FMN Earns 2022 Environmental Sustainability Award

Cover photo, Jerry Nissley

On Wednesday, April 20th, Volunteer Fairfax, together with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, celebrated the 149 nominees, 11 category winners, and 10 Community Champions during its 30th Anniversary Awards Program. The 2022 program consisted of a virtual awards program where the winners were announced to the public and an in-person reception at the Stacy C. Sherwood Center in Fairfax City where the winners received their awards.

Photo Janet Quinn

Fairfax County Volunteer Service Awards highlight the achievements of volunteers in several distinct award categories. The 2022 Environmental Sustainability Award was presented to the Fairfax Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists (FMN). This award honors volunteers who work to protect and beautify our environment and natural surroundings, advocate for the preservation of our planet and strive to instill these values for our community.

During the virtual portion of the program, previously recorded video dialogues were shown detailing mission, goals, and achievements that supported each service category award. FMN President Marilyn Parks and FMN Member Chair, Mike Garth, were the video presenters for our organization and they more than carried the day by offering both quantifiable metrics for FMN 2022 achievements and gracious praise and recognition for all the FMN volunteers that are at the heart of this award. FMN Communications Co-chair Janet Quinn and FMN Jerry Nissley accompanied Marilyn to the reception where Marilyn accepted the award on behalf of FMN.

In January 2022, the FMN annual report was shared with members in a newsletter.  Marilyn realized the crux of what our chapter had accomplished really didn’t shine through.  Our service deserved further recognition, so she wrote up and submitted a nomination to Volunteer Fairfax for consideration.

From left to right: Jerry Nissley, Marilyn Parks, Janet Quinn, and Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay – Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Photo by Edward Marion

In the nomination Marilyn highlighted some important 2021 FMN accomplishments. Most notable were – 197 FMN members volunteered 15,500 hours; a 25% increase in 2021 over 2020!  This increase was a surprise given 2020 over 2019 hours had resulted in a 15% reduction of hours (first year of COVID outbreaks). FMN delivered 25% more hours to our partners and sponsors in the midst of a 2nd year of COVID. Let that sink in. We were out there working and spending time on 106 projects, making a difference and helping to preserve and protect the natural environment within Fairfax county. We recruited, trained and graduated 40 students – without the benefit of meeting at the county Government Center (all via zoom).  

This is attestation to the fidelity of all FMN volunteers that carried on their substantial enthusiasm for service in support of our partner organizations, our communities, our local, regional and state parks, and our growing network of service allies.

Marilyn concludes by saying, “I hope members are pleased with their chapter, happy with their choice of volunteering to serve nature, and thrilled to be recognized and named the Volunteer Fairfax –  Environmental Sustainability Award winner for 2022”.

The Honorable Gerry Connolly (Congressman 11th District Virginia)

Photo Janet Quinn

was the keynote speaker and engaged the audience with anecdotes of volunteerism and serving in local government. He said, “Volunteers are a testament to the strong ethos of public service and volunteerism that exists in Fairfax County and is one of many reasons why this community is such a wonderful place to live.”

In commemoration, Congressman Connolly had this commendation along with additional comments and a list of all award winners entered into the Congressional Record of the 117th Congress recognizing the 2022 service award winners. FMN in the Congressional Record!

Now is the time to take your right arm, reach across your left shoulder and give yourself a pat on the back. Not that you would normally do this because as FMN members you unselfishly volunteer your time as a service to your communities, not expecting this level of gratitude or recognition. But Marilyn emphasized that this award would certainly not have been possible without the generous, benevolent efforts of each and every volunteer in this wonderful organization.

Community Time in Culmore

All photos – Jerry Nissley

Saturday, 23 April, was filled with Earth Day related activities all over Fairfax County. Four FMN, Susan Magnin, Kim Munshower, Benjamin Umansky, and Jerry Nissley assisted Hidden Oaks Park in their display area for Culmore Community Day at Woodrow Wilson library and grounds in Annandale.

Kim and Benjamin talking with visitors

It was another wonderful display of natural science and information by Hidden Oaks Nature Center but more importantly it brought a little bit of nature to a community that may not otherwise be exposed to it. The local elementary school, Bailey’s Elementary, brought their five classes of 2nd graders to Huntley Meadows Park last week and I was able to lead a class on an interpretive walk through the wetlands. I witnessed then the excitement on their faces and their enthusiasm to be outside, to learn by experiencing,

Jerry with the non-frog eating snake

to see a snapping turtle, to hear a frog, to watch a snake eat a frog (yes that happened). I even recognized a few of the same children come through the Hidden Oaks display today, so maybe they want more. Could have been the free hotdogs though.

Culmore is from the Irish: Cúil Mhór/an Chúil Mhór, meaning “the great corner”. Culmore nowadays is a ‘great community’ close to Lake Barcroft in Annandale and Culmore Community Day was quite the to-do. Live music, live science, free hotdogs, ice cream, face painting, and just about all Fairfax County services were represented from police and fire (lights flashing) to health agencies and social services. The event, sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Authority, is aimed at connecting

Ladybug display

the community with county and local resources that people might not know about, as well as providing fun activities for families. There were about 30 booths set up by county agencies, local nonprofits, and businesses with information about home ownership opportunities, healthcare, after-school programs, nutrition, and much more, while kids got a chance to explore a fire truck and ambulance.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center provided indoor and outdoor nature displays with all the touchy-feely things any child would like, and a few

Community Services

creepy-crawly things they did not (eeewww). A box turtle, a fox, a cornsnake (not eating a frog), an American toad, wood frog tadpoles (a Hidden Oaks specialty), and bugs, bugs, bugs galore. Caterpillars, mantids, bess bugs, millipedes, meal worms, and many more. The outside display had information on the benefits of ladybugs along with a live native species that the visitors were able to release into the environment. The Hidden Oaks Nature Center is BUGGED!

Butterfly Gardening with Native Plants, May 5th

Photo:  Virginia Native Plant Society

Thursday, May 5, 2022
2 – 3pm
Tyson-Pimmit Regional Library, Meeting Room 1
7584 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church
No signup is required.

Most people know that monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed plants, but many aren’t aware that other caterpillars have similarly restricted diets.

Margaret Chatham, a local native plant gardener and long-time member of the Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS), will share photos and lots of information about the native plants, known as larval host plants, that various species of caterpillars can digest. Learn how to create a butterfly-friendly habitat In your own yard by planting a variety of native larval host plants. Enjoy beautiful photos of the butterflies and silk moths that you can look forward to seeing in your own butterfly garden. Adults.

Do You Have Room for a Shade Tree?

Article and photo by Plant NOVA Natives

If your yard sits in the blazing sun in the summer, it may have already occurred to you that a native shade tree would benefit you tremendously. But even if your yard is already graced by one or more mature tree, you should give some serious thought as to whether it is time to start the next generation. Trees in natural areas can live many hundreds of years, but urban and suburban conditions present stresses that may cause premature decline, a problem that can be seen in many of our older neighborhoods. If you wait until a tree dies, it will be a long time before a seedling can grow to full size. Very likely, the time to plant a replacement is now.

There is an unfortunate tendency to replace tall canopy trees with short ornamentals. This does a disservice to the people who will come after us and who will have to contend with even hotter summers and more torrential downpours than we have now. The larger a tree’s canopy, the more benefits it provides in terms of cooling the environment and controlling stormwater, not to mention sequestering carbon, sheltering birds and other critters, and providing food for the caterpillars that are needed to feed baby birds (which only native trees support in noticeable quantities.)

Shorter native trees and shrubs are appropriate for many situations, such as under a power line or in a small yard. There are specific recommendations on the Plant NOVA Trees website about how far from obstacles to plant your trees and how large a soil area to allow. The roots of trees can overlap, though, so you can plant them as close as fifteen feet apart and within five feet of shrubs.

Trees produce shade, but most canopy trees cannot grow in the shade. (The understory is the space where shorter native trees such as Flowering Dogwood and Redbuds thrive.) It is easy to overestimate the available sun. The number of hours of direct sun per day should be measured when the nearby trees have already leafed out. Good choices for planting under existing shade trees include oaks, American Holly and Black Gum, which will grow slowly but steadily in those conditions then rapidly take off if the overstory lightens up in the future. Native oaks hold the place of honor as the most valuable of trees –  the reasons for this are outlined in Doug Tallamy’s most recent book The Nature of Oaks – but any native tree provides major ecological benefits.

There is deep gratification to be had from planting and nurturing a little native tree, even if we ourselves may not be around later to sit under it. It is a simple act, easily accomplished. To find out how easily, see the Plant NOVA Trees website.

Green Service Showcase Judges Needed, May 23rd & 25th

Photo courtesy Lewis HS

Monday May 23rd from 12:50 pm to 2:50 pm and/or
Wednesday May 25th from 7:45 am – 9:45 am
John R. Lewis High School, 6540 Franconia Rd, Springfield, VA

International Baccalaureate Environmental 11th and 12th grade students investigated environmental issues, developed goals/steps, and made some “good trouble” environmental action for the John R. Lewis HS Community. The journey the action took was different depending on the team, but the goal is for them to reflect and propose ideas for future students.

Students in groups or as individuals selected Green service projects focused on one or more of the following:

1. Waste and consumption
2. Sustainable food
3. Outdoor classroom improvements

Top projects will be awarded prizes in the following categories connected to FCPS Portrait of a Graduate:

Most critical thinkers
Most goal oriented and resilient
Most reflective global and ethical citizens
Strongest collaborators
Strongest communicators

If you can join one or both dates, please fill out this google form.

Questions? Contact Rachel Clausen, Environmental Lead Lewis HS, (301) 908-7623 or RLclausen@fcps.edu.

 

February Birding in Nicaragua

Article and all photos by FMN Robin Duska

Reprinted with permission from Northern Virginia Bird Club, originally published in The Siskin, April 2022

Strong-billed Woodcreeper

The prospect of birding near volcanos and in cloud forest drew me to Bill Volkert and Connie Ramthun’s February 2022 tour to Nicaragua. Likely because of its perennially fraught political climate and, despite its 750+ bird species, its lack of endemics, Nicaragua attracts few international birders. This was, however, the 16th trip for Bill and Connie, experienced and intrepid world travelers. Bill, an ornithologist and former naturalist at Wisconsin’s Horicon Marsh, and Connie, who ran a native plant nursery, live in Wisconsin’s northern Kettle-Moraine.

Birding in gardens at the Best Western Mercedes Hotel across from Managua Airport netted my first trip lifer, a Hoffman’s Woodpecker. We then set off to Volcan Masaya

Masaya volcano

National Park and Visitor Center for an introduction to the geology of this volatile region where three tectonic plates converge. Peering down into the smoking, active Masaya volcano, we watched two Peregrine Falcons flying along its cliffs. Recommended human exposure to the sulphureous fumes? No more than 15 minutes.

Crimson-collared Tanager

By midday, we were in the dry forest of Montibelli private reserve, home to 175 species including Turquoise-browed and Lesson’s Motmots and 10 species of hummingbirds. I wish I’d recorded the surprisingly loud wingbeats of Red-billed Pigeons passing overhead there and at the nearby Chocoyero-El Brujo reserve—the flocks sounded as loud as small aircraft.

We worked with local guides at each site on our trip but unfortunately we “dipped” on Nicaragua’s only near-endemic, the Nicaraguan Grackle (Quiscalus nicaraguensis), allegedly found along Lake Cochibola (Lake Nicaragua) and nearby Lake Managua. Our leaders had occasionally seen it on earlier trips.

From our next base in the attractive colonial city of Granada, we took a morning boat trip amid the 365 islands that were formed when nearby Mombacho volcano erupted around 20,000 years ago. Mangrove Swallows and my favorite Scissor-tailed Flycatchers dipped into the water as we motored around. Among the 39 species seen that morning were a Bare-throated Tiger Heron and amid hundreds of Montezuma Oropendola nests, an optimistic Giant Cowbird. Later, we stopped in San Juan de Oriente, home to potters for over 1000 years. The beautiful and inexpensive pottery features both pre-Colombian and modern designs.

Highland Guan

Next we took the Pan-American Highway into the Matagalpa-Jinotega highlands, beautifully green even in the dry season. El Jaguar Reserve, run by eBird reviewer Liliana Chavarria-Duriaux and her husband, is home to 378 species. In the cloud forest surrounding Liliana’s coffee fields, vulnerable Highland Guan reliably amble out into view. We had fine sightings of three of my favorite trip species: Black-crested Coquette, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, and Slate-colored Solitaire with its ethereal calls.

I especially enjoyed a morning to the west of El Jaguar at Reserva Natural Cerros de Yali where the oak-pine forest, a vital wintering area for warblers including Grace’s and Golden-winged, reaches its southern boundary in Central America. To our delight, four very similar warblers—Townsend’s, Hermit, Golden-cheeked, and Black-throated Green—showed up within minutes of each other. Nearby, a pair of Red Crossbills, a wide-ranging species, fed placidly in a pine.

We went on to enjoy more cloud forest at Selva Negra (Black Forest), where we stayed in lovely green-roofed German-influenced chalets. A

Three-wattled Bellbirds

Pale-billed Woodpecker, like other Campephilus woodpeckers including the extinct Ivory-billed, did its double-knock drumming out along a steep trail. I especially enjoyed watching male and female Three-wattled Bellbirds interact and listening to the male’s echoing call.

Spectacled Owl

Nicaragua’s handful of ornithologists participate in the Neotropical Flyways Project, monitoring and tagging birds for the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Ecotourism provides valuable support in this vulnerable habitat, but travel now is complicated by the Nicaraguan government’s Covid testing documentation requirements and concerns about birding equipment. Four travelers from Bill and Connie’s two February tours were unable to enter the country, due to the former. After our leaders’ equipment was confiscated upon their arrival, they successfully negotiated for its return and for ours to be allowed in when the rest of us arrived on later flights. I therefore recommend birders not travel independently to the country at this time unless they have contacts in Nicaragua who can help them negotiate such possible impediments.

Despite the pre-arrival issues described, this was one of the more pleasant, well-paced, and satisfying birding trips I’ve taken. As the only non-Wisconsinite in our group, I also enjoyed learning from others who had far more hiking/hunting/farming/gardening experience than I do. Lodgings were comfortable and very clean.

Our group trip list was 211 species during 10 birding days. Bill and Connie plan to return to Nicaragua in 2024 and can be contacted via his website, which also links to Bill’s “Where To Watch Birds in Nicaragua” guide: http://www.billvolkert.com.

Madagascar: Exploring a Biodiversity Hotspot through its Lemurs and Birds, May 17th

Photo: Collared Nightjar, Elizabeth Lyons

Tuesday, May 17, 2022
7 – 8:00pm
Where: ONLINE
Cost: Free
Register here.

The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia presents, Madagascar: Exploring a Biodiversity Hotspot through its Lemurs and Birds.

Dr. Sally Bornbusch and Dr. Libby Lyons, a mother-daughter scientist team, will immerse the audience in the fascinating biodiversity of Madagascar. Based on their first-hand experience with Madagascar as a biodiversity hotspot, they will focus on its famous lemurs, a group of primates found only in Madagascar, and its suite of endemic birds. They will discuss some of the recently extinct animals, the human impacts that continue to challenge the island nation, and conservation efforts being undertaken to protect Madagascar’s unique biological richness. They will also reflect on their scientific career paths in hopes of helping young women and girls pursue their own passions in environmentalism and science.

For more information about this event please click here.

Birding by Ear for Beginners with Colt Gregory, May 12th

Photo: Blackburnian Warbler, Shirley Donald/Audubon Photography Awards

Thursday, May 12, 2022
7 – 8:00pm
Where: ONLINE
ASNV Members: $10
Non-members: $20
Register here.

The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia presents, Birding by Ear for Beginners with Colt Gregory.
Often it is faster and easier to identify a bird by its song. In this program, Colt Gregory will:

– explain the many benefits of birding by ear
– introduce some of the most common birds by their songs and calls
– share resources and apps to help you practice and improve your birding by ear skills.

This program is intended for beginner birders but may be a helpful refresher for more experienced birders. This program welcomes children age 10+ accompanied by a participating adult.

For more information about this event please click here.

Tree Wrapping for Beavers: Workshop and Volunteer Day, May 7th

Photo: Clifton Institute

Saturday, May 7, 2022
10:00am – 12:00pm
Where: The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
Cost: Free
Register here.

During this workshop and volunteer day, join Alison Zak, M.A., founder of the Human-Beaver Coexistence Fund, to learn about the importance of coexisting with beavers and how to protect trees from being chewed down. After a brief talk, volunteers will get hands-on experience wrapping trees using HBCF’s recommended methods.

Sun Dogs Over Fairfax County

Article and all photos by FMN Stephen Tzikas

Feature photo: 11/15/16 Sun dog observed from East Falls Church Metro Station near sunset. One can see the smaller left Sun dog over a building. The brighter Sun is on the right.

A long time ago, probably at a flea market, I saw a used book for sale.  It had a catchy title, which one might see on the front page of the National Enquirer.  That catchy title, Flying Saucers on the Attack (1967) by Howard Wilkins, caught my attention.  With a smirk on my face, I picked up the book and browsed through it.  Soon I had completely forgotten about the book’s title because the book had a very interesting list of natural meteorological phenomena in Chapter 10, which the author tried to convey as flying saucers.  Specifically, I recognized

2/22/17 Sun Dog (center) seen above Reston Metro platform near sunset.  Notice this right lobe has a parhelic circle extension (looks like a horizontal ray to the right of the Sun dog).  The faint vertical ray above and below the Sun dog is part of a 22 degree halo.

some of these entries as Sun dogs.  I also realized I had never seen a Sun dog, so I made it a priority to do so.  It didn’t take me long after that commitment to spot my first Sun dog.  In fact, over several months I saw four Sun dogs.  Their photographs are presented in this article.  Three of these were in Fairfax County. Perceptual awareness is such a powerful tool!

The Greeks were the first to identify Sun dogs. Aristotle noted in his Meteorology that “two mock suns rose with the Sun and followed it all through the day until sunset.” Sun dogs are formed when sunlight is refracted in the horizontal plane through six-sided, plate-like ice crystals that float in the atmosphere or in high elevation cirrus and cirrostratus clouds.  Sun dogs can appear solo or on each side of the Sun. The visual thrills don’t stop there. Do an internet search to learn about the different types of Sun arcs and Sun pillars, and parhelic circles. The Moon offers similar phenomena including lunar coronas.  

2/23/15 Sun dog spotted over Lake Audubon near sunset.  I caught a Sun dog looking outside my window.  The bright Sun dog is on the left, while the larger Sun is on the right.

I saw two Sun dogs from the Metro on my way home from work in Washington DC.  This is a good time to see Sun dogs low on the horizon in the late afternoon and as a “captive audience” from a train window.  I had my cell phone camera with me so I photographed the phenomenon, one at East Falls Church metro station, and one at Reston metro station. The pandemic put a pause on my Sun dog viewing opportunities, but I hope they will pick-up in the future again.

10/11/16 Sun dog seen (lower center) from the NJ side of the Delaware Memorial Bridge near sunset.  The bright Sun is on the left by the flag pole.  A good spot to find Sun dogs is from the windshield of your car.  On long trips you might see a Sun dog as I had, on my way home from NJ.

Sun dogs are red-colored at the side nearest the Sun.  Farther out the colors blend from orange to blue shades.

Red is the less deviated color, giving the Sun dogs that red inner edge. So Sun dogs are like a reversed rainbow, that is they have a reversed color scheme, because primary rainbows are red on the outside and violet on the inside. Sun dogs tend to occur when the Sun is near the horizon.  Sun dogs most commonly appear during the winter in the middle latitudes.  They can be quite bright, making one think they are actually viewing the Sun, if the Sun is blocked from view, such as being obstructed by a building.

If you have never seen a Sun dog, I think you will be pleasantly surprised with my photographs.  It’s really amazing all the sorts of things one can see in the sky whether during the day or at night.  I am always attentive for interesting atmospheric phenomena. I have seen quite a lot of weird things that I have had to research for answers.  As Master Naturalists we often look down or around us to observe nature, but sometimes a lot can be seen by looking up.