Thanks, Thanks, Thanks – One More Successful Tabling Event

Photo taken by FMN Member, Donna Stauffer

The Friends of Mason Neck State Park held their 25th Annual Eagle Festival on Saturday, May 13.  The Fairfax Master Naturalists participated by hosting a table.  Once again, a group of committed FMN volunteers came together to share their enthusiasm, experience, and knowledge as nature stewards.  Attendees were drawn to their table to learn about the FMN training program, invasive plants, native plants, and the numerous nature-related volunteer programs available in the county.  FMN Outreach Committee Chair Jo Doumbia had a really thoughtful way of summing up the tabling event, ” In my view that is what it is all about, spreading and sharing our accumulated nature knowledge with society.”

For Jo and the other volunteers, this tabling event was a wonderful opportunity to connect and reconnect with one another. This special camaraderie develops whenever FMN volunteers come together to support outreach events.

Below are some great photos of the FMN volunteers at Eagle Fest 2023: 

Photo taken by FMN Member, Jo

Photo taken by FMN Member, Donna Stauffer

Photo taken by FMN Member, Jo



FMN CE Event Recap: Wandering through the Wildflowers at Riverbend Park with Alonso Abugattas

Photo of Alonso Abugattas by FMN Laura Anderko

On April 23, 2023, Fairfax Master Naturalists spent a cool, sunny Sunday hiking with native plant expert Alonso Abugattas to learn more about native and invasive wildflowers. FMN members in attendance learned to identify many native plants such as Canada Waterleaf, Star Chickweed, Wild Blue Phlox, Smooth Solomon’s Seal, False Solomon’s Seal, Spring Beauty, Ramps/Wild Leeks, Sweet Cicely, Virginia Bluebells, Blue and Cream Violets, Clustered Snakeroot, Sessile Trillium, and Kidney Leafed Buttercup. Non-natives included Gill over the Ground, Garlic Mustard, Bulbous Buttercup and Star of Bethlehem. Participants also heard stories about the folklore and uses of a variety of wildflowers. One example, the Spring Beauty plant is also known as fairy spuds for its small potato-like edible roots. See photos below for more.

Photo by Laura Anderko, Canada Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum canadense)

Photo by FMN Laura Anderko, Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Tool Under Development for Amateur Naturalists – Created by FMN Margaret E. Fisher

 Article and photo by FMN Margaret E. Fisher

Tool under development for amateur naturalists – created by FMN Margaret E. Fisher

For those of you who enjoy learning the names of the plants and animals that surround us, we are working on a spreadsheet to make it a little easier to identify Northern Virginia organisms. This tool is for people who have enough experience to take a reasonable guess at the identification of a plant, insect, or other organism but not enough to distinguish it from its lookalikes. Using iNaturalist can sometimes help, but only if you photograph the right part. The idea is to create a cheat sheet – one that can be referenced in the field – that highlights one or two features that can readily make the distinction.


For example, you might know enough about flowers to identify the two pictured here as Monkeyflower. One is Sharpwing Monkeyflower (Mimulus alatus) and the other is Allegheny Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens). At first glance, they look very much alike, but the distinction becomes easy once you know that the former has a short flower stem and long leaf stem, and the latter has a long flower stem and no leaf stem at all. Similarly, you may already know that the terms Painted Lady and American Lady refer to butterflies, but you could use a reminder that the former has a band of small eyespots as opposed to the latter which has two large eyespots on the underside of the hindwing.


We are only just getting started on collecting information to fill in the blanks as people submit the results of their research. The spreadsheet will never be complete, but it will be fun to watch it grow as our familiarity with our non-human neighbors increases. To contribute your tips (or corrections, which are welcome and needed), email [email protected]om.

You can view the Google spreadsheet here.



Landscaping With A Conscience

Photos courtesy of Steph Johnson

I do not recall ever writing a success story about an FMN volunteer before their training class even graduates but there always seems to be a first time for everything.

VMN trainee (Fairfax Chapter) Stephanie Johnson was recently featured in a newsletter article published by the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. Steph is in the current Spring 2023 FMN class and is also a Master Gardener, a member of the Native Plant Society, a small business owner, conservationist, and landscape designer.

I know from speaking with her that she has a positive conviction for native landscaping and life in general, so her journey makes for a compelling story. I asked Steph if FMN could publish the link to her story and she replied, “I dont mind. It’s nice when the community unites to support the fight against invasives and the promotion of native habitat. It’s a tough fight solo.”


Nature’s Ephemeral Oases

Cover photo: Ana Ka’ahanui (Capital Nature)

By definition vernal ponds are ephemeral; how we endeavor to sustain their wellbeing does not need to be.

The idea to create an educational outreach film that would emphasize the importance of vernal ponds and enhance our understanding of them originated with FMN Beverley Rivera, FACC Philip Latasa, and their colleagues at Friends of Accotink Creek (FACC). The finished product beautifully illustrates the concerted efforts of concerned citizens and passionate master naturalists to learn more about vernal pools in Fairfax County and to communicate knowledge gained to educate our communities – of all ages.

The ‘cast’ of characters for filming at Eakin Park – Photo: Sarah Glassco

Friends of Accotink Creek are committed to protecting, promoting and restoring the water quality, natural habitat, and ecological well-being of the Accotink Creek watershed. To that end, back in spring 2021, spurred on by a grant from Virginia Lakes and Watersheds Association, FACC put out a call for FMN volunteers to help film on a weekend when FACC was to bring in Mike Hayslett to consult on a potential restoration of a vernal pool and evaluate some existing pools in Fairfax County. Three FMNs responded with a willingness to film: Sarah Glassco, Ashley Zywusko (now in Central Rappahannock chapter), and Kathryn Pasternak. At the time, Ashley and Kathryn were in their FMN training class, so this would be their first volunteer project. By the time production began FMNs Kim Schauer, Ana Ka’ahanui, and Tammy Schwab, along with additional FACC people, were involved and they would all make major contributions to the project.

Mike at a Nottaway pool – Photo: Sarah Glassco

In addition to the consultations, FACC objectives were to make a couple of videos for Fairfax County Elementary Schools. To make these films more compelling to kids they gathered some parents and their children to accompany Mike at Eakin Park. The organized ‘cast’ included a girl scout troop and some other interested youth. The first day Mike toured various wetlands in Fairfax County with the FMN/FACC team and Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) officials Tammy Schwab – Manager Education and Outreach, John Burke – Natural Resources Branch Manager, and Dan Grulke – Manager of Lake Accotink Park. Sarah, Ashley, and Kathryn filmed the events over Mike’s three-day visit, including an extensive interview at Eakin Park. Sarah provided subject matter for filming and provided help transcribing the interview. At the end of the weekend Kathryn collected all film footage, notes, and field data, proceeded to her studio and went into production mode. Future spin-off films will target elementary school level audience and will be distributed accordingly.

Mike Hayslett – Photo: Sarah Glassco

So why vernal ponds? Vernal ponds are so called because they are often, though not necessarily, at their maximum depth in the spring due to snow melt and heavier seasonal rains. Vernal meaning – ‘of, relating to, or occurring in the spring’. There are many local names for such ponds, depending upon where in the country they occur – sinks, wallows, kettles. But one term most people have not typically attached to them is ‘important’ – enter Mike Hayslett, Principal of Virginia Vernal Pools, LLC. The problem, Hayslett has said, is that many people view the pools as soggy nuisances, “so there’s a real disparity in the public’s understanding of their biological significance.”
Mr. Hayslett is a former biology and environmental instructor at Sweet Briar College and other Virginia schools, plus a member of the Allegheny Highlands chapter of VMN. He has spent his career pursuing the study, awareness, and conservation of freshwater wetlands known as vernal pools in and around his native Virginia. The film clearly illuminates Mike’s passion for vernal pools … his raison d’etre.

Evaluating area for restoration at Lake Accotink – Photo: Tammy Schwab

Because of his in-depth expertise, Friends of Accotink Creek (FACC) asked him to consult on one site identified for potential restoration at Lake Accotink. Accotink Creek watershed runs 25 miles through one of the finest wildlife corridors in Fairfax County. The creek meanders through the county parks of Eakin, Americana, Wakefield, Lake Accotink, and Accotink Stream Valley. It continues south through Ft. Belvoir and the Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge, converges with the waters of Pohick Bay (which is fed by the Pohick Creek watershed), and drains into the Potomac River as the mouth of Gunston Cove, therefore contributing to the water that constitutes the Chesapeake Bay.

Marbled Salamander in search of a vernal pool – Photo: Jerry Nissley

Kathryn Pasternak became an FMN in 2021 but she is also a veteran of wildlife, conservation, and cultural films and recipient of two National Emmy Awards for ‘Best Science and Nature Program’. She spent 15+ years at National Geographic Television working on high-end television programs for international distribution. Since 2007, she’s been producing media independently both as a freelancer and small business owner. Therefore, she was adequately prepared to do the additional research into the lifecycle of vernal pools and to get additional film footage over the next two vernal mating seasons required to complete a visually compelling and scientifically accurate story. Through the collective efforts of the FMN ‘film crew’ and the FACC ‘production contributors’, FCPA officials, and an enthralled ‘cast’, Kathryn (Pasternak Media) produced an exemplary product that illustrates the value of educating the public on the vital ecological benefits of vernal ponds.

For example, vernal ponds favor native species because many non-native species cannot tolerate the extreme seasonal changes in environmental conditions for the local area in which the pond exists. With an inevitable end and an unstoppable beginning, these ephemeral oases may not look like much, but they shelter many imperiled species and play a pivotal role in the ecologically networked-webs of many forests and open depression wetlands.

Wood frogs mating – Photo: Kathryn Pasternak

Wood frog tadpoles – Photo: Kathryn Pasternak

Despite being dry at times, vernal pools teem with life when filled, serving as critical breeding grounds for many amphibian and invertebrate species. The most obvious inhabitants are various species of breeding frogs and toads. Some salamanders also utilize vernal pools for reproduction, but the adults may visit the pool only briefly. Other highly specialized inhabitants are daphnia and fairy shrimp. The latter are often used as an indicator species to decisively define a vernal pool. Other indicator species, at least in parts of NoVA, are the wood frog, the spade foot toad, and a few species of mole salamanders (spotted, tiger, and marbled). The tiny Pea Clams discovered in one pool were thought to be a first encounter in Fairfax County and

Spotted salamander – Photo: Krista Melville

Pea clams – Photo: Sarah Glassco

evidence was sent to a lab in Ontario, Canada for verification.







To me, one of the most fascinating single phenomena of vernal pools is simply the explosive appearance of life in the just recently thawed waters of an emergent spring pool.

The film elicited a foundational precept instilled in me during my FMN-101 training that is worth repeating, ‘an awareness of nature (or a thing of nature) leads to understanding; understanding leads to appreciation; appreciation leads to caring; and caring leads to conservation’.

Without further ado, and just in time for the 2023 vernal pool season, here is their film journey through some vernal pools of Fairfax County – Fairfax Vernal Pools with Mike Hayslett

Team Table Time

It was a great way to spend a day – collaborating behind the Nature Forward Table at the Hybla Valley Community Center.
Hybla Valley is designated as an Opportunity Neighborhood in Fairfax County. United Community, a non-profit organization, hosted the holiday season outreach event handing out 100s of toys, a nutritional lunch, and a tremendous amount of information on community area services (police, health, assistance) to 700+ visitors.

The Nature Forward tables focused on the Little Hunting Creek watershed area that runs through Huntley Meadows Park and the Hybla Valley area out to the Potomac River. The tables included a Macro-invertebrates game and display to emphasize the importance of clean water in the neighborhood. A native leaf rubbing station for the kids, resource information for the adults and, boxes of free kid nature and seasonal story books. We counted 306 visitors to our table; I think the ‘bugs’ drew in a lot kids and their families.

Jo working the floor. Photo Jerry Nissley

The coordinator for Nature Forward was the gracious Renee Grebe and it was great to work with ARMN volunteers Eileen Miller and Eric Weyer. The team was rounded out by FMN reps Jo Doumbia and Jerry Nissley.

The team set up Nature Forward’s macro-invertebrates spin-wheel game, along with resin macro cubes (encasing real macros!), talked up their Water Keepers of Little Hunting Creek programming, and handed out flyers as the visitors streamed by.

Santa, of course. Photo Jerry Nissley

Renee was very appreciative to have FOUR master naturalists at the table that could talk specifically about macro-invertebrates and how they are an indicator species of water quality. Macro-invertebrates are literally one of Eric’s specialties and he could tell a good story. Eileen and Jo had both helped with Nature Forward in the past and were very familiar with their objectives and messaging. They are all wonderful communicators and Jo provided additional benefit by being able to translate materials for the predominantly Spanish speaking guests.
Toys, Santa, buena comida, joy, and bug science! A lot of smiles left the building that day.

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.”

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 [email protected] 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 [email protected]

From One Seed a Handful

It is always encouraging to hear of success stories from FMN volunteers. Then again it is also something special to hear from ‘friends of FMN’ just because they want to share a wonderful story with friends and like minded people and perhaps plant a seed for a future project.

Seed box on lower shelf.             Photo – Jerry Nissley

Such is the case, literally and figuratively, with Sally Berman a friend of FMN Janet Quinn and a volunteer at South Run Park in Fairfax County. Sally emailed Janet saying, “I always enjoy reading the newsletter FMN puts together.  So many great things are happening around the area!! I wanted to share a project we have started.”

Seed Library Reference sheet – courtesy of Sally Berman

She told about a team of dedicated South Run Park volunteers who brainstormed an idea they had while tending the gardens. “Why not start collecting seeds from the gardens to provide a sustainable local seed source?” Gardening is a wonderful time to germinate ideas, eh? Together with fellow volunteers Vick Maddox and Cheryl St. Amant the team started collecting seeds from the South Run plots as a means of sustaining the South Run gardens. As the collection grew they decided to spread the bounty.

Book Box Titles – courtesy of Sally Berman

The collection amassed quickly so they soon added a Free Little Seed Box to complement the existing Free Little Library Box that is adjacent the South Run playground.  The book box is a clever idea in itself. Many of the book titles reference a plant, flower, vegetable, or gardening topic of some sort. So the seed box conceptionally works well within the book box. There is also a long list of gardening infused children’s book titles posted along side the book box as shown in the cover photo.

Kid’s Garden across from the Book and Seed Box. Photo Jerry Nissley

The team also maintains the South Run ‘Native Knoll’ created a few years ago to showcase the use of native plantings in a public landscaping project.
If FMN volunteers would like to advise the team on the use of appropriate native plants for any of the sites or help care for the Knoll or gardens please contact Sally Berman at [email protected]

FMN volunteers may use service code: Parks – S109: FCPA Habitat and Parkland Management – – Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA)

“From one seed a whole handful …” J.M. Coetzee

Community Entranceway Landscaping

Article, Photos, and Images: Courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives: Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association 

The Audubon-at-Home program in partnership with Plant NOVA Natives obtained a grant from Dominion Energy to award seven matching mini-grants to community associations for converting their entranceway landscaping to all Virginia native plants. The mini-grants stipulated that the landscaping be designed so that the community’s standard landscape company could maintain it. The projects were installed in the fall of 2021. The “after” photos are from Spring 2022. Below, the organizer from Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association shared some thoughts about their experience that may help other communities.

Note: Any community or individual in Northern Virginia who wish to use their property for wildlife sanctuary is encouraged to invite an Audubon-at-Home volunteer to walk their property with them and strategize.

In Fairfax County, The Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association participated in the program.

From the Water’s Edge Organizers:

It is so exciting to see these plants come back this year! We have several signs that you will notice in the pics. Besides the Native Plants sign, there are some smaller signs as well. The smaller green one requests that the plants not be sprayed. There are also small signs with numbers. The numbers correlate to the educational piece, which is the QR codes in multiple places, which invite people to learn more about the plant that is there. This is something we said we would have by this spring. We are still looking into other educational opportunities for the community and will take any chance to share the work that has been done and the benefits associated with planting natives. Since the entrance is located on a walking path in the area, the QR codes are placed so that anyone walking by has the opportunity to learn more about any of the plants. On our part, having this done and engaging with the work has prompted us to consider only natives in other parts of the neighborhood as trees need to be replaced, beds need to be rebuilt, and our own properties need plantings. The invasives that were in the area, such as the lilies, have been difficult to remove, and they came back in full force this year. Hands Dirty came back to remove more of them, and we will continue to monitor the need for removal. During bouts of hot and/or dry weather, we are watering by hand or hiring the landscaping company to water the plants at the entrance as well as other native plantings we are working to establish.

Additional articles about this program and participants:
Welcoming Visitors with Native Plant Landscaping — Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (

Plant List:

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatam ‘Shenandoah’
Southern Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Eastern Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana)
Pennsylvania Sedge) (Carex pensylvanica)
Wood Aster
Woodland Phlox (Phlox diviracata) ‘Sherwood Purple’
Native azalea
Meadow Anemone
American Strawberrybush (Euonymyous americanus)
Aromatic Sumac (Rhus aromatica)
Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata) ‘Emerald Pink’
Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
Black-eyed Susan
Culver’s Root
False Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis)
Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)
Mountain Mint


Before Picture and After Pictures:

Courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives: Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association


Courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives: Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association


Courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives: Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association


Courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives: Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association