Plan Pollination

Cover photo Jerry Nissley

The pollinator garden redux at the Potomac River Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge is certainly not a complete success story yet but the story behind how it got started and kicked off is a complement to success.

FMN table at Eagle Festival (Photo Jerry Nissley)

Let’s rewind … FMN set up an outreach table the Mason Neck Eagle Festival a few months ago. Near day’s end Gabby Youngken, Visitor Services Specialist at Potomac River NWRC, stopped by to see if FMN could advise them on how to refurbish their on-site pollinator garden. As circumstances would have it Sarah Mayhew had recently established an FMN Chapter Project (CP179) at Mason Neck to do their gardens. With FMN Steph Johnson as technical advisor, Sarah and other FMN members, along with Friends of Mason Neck, developed a phased work and maintenance plan/schedule and were in the midst of working it.

‘Before’ picture (Photo Jerry Nissley)

Fast forward … Because everything was documented the Mason Neck plan was easily extensible to NRWC. Surely since NWRC is directly across Belmont Bay from MNSP it stands to reason they would have the same weeds. Right? FMN sent MNSP plans to NWRC for review; followed up with a site visit to NRWC; met the staff; toured the property; and then tailored the plan for them. We then had to gather a volunteer base to execute the plan. FMN contacted Merrimac Chapter, since they operate in Prince William county. FMN has a frequent volunteer in the NWRC visitor center – he was in. Master Gardeners was interested in helping. NWRC has a few volunteer groups they tap and of course several hard working interns from the American

‘After’ picture. Invasives destined for proper disposal. Phase one done. (Photo Jerry Nissley)

Conservation Experience, EPIC Program. With the team set, Gabby picked 8 Aug to kickoff the project. Many hands make short work! Phase one done!

The team was able to save several native plants for reuse, turn the soil to remove roots, and then cover with black plastic (to smother roots) until the scheduled fall planting.

So the ‘success’ to date is really credit to how the group came together as a result of outreach to cooperate and collaborate on a project that benefits our park systems. Stay tuned for more on this effort when it completes.

Bonus factoid: The Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex is a complex of three National Wildlife Refuges in Virginia located along the Potomac River.
The three refuges are:
* Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge
* Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge
* Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge
The first two are administered jointly for planning, while the third is currently treated separately.
The pollinator garden is at the Occoquan Bay site.

Kayak Adventure

Rafting up to start the float. (Photo Jerry Nissley)

On 30 July, 2023 FMN offered its first of (hopefully) several CE Kayak Adventures. Everything worked out to a T and what a nice evening it was too. Perfect weather, full moon, eagles, herons, frogs in our boats, high tide, and Tom (the lead guide) managed to navigate the group through the hydrilla to observe an active eagle nest.

The evening tour at Mason Neck State Park (MNSP) consisted of a 2 hour tour into Belmont Bay and the back waters of Kane’s Creek. The round trip is a leisurely 4.5 mile paddle through islands of spatterdock to where MNSP borders the Elizabeth Hartwell Wildlife Refuge. The turn around point is at an eagle nest that has been reused for many years by the same mated pair.

Frogs in our boats! (Photo Jerry Nissley)

We saw two mature eagles and at least one of this year’s fledglings. The group discussed the local wetland plants, birds, geography, Native American culture, and colonial history of Mason Neck Peninsula. Mason Neck supports a large rookery of great blue herons and many migratory species such as white egrets, osprey, various water fowl, and song birds. Wetland plants identified and discussed included spatterdock, pickerel weed, arrow arum, wild rice, and swamp mallow (hibiscus).

We started the float around dusk atop glass smooth water with a cool summer breeze at our backs. While deep in the gut of Kane’s Creek we stopped to admire the eagle nest and discuss the eagle’s importance to the conservation of the peninsula. Our return leg was gently accompanied by an ebbing tide, the serenade of frogs, and the sibilant song of insects. We finished the evening gliding in under the shine of a full moon.

Paddling through spatterdock into the sunset (Photo Jerry Nissley)

The paddle adventure adhered to Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) regulations, so the tour was limited to 12 boaters and two certified guides. FMN provided the guides who have been trained and skill certified by DCR. Both guides (along with 5 other FMN) are currently registered with Mason Neck State Park and provided introductory paddling and safety tips to the group prior to the float. Not a single paddler was lost!

To the moon. (Photo Pete Thiringer)

A big thank you to FMN Program Chair Laura Anderko for arranging the event with MNSP and one of our new chapter advisors, MNSP ranger Jamie Leeuwrik.
Participants were Deb Hammer, Kathyrn Pasternak, Marilyn Schroeder, Pam Alexander, Margaret Coffey, Cyndi Perry, John Kelmelis, Meg Oakley, Pete Thiringer, Julie Shaw, and Kristin Bauersfeld; with Tom Blackburn and Jerry Nissley as the guides.

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].

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].