Stream monitoring in March

Friends of Accotink Creek Stream Monitoring Session
Lake Accotink Park, Springfield VA
Saturday, 9 March 2019

Join Friends of Accotink Creek volunteers as they assess ecological conditions in a stream, based on the presence and absence of bottom-dwelling invertebrates. Meet at the parking lot behind Lake Accotink Park Administrative Building. See Friends of Accotink Creek for additional stream monitoring information.

Helping Your Stream Through Citizen Science
Chapman DeMary Trail, Purcellville VA
Sunday, 10 March 2019
2-5 pm

Healthy streams and waterways support a wide range of native flora and fauna. The stream running through your neighborhood is vitally important to ensuring that our larger tributaries such as the Potomac River and Goose Creek remain healthy to sustain a diverse wildlife habitat. Local streams can, however, become impaired by urban runoff and development. Join us for a stream-side demonstration and discussion examining how citizen science surveys can be used to assess local stream quality. You will see how biomonitoring surveys are conducted. You will have a chance to look at the data and at aquatic macroinvertebrates. We will discuss how the data is analyzed and how it can be used to improve our streams. At the end, you will have the opportunity to sign up for a spring survey, led by one of Loudoun Wildlife’s citizen science stream monitoring teams. Registration is limited, RSVP to Loudoun Wildlife.

Prince William (Cedar Run) Stream Monitoring Workshop
Evergreen Acres Farm, Hazelwood Dr., Nokesville VA
Saturday, 16 March 2019
10 am-12:30 pm

Join Veronica Tangiri of Prince William SWCD for citizen science monitoring. Come and learn more about the health of this stream and how it interacts with agriculture as it joins the Occoquan River. Contact Veronica for more information or to register.

Powells Creek Stream Monitoring Session
Northgate Dr., Montclair VA
Saturday, 30 March 2019
10 am-12:30 pm

Join Buck Arvin and the Merrimack Master Naturalist Team in monitoring Powells Creek in the Montclair area. Residents are welcome to come and support the data collection of this stream and learn more about water quality in their area. For directions and more information, please RSVP to Buck.

Permaculture Design Courses, June and August

Master Permaculture Design Course
June 5-9th, 2019 – Fairfax, VA – Suters Glen Permaculture Farm
with Wayne Weiseman of the Permaculture Project LLC

Already have your PDC and want to take the next step? This course is designed to help you dive deeper into permaculture principles and methodologies.Students will walk away with a completed master design of their property. Class will be 8am-6pm each day with breakfast and lunch included. Early bird tuition until 4/1/19.

Questions? Please contact Christine Harris,, (804) 502-4655.
More info & registration:

72-Hour Permaculture Design Certification Course
August 31-September 8th, 2019 – Louisa, VA – Heartwood Farm with Wayne Weiseman of the Permaculture Project

LLC  Topics include: Permaculture design principles and methodologies; Soil fertility; Organic vegetable production; Native, edible, medicinal and functional plants in the landscape; Climates and microclimates; Alternative energy and natural building; aquaculture, mushrooms, fermentation, herbalism and so much more! Course will be held at Heartwood Farm. Class will be 8am-5pm each day with breakfast and lunch included and some additional evening activities with served dinner. Camping available or accommodations close by. Early bird tuition until 5/31/19.

Questions? Please contact Christine Harris,, (804) 502-4655.

More info & registration:

Permaculture breaks down to “perennial” “agriculture.” It’s a way of looking at the landscape, and designing for both ecological and economical viability. For example, when permaculturists look at ways to grow food in their yards, on a farm or elsewhere, they look to the ways that a forest is naturally structured and mimic that to create an “edible food forest” that is comprised of a similar layering structure that a forest has (top canopy, lower canopy, shrubs, herbaceous plants, groundcover, fungi and vines). Not only are they planting edible or native plants just because they like them, but they are planting in ways that allow the system to support itself (ie., incorporating nitrogen-fixing plants, beneficial insect plants, dynamic accumulators like comfrey or stinging nettle which grab important minerals from the soil which they can then use as a mulch and feed the system, etc.) In doing so, they are creating a sustainable agriculture system that is self-sufficient and requires very little work to maintain.

Permaculture is an observation-based system of design, that requires the designer to observe what is happening on their landscape at a deeper level (where is the water, sun and wind moving? how can I direct the water to slow it down and disperse it across my landscape? what microclimates are present? what animals are visiting and where are they going? what are the underlying patterns in the landscape? what plants are already here?) It is a system of sustainable agriculture but also a way of living, of stewarding our Earth and sharing with the community – it has 3 basic principles that the design work is based on 1) Earth Care 2) People Care and 3) Fair Share.

The word “Permaculture” was coined by Bill Mollison in the 1970’s who went on to write the book Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual.  In his words:
“Permaculture is about designing sustainable human settlements. It is a philosophy and an approach to land use which weaves together microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soil, water management, and human needs into intricately connected, productive communities.”

Fairfax Master Naturalist CaterpillarsCount! Project

Fairfax Master Naturalist CaterpillarsCount! Project

Don Coram

CaterpillarsCount! (Citizen Science Service Code C254) is part of a multi-year, multi-site National Science Foundation-funded study to determine whether seasonal activity of plants, insects, and birds are all responding synchronously to climate change. The lead universities for the study are University of North Carolina, Georgetown University, and University of Connecticut.  Figure 1 maps the 73 sites around the Eastern U.S. that collected data in 2018. 

The paper that was the impetus for the project is Increasing phenological asynchrony between spring green-up and arrival of migratory birds”, which appeared in Nature’s Scientific Reports, Vol. 7, in 2017. Phenology is a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (such as bird migration or plant flowering). At each site, volunteer citizen scientists count caterpillars and other arthropods on a specific collection of 50 leaves on each of 10 trees during the growing season (May-August). (50 is an arbitrary number intended to be a balance between getting enough data and not creating an overwhelming data collection chore.) These counts will be repeated over several years to look for trends. With 73 sites, there is no way this data could be collected without citizen scientists, hence the participation of naturalists like us.  Researchers at the universities analyze the data.  

For the Fairfax County site, the selected trees are in the Walker Nature Center (WNC) in Reston. WNC Director, Katie Shaw, is the site manager. I am the lead data collector, assisted by two other FMN members, Kim Schauer and Claudia Thompson-Deahl. Elise Larsen of Georgetown University has been our point of contact with the national CaterpillarsCount! project.  

In 2018, we conducted 140 surveys on 14 different dates, observing a total of 500 arthropods, including 13 caterpillars, which were present on 9.29% of surveys. (A “survey” observes the 50 leaves of one tree.) Nationally, the top 10 sites had caterpillars present in average of 5.32% of surveys, so our site looks good from this perspective.  

One of the prettiest caterpillars we found was the American dagger moth caterpillar, Acronicta americana, shown in Figure 2. We also observed fall webworm moth caterpillars, geometer moth caterpillars, and others that we could not identify.  . Among the other arthropods we observed were debris-carrying lacewing larvae, daddy longlegs, beetle larvae, and sylvan jumping spiders.  

Because caterpillars are a major source of food for nestlings of migratory birds, we are especially interested in the timing of caterpillar availability. Caterpillar phenology  (e.g., lifecycle events) at the WNC site is shown in the Figure 3. Caterpillar occurrence peaked at 36.36% of surveys on August 19. Note that August 19 is late to provide a food source for nestlings. My conjecture for this lateness is that the insects usually responsible for caterpillars in the spring are becoming rarer (along with most flying insects; see More than 75 Percent Decline over 27 Years in Total Flying Insect Biomass in Protected Areas) and fall insects do not suffer as much predation by birds. No conclusions can be suggested yet about the effect of climate  change, since the sturdy will need to go on for several years to obtain comparative data.  

It is interesting that the “caterpillar” we observed most often is not a caterpillar at all. By definition, caterpillars are in the Order Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), whereas the most observed larvae were dogwood sawfly larvae, Macremphytus testaceus, in the Order  Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants). Two of these larvae are shown in Figure 4. The larvae were so numerous that they defoliated the tree, a Red Osier dogwood.  

One benefit in participating in CaterpillarsCount! is learning to identify all sorts of arthropods. There is an online training course and field guide for this purpose. As a novice entomologist, I found both the opportunity and guidance valuable. 

One unexpected benefit is the opportunity to observe nature surrounding the survey sites in a leisurely way, closely, and repeatedly. I noticed animals that I missed on other visits to WNC, such as tadpoles growing legs, a Northern water snake sunning on the rocks, a grey catbird taking a bath, an American rubyspot damselfly, and a violet dancer damselfly.  

The project could use additional volunteers this year and in the future. New volunteers could establish a new survey site or help with the WNC site. Training and support are provided.  

Please join me at the Walker Nature Center on April 23 for a discussion of the project. Elise Larsen will present with me. The talk counts for continuing education credits.

Researcher bios

Elise Larsen, PhD, Biology, University of Maryland 2013. Post Doc, Georgetown University, 2013 – present. Co-investigator on CaterpillarsCount!

Don Coram, PhD, Mathematics, University of Wisconsin, 1985. Graduate, Fairfax Master Naturalist 2016, certified 2017.  

Canada Goose Management Strategies Workshop

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019 10:00- 11:30 am
Fairfax County Animal Shelter 4500 West Ox Rd., Fairfax, VA 22030

A free workshop for parks, private citizens, homeowner associations, schools, golf courses, corporate parks, etc.

Learn about Canada goose behavior, effective goose management techniques (egg oiling, border collies, exclusion techniques), community case studies and regulations. This event is limited to 40 participants. Please register by March 4th.

Sponsored by the:

  • Fairfax County Wildlife Biologist
  • Fairfax County Park Authority 

For more information and to register please contact Kristen Sinclair by phone at (703) 324-8559 or email

Want to become a Riverbend Park volunteer? 

Attend the next monthly Volunteer Orientation: Saturday, March 2, 9:30 am – 12:00 pm

Learn about our upcoming opportunities, projects, and events and get started on your training with a hands-on project!

Upcoming Opportunities 

  • Wildflower Survey (Feb-May) NEW – Identify & document native and non-native wildflowers 
  • Spring Salamander Survey (Feb-May) – ID, measure, and document salamanders 
  • Turtle Survey (Feb-May) NEW – ID native turtles and help us track & document their presence at Riverbend
  • Wildlife Camera Monitor NEW – Help us set up & track wildlife cams throughout the park and review footage for     some action! 
  • Exhibit Animal Care – Help provide care for our exhibit animals (min 4hrs/month for 6 months) 
  • Survey Data Entry (winter-spring) NEW – Enter data on our salamander survey onto a spreadsheet     
  • Spring/Summer Programs – Join our interpretive team and provide assistance at our camps & programs 
  • Dragonfly Survey (March-Oct) *training in March 
  • Bluebell Festival on April 6th! 
  • Ongoing Opportunities Watershed Clean ups, Habitat restoration, Trail maintenance and restoration, Gardening/plants Park Support 


Valeria Espinoza, Volunteer Coordinator

Rita Peralta, Natural Resources Manager

Hear bird calls at FMN Quarterly Meeting, Mar. 18

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Hidden Oaks Nature Center
7701 Royce St., Annandale VA
Monday, 18 March 2019
7:30 – 9 pm

Public welcome!  The Fairfax Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists will have a brief chapter meeting, enjoy some food and drink, give out door prizes, and enjoy a presentation on Beginning Birding by Ear by Colt Gregory. Colt Gregory has been pursuing birds since the 1970’s when he first saw an Oystercatcher through a scope at Assateague.
He started closely listening for birds when small children limited his outings to neighborhood walks.  He expanded his knowledge by listening to the Allen Kellogg LPs – (founder of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology) and moved on to CDs and MP3s! (Got to keep up with the technology.) Colt is an active member of Arlington Regional Master Naturalist, Northern Virginia Audubon Society, Northern Virginia Bird Club and volunteer for the National Park Service.  He participated in the two year birding census for National Park Service at Wolf Trap, leads a section on the Christmas Bird Count and co-leads the weekly Sunday bird walk at Great Falls National Park with Fairfax Master Naturalist Kristine Lansing.

Master naturalists can earn one hour of continuing education credit.


Friends of Wolf Trap host City Nature Challenge (and training!)

As urban development in Northern Virginia continues to accelerate, the management of open spaces becomes more important than ever. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, which encompasses more than 130 acres with 2.7 miles of trails, forests, native gardens, streams and a pond, contains important natural, recreational and historical resources for the community. As a not-for-profit organization, the Friends of Wolf Trap (FOWT) contributes to community awareness and assists the National Park Service with providing educational programs, recreation, and preservation through centralized volunteer efforts.  The FOWT are interested in increasing involvement from Fairfax Master Naturalist members in conducting citizen science projects and promoting the Park’s natural resources to the public.

Please register for one or more upcoming events listed at  and mark your calendars and join us for the following upcoming events:

  • Sunday, April 7, 2019 (10:00 am to noon):  iNaturalist Training and Hike at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts; Using iNaturalist to document and learn about nature is easy! Learn how, then participate in #CityNatureChallenge April 26-29.  In preparation for the 2019 City Nature Challenge, please join Deborah Barber, Director of Land Management from The Nature Conservancy, who will provide brief ‘classroom’ instruction in using the iNaturalist app before leading the group through the Park’s trails and gardens to obtain practical field experience using the app.  Be sure you have a fully charged smart phone and have already downloaded and signed in to the app.
  • Sunday, April 28, 2019 (1:00 pm to 4:00 pm): City Nature Challenge ‘Hike and Explore’ at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts; Take part in the 2019 City Nature Challenge at Wolf Trap! 130 cities across 6 continents are vying to prove that their area has the most nature and the most nature-loving residents – and we want the DC Metro Area to win!  Join us for a group hike or strike out on your own to explore the Park’s 130 acres including forests, trails, streams, ponds, meadows and gardens as you take pictures of Parks many plants and animals while taking part in the City Nature Challenge.  We will start with a brief introduction of how to use the iNaturalist app, so be sure you have a fully charged smart phone and have already downloaded and signed in to the app. (C260 is the appropriate service code)

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.

iNaturalist identification party, Feb. 28th

National Geographic
1610 M St NW,Washington DC 20036
Thursday, 28 February 2019
5:30-8 PM

Be prepared to help with this year’s City Nature Challenge by helping to  identify last year’s iNaturalist observations! The group will meet in the cafeteria at National Geographic. Pizza provided! *Bring a laptop* and any field guides you want to reference.

Enter via the courtyard from M Street. From the courtyard, enter the building on the left, then inside turn left to the cafeteria.

5:30-6 Arrival & check in
6-6:15 Welcome & tips for identifying on iNaturalist
6:15-7:30 Identifying observations!
7:30-7:45 Check in on progress, sharing of learning
7:45-8 More identifications, goodbyes

Register here please.

Build-Your-Own Rain Barrel Workshops, various dates

Sunday, 10 March 2019, 2-4pm, Hollin Meadows Elementary School, Alexandria
Saturday, 30 March 2019, 10:30am-12:30pm, Walter Reed Community Center, Arlington
Saturday, 25 May 2019, 10 am-12 pm, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Fairfax

As a part of a regional initiative, the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District will once again offer build-your-own rain barrel workshops this spring. During the workshop, you will learn how to install and maintain a rain barrel and take one home! Registration is required for all programs. Learn more!