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


From Every Bee to Every Tree – Cathy Ledec

Recognizing Cathy Ledec for her support of County environmental initiatives. Photo courtesy of BOS newsletter.

In July 2022 the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS) distinguished FMN Cathy Ledec, former chair of the Fairfax County Tree Commission, with a proclamation for her years of service in progressing our County’s environmental initiatives. Notably, Cathy led the charge in developing the 2019 Tree Action Plan for Fairfax County which, through its robust inclusion of a diverse group of stakeholders, continues to serve as a model for how the county develops environmental initiatives.

Photo Rachel Habig-Meyers County Urban Forest Management Division

Cathy joined the Fairfax County Tree Commission in 2016 and an early draft of an update to the Tree Action Plan had been prepared.  Starting in 2016 she worked to improve the draft and positively influenced the final version submitted by committee, which was approved towards the end of 2019. The Tree Action Plan is a document of the Fairfax County Tree Commission. Tree action plan.

Cathy was also a key contributor to the Community-wide Climate Action Plan (CECAP) developed in large part by citizen volunteers and then approved in 2021 by Fairfax County. In a New York Times article Jim McKay (Chairman, BOS) emphasized that the county’s climate action plan is unusual in part because it was produced by several dozen community members instead of county officials. In most cases, programs like these come from the top down.
One goal of the plan, approved in September 2021, is to educate county residents about environmentally friendly choices they can make. “If the community’s not on board, you’re not going to accomplish anything other than to write a beautiful plan and have it sit on the shelf and collect dust,” said McKay.
A group of more than 50 residents heard from experts, examined data, debated and voted on recommendations. The document identified 12 broad strategies in five areas: buildings and energy efficiency, energy supply, transportation, waste, and natural resources. The strategies were broken into 37 recommended actions and scores of narrower “activities.”

Planting for the future. Photo George Ledec

Dan Storck (Mt. Vernon District Supervisor) extolled Cathy’s past performance and service to Fairfax County in an official letter by writing, “Cathy served on the Fairfax County Tree Commission since 2016, and as Chair since January 2019, until she recently stepped down. As Chair, Cathy led the creation of the 2019 Fairfax County Tree Action Plan, which was subsequently approved by the Board of Supervisors, and led to the institution of the Community of Practice in 2020. During Cathy’s tenure, she led discussions and compiled research for the Commission to comment on a variety of County Board priorities, including solar projects and trees, the Joint County/Schools Environmental Task Force (JET) recommendations, land use decisions affecting trees, actions affecting trees in the Community Energy and Climate Action Plan’s (CECAP), among others. As noted by the current Chair of the Tree Commission, Cindy Speas, “Cathy’s work made the Tree Commission more relevant in a changing environmental world through the adoption of the Tree Action Plan and the Community of Practice”.”

The letter continued by noting, “Cathy has served on the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park since 2010 and as its elected President since 2012, where her leadership has contributed significantly to the long-term preservation of natural resources at Huntley Meadows and throughout Fairfax County. She volunteers with the Resource Management Division (RMD) of the County Park Authority (FCPA) assigned to Huntley Meadows, educating the public on the importance of being good environmental stewards and contributing to data collection supporting scientific research. Cathy has led countless cleanups, invasive species removals, bird counts, nature walks and organized volunteers for many other park activities. In 2020, Cathy received the Sally Ormsby Environmental Stewardship Award for 17 years of volunteer service at Huntley Meadows Park and for the Fairfax County Park Authority.” She even donated a bench to Huntley Meadows Park.

Cathy and George Ledec Bench at Huntley Meadows- photo Jerry Nissley

Mr. Storck commended Cathy and her service by saying, “Cathy is truly a protector of our natural world, from every bee to every tree. Her knowledge of trees, natural landscaping, climate and environmental issues, living shorelines and so much more is unmatched, as is her passion and enthusiasm”.

Cathy also serves our community via her multi-functional involvement in many citizen action groups such as, Friends of Huntley Meadows Park, Inc. (FOHMP), Board Member Emeritus; Fairfax County Park Authority, Resource Management Division, Huntley Meadows Park, 2003 to present; Invasive Management Area Program: Site Leader, Mount Eagle Park, 2016 to June 30, 2022; Certified Master Naturalist, Virginia Master Naturalists (Fairfax Chapter) (2017- present); Pavilions at Huntington Metro Community Association, President (2019-present); Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, Reston, VA Member, Board of Directors, November 2019 – August, 2021; Audubon-At-Home Ambassador, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia( 2018-2020); Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations (2007 to 2018); and Fairfax Federation of Citizens Associations.

George and Cathy checking a bird box. Photo by Doug Mason.

However, needs change and a good life marches forward opening doors to new adventures. Cathy mentioned to me in an email interview, “My husband and I will be relocating to Barnstable, Massachusetts and will remain connected and involved to a much lesser degree with Fairfax County.  I retain my affiliation with the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park where both my husband and I are now Board Members Emeritus.  I expect to return to Fairfax County regularly for visits and hope to be able to continue some of our activities in the area.  We regularly lead bird and nature walks in our Alexandria, Virginia neighborhood and hope to continue to do this. I also intend to maintain my certification status with Fairfax Master Naturalists and can complete activities here when we are in town.”

Tilling the soil. Photo George Ledec.

She said, “I hope that my work inspires others to get involved. I have enjoyed living here in Fairfax County for almost 30 years and am sad to leave.  On the other hand we are very excited about our new adventure in Massachusetts.  We purchased a 4.25 acre waterfront property in the village of Cummaquid and will be working to restore this land to a more natural state.  This includes some reforestation and invasive plant removal along with the planting of many native species of trees, shrubs, forbs and grasses.  On the property we are lucky to have about 1 acre of salt marsh and a fresh water (Kettle pond) on the property.  Already we have a day roost of both Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons and nesting Willow  Flycatcher and nesting Yellow Warbler.  We are nearby the Mass Audubon Society’s Long Pasture Nature Preserve and there is so much to see!  Our new home is about 15 minutes away from my 92 year old parents where I am so fortunate to be able to move there to help them out.”

Given all of the above, Cathy remains a humble, altruistic individual who doesn’t mind, in fact, loves to get her hands into the dirt. She said she does not do what she does for the accolades, they seem to come with the territory. She is very appreciative though when the County gives thanks for influencing their decisions towards positive, sustainable environmental impact. So for ‘every bee and every tree” in Fairfax County, FMN joins in thanking Cathy for all she has done and hopefully will continue doing in our shared communities.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center – Redux

All photos by Jerry Nissley

The day I visited the newly renovated Hidden Oaks Nature Center (HONC) the primary parking lot was full so I drove around to the secondary lot, which only added about 75 yards to my walk to the Nature Center. Had the primary lot not been full I would have missed the delightful new Storybook Trail. The trail provides stations along the way that tell a story about two friends – a chipmunk and a squirrel, with pictures and paragraphs. The flip side of the station signs provide fun facts about the critters.

New pond area

In a way, this concept incapsulates what the park is all about. HONC creatively makes everything a learning experience without overtly stating, ‘Now children, this is an educational experience, blah, blah, blah”. All the children I saw were having fun and deeply engaged with whatever activity they were involved with. While I was there, according to their identical multi-colored t-shirts, two summer camp groups were visiting. One in the outside learning center and another experiencing the indoor facilities. Outside a younger group was being read a story fully supported with visual aids; I saw a fox and a squirrel in a frenzied action sequence controlled by the puppeteer all approved by chortles and guffaws of children.
Inside a preteen group was immersed in viewing several terrariums and aquariums housing different Virginia native reptiles, amphibians, insects, and fish.

Inside critter room with day camp group

Hidden Oaks Nature Center is nestled inside the 52-acre Annandale District Park. You’ll find live animal displays, exhibits, a pond, creeks, ADA compliant woodland trails, gardens, play areas, a rain garden and a resource library. In 2019 artisan Andrew Mallon was commissioned to carve a wildlife tree sculpture utilizing the 10’ high tree stump left after a poplar tree was struck by lightning right outside of the Nature Center. The fabulous carvings creatively depict 11 animals native to the park.

Closeup of new pond

The $2.1 million expansion to the Nature Center provides new rooms to host community events, freshly designed creature displays, bilingual reading corner, and ADA compliant restrooms. Improvements to the park grounds include a short interpretive nature trail, updated outside creative play area, ‘The Nature Playce’, and a newly designed pond. The formal grand opening was held last weekend, 16 July 2022, with much fanfare, speeches, Bolivian dancers, ribbon cutting, and fun activities for all.

New pond resident

Sure, HONC may be geared towards the children’s learning experience but I didn’t want the storybook to end.

For more park info and a Flickr review of the grand opening check out the following link. Once on the park site, scroll down for the Flickr show.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center

FMN CE Hike: Herp Hunt on June 26th

Article and photos by FMN Barbara Saffir except as noted

Orange turtles, slinky snakes, and shy salamanders were the highlight and delight of FMN’s first-ever continuing education “Herp Hunt” hike on June 26, 2022.

Identifying Fowler’s toad

Pickerel frog, photo Bob Macke

Thirteen enthusiastic FMNers (including some board members) attended the three-hour hike at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, including FMN event coordinator, Barbara Saffir, who co-led the hike with two experts (and an assistant expert) from the Virginia Herpetological Society.

Caroline Seitz led one group, taking the “high road” through the hilly park, so to speak.  She’s VHS’s education chair.  VHS’s Mark Khosravi, a science teacher who was recently quoted in the Washington Post discussing venomous copperheads, and his assistant led his hikers on the lower trail.  Both groups “herped” upland wooded areas and lower stretches along the Bull Run stream.

Among their discoveries were: SNAKES (a small ring-necked snake, a queen snake that repeatedly posed in the stream, adult and immature

Ring-necked snake

northern watersnakes, and an eastern worm snake); TURTLES (several male and female woodland box turtles, a red-bellied slider turtle, a painted turtle, and broken turtle eggs); FROGS/TOADS (pickerel frog, adult and baby green frogs, baby wood frog, and Fowler’s toads); and SALAMANDERS/SKINKS (a red-spotted newt, a northern two-lined salamander, a long-tailed salamander, and five-lined skinks).

Woodland box turtle

FMNers even learned how to differentiate male from female box turtles and American toads from Fowler’s toads.  A five-lined skink hopped aboard board member Amy Stulman, who handled the opportunity with a smile. Debbie McDonald spied the first herp of the day on Seitz’s hike, a precious woodland box turtle. We learned to report box turtle sightings to VHS online.


Co-leader Caroline Seitz shows us a juvenile Northern Watersnake

Queen snake practically performed for us for a while

Northrop Grumman Awards Community Service Grant to FMN

Image from Northrop Grumman website

FMN Lori Scheibe, a Northrop Grumman employee, applied for and received a $500 Community Service Grant to benefit our chapter. Lori says, “Most people who are familiar with Northrop Grumman, think of us as a technology company supporting space, aeronautics, cyber or defense. Over the last few years, one of the things that has inspired me about working at Northrop Grumman is our commitment to environmental sustainability including minimizing our operational footprint and utilizing technology for conservation. Our conservation projects include tracking the quality of coastal waters and forests; monitoring reef health metrics and environmental conditions to support oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay; developing sensor data technology for sea turtle conservation on the Florida coastline and my favorite, mapping ice formations in the Arctic for tracking polar bear migration patterns.”

“Northrop Grumman encourages volunteering in four areas: STEM education, support for military/veterans, health and human services and the environment. The FMN mission directly aligns to the environment as well as STEM education. I think volunteering at Science Fairs is a double win.”

Giving back to the community is interwoven into the culture at Northrop Grumman. They believe their employees’ support, dedication and passion help strengthen the partnerships they build in the communities where they work and live. Volunteerism is encouraged as a way to network, team build and develop leadership skills while making a difference. Northrop Grumman provides Community Service Grants in recognition of their employees’ volunteer efforts, whether at a Northrop Grumman volunteer event or when volunteering on their own.

Thank you, Lori! We will certainly use this donation to benefit the environment.

Fairfax Master Naturalist in Remer, MN, Home of Big Foot Sightings

Feature photo: Boozie Tim on point and neither I nor the evaluators are near. He is dragging a line because when out for banding work, once he points, I will tie him to a tree while the actual banding occurs.

Article and photos by FMN Melissa Stagnaro

My German Shorthair Pointer, Boozie Tim, and I weren’t looking for Sasquatch but were preparing for locating American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) hens and their chicks for banding.

American Woodcock prefer young forests with a moist floor which are likely to have an abundance of prey like earthworms lurking in the soil. Here is one of the places the group “hunted”.

I am an FMN graduate of 2021 and have been practicing banding at the Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge. While there have been a few woodcock banded at Occoquan, the mist nets most often capture passerines. Passerines are also called perching birds or songbirds. Passerines are distinguished from other orders of birds by the arrangement of their toes (three pointing forward and one back). The knowledgeable and caring volunteers at Occoquan helped me learn how to safely handle and band birds. I wanted to take what I had learned at Occoquan to a new level to find and band woodcocks.

Boozie Tim does other conservation work and I wanted to see if he could do pointing dog specific conservation work. He has been working birds since he was about four months old. Pointing-type dogs, as opposed to flushing-type or retriever-type dogs, should locate live, ground nesting birds and stand still oriented in the direction of the bird. Trainers often start pointing dogs out on pigeons since there are no game laws for pigeons, pigeons put off a strong odor making it easy for a beginner dog to find, and pigeons are, generally, strong flyers so if the dog is a bit naughty during training, pigeons safely fly off.

I studied up on woodcock habitat, behavior, and intricacies of banding, then headed out to Remer, Minnesota to a woodcock banding camp at the Pineridge Grouse Camp with my German Shorthair.

I had to pass a written test, demonstrate banding proficiency, and handle

In this photo you can see the splash in the larger circle and, in the smaller circle, a hole in the ground made by a woodcock pulling an earthworm out of the ground.

Boozie Tim through a bird course. He had to prove that he could find birds, hold point, and be steady. The dogs were all tested using pigeons, not woodcock, for safety and because during the spring only certified dogs are allowed to be “hunting” for woodcock. The bird course consisted of three stations. The first was a straightforward set up with a pigeon mimicking a male woodcock being found then flying directly away. The dog is expected to point the bird on the ground and be still as it flies away. The second was a test to see if the dog would stop when it saw a bird fly off; that is, only on the visual of the bird flying, not when the dog had smelled the bird. For this test a pigeon was in a launcher and, with careful placement and good timing, the pigeon was popped out of the device and flew off before the dog could have smelled it. Upon seeing it, Boozie Tim, with no command or help from me, was expected to, and happily did, freeze. On the woodcock spring “hunting” grounds, male woodcock and ruffed grouse, another ground nesting bird, might just fly off and a pointing dog must not chase them but instead must remain still, then focus on the handler to be instructed on what to do next. On the third station a pigeon was set up to act like a woodcock hen trying to lure a predator away from her nest or chicks. The hen woodcock does a distress call and mimics being wounded to move the attention off her nest or chicks. In the test the pigeon was tethered to a weight such that the bird flew, landed near the dog, flapped its wings, flew a bit more but again landed near the dog and kept doing this until the evaluators were sure the dog was not tempted to break point and go to the pigeon. No pigeons were harmed; all the dogs passed the tests.

To find woodcock one must understand their habitat preferences (and the timing of their migration). For the male display flight to attract a mate, he choses an open field for his singing ground. Although the first night it was too stormy for the ritual, every other night at banding camp all the attendees got to watch the male strut his stuff for the potential ‘ladies’.

On one of the “hunts” the team and I found a hen on eggs. It was concluded that she was not on chicks based on how she was holding her wings (which would be out to cover chicks but in when on eggs), how she had her neck tucked in, her bulging eyes, and the lack of “splash” nearby (hens will eliminate near chicks but not near eggs). Can you spot her?

It is fairly easy for an experienced dog to point woodcock, although the early spring growth could create a scent challenge with the release of chlorophyll and late spring growth could create a pinpoint location problem for the handler if the dog is pointing a thick bit of cover but the handler is not able to visually locate the chicks. Hens on nests are a special scent challenge for dogs and (other) predators; to protect themselves and the eggs, the hen puts off minimal odor. Team effort is required to have the best chance of success!

Once handlers are in a good spot – young forest with moist soil and a singing ground nearby – they keep their eyes peeled for “splash” (elimination material). Of course many birds eliminate in the woods but based on the size, shape, and location one can often locate woodcock splash.

The Minnesota banders have been pulled into some interesting research projects to do along side their banding efforts. One researcher is supplying banders with containers to gather fresh fecal matter from, separately, hens and chicks, to better understand eating habits. Early work shows a more varied diet than earlier believed.

It is unclear how long banding efforts will continue given the affordability of

Hint- Hens like to be near saplings to reduce the likelihood of being stepped on.

GPS trackers for the birds to wear. Unlike banding, which at most, would provide two data points – once when banded and twice if recovered (nationwide, only about 2 percent of banded woodcock are recovered), GPS trackers can provide data points along the whole migration route. Several of the woodcock banders are also certified to attach GPS trackers so the “hunt” over pointing dogs will continue but instead of an anklet, birds may be left with a back pack.

Boozie Tim and I are looking forward to returning to Minnesota in spring of 2023 to find some chicks and contribute to increasing the public’s awareness for woodcock and the need for woodcock habitat.