Review of Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps by Serian Sumner

Article by FMN Marilyn Schroeder

I loved Seirian Sumner’s new Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps and I think you will, too.

A behavior ecologist (of social insects), Sumner thinks wasps get a bad rap and wants everyone to love them the way she does. The book is both deeply scientific and a fun read.

Sumner covers wide-ranging aspects: wasp-human relationship (why don’t we like them?), wasp evolution, comparison of wasp species, solitary wasp hunting behavior, the benefits and behaviors of the social wasps, what wasps could do for us, and more.

Reading the book, I realized how little I knew about wasps and how fascinating they are. The book was published this year and includes state-of-the-art research results.

Winter Tree Identification Workshop, January 28th

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Saturday, January 28, 2023
1-3 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187

Cost: $10 ($5 for Friends of the Clifton Institute)

Registration is required!

Winter is a great time of year to learn how to identify trees and to practice looking at bark and twigs. In this program, instructors will take you on a short walk in the woods and talk about the tips and tricks to identify the most common trees in the forests. This program is meant for beginners. Advanced botanists are welcome but you may teach the class more than the instructors teach you! If you would like to start practicing now or if you would like to bring some resources with you, we recommend the book Winter Tree Finder by May Theilgaard Watts and Tom Watts, the Flora of Virginia app, and the Virginia Tech Tree ID app.

Research Talk: American Kestrel Nesting Habitat, January 27th

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Friday, January 27, 2023
7-8 pm
Virtual event
Cost: Free

Registration is required!

Join Executive Director Bert Harris to hear the latest on American Kestrel research. The researchers have been studying these declining falcons for two years and they have learned so much about the habitats the Kestrels use for hunting. Cattle pastures are preferred over all other kinds of fields and the researchers are trying to find out why. They also now know that at least some of northern Virginia’s kestrels are migratory and that their territories are smaller here than in other parts of North America. This research is a collaborative project with Joe Kolowski from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Alan Williams. The work is funded by the Raines Family Fund, Nick Lapham, the Virginia Society of Ornithology, the Washington Biologists Field Club, and Janine Moseley.

A link to the Zoom meeting will be sent a few days prior to the talk. Please make sure your email address is up to date!

Join this meeting to hear the latest and learn how you can help kestrels.

Winter Bird Walks – Hosted by The Clifton Institute, January and February

Image: Courtesy of the Clifton Institute

Join The Clifton Institute for a series of Winter bird walks starting this January and February. They will be held on the second Wednesday and fourth Saturday of the month. Please click on the links below for additional details and registration information.

1 – 3 pm
8: 30 – 10:30 am
8 – 10 am
8:30 – 10:30 am
Cost: Free
Registration is required!

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187



Learn Through Nature Journaling, January and February Classes

Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Saturdays, February 4, 11 & 18, 2023
Hidden Oaks Nature Center
7701 Royce Street, Annandale
To sign up: Call 703-222-4664 weekdays 9am- 4pm or log into Parktakes by using  The codes can be helpful in locating the classes.

Improve your naturalist observation skills and add excitement to your nature journals! Naturalist and artist Avery Gunther presents her popular nature drawing classes.

Sat. January 14, 2023- 10am-12pm – Drawing Outer Space with Oil Pastels (adults 16 and up) $20  Code: MIK.WW3E

Have you been inspired by the James Webb Telescope pictures?  Learn some fun facts about outer space and moon craters.  Learn how moon craters form with a hands-on science activity.  Learn about oil pastels, then try your hand at drawing nebulas, planets, comets, galaxies and more on black paper.  All materials included.

Sat. Feb 4, 11 & 18 – 9:30-11:30am- Drawing Weather and Skies (adults age 16 and up) $60  Code: 22N.19UM
The sky is dynamic and ever changing. Learn how to creatively add weather data and information to your journal. Discover techniques for drawing and painting skyscapes, clouds , snowflakes, frost and more. Media discussed will include: watercolor, oil pastel, watercolor and regular colored pencils, ink and gel pen. Many materials will be available to borrow in class.
If the county closes due to bad weather, you would receive a credit on your account.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email Avery, [email protected].

FMNs: These classes are approved FMN CE.  Record hours in Better Impact under Continuing Education > All Continuing Education.  For Approved CE Organization, choose Fairfax County Park Authority training.  In Description, include the name of the class.

Start Where You Are

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” A tenet of volunteering coined by Arthur Ashe. The FMN recipients of the 2022 Elly Doyle Outstanding Volunteer awards most certainly personify each component of that tenet.

The Elly Doyle Park Service Awards were established in 1988 by Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) to recognize Ellamae Doyle’s many years of service and accomplishments as a member and chairman of the Park Authority Board. The County’s park system expanded and thrived during her tenure with the addition of significant open space, construction of new recreational facilities and a commitment to preservation of natural and cultural resources in Fairfax County.

The 2022 Outstanding Volunteer awards category included three FMN members – Kris Lansing, David Gorsline, and Beverly Rivera.
Click here to page through a Flickr presentation of all awardees.

For those that do not Flickr, please read on for a summary of accomplishments of the FMN awardees.

Kris identifying a flying object at Riverbend. Photo courtesy of FCPA

FMN Kristine Lansing – nominated by Riverbend Park:

Kris volunteers as one of the park’s roving naturalists/trail monitors.  In this capacity, she routinely engages with park visitors on the trails to educate them about the park’s natural areas and wildlife and to promote other park opportunities such as hikes, classes, and camps.  She removes debris from the trails, reports fallen trees and other issues to park management so that such problems may be addressed rapidly.  She assists in leading the park’s seasonal bird and wildflower walks and helps train new roving naturalist volunteers. Kris is also a Certified Interpretive Guide.

David on the Huntley Meadows boardwalk. Photo courtesy of FCPA.

FMN David Gorsline – nominated by Huntley Meadows Park:
David tackles a unique volunteer role each spring as the Duck Nest Box Coordinator. He trains and supervises a small group of independent volunteers, which meets at Huntley Meadows from February to June to monitor duck-nesting activity in the park.
David’s commitment to the Duck Nest Box program has been a significant contribution to the long-term natural resource management at the park. His efforts ensure institutional knowledge is shared with new volunteers, that nest boxes are well-maintained, and that there is annual data to aid in natural resource management decisions. To read more about the duck nesting box project at Huntley Meadows, in David’s own words, click here.

Beverley all smiles at Lake Accotink Park. Photo curtesy of FCPA.

FMN Beverley Rivera – nominated by Lake Accotink Park:
Beverley worked to transform a large area of the park overrun by invasive plants. For three years she has hosted a public workday almost every Saturday. This year she organized and led 47 public workdays and volunteered 182 hours leading 617 volunteers who themselves contributed 1,407 service hours. Beverley and the volunteer crews have also planted hundreds of native plants to restore natural habitat areas.

Please join our community in congratulating these tireless volunteers for their exemplary service to our county parks. They are model volunteers that prove author Sherry Anderson’s quote – “Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they are worthless but because they are priceless.”

Managing larger properties for birds, butterflies, and people

Photo and article by Plant NOVA Natives

The outdoor space on larger properties in Northern Virginia, whether residential or commercial, is typically divided into formal landscaping close to buildings and natural areas at the periphery. New practices are emerging on how to manage both areas, practices that protect the ecosystem and support the birds and the butterflies while better satisfying human needs.

The natural areas between properties are an important amenity, providing visual barriers and sound buffers while capturing stormwater and reducing flooding. Looking around, it is evident that those natural areas are often being left to take care of themselves. The result is that they are steadily degrading as the native trees are displaced by invasive non-native trees and are directly killed by invasive vines. The shrubs and ground layers are equally damaged by invasives species at those levels. Many of these invasive plants originate from the landscaped areas where they had been planted before people knew to do otherwise. Preserving trees and habitat in both areas requires taking out the invasives and replacing them with native species, of which numerous options are available.

Some other tweaking is also needed to common landscaping practices. To name a few examples, piling mulch against the trunks of trees causes the bark to rot. Blowing the fallen leaves out from under trees destroys the cover where fireflies and many butterflies overwinter. Leaf blowers with two-stroke engines pour pollution into the air and are loud enough to damage workers’ ears. Outdoor lighting can adversely affect birds, insects and plants. Spraying insecticides kills the bees and caterpillars even more than the mosquitoes they are intended to target. Simple solutions are available to mitigate all these problems.

Professional property managers and community managers negotiate the contracts with landscaping companies and can work with them to adjust their services. Details of the various options for both landscaped and natural areas can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website in a section specifically for professionals. Please spread the word to the managers of any properties where you live or work.

The Volcano Near Fairfax County

A photograph of Mole Hill as seen along Route 33.

Article and photo by FMN Stephen Tzikas

When I travel to the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers (SARA) annual conference every summer at the Greenbank Observatory in West Virginia, I drive along Route 33 just past Harrisonburg, VA, the home of James Madison University (JMU). It’s a rural road, but something unusual is found there – a volcano. It’s called Mole Hill, quite inactive today, but nearly 50 million years ago magma thrusted upwards to the surface through cracks in the lithosphere. The tree covered Mole Hill as seen today is made of remnants of the cooled magma column, eroding at a slower pace than the sedimentary rock around it. That resistant rock that supports the peak is a volcanic plug of olivine basalt. This basalt is dark greenish gray to grayish black, medium grained, and moderately porphyritic. Mole Hill is one of the youngest volcanoes on the east coast of North America. Mole Hill has a height of nearly 1,900 feet above sea level. Another extinct volcano, Trimble Knob, is a little closer to the Greenbank Observatory and a little farther from Fairfax County.

Dr. W. Cullen Sherwood of JMU, who passed away in 2016, gave a brief account of Mole Hill and its geology at the following link:

His illustration gives the reader an idea of how Mole Hill may have originally appeared.

Mole Hill is mentioned in the Roadside Geology of Virginia book by Keith Frye. The books in the Roadside Geology Series are an excellent way to explore the geology around us when we travel along roads through different states. These books are available through


Richmond Virginia Environmental Film Festival Contest, deadline January 15, 2023

The 13th annual Richmond Virginia Environmental Film Festival (RVA EFF) is announcing the 2023 Virginia Environmental Film Contest. Experienced filmmakers or those who want to give it a try for the first time are welcome!

The contest is open to Virginia filmmakers submitting films on environmental topics focusing on Virginia. A juried panel will select the winning films and announce them on February 15, 2023 on the website, and through a press release. Prize money will be awarded to the filmmakers as follows:

$800 + Laurel Logo – First Place
$100 + Laurel Logo – Best Teen Submission (13-18)
$100 + Laurel Logo – Best “Environmental Call to Action”

Last year’s film winners include Headwaters Down, Breathing Life back into Richmond, Canaries in the Coal Mine, and Girl. For more information on these winners and other honorable mentions, go to the film contest page at

“With approximately 1,600 people attending last year’s virtual festival, we know what the power of these films can do to inspire positive changes in ourselves and our communities.”

-Scott Burger, a founding organizer of the festival

All films are to be submitted November 16 through January 15, 2023 through FilmFreeway, a website where filmmakers submit their films to hundreds of film festivals. Filmmakers will find full details regarding contest rules and deadlines and how to submit their film at: Selected winners will be shown on Sunday, March 18, 2023 (tentative) at The Byrd Theatre.

Admission to the festival is free and open to the public due to generous community sponsors. More information on the festival can be found at

For questions specific to the Film Contest, email: [email protected]

Our mailing address is:

RVA Environmental Film Festival

5314 Dorchester Rd

Richmond, Virginia 23225

Earth Sangha Seeks Conservation Interns

Earth Sangha is looking for two 2023 Full Season Native Plant Conservation Interns to assist at the Wild Plant Nursery and on restoration sites. Interns will assist in the day-to-day operations of the region’s only exclusively local ecotype native plant nursery and engage in restoration activities on field sites including invasives removal and native plantings. Learn about Northern Virginia’s native flora, horticultural skills, and become part of a grassroots effort to conserve and restore our native plants and their habitats. Our full season internships are term-limited positions, running January through December with a schedule of about 20 hours a week. Internship positions pay $16 an hour. Internship positions are eligible for comprehensive health insurance coverage. See for more information.