax County Recycling Coordinator Erica Carter as she shares what happens to our recyclables after they’re picked up from our curb and what we can do to reduce the amount of trash we produce. Sponsored by the Kingstowne Cares Conservation Club. View the event on Facebook or Nextdoor.

Hear Mike Bishop on bluebirds, Feb 26

Learn about local efforts to bring back the Eastern Bluebird from Master Naturalist and Virginia Bluebird Society’s 2017 Bluebird of the Year Mike Bishop. He’ll discuss history and recent grassroots efforts to revive populations in Virginia.

Sully Government Center

4900 Stonecroft Blvd, Chantilly, VA

February 26, 7.30-8.30 pm

Admission is free and families are welcome

Approved for continuing education credit for FMN members

Native Plant Sale: Riverbend

Friends of Riverbend Park will hold their 2019 native plant sale on May 4th at the Riverbend Park Outdoor Classroom / Picnic Shelter on Potomac Hills Street in Great Falls.

 Prices are based on plant type and size; quart sized containers start at $8.00, and gallon containers are $12 to $14. 

Pre-ordering started on January 25th and closes on March 16th.  Pre-orders will be available for pick up on Friday, May 3, at the Riverbend Park Outdoor Classroom / Picnic Shelter. 

Email FORB at if you have any questions.  

Take Certified Interpretive Guide classes with Fairfax County Park Authority

Certified Interpretive Guide classes are being offered by the Fairfax County Park Authority March 5-8th 2019.

This certification workshop focuses on the skills needed to interpret natural and cultural resources to an audience allowing them to not just learn about resources but connect to and care about them.

This is a national certification program offered by the National Association for Interpretation hosted by the Fairfax County Park Authority for its staff. It requires no prior knowledge or training.

There are 2 sessions with 5 spots per session open to the public. You can register online.

 The link for the Hidden Oaks Nature center location is

The link for Frying Pan Farm Park is

Classes run from 830am-430 pm daily March 5-8th more details will follow after registering. Don’t forget to indicate if you want the certification option.