Winter Waterfowl Count, February 3rd and 4th

Photo by FMN Ana Ka’ahanui.

Saturday, February 3, 7:00 AM – Sunday, February 4 – 2:00 PM
Various locations
FREE, but registration is required!

The Winter Waterfowl Count is a citizen science effort organized by Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) to track data about winter waterfowl. This survey complements the Christmas Bird Count, and the data is shared openly with the public. When it started in 2008, ASNV volunteers covered the Potomac River from Algonkian Regional Park in Loudoun County to Quantico Marine Base in Prince William County, as well as many inland bodies of water. In 2020 ASNV expanded the survey to include areas along the Potomac River in King George and Westmoreland Counties down to the mouth of the Potomac River where it empties into Chesapeake Bay.

Although ASNV expect many veterans from past years to return, they can always use new volunteers. Beginners are welcome but are strongly encouraged to attend the Duck and Waterfowl Identification webinar on January 25. Each volunteer will be assigned to a team led by an experienced birder. Each team determines the start time, which will vary between 7:00 and 8:30am. End times may also vary depending on assigned survey locations.

This count is organized by Larry Cartwight. The deadline to register is Tuesday, January 30 at 9:00 PM so that you can be assigned to a team in time for the count on Saturday morning.

Larry Cartwright is an avid birder and leads several avian related surveys in Northern Virginia. He lectures on birds and birding for the Lifetime Learning Institute at Northern Virginia Community College. His lecture topics have included the evolution of birds from feathered theropod dinosaurs and birding in the Alaskan tundra. Larry has received several awards from scientific and conservation organizations, including the Virginia Society of Ornithology’s Jackson M. Abbott Conservation Award for 2013.

Surveys: Occoquan Bay NWR Natural Resources, November 29th and/or December 20th

Photo: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher by Rusty Moran

Wednesday, November 29, 2023 and/or
Wednesday, December 20, 2023
7:30 am – 12 pm
Occoquan Bay NWR
13950 Dawson Beach Road
Woodbridge, VA

Participation is limited. Email to make a reservation here.

Many know Northern Virginia for its economic dynamism, cultural development and ever-changing landscape. Less well known are the places sheltering remnants of an earlier, vital, natural history. If you would like to discover native birds, other fauna and flora — in the company of dedicated citizen scientists — then consider joining one or more of the continuing natural resource surveys at Occoquan Bay NWR, Meadowood Recreation Area and other parks and preserves in eastern Fairfax and Prince William Counties. Each of these publicly-protected sites has a particular blend of habitats representative of Northern Virginia’s special natural character.

A report of each of the weekly, monthly surveys is emailed to participants as well as the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and other managing agencies. Summary reports, checklists and analyses of survey data provide an up-to-date inventory of species and insight into the state of populations.

Service Project at Monticello Park, November 19th

Photo: Northern Parula by Randy Streufert

Sunday, November 19, 2023
1 – 3 pm
Monticello Park
320 Beverly Drive, Alexandria

This program is part of Audubon Society of Northern Virginia’s Stretch Our Parks initiative, in partnership with the staff of Alexandria Recreation, Parks and Culture.

Please join them for a service project in Monticello Park to restore trails damaged by erosion and remove non-native invasive plants to make room for more native plants that will benefit all of the park’s wildlife including its birdlife. This park is well loved among birders – so pitch in to help keep this gem of a park in good shape!

Please dress in layers, wear solid footwear and bring work gloves if you have them.

About Monticello Park: Among local birders, this 6.5-acre park is renowned for its great diversity of migrating warblers; nearly all eastern species have occurred here. The park’s creek is a focus for migrant activity, which is significant throughout the day. A steep canyon and creek are the prominent features of the site. This site was designated a Community Forest. Visit to learn more about the bird species that depend on this crucial migration stop-over.

“Take Back the Forest” Twin Lakes Golf Course Invasives Management Area, November 5th

Photo Image: Courtesy of FMN Joe Gorney

Sunday, 5 November 2023
2:00-6:00 PM

Twin Lakes Golf Course
Invasives Management Area
6201 Union Mill Road
Clifton, Virginia

Site Leader Contact Information:
Joe Gorney
Cell/Text: 703-861-7322
[email protected]

FMN Members,

I’m the Site Leader for the Twin Lakes Golf Course Invasives Management Area in Centreville (just south of the Centreville High School). I have a workday planned for Sunday afternoon, November 5, staring at 2:00 PM. While I already have my full slate of 10 volunteers for that day (mostly students and their parents), I’m soliciting extra FMN volunteers to remove large vines and shrubs from a particularly overgrown area. I have reserved a large (30 yards) roll-off dumpster for the day, which will only be available for the weekend, and I would like to fill it.

The work would consist primarily of lopping or sawing off woody vegetation and dragging it about 75 yards to the dumpster. Our tools will be loppers and small tree saws. The principal targets include Autmn olive, Asiatic bittersweet, honeysuckle vine, and honeysuckle shrub. We might also dig out some of the roots with shovels.

If you are able to help on that day, please let me know via email. Although this event is already “full” on the on-line FCPA volunteer system (which is capped at ten volunteers), I could use at least another 10 people so that we can fill the dumpster! While I normally plan my volunteer workdays for two hours, I plan to keep cutting and dragging from 2:00-6:00 PM, to take full advantage of the dumpster. I will also reserve extra loppers, saws, shovels, tarps, and gloves from FCPA for the workday. I will report volunteer information and hours worked to FCPA after the event.

Please let me know if you can help “Take Back the Forest.” Thanks!

Tools and gloves will be supplied. Please bring water, insect repellant, and sunscreen. Wear long sleeves, long pants, hats, and sturdy shoes.

Enter the golf course from the main entry off of Union Mill Road, just south of Centreville High School. Once you enter through the gates, drive about 0.4 miles to the northern clubhouse parking lot and turn left into the lot. Park along the northern edge of the parking lot, closest to Work Area 1.

Work Areas:
Work areas are the north of the northern parking lot. Most student volunteers will continue to focus on Area 1. FMN volunteers will focus on the mature invasives within Area 2.

Joe Gorney

TWIN Lakes IMA Site Leader
[email protected]

Invasive Removal and Habitat Restoration, October and November Dates

Photo: Earth Sangha, Section of restored native woods at the preserve.

Join these efforts to remove invasive species, repair trails, and otherwise beautify natural spaces!

Stream Monitoring Citizen Science & Training Opportunities, October and November Dates

Photo by FMN J. Quinn, Stream monitoring at Pohick Creek.


Little Difficult Run Stream Monitoring Field Training

When: Saturday, October 21, 2023
Where: Fred Crabtree Park, Herndon

This beautiful stream site is located a short hike into the woods and has a large diversity of macroinvertebrates. A visit to this site is highly recommended for anyone looking to practice their macroinvertebrate identification skills, for their VASOS certification or for fun! Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.

Sugarland Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Monday, November 6, 2023
Where: Sugarland Run Stream Valley Park, Herndon

This site is lovely in the fall, and we usually find some fun hellgrammites and crayfish. This site is also close to one of the largest great blue heron breeding and nesting grounds in the region, and we may see some visitors from their northern range in the area. Pretty neat! Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.


Pohick Stream Monitoring Field Training

When: Wednesday, November 8, 2023
Where: Pohick Creek Stream Valley Park, Springfield

This site has a greater flow and wider stream than any of our other sites. Does more water mean more macros? Only one way to find out… Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.

Big Rocky Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Saturday, November 11, 2023
Where: Cabell’s Mill, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Chantilly

Join us for our last stream monitoring of the fall season! Volunteers at this site often visit and enjoy the park’s nature center and interpretive trails. Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.

More Training and Stream Monitoring Opportunities

The NoVa Soil & Water Conservation teams are  very excited to contribute their stream data to state and national datasets. If you’d like to see data from all the NVSWCD regional stream monitoring team’s active sites, you can find our organization on the Clean Water Hub.

Survey: Meadowood Butterfly and Dragonfly Survey, October 20th

Photo by Plant NOVA Natives, Mourning Cloak Butterfly


Meadowood Recreation Area
10406 Gunston Road
Lorton, VA, 22079 United States (map)

Butterfly and dragonfly surveys are carried out in temperate months (April-October), normally on Friday mornings, at one of four sites around Occoquan Bay, all within the 15-mile diameter circle established for the annual North American Butterfly Association’s Annual Count.

The results of these surveys are made available to the participants and other interested individuals and agencies, including the Fairfax County Park Authority, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and agencies of the U.S. Interior Department. The results of the butterfly-dragonfly surveys are summarized, along with the results of the general surveys, in an annual report.

Participation is limited. Email us to make a reservation here.

AHS – Projects and Partnerships

Article by FMN Susan Farmer

Fairfax Master Naturalists  chapter is partnering with the American Horticultural Society (AHS) at their River Farm location in Fairfax County. River Farm is a beautiful 27-acre property located along the George Washington Parkway overlooking the Potomac River that has been AHS headquarters since 1973. The River Farm location is one of George Washington’s original five farms.

AHS headquarters – photo Jerry Nissley

Members of Virginia Master Naturalists, Fairfax Chapter (FMN) will provide volunteers in support of AHS activities as well as promote awareness of AHS educational opportunities inline with the FMN mission.

To help celebrate their 50th year at River Farm, AHS initiated several new projects in 2023. With the help of volunteers, River Farm is replacing the old azalea garden with 2400 native plants, converting a large lawn into a native meadow, renewing all the bluebird boxes, building a greenhouse, and creating an accessible path through the wooded area to the riverfront. FMN will be working with other AHS volunteers and staff to fulfill their vision.

AHS Border garden – photo Jerry Nissley

FMN created three project codes to cover AHS Stewardship projects, Educational programs, and Citizen Science opportunities.

S275: Stewardship Projects at American Horticultural Society River Farm
E275: Educational Projects at American Horticultural Society River Farm
C275: Citizen Science Projects at American Horticultural Society River Farm

AHS formal garden – photo Jerry Nissley

Two opportunities on the top of their list for FMN are the removal of invasive vines to prep for native plantings and to re-establish their bluebird trail. The Invasive Vine Removal Program will be on consecutive Saturday mornings beginning October 7th. Help restructuring the bluebird trail and then subsequently monitoring the boxes will start very soon. FMN Susan Farmer has volunteered to be the FMN liaison for all projects at River Farm.

If you would like to get involved at this national showcase for gardening and horticultural practices along gorgeous river front property, please contact Susan at [email protected]

AHS HQ view from River side – photo Jerry Nissley

National Public Lands Day, September 23rd

For 30 years, National Public Lands Day has mobilized volunteers of all ages to engage in a celebration of service and stewardship of America’s public lands. The event is the largest single-day national volunteer effort to preserve, restore, improve and enjoy America’s public lands.

Fairfax County Park Authority invites you to be a part of their celebration of National Public Lands Day by taking part in any of a wide selection of service activities to protect the natural, cultural and recreational resources of our treasured park system!

Check out their list of service opportunities by location that day.

Image: Courtesy of Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District

Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District: Soil Your Undies Campaign

Article and Images Courtesy of The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District


Soil Your Undies Campaign

Soil Your Undies Challenge

The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District is challenging residents all across Fairfax County to bury a pair of cotton underwear as part of a campaign to promote soil health awareness. How does it work? Just bury a pair of cotton underwear and dig it back up after at least 60 days. It’s the quick and dirty way to test the microbial activity in your soil. The more the underwear is deteriorated, the healthier your soil!

Although you can use the Soil Your Undies Challenge to check your soil health at any time, the most microbial activity occurs during the warm summer months, making this an easy and fun addition to your summer break plans!

Soil Your Undies Challenge Steps

Join the Challenge!

Step 1: Look for a place where you want to study the health of the soil. Make sure you are only studying sites on your property or with the permission of the landowner.

Step 2: Bury a pair of white cotton undies (or any white cotton clothing item) 3 inches under the soil’s surface. Be sure to take a “before” photo.

Step 3: Don’t forget to mark your study site with a flag or other easily-identifiable marker!

Step 4: Wait at least 60 days (this is the hard part…)

Step 5: Locate your marked study site and dig up your cotton undies. Be sure to take an “after” photo.

Step 6: How healthy is your soil? Healthier soils have a lot of microbial activity, and the healthy fungi and bacteria in the soil will break down your cotton undies. The more degraded your undies are, the more microbial activity you have in your soil, and the healthier your soil is.

Step 7: Share the results of your citizen science project! Email your photos and any notes you may have to [email protected], and share your results with us on Facebook @nvswcd and on Instagram @NorthernVirginiaSWCD. We’ll be sharing our results with you, too!

About Soil Health

Healthy soil contains billions of microbes that consume organic material (in this case, cotton underwear). In fact, one teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microbes than there are people on the planet. In addition to chowing down on organic matter like cotton, they also help soil resist erosion, cycle nutrients, and store water.

As world population and food production demands rise, keeping our soil healthy and productive is of paramount importance. By farming using soil health principles and systems that include no-till, cover cropping, and diverse rotations, more and more farmers are increasing their soil’s organic matter and improving microbial activity. As a result, farmers are sequestering more carbon, increasing water infiltration, improving wildlife and pollinator habitat—all while harvesting better profits and often better yields. In backyards, healthy soil can promote the growth of a healthy lawn and landscaping, as well as help water infiltrate and prevent erosion.

You can improve soil health by following these four steps:

  1. Avoid soil disturbance wherever and whenever possible.
  2. Maximize soil cover with living plants and residue.
  3. Maximize biodiversity by growing a variety of plants and managed integration of livestock.
  4. Maximize living roots in the soil throughout the year.