Rock Hound 101 – The Hole Story

FMVA roadshow booth display; photo Jerry Nissley

As previously announced, FMN recently established a partnership with Friends of Mineralogy Virginia (FMVA). During the summer of 2022 FMN Katy Johnson completed their Rock Hound 101 course and subsequently initiated an introduction of FMVA to FMN. FMN president, Marilyn Parks, then solidified an understanding with FMVA, which resulted in our educational and service partnership. In October 2022, FMN Jessi Tong and I also completed their Rock Hound 101 course.

Mt. Athos Quarry;  photo Jerry Nissley

The objective of FMVA is to promote and expand the study of mineralogy and the hobby of mineral collecting. Their mission is to promote and preserve Virginia mineral and mining heritage while expanding the knowledge of minerals more broadly through community programs and industry partnerships. FMN and FMVA share many mission values so the partnership is a natural opportunity to exchange service hours and continuing educational programs. To that end, FMN approved FMVA as a CE partner; and service hours obtained while working collaborative projects with FMVA may be entered using Community Outreach – E543: Educational and Outreach – – FMN.

Epidote, quartz, ilmenite, actinolite, magnetite collected from Mt. Athos; photo Jerry Nissley

The 101 course consists of five online learning sessions and two field trips to big holes in the ground – also known as quarries. The field trips for this cohort were to the Dale quarry in Chesterfield county, Virginia and to Mt. Athos quarry in Lynchburg, Virginia. The course curriculum consists, in part, of an introduction to basic Geology and in-depth discussions on geological characteristics specific to Virginia formations. Once the basics of Virginia geology are covered the students learn basic skills required to Rock Hound. This includes how and where to hunt for rocks and minerals, an introduction to a vast library of online resource material/databases, and an overview of some basic rock hound tools. Must haves and nice-to-haves.

Rock Hounds in action at Dale Quarry, Chesterfield, Va; photo Jerry Nissley

The field trips provide students active experience using tried and true field techniques on how to safely discover rocks and minerals and how to extract what is found. Safety is stressed at every turn. Rock hounds are given pre-trip safety instructions and inspections by the instructor and each quarry is required to provide a mandatory safety session to go over active ‘day-of’ quarry operations and instructions.

Smokey Quartz with garnets and beryl collected from Dale Quarry; photo Jerry Nissley

Rock hounding in quarries with an experienced instructor provides a controlled learning environment that facilitates the educational value of the day. In addition, fresh samples are essentially scattered all around ready for discovery with minimal digging required. Once honed, rock hound skills may be used in the field of your choice – on hikes, while camping or kayaking, on the beach, in the mountains, or in your local cave. Always be respectful of the land you are on and cognizant of prevailing governance while on private or public lands.

Please contact FMN Jerry Nissley at for details on how to register for future FMVA Rock Hound courses.

Rock Hound tools; photo Jerry Nissley

Thomas Hale, President of FMVA and our Rock Hound 101 instructor, authored the first book published under FMVA titled, ‘The Northern Virginia Trap Rock Quarries”, Primedia eLaunch LLC, July 2022. This is the first major publication on Virginia Minerals in thirty years and the book includes color photography.

Available through

FMN Annual Meeting, Elections and Graduation of Fall 2022 Class, December 12th

Monday, December 12, 2022
7 pm
Zoom (email for link if you are not an FMN member)

We will be holding our Annual Meeting on Zoom, Monday, December 19th at 7 pm. We will be celebrating the graduation of the Fall 2022 Basic Training Class and have a short business meeting.

In addition, our own FMN Jerry Peters will speak on “Skolithos, Early Cambrian Fossils in Northern Virginia”. Skolithos linearis is a trace fossil (ichnofossil) that is the most common fossil found in Fairfax County. The animal that formed the fossils thrived in ocean beaches on the east side of the continent around 540 million years ago, about the time of the Cambrian revolution when all major animal phyla started appearing in the fossil record. Jerry will discuss the source of these fossils (Antietam formation outcropping on the western slopes of the Blue Ridge) and the several sinks (places they can be found today) in Fairfax County. He will also review key events in the 540 million years of geologic history that these fossils trace.

Jerry Peters is retired from a career as a consulting environmental scientist – conducting Environmental Impact Statements, municipal wastewater facilities planning, hazardous waste management, pollution prevention, hazardous waste site remediation and program guidance, etc. He has a Master’s degree from Virginia Tech in Environmental Science and Engineering (Water Resources) and a Bachelor of Arts degree, biology major, from University of Virginia. Jerry serves as an elected Director of the Northern Virginia Soil & Water Conservation District (NVSWCD), working with the organization for the past 13 years in a variety of positions. He also serves as the District representative to the Fairfax County Tree Commission and helped draft the 2019 Tree Action Plan. Jerry is also Founder of Green Fire, a non-profit to improve wildlife habitats in Fairfax County – and has been active in the Environment and Parks Committee of the Great Falls Citizen’s Association, leading a project to naturalize an oak grove in Great Falls Grange. Finally, many of us know Jerry from his work over many years for the Fairfax Master Naturalists. He helped start up Fairfax Master Naturalists in 2007 as a volunteer on the Coordinating Committee and served as Advanced Training chair. He was awarded Honorary FMN membership in 2007. In 2008 he completed the FMN Basic Training and became a regular member. He has been a member of the FMN Training Committee since 2007, instructing new Master Naturalists in Biogeography, Land Use, and Urban Systems.

Birding in a Winter Wonderland, December 7th

Photo:  FMN Lori Scheibe

Wednesday, December 7, 2022
7 – 8:30 pm
$25 member/$30 nonmember
Register here through Smithsonian Associates.

We all grow up with the knowledge that birds fly south for the winter, but while our neotropical summer breeders return to the tropics, many other species find their way to winter homes in temperate North America from their arctic breeding grounds. The majority of these birds are ducks, geese, and swans, but the seasonal visitors also include songbirds, shorebirds, and raptors. Winter is also a great time to observe rare vagrant birds that have flown out of range and need to refuel before continuing their journey.

Naturalist Matt Felperin shares valuable tips on how to the make the most of winter birding in the mid-Atlantic region. Learn why so many species stay here for the winter instead of flying further south and discover some new locations to observe our winter snowbirds—complete with detailed photos. You’ll be ready to put on your snow pants and parka and enjoy one of the most rewarding and magical times for birding.

Fairfax County Park Authority, Dark Skies’ Webpage

Photo/Image: Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority


Light Pollution is defined by the International Dark Sky Association as the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light which can have serious environmental consequences for humans, wildlife, and our climate. It’s caused by the excessive and inefficient use of artificial light at night.

This webpage provides detailed information on a variety of topics related to light pollution.

A sample of the site’s contents are listed below:

Please take some time to browse through this very informative and comprehensive website,

McLean Gears Up for Dark Sky Celebration, November 12th

Photo: Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022
6:30pm – 8:30pm

Lewinsville Historic House
1659 Chain Bridge Road
McLean, Virginia 22101

Register here.


Dark skies are the natural state of nature. Over time, humans have increased the amount of light shining into the sky all night long. This excessive light has robbed us of the glimpse of our stars and endangered the natural world around us. We can have dark skies again if we learn to control light pollution with responsible outdoor lighting practices.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is partnering with the McLean Citizens Association, Dark Sky Friends and the Analemma Society to host a celebration of the importance of dark skies.

Come to the historic house in Lewinsville Park on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, to learn about the importance of dark skies in your community. The free event will have hands-on activities and educational opportunities about how to protect the night sky. Learn about nighttime wildlife and constellations. Come experience the night with us and enjoy a small campfire and cocoa. The event runs from 6:30 until 8:30 p.m.

There is no cost to the “Dark Sky Celebration” program, and registration is not required but is encouraged. By signing up, we can notify you in case of inclement weather. The rain date is the following day on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022.

To learn more about the importance of dark skies, visit the Dark Skies webpage.

A Year in the Life of an Owl, November 2nd

Photo: Courtesy of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy

Wednesday, November 2, 2022
7:00 pm

Rust Library
380 Old Waterford Rd NW
Leesburg, VA + Google Map

Click here for more information.

Join Liz Dennison of Secret Garden Birds and Bees to follow the region’s four resident owls from winter through fall. You’ll learn what makes owls instantly recognizable and find a few surprises hidden under all those feathers! You’ll get a peek into their romantic courtships, the challenges of raising young, and the difficult transition from nestling to fledgling. And finally, you will see the quiet time when the young seek out their place in the world and the adults can (almost) relax. Four Owl Ambassadors will help Liz tell the story. You’ll meet Scarlett (Barred Owl), Hodor (Great Horned Owl), Phantom (Barn Owl), and Kvosir (Eastern Screech Owl) in the flesh, learn about each species and a little about their personal lives in captivity. You might even get to take a few selfies! This program is co-sponsored by Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Loudoun County Public Library.

Invite Flying Squirrels to Your Backyard with a Feeding Box, October 23rd

Photo: Fairfax County Park Authority, Flying Squirrel in feeding box

Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

Hidden Oaks Nature Center
7701 Royce St., Annandale, Virginia

Program fee for two people: $15.00
Extra supply fee: $25.00

Click here for more information and registration details. 

Flying squirrels are just as common as grey squirrels in our area. As they are nocturnal, flying squirrels often glide under our radar. From November through March, they are easy to welcome to backyards with large trees.

Families can learn proven strategies to encourage these amazing native flying squirrels to your treed backyard. A naturalist will show you how to recognize their presence and guide you in assembling a feeding box to take home. Two attendees are permitted per registration (one adult and one child over age 4 or two adults). This is an outdoor program. Please bring your own hammer and Phillips-head screwdriver. A $25 supply cost will be included at check out. The program fee for two people is $15.

“Make Your Own Flying Squirrel Feeding Box” is on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, from 1 to 2 p.m. at Hidden Oaks.

Winter Seed Sowing with Laura Beaty and Donna Murphy, November 1st

Tuesday, November 1, 2022
7 -8 pm
ASNV Member Ticket: $10
Non-member ticket: $15
Register here.

Audubon Society of Northern Virginia wants to know: Do you want a garden brimming with life for a fraction of the price you’d pay to install full-grown plants? Learn how to propagate native plants from seed with this helpful tutorial. Now is the time to collect and sow seeds in trays of seed-starter medium for over-wintering and sprouting seedlings in the spring and summer. Laura Beaty and Donna Murphy will recommend seed sources, share helpful tips and tricks, and answer questions from the audience.

Why are my Oaks dying…and what can I do about it?

Photo: Moderate to severe decline symptoms in mature red oak. Joseph OBrien, USDA Forest Service,

Wednesday, Oct 19, 2022
7:00 PM

Please register in advance here.

Have you noticed oak trees that appear to die suddenly without explanation? Are you concerned about your oaks dying and want to know what you can do to keep them healthy?

Please join this meeting to learn about Oak Decline Syndrome, a combination of environmental and biological factors that slowly weaken and eventually result in the death of vulnerable oak trees. Oak Decline Syndrome has been studied by the US Forest Service since the 1940’s and has not been linked with any specific insects or pathogens. This webinar will include a general overview of the history, symptoms and management strategies for oak decline in Fairfax County.


Photo: Female Jumping Spider, Thomas Shahan

Tuesday, October 25, 2022
7:00 PM – 8:00 PM

This is a Virtual program

Member Ticket: $15
Non-member Ticket: $25

Click here for more information and registration details. 


The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia would like to help you celebrate the spooky this October.  Learn all about the spectacular, secret lives of spiders. These eight-legged critters may be a little creepy to some, but they also are fascinating animals with unique hunting strategies. A favorite snack of many birds, arachnids are a crucial part of the ecosystem. Dr. Stellwagen will discuss some of the scary and not-so-scary species that live in our region. You might be surprised by how clever, creative and, yes, even “cute,” spiders can be.