Sign up to be trained as an Audubon at Home Ambassador

Are you a bird lover who wants to create habitat to attract birds to your or your neighbors’ yards?  Are you a native plant lover?  Are you intrigued by observing wildlife in your own yard?  Do you lament the prevalence of English ivy, and sterile, conventional landscapes and lawns in Fairfax County suburbs?

If so, this is the gig for you!  Sign up to be trained as an Audubon at Home Ambassador and help transform the landscape of Northern Virginia, one yard at a time.

A training/orientation session will be offered Saturday, April 1, at the National Fish and Wildlife Federation headquarters at 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston, from 10 a.m. to 1.  Bring a bag lunch.

Please email Betsy Martin at by Tuesday Feb. 26th if you’d like to sign up. 

Audubon at Home Ambassadors visit properties and provide advice to homeowners on what natives to plant, what invasives to remove, and how to improve wildlife habitat in peoples’ backyards.  We certify properties as Wildlife Sanctuaries when homeowners adopt Best Habitat Practices, and when beneficial Sanctuary Species actually show up and use the yard. (Our motto is, “Let the animals decide.”)  You can learn more about the Audubon at Home program at .

On April 1, Betsy Martin (Fairfax County Audubon at Home Coordinator) will give a presentation on the program and its philosophy, the role of Ambassador, and resources that will help you research and advise clients on native plants and habitat improvements.

After lunch, Charles Smith of Fairfax County Stormwater Planning Division will lead a walk on the beautiful and natural NFWF grounds, showing trainees how to read a landscape, what to look for when assessing its habitat value, and how to think about creating wildlife habitat.

Audubon at Home is an approved FMN service project.  You will receive 3 hours of Continuing Education credit for attending this training session and service credit for each home visit.

How to identify plants on iNaturalist

Are you thinking about supporting the City Nature Challenge? Here’s a super easy-to-follow-video to learn how.

No need to say more–just watch.

Frying Pan Farm Park Pollinator Garden: Community Partnerships in Action

Kim Scudera

In 2011, Frying Pan Park did not have a pollinator garden.

By October 2012, they did, and Fairfax Master Naturalist volunteers are the reason. Here’s the story.

Frying Pan has a long history, and hosts thousands of visitors each year, many of whom are the future stewards of our environment: young children. My own children had participated for years in summer camps at Frying Pan, learning about farm life and farm animals, making butter, playing outdoors.

In July of 2012, Ashley Stanton, then service project chair for FMN, put out a call for the development of a pollinator garden, as a “thank you” to Frying Pan for hosting our annual meeting.

Sarah Mayhew, FMN Class of ‘07, pulled together a team of people from Frying Pan Park, the Fairfax chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program, and representatives of the Virginia Native Plant Society (Potowmack Chapter) and Earth Sangha. Without her strong leadership, this project could not have happened. Carmen Bishop, FMN ’07, served tirelessly as liaison to the park.  

A site was chosen near the historic farmhouse: the location wraps around the south and east sides of the park’s Dairy House, where a neglected garden, created by a Girl Scout troop about ten years back, was in need of a major retrofit.

With lots of input from Carmen, Sarah, Cindy Morrow, Amol Kaikini, Terrence Liercke, Alan Ford, and Lisa Bright from Earth Sangha, I designed the pollinator garden in August 2012. By September, garden preparation was complete, and plants were donated by many FMN’ers, and by VNPS Potowmack and Earth Sangha.  

Why did VNPS and Earth Sangha choose to become involved? Expanding our understanding of the value of native plants, and putting those plants into the hands of Virginia homeowners, schools, and businesses, are key elements of the missions of these two organizations. Personal connections matter, too: for example, then-VNPS Potowmack President Alan Ford is a Fairfax Master Naturalist, and these personal connections brought volunteers and donations of plants to the garden.

Two planting days were all it took to get the garden established. The garden includes many plants important to bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects, including goldenrods, bee balm, and milkweed.

It’s one thing to get a garden started; the real challenge is keeping it going. Since 2012, I have donated over 275 hours of time caring for this garden, with help from the park (big thanks to Patrick McNamara and Marge Landis) and from FMN members. Cindy Morrow and Cynde Sears have been exceptionally helpful. 

The scope has expanded from the original Dairy House planting to maintenance and expansion of the herb garden around the Smoke House adjacent to the Dairy House.  

The herb garden was already a real magnet for pollinators of all sorts:  bees, butterflies, flies, wasps, and more. It was already home to a substantial stand of our native mountain mint. Adding more native plants with culinary uses was an obvious addition to our mission at Frying Pan, and Girl Scout Rachel O, along with her sponsor Kay Fowler, added many of these plants in 2016.

The garden has filled in well since it was first planted:

Dairy House before planting


Herb Garden before planting


Garden right after planting


Garden as of Summer 2015


Garden as of summer 2017

These photographs document the growth that made possible a dramatic increase in beneficial insects and their larvae in the garden: butterflies and moths (e.g., skippers, fritillaries, monarchs, cecropia moths) have been most prevalent. 

The garden has not only attracted more flying visitors—it has encouraged a considerable increase in two-legged traffic as well. The pollinator garden has hosted Brownie and Scout troops, summer campers and school groups for presentations on the value of pollinators and the plants that host them, and a steady stream of park visitors now have an interesting destination right next to the historic farmhouse, and en route to the chickens. 

In addition, at the park’s major events, FMN has hosted information tables which reached dozens of park visitors.  These tables were staffed by Marilyn Schroeder, Joe Gorney, Valerie Lamont, Barbara Whayne, and me.

Tending the garden—which I have done since inception—is a labor of love. I plan to not only keep it going, but to make it a service project of choice for the chapter (look for S109 if you’re a member). There’s still so much to do: more edging, pruning, planting, signage, weeding, formal certification by Audubon at Home, National Wildlife Federation, Xerces… And as my mother and grandmother always said, “Many hands make light work!”

Join us!

Help clean up Fairfax County Parks April 5th-20th

Join The Nature Conservancy and Fairfax County Park Authority to clean up your watershed! This spring cleaning will remove tires, plastic bottles, cans and other debris from local waterways, preventing trash from reaching the nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay.

1,000 volunteers are needed to help cover 21 parks! This event is ideal for families, service groups, Scouts and individuals.

Dates and locations are subject to change. Registration for the 4th annual cleanup event will open on March 1, 2019.

5 APRIL 2019

Providence RECenter, Falls Church—25 volunteers needed

6 APRIL  2019

Cub Run RECenter, Chantilly—105 volunteers needed
Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Chantilly—35 volunteers needed
George Washington RECenter grounds, Alexandria—45 volunteers needed
Hidden Oaks Nature Center at Roundtree Park, Falls Church—55 volunteers needed
Hidden Pond Nature Center, Springfield—55 volunteers needed
Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria—50 volunteers needed
Lake Accotink Park, Springfield—105 volunteers needed
Lake Fairfax Park, Reston—30 volunteers needed
Lemon Road Park, Falls Church—45 volunteers needed
Middleridge Park, Fairfax—45 volunteers needed
Ossian Hall Park, Annandale—45 volunteers needed
Pine Ridge Park, Annandale—45 volunteers needed
Royal Lake Park, Fairfax—45 volunteers needed
Sully Historic Site, Chantilly—30 volunteers needed
Woodglen Lake Park, Fairfax—45 volunteers needed

13 APRIL  2019

Riverbend Park, Great Falls—45 volunteers needed
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, McLean—30 volunteers needed

20 APRIL 2019

Arrowbrook Park, Herndon—45 volunteers needed
Dulles Rock Hill Park, Chantilly—45 volunteers needed
Merrybrook Run Stream Valley Park, Fairfax—45 volunteers needed

iNaturalist identification party, Feb. 28th

National Geographic
1610 M St NW,Washington DC 20036
Thursday, 28 February 2019
5:30-8 PM

Be prepared to help with this year’s City Nature Challenge by helping to  identify last year’s iNaturalist observations! The group will meet in the cafeteria at National Geographic. Pizza provided! *Bring a laptop* and any field guides you want to reference.

Enter via the courtyard from M Street. From the courtyard, enter the building on the left, then inside turn left to the cafeteria.

5:30-6 Arrival & check in
6-6:15 Welcome & tips for identifying on iNaturalist
6:15-7:30 Identifying observations!
7:30-7:45 Check in on progress, sharing of learning
7:45-8 More identifications, goodbyes

Register here please.

Send us your success stories

Have you been working on a service project that has a goal?

Have you accomplished the goal or made progress toward achieving it?

Have you been working in concert with others?

Can you recount the accomplishments of your team?

Can you include measures?

Nope, you don’t need to have solved world hunger or addressed climate change all by yourself. Some successes are simply incremental steps toward outcomes that benefit the environment in Fairfax County and northern Virginia.

Every year, FMN reports stories of success to Virginia Master Naturalists. We’d like to share yours.

Whenever you are ready, please compose up to 500 words that relay (in whichever order best suits your story):

  • The name of your project and the service code
  • Its purpose, goals, and current objectives
  • Who’s working on the project–they don’t all have to be FMNers
  • What have you accomplished to date?
  • How do you measure those accomplishments beyond hours spent (e.g., if you planted a pollinator garden, what did it attract over what period of time that’s different from what used to visit that area? In addition to creatures that fly or crawl, did you attract human visitors? helpers? funding to continue? How many? How much?)
  • How much help do you need from chapter members?
  • What might we learn?
  • Why is this activity worth the investment of time?
  • How does it bring you pleasure? Would we have fun, too?

Please send the story and 2-3 photos with captions to A member of the FMN Communications team will be in touch within a few days, and your story will be posted to this site.

Yes, the time you spend on the story counts toward your service hours.

Questions? Again,

Participate in CaterpillarsCount! this spring

Learn about the Fairfax Master Naturalist citizen science project, CaterpillarsCount! (Service code C254 if you’re an FMNer), including the results from last year and plans to continue the project this year. 

FMN efforts are part of a larger study to determine whether seasonal activity of plants, insects, and birds are all responding synchronously to climate change. 

CaterpillarsCount! is part of a National Science Foundation-funded study with University of North Carolina, Georgetown University, and University of Connecticut as lead universities.  Additional volunteers are needed to continue to collect data this year during spring and summer. 

Guest presenters: Elise Larsen, PhD, Georgetown University and Don Coram, PhD, Fairfax Master Naturalist. 

Location:  Walker Nature Center, Reston, VA. 

Date and time:   April 23, 7:00 – 8:00 pm.

The presentation counts toward FMN continuing education credits

Helping your stream through citizen science

Chapman DeMary Trail, Purcellville VA
Sunday, 10 March 2019
2-5 pm

Join Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy for a stream-side demonstration and discussion examining how citizen science surveys can be used to assess local stream quality. You will see how biomonitoring surveys are conducted. You will have a chance to look at the data and at aquatic macro invertebrates. They will discuss how the data is analyzed and how it can be used to improve our streams. At the end, you will have the opportunity to sign up for a spring survey, led by one of Loudoun Wildlife’s citizen science stream monitoring teams. Registration is limited, RSVP to Loudoun Wildlife.

Sign up for Belvedere Elementary School’s Eco-Day

Stacey Evers, VMN and Environmental Educator, is looking for master naturalists to present environmental programs to students at Belvedere Elementary School on Thursday, June 6, 2019, as part of their annual Eco-Day. Belvedere is at Columbia Pike and Sleepy Hollow Road in the Bailey’s Crossroads/east Annandale part of Fairfax County and is very close to Arlington. Your preparation time and actual service would apply toward service hours.

Please contact Stacey soonest to engage:

703-346-8530 |

During Eco-Day, grade levels pre-K-5 will circulate through stations of hands-on activities from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. However, they can accommodate a smaller window of time if needed and would welcome one-time presentations and activities such as hikes and surveys that require specific start and end times. The programs could be as simple as sharing a skull or shell collection, identifying insects with students in the pollinator gardens, or sharing activities related to bird beak adaptations. They are also interested in activities that incorporate art or other disciplines beyond science.

You will receive beverages, lunch, and a table and canopy if you need them. That said, presentations/activities must involve hands-on learning or inquiry and not be static displays.

Zooniverse Citizen Science Projects

The Zooniverse is a collection of web-based Citizen Science projects that use the efforts and abilities of volunteers to help researchers deal with the flood of data that confronts them. Review or transcribe data from centuries-old logs of whaling ships, listen to bat calls, identify marine invertebrates, or watch a red hawk nest to learn more about their calls and behavior. There are dozens of projects available in a variety of disciplines. To volunteer, just go to the Projects page, choose one you like the look of, and get started.