Volunteer Opportunities at Hidden Oaks Nature Center!

Photo: By FMN Jerry Nissley, Hidden Oaks Nature Center

Hidden Oaks Nature Center (HONC), nestled inside the 52-acre Annandale District Park, needs your help! Earn your volunteer hours with the HONC.  Volunteers are needed for the following activities:

  •  a volunteer to cover our front desk on Saturdays.  There are currently 3 others who will share this position with you – you will need to volunteer only one Saturday per month.  Duties include greeting incoming visitors and answering their questions, answering phones, and perhaps helping prepare crafts.  Hours right now are 12:00 – 5:00 p.m.
  • volunteers to help with HONC children’s camps.   Subjects vary and run from dinosaurs to pirates.  These will be Monday through Friday, either in the morning or in the afternoon. Assist the camp leader with activities and camper management.
  • volunteers to help with birthday parties and other educational programs.  Volunteers needed on weekends to help run programs and will include putting your FMN education to use.

Contact Hidden Oaks’ volunteer coordinator, [email protected].  Training will be provided.

Thank you!

Creatures of The Night, July 19th

Image: Courtesy of the Clifton Institute

July 19, 2024
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Rd
Warrenton, VA 20187

FREE but Registration is REQUIRED.

Join the Clifton Institute to look and listen for creatures of the night! Summer is an ideal time to observe several species of katydids, crickets, cicadas and birds. Participants will also look for beavers, reptiles and amphibians, and other animals! Back at the farmhouse participants will see what kinds of moths and beetles black lights can attract.


Butterfly Identification Workshop, July 18th

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

July 18, 2024
10:30 am
 – 12:30 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Rd
Warrenton, VA 20187

FREE but Registration is REQUIRED.

Join the Clifton Institute to learn about butterfly identification and biology. Bert Harris will give a presentation on the identification of common butterflies in the local area. Participants will then take a walk around the field station to look for butterflies (and perhaps some dragonflies as well.) All skill levels welcome!

2024 NABA Butterfly Count, July 20th

Photo: by FMN Jerry Nissley, Tiger swallowtail VMN Logo

July 20, 2024
9:00 am
 – 3:00 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Rd
Warrenton, VA 20187

FREE but Registration is REQUIRED.

Every year community scientists help count the butterflies in 15-mile-diameter circles all around the country and contribute their data to the North American Butterfly Association. This summer the Clifton Institute will host their 29th annual butterfly count and celebrate their 22nd year contributing data to NABA. Butterfly enthusiasts of all levels of experience are welcome! If you feel like you don’t know many butterflies, this is a great way to learn and it’s always helpful to have more eyes pointing out butterflies. Participants will be assigned to small teams, led by an experienced butterfly counter. Once you volunteer, you will receive more information about your team closer to the date. Each team will survey a variety of sites within the designated count circle.  Everyone will meet at the Clifton Institute at 3:00 PM to tally results over cold drinks (provided).

Stream Monitoring Citizen Science & Training Opportunities, July

Photo: FMN Janet Quinn

NoVa Soil & Water Conservation District: Stream Monitoring Citizen Science & Training Opportunities

Difficult Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Thursday, July 18, 9:00am-12:00pm
Where: Difficult Run Stream Valley Park, Great Falls

This stream site in Great Falls is a short walk through the woods to a river with wide, sandy banks. These trails are very popular with hikers and we often get high water quality scores at this site. Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.

Cub Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Sunday, July 21, 9:00am-12:00pm
Where: Cub Run Stream Valley Park, Centreville

This site features some of the largest hellgrammites we find in Fairfax County! (Haven’t heard of them? Be sure to research this super cool macroinvertebrate!). Just a stone’s throw from the parking area, this site is very popular and we can certainly see why! Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.

Big Rocky Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Thursday, July 25, 9:00am-12:00pm
Where: Cabell’s Mill, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Chantilly

Our stream monitoring site on Big Rocky Run is located near the historic Cabell’s Mill in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. This park features great trails with interpretive signage and our stream site is a stone’s throw from Walney Pond, where you may get to see the happy beaver family that lives there. Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.


Other 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.

Earth Sangha June Work Days

Photo: Earth Sangha

Wild Plant Nursery, 6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield VA

Mason District Park, 6621 Columbia Pike, Annandale VA

Register to volunteer here.

Wild Plant Nursery Workdays: Every Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday from 9am-1pm at the Wild Plant Nursery. Earth Sangha still has plenty of repotting to do! Plus, the usual weeding and labeling. The Wild Plant Nursery will be closed on June 19th in honor of Juneteenth.

Mason District Workday: Friday, June 21st, from 9am to Noon. Help them continue their progress as they tackle yet more wineberry, bittersweet, and other invasive vines! They’ll meet by the tennis courts.

June “Big Day” at the Wild Plant Nursery: Join them for their monthly Big Day for community, service, and plants on June 23rd! We will be doing some summer cleaning, laying mulch on the paths, reorganize the nursery after a busy spring, all while having good food and conversation.

Butterfly Identification Workshop with Dr. Leslie Ries, June 18th

Photo: Emily Carter Mitchell, Zebra Swallowtail

Tuesday, June 18, 2024
7 – 8:30 PM
ASNV Members $10/Non-members $15
Register here.

The sight of butterflies fluttering around on a warm day is one of the most iconic signs of summer. These beautiful insects usually only live for a few weeks as adults, but they make quite an impression while they are in their full glory. There is a large variety of butterfly species in our area. Dr. Leslie Ries will focus on identifying the 20 most common butterflies in Northern Virginia.

Participants will also learn about the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) Survey on Saturday, June 29 and how to register to participate.

To prepare for this program, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia encourages you to purchase a copy of Butterflies of the Mid-Atlantic, a Field Guide, by Robert Blakney and Judy Gallagher.

Leslie Ries is an ecologist who focuses on patterns at both medium and large scales. She has worked in the fields of landscape ecology and biogeography with a focus mainly on butterflies. Her current research looks at large-scale patterns.

Does Your Tree Company Speak for the Trees? Getting Help from the Pros

Photo: Sara Holtz, tree with “mulch volcano”

Article by Cindy Speas, Chair of the Fairfax County Tree Commission

I am frequently asked “What service do you use for advice about the health of your trees?” I’m glad to get the question, because often the expertise needed for lawn and landscape care is not the same service needed to evaluate the health of trees, which is a whole science unto itself. My response is always that you need a good arborist, and not every tree service has one on staff. Some tree care companies do provide a free arborist consultation—but you still must analyze the wide range of recommendations you will get. One strategy would be to hire an independent arborist first, followed by free arborist consultations from reputable tree service companies.

How can you find a qualified professional to care for your trees? Go to PlantNOVATrees for information on choosing someone to work with. Call several services, ask if they have an ISA certified arborist on staff and what the fee is for a consultation (if any). Get recommendations from those you know whose trees are healthy and well-maintained. For more details read Virginia Cooperative Extension’s excellent publication on hiring an arborist.

You will be in a better position to evaluate the arborist’s advice if you know some of the best management practices in tree maintenance and care before you have a consultation. Here are some telltale recommendations that a good arborist would NEVER MAKE:

  1. That you should top your tree (take off the ends of most or all of the branches)

  2. That you should preventatively spray your tree canopy with herbicides to kill any bugs (“pests”) that might be there

  3. That you should trim out all the dead wood that can be seen

  4. That you should trim living branches in a way that leaves a part of the branch (spur) on the tree

  5. That you should build up mulch in a “volcano” shape around the base of the tree trunk to hold in water or discourage pests

  6. That you should frequently irrigate your trees using a sprinkler.

In fact:

  1. You should NEVER top your trees—this will hasten their death.

  2. You should ONLY use foliar herbicidal spray on your tree if there is clear evidence of a killer pest, and not just one that chews on the leaves a bit. A “preventative” spray will kill pollinators and the other beneficial insects that live in your trees and that attract songbirds to your yard. Spraying can also be harmful to overall tree and soil health.

  3. You should ONLY remove dead wood that is hazardous to humans or property. Removing all the observed dead wood does not improve the health of any tree.

  4. You should NEVER leave a branch spur (nor cut a branch flush to the trunk), because the tree cannot heal those wounds. Always remove branches right between the collar and the tree trunk so the wound can heal. It is preferable not to trim living branches if at all possible.

  5. You should NEVER allow mulch to be “volcanoed” around the base of any tree—volcanoing encourages roots to grow above ground into the mulch and invites fungi and tree pests.

  6. You should NEVER overwater your trees—if drought conditions suggest an occasional thorough watering, you should place a hose at various points around the root zone for a long, slow drink.

      Ask the arborist for the science behind his or her recommendations—if you are told you have pests, ask how the arborist diagnosed that. If you are told the trees need fertilizing, ask how and why the arborist believes that is a good strategy. If the responses aren’t based on good scientific evidence, then you might not have the best arborist for your trees. If an answer doesn’t seem exactly right, is too costly, or requires a signed annual contract including all their recommendations before doing the work that you actually want, get a second or third arborist’s opinion. You’d do that for your health and that of your family, so why not also do that for the health of your trees?

    Shrink the Lawn

    Article and photo by Plant NOVA Natives

    If you grew up in suburbia, a pristine lawn was a welcome herald of spring. Everyone enjoys the smell of freshly mowed grass and the look of a well-kept, manicured lawn. So what, you might wonder, is the problem with turfgrass? After all, it is a green, living plant, busily photosynthesizing carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and glucose, while providing an even surface to walk and play on. But not all is as it seems.

    No one has taught us more in recent years about the negative impact on biodiversity of sterile suburban and urban landscapes than Dr. Douglas Tallamy, an ecologist, conservationist, and Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware. Experimenting for decades on his own ten-acre home in Oxford, Pennsylvania, he eliminated turfgrass and planted native flowers, shrubs, and trees, which vastly increased the kinds and number of caterpillars, birds, frogs, and other critters living there. From this experience, he formed and shared a new understanding of how turfgrass, a staple feature of American suburbia, diminishes biodiversity.

    The grasses we use for turf, even varieties with names like “Kentucky Bluegrass”, are not native to America. Lawn grass has a long history in Europe that extends back to the Middle Ages. To this day, the species of turfgrass planted in the U.S. are native to Europe, and like all non-native plant species, they do next to nothing to support our local wildlife.

    Turfgrass now covers an estimated 40 million acres in America, acting like corn or other farmed monocultures that have replaced the more diverse habitats that supported far more local wildlife. To add insult to injury, we keep it alive using fossil fuels for mowers and leaf blowers and by adding toxic chemicals that harm plants and animals. Useful and attractive as it may be, turfgrass impoverishes the environment. In addition, turfgrass absorbs far less run-off than one would think. Rain washes over it but doesn’t penetrate to any significant depth. It therefore contributes to an abnormal volume of stormwater runoff that pollutes and erodes our streams and rivers and ultimately damages the Chesapeake Bay.

    Converting even some of the 40 million acres of turfgrass to more natural habitats would benefit the environment while also supporting a host of pollinators and other wildlife. Doug Tallamy is optimistic that if we reduce the acreage by half, we will essentially reestablish our country’s biodiversity.

    One strategy to reduce turfgrass, or at least to make it more habitable for local insects, has recently attracted a lot of interest: No Mow May. The movement began in 2019 as the brainchild of  Plantlife, a United Kingdom conservation charity. The idea was to refrain from mowing the lawn for the entire month of May to promote the growth of more flowering weeds and thereby induce more pollinators and other wildlife to stop and stay a while. As the idea spread to America and gained popularity, researchers at Lawrence University conducted a study that supported Plantlife’s theory that more bee species were visiting the un-mowed lawns when compared to nearby public lands that were being mowed throughout the month. The study gained national attention and resulted in the adoption of No Mow May across America in several jurisdictions.

    However, the majority of our common weed species are non-native and therefore provide minimal benefit beyond nectar.  The Lawrence University study was later retracted due to “several potential inconsistencies in data handling and reporting.” In addition, some critics of No Mow May, including Doug Tallamy, raised concerns that providing a safe haven that is so temporary might actually be harmful. For the moment, it is unclear if there is any boost to biodiversity from a No Mow May strategy alone.

    What is clear is that planting a permanent pollinator sanctuary with native species, especially in place of existing turfgrass, is effective. Such an endeavor will benefit many pollinators and caterpillars over the entire growing season while also chipping away at the amount of turfgrass in our suburban and urban settings. It’s a win-win for all.

    The task of creating a healthier environment seems big, but small efforts by many people can add up. If we shrink the lawn by converting even a modest patch of existing turfgrass to native plantings, we will have improved the food web and biodiversity of our yard –  and that is no small matter. For ideas on how to go about it, see the Plant NOVA Natives website.

    FMNs Honored at Hidden Oaks’ Volunteer Recognition Potluck

    Photo: Hidden Oaks, Fairfax County Park Authority

    Hidden Oaks Nature Center held their spring volunteer social on Friday May 17.  This year, three Fairfax Master Naturalists were recognized for their outstanding volunteer contributions.

    Kim Munshower received our Champion Oak award. A volunteer for us for at least 8 years, Kim has served as a Volunteer on Duty, greeting the walk-in public, program participants, and phone callers.  She also serves as a volunteer naturalist, helping with our school, public, or camp programs, including MWEEs. She typically leads a hands-on trail walk encouraging both children and adults to engage directly with nature. She even created her own bioluminescent mushroom costume to wear during our Fearless Fest.  Sharing her skills as a certified kayak instructor, she helped us coordinate an experience for Culmore teens to kayak at Riverbend Park. And she has generously shared her new avocation as a yoga instructor by leading sessions here at Hidden Oaks for site staff and volunteers.

    Photo: Hidden Oaks’ Volunteer Recognition Potluck, Champion Awardee Kim Munshower

    Teena Seigo was awarded our Sapling Award.  This award goes to a volunteer who has showed significant growth in their volunteer activities.  Teena started out as a Volunteer on Duty (greeter), and is always willing to jump in and take a shift when needed to fill in. She has also started helping on the programming side, at birthday parties and camps. We have watched her knowledge base increase as she’s taken the FMN training class (Spring 2024 class!) and are excited for her to continue to help with our programs.

    Photo: HONC Volunteer Coordinator Janet Siddle with Sapling Awardee Teena Seigo

    Steve Wright received our Acorn Award, which goes to a new volunteer.  She’s been with us since April 2023, and has the distinction of being Hidden Oak’s first “Animal Maintenance” volunteer. As well as animal feeding, she does animal maintenance chores such as periodic tank cleaning, food prep, filter change outs and other not so glamorous, but essential tasks. Most Mondays, you’ll find her cleaning a tank, making animal salad to store in the refrigerator, cutting up frozen fish, cleaning out the refrigerator, cleaning animal bedding carpets or whatever else needs doing.  Beyond her animal care duties, she has taken the initiative to remove invasive species around the site. She helped us plan a habitat management workday for FMN and other volunteers, and lead a group of volunteers that day to remove many, many bags of invasives.

    Photo: Acorn Awardee Steve Wright with HONC Animal Care Specialist Avery Gunther

    Kim and Steve additionally received the FCPA Very Important Volunteer award, which recognizes volunteers who have provided exceptional services to FCPA or have taken on a task outside their normal scope. Awardees receive a certificate from FCPA Executive Director Jai Cole and one-year passes providing free access to an array of activities across FCPA.

    Hidden Oaks very much appreciates all of our FMN volunteers!  To get involved, contact Visitor Services Manager Kristina Watts (FMN Fall 2017 Class) at [email protected] or Volunteer Coordinator Janet Siddle (ARMN) [email protected].